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For a veganized version of this cake, see my Vegan Chococlate Christmas Cake. It’s pictured at the bottom of this post.
Halloween is my favorite. I always have visions of coolly elegant, creepily sophisticated costumes, but I usually miss the mark by a wide margin. One year, I envisioned dressing up as an icy, tall, slender vampire. I sort of forgot that I am neither tall nor slender, and I ended up looking like a drunk dead Italian grandmother. Scary in its own way, but so not what I was going for. My Halloween costumes tend to remind me of those Pinterest memes with “Nailed it” as the caption. Nailed it in the Ironic Sense, of course. So when I found this orange cake stand a few weeks ago while shopping at Home Goods with Kathy, I was a bit concerned when a picture of a sophisticated Halloween dessert landed itself in my head.
What my mind’s eye saw was a tall, slender cake in varying shades of orange. Perhaps in ruffles, perhaps not. But surrounded by black and maybe some spooky accoutrement. It wouldn’t look like a kid’s party cake at all. It would look like an adult cake. That’s what I saw inside my head. And this cake is what actually happened. I’d like to think I more or less nailed it in the actual sense. It’s not quite as gorgeous and elegant as I’d seen in my head, but it is pretty darned close. No drunk Italian Grandmother here. This is my vision. Yay, me.
And yay you, because it is delicious.
Chocolate Creamsicle Ombre Halloween Cake
The bones of the cake are pretty classic: Hershey’s perfectly chocolate cake covered with ermine frosting. But for my sophisticated Halloween take, I used a bit of Black Onyx Cocoa powder to achieve a very dark chocolate cake. I also added some espresso powder to the batter (you can’t really taste it, but it deepens the chocolate flavor), 3-4 drops of orange oil, melted butter rather than vegetable oil and a combination of buttermilk and whole milk for the liquid.
For the ermine frosting, I used the beaten butter method I read about the other day over at The Tough Cookie. I flavored the frosting with Tahitian vanilla, a couple of drops of orange oil and some chocolate bitters. I was interested in adding a touch of chocolate flavor to the frosting without changing the color, and the bitters worked really well. The chocolate flavor is subtle, but it’s definitely there.
I did have a bit of trouble with my ermine frosting when I tried to rebeat it after refrigerating it overnight. What had once been a lovely, fluffy, smooth frosting (just a few of the reasons I love ermine frosting), turned into a bit of a grainy mess. I did what damage control I could by whipping the Mess out of it and adding a few tablespoons of powdered sugar, reasoning that the cornstarch in the sugar might decide to absorb some of the free liquid and make the frosting behave. I believe that by upping the amount of flour I use in the initial “pudding” I can avoid this issue in the future. I was asking a lot of the frosting because I was rather liberal with the bitters. Regardless, the flavor is really lovely. Subtle yet sophisticated.
How to Ice a Smooth Ombré Cake
I have never Ombré-ed anything in my life. Not my hair, not my clothes and certainly not a cake. I tend to get stubborn when a style is trending, so if I see ombré everything everywhere, I stay away. One problem: the stupid picture in my head was of an ombré cake. So there you go. Ombré it had to be.
Frosting the cake was actually a breeze. All I did was make four different colors of orange frosting, from pale sherbet to intense tangerine using Wilton’s “orange.” Fancy, right? I crumb coated the entire cake with the lightest color and let it set up in the fridge. Then I literally just slapped on more light on the top and about an inch or so down the sides. Then I did the same with the next deepest orange, then the next and then the most intense orange, progressing down the cake and just slapping on the color like spackle. No finesse whatsoever. The finesse came with using a straight edge held perpendicular to the cake and turning it on the turntable to achieve a smooth finish while maintaining the graduated color. And since all those colors were sort of slapped on, where one met and another started wasn’t a precise line. So when I used the straight edge, it naturally made for a very smooth transition between colors. It ended up being so much easier than I thought it would be, and you’ll find the same when you give it a try. You may have to make several passes around the cake to get it completely smooth, and you can see in my photos that I didn’t take that time myself. Totally your call if you want it completely smooth or just mostly smooth. You have to ask yourself, “Are you feeling lazy? Punk?” You know what my answer was, right?
If you are a Piping Wizard, you can certainly pipe whatever sort of spooky design you want on your cake. I know my limitations, so I decided to use pre-made decorations. They’re cut out of sheets of black food starch and soften up after sitting on the cake awhile. A couple of notes about using them. Make sure your hands are completely dry. Wear latex gloves if your hands tend to sweat, and don’t bother trying to apply these on a humid day. There are a few starch spiders lying around with only 4 legs, so take your time and use the point of a safetly pin or the tip of a small offset spatula to help make sure the design is completely free of the sheet before trying to lift it away. I cursed a bit, and you might too. Still, I think the end result is very cool. You can find Wilton Spider Web Pre-Cut Sheets on Amazon or perhaps at your local craft store, such as Michael’s or JoAnn.
One thing to note about the shape of the cake. I made 6″ layers, so the cake is very small in diameter. That’s why it looks so tall in comparison. I made 3 layers, and I haven’t measured, but I believe the stacked cake is about 6″ tall.
And now, without further ado, I give you my Chocolate Creamsicle Ombre Halloween Cake.
- 14 oz (2 cups) granulated sugar
- 8 oz (1 3/4 cup) all purpose flour
- 1.75 oz sifted cocoa powder
- .50 oz "black" cocoa powder such as Black Onyx
- *If you don't have black cocoa powder , use 2.25 oz regular. If you don't have a scale, use a 3/4 cup measure and fill it with mostly regular cocoa powder and just some of the black. Or just use 3/4 cup of regular.
- 1 tablespoon espresso powder
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 large eggs at room temperature
- 4 oz (1/2 cup) buttermilk, slightly warmed (about body temperature)
- 4 oz (1/2 cup) whole milk, slightly warmed (about body temperature)
- 4 oz (1 stick) melted butter
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 3-5 drops orange oil , to taste
- 8 oz (1 cup) boiling water)
- 2 oz (scant 1/2 cup) all purpose flour
- 10.5 oz (1 1/2 cups) granulated sugar
- 3/8 teaspoon kosher salt (yes, that much)
- 12 oz (1 1/2 cups) whole milk
- 12 oz (3 sticks) unsalted butter at cool room temperature
- 1 teaspoon Tahitian vanilla extract
- 2-3 drops orange oil , to taste
- Optional but lovely: several shakes of chocolate bitters , to taste
- Preheat oven to 350F and set a rack in the center of the oven.
- Prepare 3 6-inch cake pans by spraying with pan spray, lining the bottom with a parchment circle and spraying again. If you don't have parchment, spray and then dust the pans with sifted cocoa powder to prevent sticking. Set aside on a jelly roll pan. You should be able to fit all three on the pan.
- In a large bowl, thoroughly whisk together the sugar, flour, cocoa powders, espresso powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
- In another bowl, thoroughly whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, milk, melted butter, vanilla extract and orange oil. You want the milks warm so the melted butter doesn't seize up into little hard butter pebbles.
- Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and whisk well for about 3 minutes. While your whisking, heat up your one cup of water to a boil.
- Pour in the boiling water and whisk thoroughly so the water is completely and evenly incorporated. Make sure the scrape the sides of the bowl while you're mixing. The batter will be fairly thin--much thinner than with the creaming method.
- Divide the batter evenly among the three prepared pans and bake for 20 minutes.
- Carefully turn the pan from front to back and bake an additional 10-15 minutes or until the cakes spring back when touched and an instant read thermometer registers 200F.
- Remove to a rack to cool in the pans for 15 minutes.
- Run a slim knife around the insides of each pan and then turn out. For super moist cake, wrap each layer tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until cool. Otherwise, just let them sit out until cool. Refrigerating them once cool will make them easier to stack and frost. Frost and decorate as desired.
- In a heavy bottomed sauce pan, combine the flour, sugar, salt and milk. Cook over medium to medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes to a boil. Turn the heat down to low or medium low and maintain a very slow boil, stirring frequently, for a minute or two.
- Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a metal bowl. Stir for a few moments and then press plastic wrap onto the surface of the pudding and refrigerate until cool.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the butter on medium and then high speed until light and fluffy, scraping the bowl as necessary.
- Add a large spoonful of the pudding at a time and whip until incorporated before adding the next spoonful. Continue adding the pudding and whipping in between until it is all incorporated.
- Add the flavorings and beat well. Taste and adjust as necessary.
- Color all the frosting a pale orange. Remove about 1/2 of the frosting to a bowl and then color the remaining frosting a slightly more intense orange. Remove a third of the frosting to another bowl and color the remainder a bit darker. Remove half of the frosting that's left and color the last bit the most vibrant orange ever.
- Fill and crumb coat your cake with all but about 1/2-3/4 cups of the palest frosting. Place in the freezer, uncovered, for about 15-20 minutes to firm up the crumb coat.
- Frost the top and an inch or so down the sides of the cake with the remaining pale orange frosting. You don't have to be precise here at all.
- Using a small offset spatula, apply the rest of the frostings from palest to most vibrant down the sides of the cake in rough bands of color.
- Using a medium offset spatula, smooth the top of the cake completely, allowing the excess frosting to extend over the edges. Don't worry about the sides yet. Just get the top as smooth as you can get it.
- Hold a straight edge longer than the cake is tall perpendicular parallel to the sides of the cake and rotate your cake stand (or whatever the cake happens to be sitting on) allowing the straight edge to pick up excess frosting and smooth out the sides of your cake. Scrape off the excess and make more passes until the sides of the cake are as smooth and lovely as you want them. You'll have a "wall" of frosting that extends up past the smooth top of the cake. Holding your offset spatula parallel to the top of the cake, sweep the wall inward in sections. wiping the blade of your spatula between each pass and proceeding around the cake until the wall of frosting is gone and your cake is completely finished.
- Decorate with strategically places Halloween Decorations. Store in the fridge and cut the cake cold, but serve at room temperature.
Don't expect your cake slices to stand up nice and pretty. Lay them on their sides. Since the cake is very rich and moist, it wouldn't be the worst thing ever to cut each slice in half allowing each serving to be only 1 1/2 layers tall.
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Here are a few of the specialty products you will need to make this cake.
I hope you enjoy this Chocolate Creamsicle Ombre Halloween Cake as much as I (and my neighbors) do. Have a very Happily Spookily Elegant Halloween.
Thank you so much for spending some time with me today. Have a lovely day.
Here’s the vegan version I mentioned at the top. Pretty!