It’s Halloween party season, and I love giving my guests a good scare. One guaranteed way to raise the macabre factor at your next bash is to serve this clever skull-and-bones dessert, which hides a surprise: When you cut the cake, white chocolate “bones” spill out from the dark, red-velvet interior! Cake slices can be distributed to delighted (or horrified) guests with a femur or tibia on the side.
Let’s get started.
Step 1: Make the red velvet cake
For the cake, you will need:
- 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 3 cups granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 ounces red food coloring
- 4 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 5 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 2 teaspoons white vinegar
For the frosting and assembly, you will need:
- 12 ounces confectioner’s sugar
- 1 cup unsalted butter
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Milk or cream, as needed
- 2 tablespoons apricot jelly
Make cake mix. Preheat oven to 350°F, then spray four 8-inch round cake pans with flour-based baking spray. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla. Mix well.
In a small cup or bowl, stir together the liquid food coloring and cocoa powder until smooth, then add to the butter mixture.
Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Add flour to butter mixture in three sections, alternating with the buttermilk; be sure to begin and end with flour. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix well.
In another small cup, combine baking soda and vinegar; the mixture will bubble and fizz. Pour into the cake batter and mix until well incorporated.
Bake cakes. Divide batter between the cake pans and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the cake springs back when pressed in the center.
Let cakes cool slightly in pans. Turn out and allow to cool completely on wire racks before icing.
To make the frosting, combine the sugar and butter in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until well combined. Add the vanilla and mix again. Add cream as needed to thin the frosting to spreading consistency. Cover the frosting bowl with a damp towel or store in an airtight container so it doesn’t crust or dry out.
Step 2: Make the candy bones and fondant skull topper
- 24 ounces white meltable candy discs or white almond bark
- Piping bag or zip-top bag
- Skeleton bones candy mold
- 1/4 pound each black and white ready-made fondant (available at most craft and baking supply stores)
- Kitchen-dedicated, new X-acto knife with an extra blade
- Small artist’s brush
- Downloadable skull template
First, make the candy bones. Pour half the candy discs into a large, microwave-safe bowl and heat at 30 second intervals until the candy is melted and can be stirred smooth, about 1 minute. Transfer the candy to a disposable piping bag or a zip-top bag with the corner snipped and pipe the candy into the skeleton bone mold. Place the mold in the freezer and chill until solid, about 7 minutes. Pop the candy out of the molds and allow to stand uncovered until the bones come to room temperature. Repeat the process with the remaining 12 ounces of candy.
Next, make the fondant skull topper. On a parchment-covered cutting board, roll out the black fondant to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut out the template and lay it on top of the fondant. Cut around the outside of the circle using a small paring knife. Set aside the circle of black fondant and let it stand uncovered while you work on the rest of the topper.
On a parchment-covered cutting board, roll out the white fondant to 1/4-inch thickness, and lay the skull template on top. Use the X-acto knife to cut through the paper and fondant, around the white skull shape, eyes, nose and skull indention; do not attempt to cut out the teeth yet. Remove the template and the excess fondant from the cut areas. You may need to retrace your lines with the X-acto knife if the fondant is sticky. Lightly brush the underside of the white fondant skull with water, using the artist’s brush. Gently lay the fondant on top of the 8-inch black circle.
Change the blade on the X-acto knife. Roll out a small piece of scrap fondant to 1/4-inch thickness and place the template with the teeth over that piece. Gently score through the paper around each tooth. Remove the paper and lift out each tooth. Place the teeth on the black fondant circle in the order given on the template. Use the brush to apply a dab of water on the underside of each tooth and secure to the fondant.
Now, assemble the cake. Cut a 5-inch circle from the center of two of the cake layers. Place a whole cake layer on a serving tray, then melt the apricot jelly and brush it onto the surface of that layer. Place a cut cake layer on top of the whole layer and brush its surface with apricot jelly; do the same with the other cut cake layer next. Fill the empty center of the cake with candy bones, and top with the final whole cake layer.
Frost the cake. Cover the top of the cake in a thin flat layer of frosting, then swirl frosting onto the sides of the cake using an offset spatula. Place the fondant skull on top of the cake. Use an offset spatula and more frosting to fill any gaps between the fondant topper and the cake edges.
Now comes the fun part! Slice the cake to reveal the candy bones inside, and serve candy bones with slices of cake to Halloween party guests.
All photos by Heather Baird.