Pumpkin Spice and White Chocolate Sugar Skull Cake

27 Oct 2018

This is it, guys. The grand finale of my Halloween bakes this year! As always, I've loved having a play around and making things that are a little bit more seasonal and spooky. However, that being said, my previous three Halloween bakes have all been a little pared down in colour. My easy mini pumpkin tarts and stuffed pizza tombstones were both very brown, and my red devil velvet cupcakes were deep red and cream. In my books, that means we were due something colourful and a little bit over-the-top. I decided to go big or go home, and so, my pumpkin spice and white chocolate sugar skull cake was born!

You guys know how much I love giving a bit of a backstory to my recipes, and this lovely lady has quite the backstory, so bear with me. If you've seen my other Halloween bakes from the past couple of years, you'll know that I like to leave the showstopper for the last post. They're usually for people that want to make a bit more effort with their spooky bakes, so I made cookies 'n' cream cobweb cupcakes in 2016, which had 3D piped chocolate cobwebs on top, and in 2017, I did trick or treat cupcakes, which involved 12 salted caramel flavoured cakes and 12 chilli flavoured cakes, all marbled with three colours and decorated to look the same. As you can tell, these required more work than a bog standard brownie tray bake or a simple biscuit, so I wanted to do something big for my last bake. I just wasn't sure how big I wanted to go...
If you cast your mind back to the stuffed pizza tombstones post, you'll remember the big whinge I had about not being able to find the skull cakelet tin that I was after. Well, I'm sad to say that I still haven't found it, but what I did find on one of the hunting trips in TK Maxx was this 3D skull pan by Nordic Ware. I clutched on to it as I looked about the shop to see if I could the cakelet pan, but as always, it wasn't there. So I bought the large skull pan, having no idea what I was going to do with it. This was at the start of October and I'd been rubbish at planning my Halloween bakes, so I had absolutely nothing in mind. But, I thought, it's a pretty cool tin, so even if I don't get any use out of it this Halloween, I'm certain I'll use it another time. Plus, it's extremely good quality, so I know it'll last me for ages.

So, all of this brings me to about a couple of weeks ago. I'd had a few suggestions of what to make with the tin, including something from a video game that I have no clue about, and then the combination of wanting to do something big and colourful with a skull hit me. I had to do a sugar skull! I'm absolutely fascinated with Dia De Los Muertos (it's coming up soon actually - 2nd November, get it in your diaries) and I love that it's a happy celebration of ancestors that have passed. It sounds like a really great time to be in Mexico, as the country is full of colour, great food and people honouring the dead. With all of this in mind, I really wanted to create a 3D sugar skull that drew on designs from traditional sugar skulls. I've seen lots of 2D sugar skull cakes, but this tin was designed in such a way that two halves of a head would be created with a flat bottom to help it stand up.

I was quite keen to do a recipe that was inspired by Mexican flavours, much like I did with my Cinco De Mayo brownies. They featured chilli and lime - two flavours that immediately spring to mind when I think about Mexico. However, because this tin was completely new to me and really deep, I had no clue how ingredient quantities would work or even how long I'd need to bake my cake for. So I ended up having to use the recipe that came with the tin, which was a pumpkin spice cake. Now, I'm becoming quite partial to the flavour of pumpkin spiced things. I still haven't tried a pumpkin spice latte, but I seriously love pumpkin pie and the flavour of this cake, so maybe I should give it a go! I paired this up with a smooth white chocolate buttercream to add just an extra bit of sweetness to the spice, then topped the whole thing off with a whole load of colour and pizzazz.
For the cake, you will need:
 450g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder

 1 teaspoon salt
 230g unsalted butter
 400g granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Half teaspoon ground nutmeg
Half teaspoon ground cloves
 5 eggs, lightly beaten
 180ml semi-skimmed milk
 115g pumpkin puree (store bought or homemade - here is a great recipe)

For the icing and decoration, you will need:
200g white chocolate
750g unsalted butter, softened
600g icing sugar
Semi-skimmed milk (optional)
Assorted gel food colouring (I used black, pink, red, orange, blue and green)
Assorted sweets (I used Smarties and chocolate drops)

  1. Preheat your oven to 160c/140c fan. Grease and flour both wells of the skull cake pan, then remove any excess flour. Place the pan on a parchment-lined baking sheet and set to one side.
  2. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt, then set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy and smooth. Add the granulated sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, and continue beating, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Continue mixing until light and fluffy.
  4. Add the eggs in one at a time, beating well after each addition, repeating until all the eggs have been added.
  5. On a low speed, add flour mixture into the bowl in three additions, alternating with the milk and starting and ending with the flour. Then mix in pumpkin puree.
  6. Spoon the batter into the prepared wells evenly. They should be about 3/4 full. Tap each pan gently on a work surface to release the air bubbles. Bake for 65 to 70 minutes or until the cake starts to pull away from the pan and a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center.
  7. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let the cake cool inside the pan for 15 minutes. Remove the cake halves from the pan and allow them to cool completely before assembling and decorating.
  8. While the cake is cooling, make the buttercream. Melt your white chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water or in the microwave, making sure to stir occasionally to avoid burning. Once it has melted, set to one side to cool.
  9. Beat the butter in a large, clean bowl to soften it further. Add your icing sugar into the butter in 100g increments, then beat in the cooled, melted white chocolate. If you find your mixture is too thick, add a splash of milk, or add icing sugar if it is too thin.
  10. Once your cake has cooled, assemble it by sandwiching the two halves together with a layer of the buttercream and stick it to a cake board or plate. Cover the outside in a generous coating of buttercream, until the colour of the cake is no longer visible, but be sure to reserve plenty of buttercream for decorating.
  11. Split the remaining buttercream into individual bowls and use your gel food colouring to colour each one. Add each colour into an individual piping bag with a nozzle attached and decorate your skull (Pinterest is a great place to look for designs). You can also use sweets to add to the 3D effect.

I told you that there was a little bit more effort involved with this bake, but just look at the final product! It's so worth getting your hands covered in food colouring and covering every surface with icing sugar. However, I will say, it's almost impossible to let anyone cut into that face that you've just spent hours tirelessly decorating! That being said, of course I have sampled this cake - I wouldn't be posting this if I hadn't - and it is honestly gorgeous. If you like that egg custard-type flavour of pumpkin pie, you will absolutely love this, and the white chocolate buttercream sets it off absolutely perfectly.

But I think the best thing about this cake is how creative you can get with it. If you weren't too precious about how it looked, you could let your kids get involved with the decorating and let them stick their favourite sweets all over it. You can add a bit of edible glitter or do something very monochromatic with a white buttercream base and black buttercream to decorate. The possibilites really are endless, so if you were looking for something fun and frightening to bake this Halloween, this could just be the cake for you.

And so, ladies and gents, that concludes the bakes for this years spooky season! I hope you've all enjoyed them and perhaps one or two of you have even baked something I've shared. Things might get a little quiet on the baking front over the next few months as I'm actually about to move back in with my mum for a short period of time, so pretty much all my baking stuff is in boxes. But I will do my absolute best to try and keep creating recipes!

Whould you like to comment?

  1. What a spectacular bake Olivia, such artistry involved! When I read through your posts, I like that you take us through the process, and it makes us as readers feel like giving it a go too! I’m in the process of creating healthy baking for my blog and getting my bearings with that but I love seeing what you come up with. Thanks for popping over to my blog the other day and belated Happy Halloween! :-) xx

    Helen | Helen’s Fashion, Beauty & Lifestyle Blog