Who’s ready for a little spooktacular Halloween fun this year? I keep telling myself that one of these years I will get my act together and finally throw an awesome (more sophisticated) Halloween bash for all of my friends. but clearly, that hasn’t happened. However, this year I do have a few excuses. Our friends got married a week and a half ago, YAY!!! We celebrated our 10 year anniversary and in a few days, it will be my brother’s birthday. It’s been a busy month, therefore a Halloween Party will have to wait. What could not wait was at least celebrating a tiny bit with this rich, really dark chocolate Halloween Skull Cake! It’s all of the things I could want in a Halloween party if I was to ever throw one; a little bohemian vibe, mixed with a sort of Alexander McQueen style. Romantic, sophisticated, and dark all in one.
So in all honesty, this cake haphazardly transforming into what it is now, but I’m so madly in love with it that I don’t care! Originally I planned for the round base to be SUPER black and completely covered in frosting. The center of the cake would bleed bright red when cut into it. The skull was supposed to be cake as well.
I even had the skull mold, then I baked the skull cake, and spent a full day frosting thin layers and carving out frosting until it resembled something like a skull (it actually looked more like the skull of a gorilla if you asked me.) When I was finally ready to cover the skull in fondant I googled a bunch of tutorials; got inspired from my new favorite cake lady, Yolanda Gampp of How to Cake It; rolled out the fondant pretty close to how they instructed; placed the fondant on top of the skull and slowly started smoothing it onto the cake.
What I didn’t plan for was how hard it is to cover such an oddly shaped cake with fondant. It does not smooth out the way you would expect and bunches up as you get toward the base. I didn’t even attempt the face itself as the fondant was already a sad disaster. This was a rough and mortifying moment for me. Everything in me was prepared for a personal meltdown, haha! In my mind, I was ready to scrap the whole cake altogether and go into hiding! Or maybe I would become a barista and forever work in a coffee shop, forgetting cooking, designing and blogging for the rest of my life. It got dark ya’ll and I’m almost embarrassed to admit it. But hey, this was my second time ever attempting fondant on a cake – the first one had been simple and round. This one not so much. So I convinced myself the pan would not go to waste, there’s always next year for an even more elaborate Halloween cake (after I’ve spent time practicing.)
I grabbed my keys and started hitting every store I knew that would have a decent Halloween selection, in order to find a replacement skull. I checked Michael’s (twice), Pier One Imports, Marshalls, and Target. My best luck was Target in which I picked up 3 options; one being the final Copper Glass Skull. When I set it on the cake my heart melted! I was in love! It was more beautiful than the skull cake wrapped in fondant I was originally attempting. Not to mention so much easier! This adjustment gave way to having the cake look more soft and romantic rather than a typical black and white Halloween type cake, with oozing blood from the center.
So I guess it’s a great lesson I most likely needed to learn, again… if something doesn’t work out, or go, the way you planned, stay calm and make some adjustments. Be flexible, because you never know how it will turn out. It could very easily be much better than your original plan 🙂
- Dark Chocolate Cake
- (Makes two 9-in layer cakes)
- 14 oz. boiling water
- 6 oz. dark chocolate, chopped
- 4 oz. Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa Powder
- 9 oz. cake flour
- 2 tsp baking soda
- Pinch of salt
- 12 oz. butter, room temperature
- 8 oz. brown sugar
- 4 eggs
- Black Chocolate Buttercream
- (Covers a 2 layer cake - 2x recipe for a 4-layer cake)
- 12 oz. butter (3 sticks) softened
- 3.5 oz. (1 cup) Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa Powder
- 1 lb. 6 oz. (5 cups) confectioners' sugar
- 3 oz. whole milk
- 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon Americolor Soft Gel Paste™ Colors in Black
- Dark Chocolate Drip
- 8oz. dark chocolate
- 8oz. Heavy cream, plus extra if needed
- Misc. items & specialty utensils
- 1 jar strawberry jam, or other desired fruit
- Roses + other food friendly flowers
- Copper Glass Skull from Target (couldn't find it online, so check a physical store)
- 8” round cake board, covered in foil
- Extra large round tip #1A
- Small offset spatula
- Icing smoother
- Revolving cake decorating stand
- Note: The ingredients listed make a two 9-inch layer cake. We made a four 9-inch layer cake. If you have a VERY large bowl, and 4 pans, you can simply double the ingredient amount. If you do not, simply make the two layers, bake, and then repeat the process over to make two more layers.
- Preheat oven to 350°. Spray 9-inch cake pans with nonstick spray; line bottoms with 9-inch rounds of parchment paper. Lightly spray over the parchment paper.
- Combine boiling water, semi-sweet chocolate and cocoa powder in a medium bowl. Let sit for 5 minutes; stir. Set aside to cool.
- Sift together cake flour, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
- Cream butter and brown sugar until smooth in a large bowl. Slowly add in eggs, until just incorporated.
- Add in the chocolate-water mixture and flour mixture in 3 additions beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Mix only until ingredients are mixed together.
- Split cake batter evenly between the 2 prepared cake pans.
- Bake for 16 minutes. Rotate pans in oven and bake for another 16 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cake comes out clean and the tops spring back when lightly pressed. Cool cake pans on wire racks.
- Once completely cool, remove cakes from pans and peel off parchment paper bottoms. Wrap cakes in plastic wrap, then foil. Freeze cakes overnight. if possible. I find, freezing your cake layers help when frosting. However, cakes can be frosted immediately once completely cool. (Cakes can be made up to 1-2 weeks ahead of time, then frozen.)
- Cream together butter and sifted Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder in a large bowl. Scrape down bowl with spatula. Slowly mix in sifted powdered sugar, vanilla and milk until combined. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. May need re-whipping before frosting the cake.
- Note: this is a naked cake, which means you won’t fully frost the sides of the cake. You will simply smooth any frosting peaking out from between each layer to lightly coat the cake sides. Your goal is to allow the chocolate cake to show through the frosting.
- Fill a large pastry bag, fitted with the round tip #1A, with chocolate buttercream. You will have extra left over.
- Place the 8” cake board on a revolving cake decorating stand. The cake board will make transferring your cake to a cake plate much easier. Squeeze a small dollop of chocolate buttercream on the cake board and cover with your first cake layer.
- Spread a thin layer of jam in the center. Leave a 2 inch “jamless” edge. Using your filled pastry bag, pipe a thick frosting ring or "dam" on the outer edge of the cake layer. Using the pastry bag, fill in the frosting ring with more frosting, covering up the thin layer of jam in the center. Smooth out this layer of frosting with a small offset spatula. Place next cake layer directly on top of frosting. Repeat frosting process until you’ve used up either your 2 or 4 cake layers.
- To frost the top of your cake. Pipe another thick frosting ring or "dam" on the outer edge of the cake layer and fill in with frosting. Lightly smooth out.
- Using an offset spatula, smooth out frosting peaking out through each cake layer on the sides of the cake. You will have very little frosting to smooth out, which allow the cake to remain “naked”. However, if some areas are too light where the frosting between the cake layers is not flush with the cake edge, simply pipe some extra frosting and then smooth out. Run your icing smoother evenly around the side of the cake, turning the revolving cake stand as you drag the icing smoother again the sides. This should give you a smooth, even side to your cake.
- Next completely smooth the top of your cake by pulling the icing in from the edge towards the middle of the cake. Use an offset spatula held at a 45 degree angle to do this. Your goal is to make the top of the cake as level & smooth as possible. Place cake in fridge to chill for about 30 minutes - 1 hour. Take cake out and top with the dark chocolate drip while cake is still cold. This will help the chocolate to set faster.
- To create the dark chocolate drip, heat cream in a small saucepan until hot, not boiling. Pour over chopped chocolate, and let sit for 2 minutes. Stir chocolate until smooth. Chocolate should easily drizzle downward when poured out from a small spoon back into the bowl. Add hot cream until this consistency is reached.
- Fill a plastic squeeze bottle or quart-sized freezer ziplock bag with the melted chocolate. To practice drizzling your cake with chocolate, take a water glass with a flat bottom and turn it upside down on a plate. Squeeze out quarter-sized dollops of chocolate on the edge of the glass, allowing it to drip down the side of the glass. Each dollop should be close together. Fill in the center of glass with chocolate and smooth top with an offset spatula. Make sure to work quickly before the chocolate sets. Once you get the hang of it, repeat this process on the top of the cake. Allow chocolate to set.
- Decorate the cake by placing copper glass skull on top of cake, centered. Fill in with flowers in a desire design. Serve cake.
With love from my kitchen to yours,