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!
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.
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.