I love to wander the woods, especially those found up in the Pacific Northwest. I spent some time up in Spokane, Washington, and found some of the most beautiful and lush wooded areas I had ever seen.
I remember coming across some bones one day while walking around. They had been there for quite some time and were in the process of slowly being reclaimed by the ground around them.
This cake is in honor of those bones, because, yes, even I can get sentimental (and a little lonely) at times.
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Step 1: Gather Your Ingredients
For this cake you will need:
- 1 Cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 Cups sugar
- 4 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 Teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 Teaspoon almond extract
- 2 Tablespoons espresso powder
- 1/2 Cup sour cream
- 1/2 Cup whole milk
- 2 Cups plus 4 Tablespoons flour
- 1 Cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I prefer the special dark)
- 1 Teaspoons salt
- 1 Teaspoons baking soda
- To decorate the cake you will need:
- White chocolate skull (recipe to follow)
- 1 can of chocolate frosting
- 2 cups of Nilla wafers
- 2 cups of chocolate cookie wafers
- cocoa powder
- green food coloring
- black food coloring
- yellow food coloring
- Mint leaves
- Cooking spray
To make the skull you will need:
- 3 bags of white candy melts
- cocoa powder
- cooking spray
You will also need a standard 9X9 cake pan and a skull mold. An optional food safe airbrush is also suggested.
A few weeks ago I found this absolutely incredible mold online. It’s a bit pricey, but if you can swing it, I can’t recommend it enough. It’s a bit of a beast to mold, but I’ll walk you through it.
Step 2: Baking the Cake
Start by first setting your oven to 350F/175C and allowing it to pre-heat.
Prep your cake pan by thoroughly buttering and flouring it.
Cream your butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add in your eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of your bowl as you mix. Add in your vanilla, almond, and espresso powder.
In a separate bowl, whisk together your sour cream and milk until well incorporated and then add to your butter and sugar mixture.
Sift together your flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking soda and add the mixture slowly to your wet ingredients. Blend until thoroughly mixed but don’t overwork.
Pour your batter into your cake pan and bake in your oven for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before attempting to remove from the pan.
Step 3: Making the Skull
Next we’ll make our chocolate skull. For the purposes
of this recipe, we will only be using the cranial section of the mold. The jaw (which is a separate piece altogether) will not be used.
The first thing you want to do with this mold is to make sure it’s good and greased. Normally you don’t have to oil up a silicone mold, but I’ve found with trial and error on this beast that everything you can possibly do to make it release your chocolate works in your favor.
I spray the whole thing down with cooking spray and then go back over it again with a pastry brush to make sure the spray is in the deep nooks and crannies. The brush also helps to spread out any areas where it might pool. You want a thin coat of spray…
Assemble the two halves of the upper cranium and secure. I placed mine inside a box that just happens to be almost the perfect size to hold the two halves together. I brace the sides with a little extra foam to keep it from wiggling.
Melt down one bag of candy melts. You can do this either by placing them in a crock pot or electric fondue pot set to low, or by zapping in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time and stirring between cookings.
Once your candy melts are melted and smooth, pour the entire pot into the half of your mold that makes up the upper cranium. Tilt the mold back and forth to make sure you get an even coat on all sides. A pastry brush can also assist in getting the chocolate into the grooves and spots that might be a bit tougher to reach just by tilting. Set this aside and allow the chocolate to cool.
Melt your second bag and repeat the process with the lower portion of the mold, again allowing it to cool and harden.
Melt your third and final bag of candy melts, but this time allow it to cool almost to room temperature. You want to be able to pour it into your mold without having it melt through the layer you’ve already poured.
When it’s cooled down enough, pour the entire bag into the upper half of your cranium and then assemble the mold, placing the two halves together.
Now comes the fun part…rotational casting.
Make sure your mold halves are secured together. I use a strap wrapped around the entire thing to make sure all the pieces stay where they are supposed to stay.
Step 4: You Spin Me Right Round Baby, Right Round...
Carefully start rotating your mold around 360 degrees.
You want to make sure that the liquid chocolate inside the mold fully coats and covers every inch of the mold which means you have to turn it upside down and all around.
Do this for a good 20 minutes. It’s a workout, but worth it.
Now place your mold in the fridge. Every two minutes for the next 30 minutes, rotate your mold by flipping it onto each side.
At the end of those thirty minutes, turn the whole thing upside down and leave it alone for 2 hours! WALK AWAY. Go watch a movie. Take a stroll. Do whatever you want, but leave the mold alone.
When it comes time to open the mold, do it carefully. Gently rock the silicone pieces back and forth to help release their hold on your chocolate.
Be prepared, you’re going to have breaks. It happens…but for this cake, it’s okay…it’s supposed to look worn and old. If it happens, save the pieces and you can either glue it back together using more liquid candy melt, or simply leave it broken and tell everyone you meant to do that. It’s art…it’s subjective. Do what makes you happy.
Now that your skull is out of the mold, it’s time to age it down.
Step 5: Skull Candy
For this project, I decided to inscribe it with ancient Welsh symbols for love. I used a skewer and carved them into the chocolate and then brushed the whole thing with cocoa powder mixed with vodka to give it an aged and worn look.
Now that that’s done, it’s time to begin assembling.
Step 6: Bringing It All Together...
Gently press your skull into your cake where you would like to have it rest. You want to push hard enough to leave a dent or mark, but not so hard that you run the risk of crushing either the cake or the skull. Now remove your skull and set it aside while we prep the cake.
With a sharp knife, carve out the areas where the skull was pressed into the cake.
Frost the entire cake with a thick layer of your dark chocolate frosting. Don’t worry about filling in the holes we just carved. The frosting will act like a glue and help hold the skull in place.
Crumble up your dark chocolate wafer cookies. You can do this either in a food processor or in a Ziplock bag using a rolling pin.
Sprinkle this down on top of your frosting…it will be your dirt layer. Once you are happy with your dirt, add in your skull.
Crumble up your Nilla wafers the same way. You want as fine a powder as you can possibly get.
When your Nilla wafers are good and pulverized, add in your green food coloring to the crumbs and either pulse in your food processor to coat evenly or place in a Ziplock bag and knead until all the green coats your cookie crumbs. This will be your moss.
Sprinkle your moss crumbs down over your dirt and your skull. You can use a bit of frosting or more vodka to wet down the skull to help the moss stick. A little cocoa powder can also help add more depth and contrast.
I admit that I used my airbrush to add in more color. This is purely optional and doesn’t have to be done…a paintbrush and food coloring works just as well.
You can see how the addition of more green, yellow and a little black helps add to the aged look of the skull and helps sell the realism.
Step 7: The Finishing Touches
Finally, garnish with your edible mint leaves, arranging them as though they’re naturally growing out and around your embedded chocolate skull.
And there you have it…your mossy skull cake is complete!