A skull cake for a 30th birthday. There aren’t many people who I could have made this cake for. Certainly a few eyebrows were raised when I said I was spending my evenings making chocolate skulls for a birthday – I got knowing looks of ‘but it’s January, not Halloween’ but decided to ignore them and plough on with my plan.
From embarking on this cake mission, I learnt that it’s incredibly difficult to source a skull mould out of Halloween season. Initially I wanted a little 3D mould but had to settle for what I could get. I wanted as grizzly as possible, no cartoon skull and crossbones, so I could make the cake Day of the Dead themed. Eventually I got my hands on a mould that allowed me to make 11 skulls at once.
Why skulls? Well I’ve already written about a the narwhal and Russian doll cakes – previous gifts for Clê – so her eccentricities and love of the slightly abnormal are well documented. This year I decided to focus on her fascination with skulls. Thanks to Clê we have a few skulls round the house and one Halloween, while we were drinking wine and painting (our own) faces, she did this:
Thus introducing me to the Day of the Dead Festival (this was a few years ago now) and getting my cake brain ticking.
I started the prep for this cake almost a week in advance as I needed to leave the skulls to set overnight and knew I wanted lots of skulls in different colours but could only make 11 at a time. There were lots of midnight baking sessions for this cake.
Once I had all the set skulls in different colours, a day before her birthday, I set about decorating them with what I had in my baking cupboard (yes I have one, it’s overflowing). Edible glitter, paint and ‘sparkle flakes’ were the main decorating materials and I enlisted my other (very brave) housemate to help. It took us about 2 hours to paint all the skulls differently. I’m kicking myself because I didn’t count how many there were on the cake, but I can make an educated guess at nearly 50 and honestly, for aesthetic purposes, there could have been more.
The side panels were also made from white chocolate with coloured chocolate swirls set into the panel. I made these a couple of days in advance to give them time to dry and was worried about how they would hold up, but they proved pretty stable. I added the edible copper paint to the panels as a final touch. For me, this was a bit of an experiment into working with chocolate, I was playing around with what you can do, and I was a little disappointed with how the colours smudged slightly in the side panels.
This cake ended up being a lot bigger than I originally intended. It was hugely impractical to transport and massively over the top – all perfect for Clê. We ended up cutting it in the morning before any of us went to work, she took half to her office and the other half lasted the weekend and managed to feed about 15 hungry mouths after a video shoot.
I don’t think I’ve ever had someone in my life who it is so easy to make cakes for. I should re-phrase that; most people seem pleased to receive cake year on year but the beauty of baking for Clê is that thinking of different and interesting themes is never too difficult.