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Marioli’s Sugar Skulls Sweet Twist on Tradition

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By John Bloodsworth

Pan de Muerto, from Mariana Oliver at Marioli.

When it comes to Dia de Los Muertos, Mexican Le Cordon Bleu chef and Marioli owner Mariana Oliver doesn’t do boring.

In the glass display cabinets bursting with pastries and cakes at Marioli, an upscale delicatessen in Stone Oak, white chocolate sugar skulls adorned with bright pink and marigold flowers peer out at customers.

But unlike most traditional sugar skulls seen in Mexico, Oliver’s skulls are filled with chocolate frosted flakes that are only revealed when the skull is cracked.

“I thought it would be more tasty than (a hollow skull),” Oliver said.  “The skulls are very traditional in Mexico.  Every store has them.  But Americans are intrigued; they come in and tell me how cute and pretty they are.  It’s like they’ve never seen them—because they never have!”

The celebration of this Mexican holiday takes place on Nov. 1 and 2, in connection with the Catholic holidays of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. As the day approaches, bakers and confectioners throughout the city will prepare the traditional treats and bread.

Along with loaves and mini loaves of traditional pan de muertos, sweet bread with bones embossed on top, the sugar skulls come in white and regular milk chocolate at Marioli.   The skulls are decorated with brightly colored sugar flowers ranging from pink to marigold.  A set of 10 skulls takes Oliver four hours to complete, from pouring the chocolate mold to filling the skulls and decorating them.   She often comes in as early as 8 a.m. and leaving at midnight to complete around 20 skulls a day, along with the other treats sold at her store.

Candied skulls, merrily decorated for Dia de los Muertos celebration.

The colors make the skulls much prettier than the plain skulls often seen in Mexican stores, though Oliver had a more significant purpose.

“Dia de Los Muertos is a big celebration in Mexico,” Oliver said.  “We celebrate our dead loved ones by creating a shrine with their favorite things and everything they loved to eat.  You’re supposed to lie a path of marigolds so (the spirits) can find their way home.  I think that’s my way of bringing people home.”

While some people purchase the skulls for party centerpieces, Oliver hopes they’ll use them for what they were made for—eating!

“Eat them!” she laughs.  “It’s a lot of work not to enjoy it.  First enjoy it with your eyes, then enjoy it with your tongue.”

In addition to holiday pastries such as pan de muertos and sugar skulls; Marioli offers traditional Mexican dishes such as tacos al pastor and enchiladas.  The sope, a thick corn tortilla topped with refried beans, shredded chicken and Monterrey Jack cheese with lettuce and freshly drizzled Mexican cream is very popular, as is their lasagna.

“It’s an eclectic mix—we have sandwiches, traditional Mexican dishes and French pastries,” Oliver said. “It’s very different, but it works.  It’s like a Mexican deli!”

For more information about Marioli or the sugar skulls, visit its location at 18730 Tuscany Stone Suite 2103 or call (210) 496-1111.

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