During the Middle Ages in England, on the night before All Saints Day, or Hallowmas, pesants and children called "soulers" would go about town singing and praying for the souls of the dead. They would stop at homes and beg for a "soul cake" and promise in return to pray for the household's deceased family members...the original Halloween treat! (source)
Day of the Dead (Spanish: Día de los Muertos) is a holiday celebrated in Mexico and around the world in many cultures. The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. The Sugar Skull Tradition was brought to the New World by Italian missionaries in the 17th century. It became a traditon in Mexico. Mexico, abundant in sugar production and lacking money to buy fancy imported European church decorations at the time, learned quickly from the friars how to make sugar art for their religious festivals.
I decided to do a mix of these two concepts. Using this recipe for Soul Cakes, I added some sugar skulls for decoration. The cakes are a cross between a shortbread and a spice cookie. After they were powdered with sugar, I cemented a skull made of sugar onto the cookie with a little mixture of powdered sugar and vanilla extract; a little like royal icing without the egg whites. The skulls came from Walmart's Halloween section (a little like this.) I had originally thought to decorate them with food pens like Day of the Dead skulls, but I thought that using them as plain decorations bridges Halloween traditions in America with Mexican sugar skull traditions and England's Soul Cakes traditions.