Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, right behind Christmas and Thanksgiving, which are both tied for first right now. I love spooky and creepy things, and getting dressed up as a little kid was always just about the coolest thing ever. I was always a fan of dressing up, and that's something that hasn't changed. My mom would always make me an elaborate homemade costume, and I always thought my costume was the best there was. Combined with my epic costumes, the fact that I also lived in a neighborhood where people were super generous when it came to giving out trick or treat goodie bags meant that Halloween was always a really special time of year. I'm not dressing up this year, mostly because I just didn't have time to pull together a costume that met my standards, but I'm not without Halloween plans. I'll be watching scary movies in the dark and eating my weight in mini chocolate bars, which is just as good a plan as any.
I got into one of my layer-cake-making moods a couple of weeks ago, and rather than just bake a layer cake and get it out of my system, I decided to save it for Halloween. In theory, this meant that I would have had a long time to plan out my cake and decide how I wanted to decorate it, "in theory" being the key words there. I did spend a lot of time looking for inspiration, but I just couldn't settle on anything. I knew that I wanted to make a chocolate cake, because I don't think there's anything better than a perfectly moist chocolate cake, and also because the last two layer cakes I had made were of the buttermilk vanilla type (see here and here). Super dark, intense, almost black chocolate layer cakes were going to make it into my final halloween cake in one way or another. The decoration required a bit more thinking, and in the end, I ended up over-thinking it (because that always happens).
The weekend when I actually needed to make my cake finally arrived, and I still hadn't finalized how I wanted to decorate my chocolate cake. I baked my cake layers anyway, hoping that between baking them and waiting for the layers to be cool enough to slice that I would come up with something. That ended up not happening, because the cake making process was so quick. I used a tried and true chocolate layer cake recipe from Sweetapolita, because I have yet to make anything from her site that doesn't work out perfectly. This chocolate cake is probably the fastest cake you'll ever make. All of the dry ingredients are sifted directly into the bowl of your electric mixer. The liquid ingredients are quickly mixed together with a fork, and then poured into the mixer, all at once. Three minutes or so of mixing, and the cake batter is done! This cake could not be simpler, and it bakes like a dream.
Now that I had three chocolate cakes cooling on my kitchen counter, I had to decide on the decoration. It was now or never. I remembered a post I had seen on The Cake Blog for a cobweb cake made with marshmallows, and out of all the cakes I looked at while searching for inspiration, this was the cake I kept turning to the most. I loved that it was simple in presentation and not "obviously" a Halloween cake, if that makes sense; I wanted to make a classy cake! Since I was running low on time, steam, and ideas, I settled on the cobweb cake. I whipped up a batch of creamy vanilla bean frosting, filled and frosted my cake as smooth as I possible could, and set about making a sticky, marshmallowy cobweb mess.
The cobweb technique is almost laughably quick to make, really. Marshmallows are melted in the microwave, and once they're cool enough to touch, its just a matter of grabbing a small bit of marshmallow, stretching it out and draping it all over the cake, in as random a pattern as possible. Vary the thickness of the strands as you go, to help make the cobweb look more realistic. It only takes a few minutes to completely cover the cake, but be warned: this can be very messy! Your hands will be very sticky when you're done, but the marshmallow washes right off. I let the cake sit for a little while to let the marshmallow firm up a bit, and to my complete surprise, the cake sliced perfectly with a hot knife. I thought the marshmallow would make slicing into the cake difficult, but I ended up getting a perfectly clean slice of cake. The deep chocolate cake with the vanilla bean frosting was a perfect combination, and the cobweb technique on top was charming and creepy at the same time. I wish I had had a chance to make a fondant spider to top off the cake, but my indecisiveness got the best of me again, and I just didn't have a chance. Regardless, I was thrilled with my cobweb cake. It's such an easy technique that's perfect for dressing up a last-minute Halloween cake. Enjoy!
Creepy Cobweb Chocolate Cake
cake and frosting recipes from Sweetapolita
cobweb technique from The Cake Blog
For the Cake
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup + 1 tablespoon dark cocoa powder
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups buttermilk, shaken, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups strong black coffee, hot
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract
For the Frosting
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, cubed
3 3/4 cups sifted confectioner's sugar
1/4 cup milk
1 vanilla bean, scraped
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
For the Cobweb
6 oz marshmallows
To make the cake, begin by preheating the oven to 350 degrees F and position a rack in the middle of the oven. Prepare three 8" round cake pans. Grease the pans with nonstick spray, line the bottoms with parchment paper, grease the paper, and then dust with all purpose flour, making sure to tap out the excess.
In the bowl of a standard electric mixer, sift all the dry ingredients. In a large measuring cup (or bowl with a spout), quickly whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, coffee, oil, and vanilla with a fork. Add the buttermilk mixture to the dry ingredients, and mix for 2 minutes on medium speed. The plastic splash guard that came with your mixer will be helpful here, as this batter is very thin. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared pans (a kitchen scale will help).
Bake the cakes for 32 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out mostly clean (with only a few crumbs). Cool the cakes on wire racks for 20 minutes, then invert the cakes from their pans onto the racks, remove the parchment paper, and let the cakes cool completely.
When the cake have cooled completely, prepare the frosting. In the bowl of a standard electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter for 8 minutes on medium speed. It will become pale and creamy. Add the remaining ingredients, mix on low speed for 1 minute, and then on medium speed for 6 more minutes. The frosting will be very light, creamy, and fluffy. The frosting is best when used right away (for spreading purposes).
To assemble the cake, begin by leveling the cakes. The easiest way to do this is to place one of the cakes in a quarter sheet pan and place a long serrated knife across the rims of the sheet pan. Using a gentle sawing motion, move the knife back and forth, slicing through the cake, while keeping both ends of the knife on the sheet pan. The top of the cake will come right off in one piece, and the best part is that all of your cakes will be the exact same height so you'll have even layers (and lots of cake scraps to snack on!)
Place a small dab of frosting on a cake plate and place one of the leveled cakes on top, cut side down. Spread a thick, even layer of frosting on top. Place another cake over the frosting, cut side down, and spread a layer of frosting on top. Place the last cake on top of the frosting. Crumb-coat your cake by covering it in a very thin layer of frosting to seal the crumbs. Refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes to firm up the crumb coat. Once firm, add a thicker layer of frosting all around the cake, and smooth it out as much as possible. Dipping an offset spatula in hot water will help ensure that the frosting is smooth. Refrigerate the cake to firm up the frosting.
Makes 1 8-inch, 3-layer cake