Halloween is a holiday that my family didn’t acknowledge or celebrate when I was growing up, but with my love of all things holiday-ish (except for St Patrick’s Day – I really couldn’t care less about that one), Halloween is something that I really love getting into now, with the pumpkin carving, the ghoulish, but not too scary, decorations and treats, and all the kids in cute costumes.
My idea of Halloween is more Martha Stewart-ish – a more charming, autumn-inspired Halloween than a creepy gory one – but I think Jamie’s just waiting for when we have a house and he can do things like plant fake skeleton bones in the yard alongside my pretty pumpkin flower planters.
The scary movies playing on TV throughout all of October, though… I could totally do without those, but Jamie loves them. Since he’s agreed to go to The Nutcracker at the Denver ballet this December, he says a fair trade is for me to see Paranormal Activity 4 with him. Sigh. The things I have to do to see a ballet.
For a while I’ve been mulling over an idea for a cake for Halloween – a melted witch cake, with ganache poured over an upside down sugar cone placed on top of a cake, to look like a witch melted all over the cake leaving nothing but her hat. On impulse, I also bought a package of gum paste with no idea how to use it, but thinking I might be able to create a few little pieces like a broom, a bucket and her shoes, to place on top of the cake and add to the illusion of her melting and leaving these things behind.
The cake, for starters, was phenomenal. I baked my favorite homemade chocolate cake recipe and frosted it with a creamy, fluffy peanut butter buttercream, that despite its richness, tasted surprisingly light. I could have happily eaten that chocolate peanut butter cake with no need for ganache on top, but the ganache was the foundation of my whole melted witch idea.
For the ganache, I used a dark, bittersweet chocolate to avoid it being too sweet, although for the look I was going for – all drippy down the sides – I should have thinned it out with more cream. So my melted witch ended up oozing over the sides instead of dripping, but that’s okay. :)
The gum paste was surprisingly easy to work with, and only requires a few tools: a smooth silicone mat, cornstarch, shortening and food coloring. Work with small pieces of paste so that it doesn’t dry out, and to keep the gum paste from sticking to your hands and everything else, dust the silicone mat lightly with cornstarch, then lightly grease your hands with shortening, so that you can knead and shape the paste. I didn’t wear gloves to knead in the food coloring and it washed off my hands just fine. After kneading in food coloring – a tiny drop at a time until the color was right – I just rolled and shaped it with my hands to make the broom, bucket and legs/shoes you see. It was a lot like playing with Play Dough! And while this stuff is technically edible, it doesn’t taste good, so these pieces were really just to look at.
The funny thing was, while I’d been wanting to make this cake for months, I could not have a whole cake sitting on the counter, so after Jamie and I shared the piece I cut for the photos, I cut the cake in half and wrapped it up to take to work. Our coworkers were grateful!
Melted Witch Cake
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 tablespoon espresso powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup milk
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- 2 tablespoons meringue powder
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 4-5 tablespoons milk
- 3/4 - 1 cup heavy cream
- 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 1 small sugar ice cream cone
- candy or edible garnishes (I molded the witch's broom, legs, shoes and bucket out of gum paste)
Make the Cake:
Preheat the oven to 350. Prepare three 8-inch round pans by spraying the bottoms only with non-stick spray. Line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper, then spray the parchment with non-stick spray. Set aside.
In the bowl of your electric mixer, mix the flour, sugar, cocoa, espresso powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt on low speed with the paddle attachment, to combine. Add the eggs, milk, oil and vanilla. Mix on low speed for 30 seconds to combine, then beat for three minutes on medium speed. Scrape the bowl down and gently stir in the boiling water – the batter will be very thin.
Divide batter between the pans. Bake for 22-25 minutes, until the center of each cake springs back when gently touched and a toothpick comes out clean. Set the pans on wire racks and cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel. Cool completely in the pans.
Make the Buttercream:
In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the butter and peanut butter on medium low speed until smooth and combined.
In a separate bowl, combine the powdered sugar with the meringue powder. With the mixer on low, add by spoonfuls, mixing to combine. Add the vanilla and milk; increase speed to medium high and whip for 4-5 minutes, scraping the bowl down once or twice, whipping until very light and fluffy. Set aside.
Frost the Cake:
Level the tops of the cakes and peel the parchment paper off the bottom. Place one layer of cake on a 10-inch cake board (or directly on a serving pedestal). Spread a ¼ inch layer of peanut butter buttercream on the cake. Top with the second layer of cake, more buttercream, and the 3rd layer of cake. Frost the cake all over with a thin crumb coat of buttercream, and refrigerate for 15 minutes. Finish frosting the cake with the buttercream, swirling the sides as desired (the top of the cake will not show).
Make the Ganache:
Place the chopped bittersweet chocolate in a bowl and set aside.
In a saucepan, heat the cream gently over medium low heat, just until the edges begin to bubble. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate; let stand for 3 minutes, then stir with a spatula until smooth. If the ganache is too thin, let stand at room temperature for 5-10 minutes to thicken.
Place the sugar cone upside down, centered on top of the cake, gently pressed into the frosting. I first placed a wooden skewer down the center, with the cone on top of the skewer, just to be sure that the cone wouldn’t topple over.
Pour the warm ganache over the cone and the top of the cake, letting it drip down the sides of the cake. Let the ganache set for a few minutes at room temperature before garnishing with candy or other edible garnishes. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to finish setting the ganache, then store, covered, at room temperature before serving.
If you have any leftover ganache, you can refrigerate it until firm, then roll it into balls and coat in cocoa powder or melted chocolate for truffles.
Recipe and Design from Curly Girl Kitchen