Introduction: Zombie Head Cake

My son asked me for a zombie themed birthday party, and what better way to embody that theme than with a 3D zombie head cake, complete with Jello brains.

Step 1: What You Will Need

This cake is quite a bit labor intensive, and you should expect to spend a lot of time on it. The supply list is also rather long, but dont be intimidated by it.

~ 3D Skull Cake Pan - This can be found on Amazon or other cake/party/Halloween retailers.
~ Two boxes of cake mix - You can also use a from scratch recipe. I opted for the mixes, just to save some time. Also, make sure you have the eggs and oil if you take the boxed mix route!
~ 2-3 cans of white frosting - This is for the crumb coat and other decorations if you need them
~ 2 lbs of fondant - I used 1 lb of white and 1 lb of black
~ Fondant coloring - This can be found in the cake decorating aisle of any craft/supply store. Pick whatever colors you think seem zombie-ish. You can also just use regular food coloring, and I will address that method in the steps.
~ A rolling pin and powdered sugar (for the fondant)
~ 1 (6-oz) box each of Blue Raspberry, Strawberry, and Raspberry Jello
~ Knox Gelatin
~ 1 cup of low-fat evaporated milk (it must be low fat)
~ A brain mold (can also be found on Amazon)
~ A clear extract such as orange or lemon (can also use vodka, if no one under 21 will be eating the cake)
~ Red food coloring gel (optional)

Step 2: Brains for Breakfast, Brains for Lunch...

First things first, the brain has to be made immediately to allow time to cool and solidify.

Start off by taking your brain mold and spraying it with cooking spray or wiping down with vegetable oil so the jello will release easily.

In a large mixing bowl, mix together the entire packet of the raspberry jello mix, half of each of the blue raspberry and strawberry jello mix. Stir them up and get them blended. Then add in 3 teaspoons of the gelatin. This is to get the brain really nice and solid. Stir it all together until it is well blended.

Add in 2 cups of hot boiling water and stir carefully until all the crystals have dissolved. Then add in your 1 cup of low-fat evaporated milk, and stir until it is all combined.

Pour into your greased brain mold (you will only need to fill it about halfway, and even then the brain may need some cutting and carving later) and then place in the fridge to solidify. Overnight works great, just make sure to warn people that there's a brain in there.

Or don't, and sit back and enjoy the confusion.

Step 3: Time to Put a Head in the Oven... Hopefully Not Yours.

Starting with your 3D skull pan, grease it well so the cake will release easily from all the cracks and crevices and indentations from the mold. Cooking spray works great.

Each half of the mold takes about 1 box of cake mix each to fill, so start mixing one box at a time and then fill each half of the mold, up to the line built into the pan. If you go over the line, don't worry, you can trim it down later. The cake pan may need to be placed on a flat baking sheet in order to keep it level in the oven. You dont want the legs of it slipping through the wire racks and spilling all over the place.

The cakes will take an hour or longer to bake, so make sure you have plenty of time on your hands.

Once you take them out, allow them about 10-20 minutes to cool, then it is time to remove the cakes to cool completely on a wire rack.

Place a cooling rack on top of the cake pan, and then flip. You may need to give it a bit of a wiggle and a shake, but the cake should release easily. Once it pops out, you should end up with something like this.

Step 4: Time to Preform a Lobotomy.

Once your cake is *completely* cooled, it's time to begin getting it prepared for the Jello brains to rest inside.

There are two options for doing this, and I will detail each method.

Method 1: This is the method I settled on. I sliced off the top of the skull (which didn't feel weird at all. Nope.) and then began carving out a sort of shelf for the brains to rest in, leaving a lip around the edge to help hold the brain in place. I also did a bit of carving around the skull caps as well, to give the brains a bit more room.

Method 2: This method may be harder to get the brain into, but it may provide more stability if you don't have toothpicks or skewers to hold the cake in place. Do not carve off the top of the skull, but begin scooping cake out of the top of the skull, leaving anywhere from 1/2-1" of cake around the edges. This leaves an opening (or brain cavity, if you will) inside the skull to wedge the brain into.

Step 5: Brain Transplant Surgery Isn't Rocket Science

Or maybe it is. This wasn't though.

After getting the brain cavities carved out, it is time to frost the cake with a crumb coat.

If you used Method 1 for carving the skull out, frost every surface of the skull, including the insides of the skull caps (but not the outside of the caps). Then, use some toothpicks or skewers to keep the skull in place. Then begin cutting down the Jello brain to size. This may take a few rounds of trial and error until it's the right size, but don't worry, you'll get there. The actual size you need varies on how large or small you made the cavity. Place the skull caps on top of the brain, and toothpick/skewer in place. Finish frosting the top of the skull.

If you used Method 2, frost only the inside parts: the flat surfaces where the two pieces will meet, and the inside of the skull cavity. Then, begin cutting down the brain to size, and wiggling it into place, sliding the other half of the skull back until the brain goes into place and it fits snuggly against the back half. Proceed to frost the rest of the skull.

Once the skull is set up, pop it into the freezer to chill out for a little bit and firm up.

Step 6: Plans? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Plans!

But I would strongly suggest you at least have some sort of idea of how you want to decorate this cake. I didn't and just made it up as I went.

Doodle out a few ideas of how you want it to look (if you want. It's not required, and I'm not your mother. Have fun with it!)

Once you have an idea in mind, begin kneading and softening your fondant to roll it out.

If you want grey fondant, use a LOT of white, and a pinch of black and begin kneading and mixing. If you have never worked with fondant before, you can find any number of tutorials on YouTube or cake websites or blogs. It isn't hard, but it does take a lot of work (and forearm strength) to mix colors and get it all rolled out.

You can also use your fondant colors to color the fondant the way you want. I stuck with a flat grey all over, and then went back and painted each piece, to save on color-mixing effort.

Once you have your fondant rolled out, remove the cake from the freezer (be sure to remove the toothpicks or skewers if you used them!) and then cover the cake, smoothing the fondant down.

Most of the time, you want to avoid wrinkles and creases on your fondant cakes, but in this instance, they can be used to your advantage. Wrinkly, shriveled, falling-off skin, FOR THE WIN.

Press in the gaps for the eye sockets and the nose, and then you can begin decorating your cake.

In this photo, I had already covered with the flat grey, and then had begin adding in shreds of old, wrinkly skin, the eyes, and exposed bone.

To make the skin, i just rolled out thin layers of fondant, and then just pulled hunks off, leaving a ragged edge and a textured appearance. I also sculpted the nasal bones, an empty eye socket, and the top of the skull exposed through torn skin, as well as basic features like teeth, a mouth, and an eye.

Step 7: Painting the Town... Bloody

If you so choose, you can begin "painting" your cake. I used food coloring and orange extract, because this was being served to children. Vodka is another option, but I recommend that only if everyone partaking of the cake is 21+. Drunken parties are fun, but I don't think drunken 10-year-olds is anyone's idea of a good time.

The extract or vodka serves to thin out the coloring, and it evaporates quickly, leaving behind just the color.

Mix a few drops of your food coloring (or fondant coloring) in a cup with your extract or alcohol. Proceed to paint your cake to your hearts desire. Green, black, yellow, red... There is no limit.

I opted for leaving exposed muscle and then painting the flesh green. I added in yellowed teeth, some red and blue veins in the eyes, and then added some more depth using black for shading and giving the flesh a somewhat more mottled look.

Using the food color paints is where your creativity can really come into play. If you want to add red food color gel, this is a great place to do so. If you mix it with your alcohol, it thins it out and can leave some really realistic bloody drips and dribbles.

Step 8: Serving a Zombie's Head on a Platter

Once your cake is decorated to your liking, have fun serving it up. I do not recommend storing the cake in the refrigerator, as it will make the fondant sweat, but since you added the gelatin into the Jello brain, it will hold up to room temperature quite well without losing its shape. 

I don't think anyone won't enjoy watching you skewer a knife into a zombie's head, and seeing jelly brains ooze a bit. Try to contain your glee in hacking away at the head... or don't and pretend you're a cast member from The Walking Dead. Regardless, there will be nothing but enjoyment had by all!
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