A Skull Cake is what happens when brainstorming ideas for my son’s Halloween themed 16th birthday party take a 180° turn.
I asked him what he wanted, and all he gave me to go on was wanting a more non-kid themed party. So I started tossing out creepy/gory cake ideas. With his input, we were just about settled on two eyeballs using the Wilton ball pan, and from beneath, some real nasty looking tentacles coming up and wrapping around.
I was totally psyched to make this horrifying monstrosity of a cake. Then he suggests we make it a skull instead of eyes, and trade tentacles for creeping vines and roses. And just like that, we went from scary to artsy.
The hardest part of this was experimenting with a new technique – mirror glazing. The final skull in the picture is actually the 3rd one (we named him Leonard, fyi).
Making Leonard the Skull Cake
For the first cake, I had no baking release spray, and while I DID oil and liberally flour the pan… Nope. No saving it, so hooray for tasty cake mistakes.
The second cake came out fine but I knew it wouldn’t be the final product because I was experimenting, so I put a light coat of white chocolate ganache over only half before attempting to mirror glaze to see which half looked better (turns out neither but we’ll get to that in a moment).
The first big problem was letting my son do the math for the amount of gelatin in the mirror glaze. It came out much too thick. Fun side fact, it looked like melting flesh dripping off the skull – think Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark. You know the scene.
Despite adding white food coloring, it was still quite yellowed and the end result was just unsatisfactory for the desired effect. On the other hand, I now have a recipe for gelatinous melting flesh glaze if ever I need it.
Also, to elevate it for the glazing, I placed it on a coffee mug, on a wire, on a baking sheet to drip and it became unbalanced and fell to the floor. Beware. Gelatinous floor cake is not pretty.
Round two, new technique. Royal icing glaze. Very simple, very white on its own but I added white coloring anyway for a little more impact. It was perfect. No need for frosting or ganache underneath, straight over the bare cake, and it still showed details of the pan like the teeth ridges, all while coating the cake with a thin, hard sugar shell.
On to the bottom cake, easy peasy. I wanted to try the mirror glaze again but the first attempt made such a large batch, plus it used white chocolate but I wanted a black glaze. So instead I made dark chocolate ganache, darkened further with black coloring, then heated about 1/2 cup of my super goopy glaze and incorporated that. The end result was maybe not as pristine and shiny as I had hoped BUT it was still super dark and glossy.
The final steps were the vines and roses. Modeling chocolate all the way, baby. I used a royal icing glue to help affix them to the skull, which matched the skull shell just great.
Final Skull Cake Touches
Lastly, I wet a brush with vanilla and dipped it in silver luster dust to brush some shimmer on. But it wasn’t enough. So I got some dry dust on my finger and gently smoothed it on the skull like I would my makeup foundation. Then I decided it needed shimmers on the glaze and used a toothpick to pick dust up and flick it randomly, then a turkey baster to “blow” the dust mounds and spread them. Overall, once I found my groove and the trial and error was over, this was not that hard.
Here are a few things I learned:
Don’t let someone who doesn’t decorate convince you their math is better than yours when it comes to fudging a recipe. I knew in my heart it was too much gelatin but went with someone else’s logic and regretted it.
Stabilize the odd shaped cake on a custom trimmed cake board before balancing it on a coffee mug, because even though it WAS frozen solid and sat perfectly upright, while it was dripping it thawed and became unbalanced.
Never stack the cakes before leaving home. I had to gently cradle the skull with one hand while keeping the whole thing balanced on my chest (cake rack) and hold the far edge of the cake platter with my free hand. And the icing shell was a bit delicate, so it did get cracked a bit. But I was told it added to the aged bone effect and not to be so hard on myself.
This may be my favorite cake creation of mine to date.
The Skull Cake Details
Both cakes are made from Doctored Box mixes for carving. It has a cup of sour cream, 4 egg whites and a package of instant pudding added. It’s sturdy, dense, and very moist but not TOO sweet. Skull is vanilla cake, and the bottom is Devil’s Food cake.
Between cake layers is ganache, whipped up to make it a little lighter and more frosting-like for spreading. White for the skull, dark chocolate for the Devil’s Food cake. All cakes were frozen before assembly and glazing.
The skull cake has straws to support the layers and avoid potential sliding. The skull cake is also on a u-shaped cake board, rested on top of straws in the bottom cake for support.
Skull was glazed with a royal icing-like glaze made of powdered sugar, meringue powder and a bit of water, plus added white food coloring. The bottom cake is a dark chocolate ganache/mirror glaze hybrid, made black with a bit of added food coloring.
The Roses and vines are a simple 3 ingredient white modeling chocolate colored with gel paste. Everything got hit with silver luster dust. Because I like sparkles.