Vegan Chocolate Layer Skull Cake

Chocolate layer drip cake decorated with small chocolate skulls, sitting on a white cake stand

If deep, dark chocolate cravings have been haunting you, try this decadent vegan chocolate layer skull cake… if you dare! Filled and coated with a lush chocolate buttercream, dripped in a satiny ganache and topped with pure chocolate skulls, this is one wicked cake! Perfect for an elegant and spooky vegan Halloween dessert!

Thank you to Williams-Sonoma Canada for sponsoring this post. As always, all opinions are my own.

View of a slice of a triple layer chocolate cake with several bites missing and a fork resting on the plate it's lying on. A chocolate skull sits on the plate, while a candle glows in the background.

This is my favorite chocolate cake. Fudgy with a super moist crumb, no one will believe that it doesn’t contain any dairy or eggs! I love it so much that I made it for my own wedding! While it didn’t have skulls on the top (and instead was three tires with strawberry filling and vanilla frosting), the vegan chocolate sponge layers were the same as what I’m sharing here. You can see a picture of my wedding cake here if you’re the curious type!

Be warned, this is not *just* a triple chocolate vegan cake…it’s a quadruple chocolate cake. Let’s do the math to double check, though: chocolate cake + chocolate frosting + chocolate ganache + chocolate skulls cake toppers. Definitely quadruple!

Chocolate layer cake with ganache drips and a half crown of small chocolate skulls on the top. The cake is on a white cake stand with a pink linen napkin beneath it.

Vegan Chocolate Halloween Cake

I had originally wanted to call this cake Death by (Vegan) Chocolate but as it happens, the name “Death by Chocolate” is already trademarked and I’m not one to step on toes. This spooky dark chocolate cake is the perfect vegan Halloween dessert with the chocolate skulls on the top, but it would also be amazing for a goth wedding cake or goth birthday cake! Not to paint a fun cake into the corner, I went with something more practical and self-explanatory. And so vegan chocolate layer skull cake it is!

A show stopper vegan Halloween dessert doesn’t need to be gaudy or filled with bright food dyes. In fact, it’s probably a lot easier (and more delicious) to make a cake decorated in dairy-free chocolate. Most candy melts which are used for other types of colorful Halloween cakes have dairy in them, and vegan alternatives just haven’t caught up yet. The skull molds I used for this cake are actually ice molds from Williams-Sonoma Canada intended for spooky drinks. The molds are made out of silicone so when melted chocolate is poured into them and is left to harden, they are easy to peel away from the chocolate skulls.

While this vegan Halloween dessert speaks for itself, it definitely needed a complimentary cake stand. The Finessa cake stand from Williams-Sonoma Canada looks smashing with it! It has beautiful Italian inspired lace-like details which give it an antique feel, perfect elegance for a spooky yet classy cake. I’m such a fan of multi-purpose pieces, and love that I don’t have to pack this cake stand away after Halloween – it’s timeless enough to use for any occasion. I served the chocolate cake on Finessa salad plates. These beautifully detailed plates will be used year round in my kitchen for an eclectic feel along side my other dishes.

Chocolate layer cake with a chocolate ganache drip has two slices cut ready to be served with an antique spatula

How to Make a Vegan Chocolate Layer Skull Cake

  1. Bake and then chill the cake layers
  2. Make the one ingredient chocolate skulls (melt chocolate, pour into molds and chill)
  3. Make the frosting
  4. Stack and frost the cake, then chill
  5. Make the two ingredient ganache and drip onto the cake
  6. Place the chocolate skulls on the cake. You have just created your own boo-tiful vegan chocolate cake!

While this chocolate Halloween cake may take a little planning in terms of when you start making it, it’s actually not difficult to make. Most of the time is spent inactive – baking and chilling times. The decorating is as simple as it gets, without any piping or special techniques required!

A slice of chocolate cake on a white plate, with another slice lies on a plate in the background beside a white pedestal cake stand holding the cut triple layer chocolate Halloween themed cake

Vegan Chocolate Cake Layers

The vegan chocolate sponge is fudgy and oh so chocolatey. I use both melted chocolate and Dutch-process cocoa to create depth and intensity in the chocolate flavor. Dutch process cocoa is my favorite here because it has a darker color and smoother flavor than natural cocoa powder.

Adding hot coffee to this cake batter encourages the chocolate to bloom and creates a burst of activity from the baking powder – the result is a tender yet fudgy crumb. The best! Don’t like coffee? Don’t worry, you won’t taste it – it simply enhances the chocolate flavors. Use decaf if you’re concerned about the extra caffeine.

Once your cakes are baked, let them come down to room temperature, then wrap each one individually and set flat in the fridge to chill. Chilling firms up the cakes so they are much easier to work with later.

Vegan American Style Chocolate Buttercream

American style buttercream is the easiest and quickest frosting you can make. A few things to make it even more stress-free:

Have your vegan butter and milk at room temperature – this makes the vegan butter soft for whipping properly . Using cold milk or butter will also cause the melted chocolate you’ll be adding to harden, creating lumps in your frosting.

Melt your chocolate then bring it to room temperature – warm chocolate will melt your vegan butter and you’ll be left with sweet chocolate soup. Delicious, perhaps, but not what we’re after.

Sift your cocoa powder and icing sugar – lumps of cocoa in buttercream are never a pleasant surprise!

Troubleshooting Split or Curdled Looking Frosting

Go easy on the milk – add just barely enough for a nice whipped buttercream. Adding too much can create an overly soft buttercream, but worse yet, can cause it to split. If it does, add a couple of tablespoons more of vegan butter and rewhip. Buttercream is an emulsion of sorts, so you just need to bring the fat levels back up!

If you’ve done everything right and somehow your frosting splits or looks like the vegan butter has created webs all over the chocolate, pop it into the fridge for 10 minute increments, rewhipping between each one until it comes together. It’s likely that the vegan butter simply got too warm from the friction created during whipping and needs to be chilled to pull the frosting back together.

Vegan chocolate layer drip cake on a white cake stand with a branch in the dark background
Cropped view of a chocolate layer cake covered in small chocolate skulls

Chocolate Ganache

While elegant and definitely adds so much to any layer cake, vegan chocolate ganache is deceptively easy to make. All you need are two ingredients! Chocolate and coconut milk. And no, you won’t taste the coconut!

To make chocolate ganache, heat the coconut milk to steaming and then add in chopped chocolate. Let it sit for a few minutes and then stir. The mixture will come together as the chocolate melts and blends with the coconut milk.

While I have used chocolate chips for ganache, I generally don’t recommend them. Not all chocolate chips are created equal and many have fillers in them which affect how they melt – unless they are really high quality chocolate, you’re best to use a bar of chocolate . I tend to go for 70% cacao which is nice and dark but not bitter, and melts beautifully.

The ganache should be just a bit warmer than room temperature. Ganache that is too hot can melt the icing, quickly run down the cake and look more like a flat smear. If it’s too cold, it’ll firm up and look like blobs before it has the chance to run down the cake nicely. If the ganache is not behaving like it should, you can adjust it. Either let it cool a little longer on the counter to thicken, or heat it for 5-10 second bursts in the microwave if it needs to be a bit more fluid.

Chocolate Skulls

The chocolate skulls really do set this chocolate Halloween cake apart any other chocolate drip cake. They are impressive and intricately detailed Halloween cake toppers but are so easy to make! If you can melt chocolate and spoon it into a mold, you can make these!

Once the molds have been filled, place the molds in the freezer for about 20-25 minutes or until the chocolate is hard. Allow the chocolate to fully harden before releasing the mold. If the chocolate has not set before the mold is released, the chocolate can break and you’ll have to start all over with melting the chocolate. This is where planning is important – depending on how many you’d like for the top of your cake, you may want to start making these a few days in advance and store them in a paper towel lined, sealed container in the fridge as you make them.

View looking down onto the top of a chocolate cake covered in chocolate ganache and decorated with small chocolate skulls arranged in the shape of a crescent moon
Chocolate layer cake on a white cake stand. A stack of white plates is in the foreground on top of which lies 3 silver forks.

Want MORE Vegan Chocolate? Check Out These Recipes:

Tender Chocolate Cupcakes with Fluffy Whipped Chocolate Ganache

Chocolate Bundt Cake with Salted Peanut Butter Glaze

Easy Chocolate Sheet Cake with Fluffy Espresso Frosting

Hazelnut Chocolate Tart

If you make this Vegan Chocolate Layer Halloween Skull Cake , please give it a rating in the recipe card and leave a comment below! Follow along on Instagram where you can tag me in your creations using my recipes! You can also follow me on Pinterest for vegan recipe inspiration and on Facebook. Thank you for reading!

Chocolate layer drip cake decorated with small chocolate skulls, sitting on a white cake stand

Vegan Chocolate Layer Skull Cake

If deep, dark chocolate cravings have been haunting you, try this decadent vegan chocolate layer skull cake… if you dare! Filled and coated with a lush chocolate buttercream, dripped in a satiny ganache and topped with pure chocolate skulls, this is one wicked cake!
5 from 4 votes
Print Pin
Course: Cake, Dessert
Cuisine: American, Vegan
Keyword: Halloween Cake, Halloween Dessert, Skull Cake, Vegan Halloween Dessert, Vegan Skull Cake
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Chilling: 3 hours
Total Time: 4 hours 30 minutes
Servings: 20
Calories: 577kcal
Author: Crumbs & Caramel

Ingredients

For the Vegan Chocolate Cake:

  • 1 1/2 cups hot coffee or Americano
  • 75 g good quality dark vegan chocolate, chopped
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 2/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 2 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups plant-based milk
  • 3/4 cup neutral oil (e.g. canola, avocado, rapeseed, etc)
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract

For the Vegan Chocolate Frosting:

  • 75 g good quality dark vegan chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup vegan butter (baking stick, not tub style), room temperature
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 5 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 2-4 tbsp plant-based milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

For the Vegan Chocolate Ganache:

  • 1/4 cup canned coconut milk (not coconut beverage)
  • 80 g good quality dark vegan chocolate (70% cacao is nice without being bitter)

For the Chocolate Skulls:

  • 1/2-1 kg dark vegan chocolate, chopped (70% cacao or higher for nice dark skulls)

Instructions

For the Vegan Chocolate Cake:

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare 3 x 8” round baking tins with parchment rounds on the bottoms and spray/wipe the sides lightly with oil.
  • Prepare the hot coffee or Americano in a large glass measuring cup. Add in the chopped chocolate, let sit for 1 minute to melt, then stir well ensuring all of the chocolate melts.
  • In a large bowl, sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Whisk well to evenly combine.
  • In a medium sized bowl or large liquid measuring cup, whisk together the plant milk, oil, vinegar and vanilla.
  • Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, mixing with a spoon. Stir in the coffee and melted chocolate mixture.
  • Divide evenly between the 3 pans, tapping each a few times to release air bubbles, and bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean or with a few baked crumbs. Cool completely before frosting. For easiest handling, wrap the cake layers individually and chill in the fridge, at least 2 hours.

For the Vegan Chocolate Frosting:

  • Start by melting the chocolate either in a double boiler or in 20 seconds shots in the microwave. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
  • In the bowl of a stand-mixer, beat the vegan butter until fluffy with paddle attachment. Add the cocoa powder, then the confectioners' sugar in 1/2 cup increments, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla extract and completely cooled chocolate. Beat for 5 minutes, adding a tbsp of milk in at a time until desired thickness. See tips in blog post regarding split or curdled frosting.

To Frost the Cake:

  • Using a large serrated knife, cut a thin layer off the tops of the cakes so they are flat, if necessary. These cakes usually bake pretty level so this step may not be necessary. Keeping the arm holding the knife close to the side of your body can help make the cut level. Otherwise, if you have a cake leveled, now is the time to bring it out.
  • Add a dab of frosting on an 8” cake board, cake stand or flat serving plate. Place 1 cake layer on your cake stand or serving plate. Evenly cover with ~3/4 cup of frosting. Top with 2nd layer, evenly cover with 3/4 cup of frosting, repeating with the last layer. Add a small amount of frosting onto the sides of the cake, smoothing things out with a cake scraper if you have one, otherwise use a long flat metal spatula. This is the crumb coat – you should be able to see the cake through the frosting. This sets the crumbs so the cake is easier to finish frosting later without loose crumbs. Chill the cake in the fridge for 20 minutes to set the crumb coat.
  • Cover the sides with remaining frosting, evening things out as much as possible. For smoothest results, heat your cake scraper in hot water, wipe to dry completely and then smooth the frosting.

For the Vegan Chocolate Ganache:

  • Heat the coconut milk until steaming. You can do this in the microwave or on the stovetop in a small pot. Pour the hot coconut cream over the chopped chocolate. Let sit 5 minutes then stir gently until smooth – do not beat or you'll whip air bubbles into it. Let cool until barely warm to the touch before dripping onto your chilled cake. 
  • To drip the ganache, either fill a squeeze bottle with the ganache or use a small narrow spoon. Start with a test drip on a tall glass or mug. Once you're comfortable with how the chocolate drips, add one drip to the cake. If you like how it dripped, continue on around the rest of the cake alternating how much chocolate you drip so that the drips are staggered. If your ganache is too thick, microwave it for 10 seconds, stir or swirl and try again. If it is too thin, let it sit at room temperature for a few minutes.
  • Once you've created drips all around the cake, spoon or squeeze the rest on the top of the cake. Smooth with an angled spatula or the back of a large spoon. Set back in the fridge to set for 10 minutes or until ready to top with the skulls.

For the Chocolate Skulls:

  • Melt enough chopped chocolate for the molds you have. Each of the molds I used required approximately 90 g of chocolate.
  • Fill the the mold taking care not to overfill. Gently tap the mold on the counter to release any air bubbles. Place the second part of the mold on the top – any excess will come out the small drain hole at the top – try not to overfill them or they will be difficult to remove. Set in the freezer to chill for 20-25 minutes or until they are completely solid. Gently remove the chocolate from the mold with clean, dry hands. Repeat this process until you have the number of skulls you would like for your cake. In a halve moon arrangement, this size cake looks nice with 6-12 skulls.
  • If your hands are warm, you may choose to wear tight fitting rubber or nitrile gloves when adding the skulls to the top of the cake to avoid finger prints on the chocolates. Any imperfections from the chocolate seeping into the seams cut be carefully trimmed with a sharp paring knife, and then smoothed by runny your gloved finger firmly over it.
  • Place the skulls as desired on the top of the cake.
    Enjoy chilled or at room temperature. This cake is fudgy and holds together well at room temperature (but like any frosted cake, will become fragile in hot weather.) The frosting will firm up a lot in the fridge. If you prefer it softer, leave at room temperature once assembled and decorated.

Nutrition Info:

Calories: 577kcal | Carbohydrates: 78g | Protein: 6g | Fat: 29g | Saturated Fat: 11g | Cholesterol: 1mg | Sodium: 260mg | Potassium: 420mg | Fiber: 6g | Sugar: 55g | Vitamin A: 71IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 77mg | Iron: 6mg

Notes:

This cake can made in advance. It keeps very well refrigerated once frosted and dripped in ganache, up to a week. You may also choose to freeze the whole cake, by gently wrapping it in plastic wrap for up to a month. The skulls can also be made in advance but may bloom after a few days – this is simply the cocoa butter separating out.
Did you make this recipe?Tag @crumbs.and.caramel on Instagram!

The Nutrition Information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the Nutrition Information for any recipe on this site cannot be guaranteed.

This post may contain affiliate links which means if you click on the link and make a purchase, I may get a very small percentage in commission.  There’s never any extra cost to you, and I only link to products I actually use and enjoy.  Thank you for your support!

Leave a Reply