Haunted House Cake

If you have a surplus of patience and a little spare time, have I got a cake for you! This is a lovely orange-flavored cake, enough for two deep 8-inch pans and one 6-inch pan, which will create the base for the houses and the top for the moon and witch.

There is a lot going on here if you make it the way I did. The cake, Italian buttercream icing, black fondant cutouts, and a hollow moon made of candy melts.

Let’s see how much of that we can dispense with, for your sake.

  • The cake can be a boxed mix. You’ll need two boxes of yellow cake mix.
  • For icing, use a standard buttercream recipe, but double it so you don’t have to be stingy with the icing. I wouldn’t use canned frosting; it would take a lot of cans to do it right, and it’s pretty soft. You don’t want your houses sliding off the cake! I used Italian buttercream, but it’s a lot of work. I hadn’t made it in a long time and just felt like messing with it.
  • That moon! I really did it the hard way and made it out of candy melts, formed in a bowl. Two large cookies (bought at a grocery store bakery) would be the easiest way to go. Simply coat them with melted yellow candy melts and stick them together.
  • When you cut out the printed silhouettes for the houses, bats, and witches, leave a little white border around the silhouettes so you’ll be able to see what you’re doing when you cut the fondant. I learned this the hard way.
  • Buy black fondant. Even I wasn’t nuts enough to make it and try to color it a true black. Nope. Buy it! (If I’d given you more time you could have had edible designs custom printed. Maybe next year?) I tried a new brand this year and am a real fan: Fondarific. I ordered it online, but you may be able to find it in craft stores.

Create black fondant decorations. Do this first; it’s going to take you a while. This can be done a day or two ahead. I printed out clip art silhouettes and cut each one out. Haunted houses, bats, and a witch (or two if you want one on each side of the moon). Working with small pieces of fondant at a time, roll very thin. Use a dusting of cornstarch if necessary to prevent sticking. Rolling between parchment helps too. Lay a template on the fondant and carefully cut around the outside edge with a sharp blade. Remove the template and cut out windows and doors. I used a large straw for round windows. I found it was easier for me to cut out the whole window and then replace the cross pieces, smoothing the edges than trying to cut out those itty bitty squares. Layer the completed pieces between sheets of parchment or plastic wrap. I did the trees free form when decorating the cake. Just rolled and twisted. I also cut long strips that were flat on the bottom and curved on the top to place around the cake bottom.

Lay paper templates on thinly rolled fondant. Cut out carefully, then peel off the paper. A toothpick is a great tool for straightening the little windows!

Bake the cake. Here’s the recipe I used.

Orange Cake (for Haunted House Cake)
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Ingredients
  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 2⅔ cups sugar
  • 5 eggs, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • ½ teaspoon orange extract or zest from 1 large orange
  • 4 cups cake flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt (if using unsalted butter, add an additional ¼ teaspoon of salt)
  • 1½ cups whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons frozen concentrated orange juice
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 350 F. Place parchment rounds in the bottom of two 8-inch (2 inches deep) round cake pans and one 6-inch (2 inches deep) round cake pan. Spray parchment and the sides of the pan with a flour/oil baking spray. Or grease and flour pans. (I'd still use the parchment rounds to ensure the cakes release easily.)
  2. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. Add eggs, one a time, beating thoroughly after the addition of each egg and scraping the bowl often.
  4. Add vanilla and orange extract (or zest).
  5. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  6. In a small bowl combine the milk and concentrated orange juice.
  7. Add approximately ⅓ of the flour to the butter and sugar mixture. Beat just until combined. Add ⅓ of the liquids and beat just until combined. Repeat two more times, scraping the bowl often.
  8. Spoon 3 generous cups of batter into each of the large pans. Drop each pan several times on a hard surface to level. Add remaining batter (about 2 cups) into the smaller pan. Drop to level.
  9. Bake 35-40 minutes. Don't open the oven door while the cakes are baking. At 35 minutes carefully check. If a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the middle of a cake, they're done. If not, let the cakes bake a little longer.
  10. Move to a cooling rack for 10 minutes before turning out the cakes. Let the cakes cool completely before icing.

 

 

Ready for the oven.

Make icing. Use your favorite buttercream recipe, and make lots. Cakes are much easier to ice neatly when you can be generous with the icing. Save at least a cup of white out for the clouds, color a couple of cups of icing blue/gray for the top layer (black food coloring adds a nice tone) and color the rest a pretty yellow/orange.

Most of the icing will be orange, the rest is a blue/gray. Save some white too, for clouds.

Ice the cakes. I didn’t bother cutting layers because I wanted the final cake to be as straight as possible, and I’ve learned from experience that the more layers I make, the more chance I have of having a wonky cake. (I know. I need to work on that!) Put the two large cakes together with a generous amount of the orange icing, then ice the outside as smoothly as you can.  Ice the small cake with the blue/gray. I found it easiest to ice the small cake first and then lift it onto the large cake with two spatulas. Combine the reserved white icing with streaks of the blue/gray to make clouds. I piped it on with a large round piping tip, at the base of the small cake. (Save a small amount for attaching the moon to the top.)

You can add the silhouettes immediately, or wait until the icing has dried a bit. Your call! Melt a few yellow candy melts and place in a disposable pastry bag or zipper-type bag with a tiny bit of the tip cut off. Pipe into windows and doors to create the appearance of light inside the houses.

Make the moon. Whether you use two cookies or go with the hollow candy melt option, you’ll still need to do some melting and coloring. I used a heaping cup of candy melts, found with cake decorating supplies. Unless you have colors specially meant for chocolate (regular food coloring may react with the melts and cause them to seize into a hard blob) I’d stick with yellow. I wanted a pale yellow, so used mostly white with a few yellow melts. Let your artistic side take over and get the color you want.

White and yellow candy melts are used to make the moon.

If you’re using cookies for your moon, spread the melted yellow chocolate on the rounded sides and lay them, flat side down, on a piece of parchment. Melt a few discs of white, yellow and orange with a tablespoon of chocolate chips to get a contrasting color for the moon’s details. Using a photo from the internet, make a stab at realism by creating craters. Brush or dab color on both cookies so it will look like the moon on either side of the cake.

I mixed white, yellow, orange, and red for my moon accents.

If you want to make a hollow moon, line two small bowls with plastic wrap. The sticky kind works best because you can get most of the little creases out and the plastic won’t budge. Using the darker accent color, dab designs on the plastic on the bottom of the bowl. Here’s the tricky part: you have to do it the opposite of the picture you’re looking at because otherwise, once you turn it out, the craters that you just painstakingly painted from left to right will actually be right to left. I have no spatial abilities. NONE. So I had to flip that bowl over a whole bunch of times to convince myself of this fact.

Line bowls with plastic wrap. (The sticky kind, if you have it.) Smooth out as many wrinkles as possible.

Bowl on the right has the crater design painted in it. Bowl on the left shows the next step – adding the yellow. Then chill!

Once the accent colors have dried, pour melted yellow chocolate into each bowl, swirling as you go. Try to keep the top line even, about 1 inch from the bottom of the bowl. For ease in assembling later, let this dry and then spread on a second layer. Pop them in the fridge to harden quickly. Once firm, gently ease the plastic away from the sides of the bowl, lifting carefully. Take your time. It may help to warm the bottom of the bowl with your hands. Remove plastic from chocolate. “Glue” the two pieces together with melted yellow chocolate and place on top of the cake.

So . . . that’s it. Easy, huh! Hello? Hello?

I don’t really expect anyone to make this, but if you do I’d sure love to see a picture! Just leave it on my Rowdy Baker Facebook Page!

Lorinda

Chocolate Cupcakes with Grand Marnier Icing

I gussied these chocolate cupcakes up for Halloween, creating pumpkins with little spiders lurking on them, but without the spiders they would be perfect for Thanksgiving – a real crowd-pleaser. Grand Marnier makes these an adult indulgence, of course, but you can always replace the liqueur with orange juice if you are feeding them to littles.

I’ll go with the booze, thank you very much.

I love Grand Marnier and usually splurge on a bottle every year. Mostly for baking, though a little occasionally makes its way into a small brandy snifter. Who can resist that? What amazing flavor it imparts to buttercream icing! It doesn’t take much, so you could just buy one or two of those mini bottles at the liquor store if your budget is tight, or go with a knock-off version.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Grand Marnier Icing
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Makes about 30 cupcakes Decorating them like pumpkins uses a lot of icing! If you choose to simply frost the cupcakes, you can cut the icing recipe in half.
Ingredients
  • CAKE:
  • 2¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup cocoa powder (I use a mixture of regular and extra dark)
  • ¾ cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup oil (I use peanut oil, but canola would be good too)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup hot coffee
  • Grand Marnier for drizzling over cupcakes before icing (optional)
  • ICING:
  • 1 cup butter
  • 4 tablespoons shortening
  • 9 cups powdered sugar
  • ¼ cup Grand Marnier liqueur
  • 2 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • Orange food coloring (optional)
  • Chocolate slivers, green icing for decorating.
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 350 F. Line cupcake pans with paper liners.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cocoa powder.
  3. Add buttermilk, oil, and vanilla. Beat well, scraping the bowl often.
  4. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well in between each addition.
  5. Stir in the coffee until mixture is smooth.
  6. Fill cupcake liners a little more than half full, but no more than ⅔ full.
  7. Bake 25-30 minutes, or until top springs back when touched and a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean.
  8. Cool on a rack.
  9. Once cool, you may want to poke inch-deep holes in the cupcake tops and drizzle each cupcake with ½ teaspoon Grand Marnier, letting it soak in through the holes.
  10. ICING: beat together the butter, shortening, and 2 cups of the powdered sugar until creamy.
  11. Add Grand Marnier, frozen orange juice, and cream. Beat until well combined.
  12. Add the remaining powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape the sides of the bowl often. Beat on high until fluffy, adjusting if necessary by adding more powdered sugar or cream to achieve a thick icing that will hold shape when piped.
  13. Add orange food coloring, if desired.
  14. With a pastry bag fitted with large round tip, pipe a mound in the middle of each cupcake. Starting at the base of the mound and working your way around the icing mound, pipe from bottom to top, releasing pressure on the pastry bag as you reach the top. Put a small sliver of chocolate in the center of the top for a stem and, if desired, use a small amount of green icing to add leaves.

Fill a little over halfway.

Poke holes with a skewer and drizzle with Grand Marnier.

Use large round tip to make a flat circle then center mound (like a witch’s hat). Or . . . just make a mound.

Pull icing up from the base of the circle to create a pumpkin.

Now just stick a little sliver of chocolate (or get creative: a pretzel stick, piece of Tootsie Roll, cacao nib, whatever) on top and, if you want, add a few leaves and curlicues with green icing and a tiny writing tip. I piped small spiders on mine with melted chocolate (because the crow requested them) but if you don’t want to get all crazy, you could just do this: 

Added bonus to taking this shortcut: you would only need half of the icing recipe for the pretty little floret. A drizzle of chocolate or a few sprinkles, and it’s a thing of beauty.
Enjoy!

Lorinda