Mexican Chocolate Skull Cakes for Day of the Dead

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This is one of my favorite chocolate cake recipes ever. 

It’s a spicy Mexican chocolate cake with a thin sugar glaze in honor of the Day of the Dead. 

We thought we’d mix it up a little for you this year, since we do live in Salem, Massachusetts, Halloween capital of the world.

More on living in Salem (with LOADS of pics) here.

These little babies are a riff on my old-fashioned chocolate cake recipe

I love this cake because it’s fast, it’s easy, it always turns out well for me, and everyone (and I mean everyone) loves it.

It’s consistently one of the moistest cakes I make. 

Bonus points?

You make it in one bowl.

It uses cocoa powder, not chocolate, so there’s no fussy melting of chocolate business.

It uses olive oil, not butter. 

And? It’s VEGAN.

This chocolate cake gets its deep sweetness from dark brown sugar. 

I used dark cocoa powder to get a rich chocolate flavor and achieve a great black crumb. (I mean, it’s a skull cake, right?)

Black cocoa would also work great if you can get your paws on a tin of that.

In true Mexican chocolate mode, I spiked it with a little ground cayenne and cinnamon, which add a lot of dimension to the flavor.

And I threw in a little Scotch for good measure.

Again, building layers of complex flavor.    

If you don’t dig Scotch, you could use rum or vanilla or even chocolate extract if you have it on hand.

The thin sugar glaze is great because it’s easy (you just dip the cakes in), and VERY dramatic, because it settles in the nooks and crannies of the cake, accentuating the features of the skull’s face. 

The inside of the cake is moist and chocolatey, with a really nice crumb.

What is the Day of the Dead?

The Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, is a Mexican holiday celebrated on November 1-2. 

It’s a time to honor and celebrate friends and family who have passed away. 

People will gather together, often in cemeteries around the graves of loved ones, and build private altars including their favorite foods, beverages, photos, and other offerings.   

One quick thing

This is def a more adult cake, unless you have kiddos with super complex palettes.

If you want to make it more kid-friendly, I would omit the cayenne and Scotch.

Check out my Nordic Ware Skull Cakelet Pans

So these are quite possibly the best pans I’ve ever bought.

I think they’ll be great for cakes and muffins and even savory recipes.

(Baked skull-shaped omelets, anyone?)

Check it out: 

I have a large, two-piece skull cake pan (bake the two halves, then stick them together with frosting).

I mean, it’s pretty awesome. It’s huge. It makes a great, dramatic dessert centerpiece.

But I absolutely love these smaller skull cake pans because they’re individual sized, which makes it so much easier to get them from pan to table than the larger cake.

(Can I get an AMEN?)

They’re made by Nordic Ware.

(I adore their pans. They’re heavy and they always bake really evenly for me.)

You can snag these Nordic Ware skull cakelet pans on Amazon here. And if you’re really lucky, you might be able to find them for a song at your local Home Goods, like I did.

Here’s the inside:

If you don’t have these specific skull pans, you can use any other cakelet pan—or even a muffin tin.

Just adjust the baking time up or down to suit your pan size and oven.  

OK, enough yapping. TO THE OVENS!

Mexican Chocolate Skull Cakes for Day of the Dead

For the cake
3 cups flour
2 cups dark brown sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder
2 tsp. Baking soda
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1/2 tsp. Cayenne powder
1 1/2 tsps. Cinnamon
3/4 cup olive oil
1 Tablespoon whiskey or Scotch
2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar or white vinegar
2 cups water
Spray oil for the pans

For the glaze
4 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup water
2 Tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Yields 9 skull cakes

Do a little prep

Preheat your oven to 350-degrees F.

Give your pans a quick spritz with spray oil.

Set them aside while you make the batter. 

Make the Mexican chocolate cake batter

In a large mixing bowl, put the flour, dark brown sugar, unsweetened dark cocoa powder, baking soda, kosher salt, cayenne, and cinnamon.

Whisk it all together until uniform. Break up lumps of brown sugar if you have any.

Add the olive oil, Scotch, vinegar, and water.

Now, the whole thing is going to look like a big mess.

That’s just fine.

Stir with a wooden spoon until uniform.

(Don’t use a whisk, it’ll get too globbed up.)

Break up any big lumps of powder. You want a fairly uniform batter. 

Here’s what mine looked like. It will be pretty thick:

Ladle your cake batter into your prepared pans. 

Fill them about 3/4 of the way full.

Bake your Mexican chocolate skull cakes

Slide your pans into your pre-heated, 350-degree F oven

Bake them for 25-30 minutes, or until they spring back when pressed gently with a finger and a toothpick comes out clean.

When they’re done, remove the pans from the oven and place on a rack.

Despite filling the pans only 3/4 full with cake batter, they still baked up rounded on top. 

Check it out:

Now, you could trim the mound off so they sit completely flat. 

Or you can leave them as is…the mound actually serves to sit them up at a really good angle, so you can see the face well. 

Totally up to you. See what works best for how you’re serving them. I left them as is. 

Unmold and cool the skull cakes

Cool the cakes in the pans for about 10 minutes.

Then, remove them from the cake pans and place them on a rack to cool completely before glazing.   

Make the chocolate skull cake glaze

While your chocolate skull cakes are cooling, whip the glaze together. 

Put the powdered sugar, water, heavy cream, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl.  

Mix together with a fork until uniform.

Break up any lumps.

Resist the urge to add more liquid…it will make the glaze too thin.

The sugar will absorb what you put in the bowl.

Just give it a minute or two. 

For consistency, the glaze will be a little thicker than heavy cream, kind of like really thin yogurt. 

Glaze your chocolate skull cakes

When your cakes are completely cool, you’re ready to glaze them. 

Trust me on this one, wait til they’re cool.

If you glaze them when they’re still warm, the heat from the cakes will make a lot of the glaze slide right off.  

Place a wire rack on your counter.

Pop a few paper towels (or aluminum foil, etc) underneath it to catch any glaze that drips.

(Don’t skip this step, it can make a holy mess if you have a lot of drips.)  

Grab one of your chocolate skull cakes. 

Holding him face-side down, dip him into your bowl of sugar glaze.

Roll his face around, getting the edges. 

When his face is covered, hold him over the glaze bowl for a few seconds to let the excess drip off. 

Set your chocolate skull cake face up on your prepared rack.

The sugar glaze will pool into the eye sockets, and then start to drip down to reveal the cake edges of his face.  

Repeat with the rest of your chocolate skull cakes. 

Leave them on the racks on the counter like this until the glaze sets up. 

It will get a little matte as it dries.

Serve and enjoy!

And…voila!

You just made the most awesome Mexican chocolate skull cakes for the Day of the Dead–or really any day of the year.  

Enjoy!

Stay tuned for our Halloween recipe recap post, coming soon! 

Nutrition

Calories

6812 cal

Fat

186 g

Carbs

1303 g

Protein

59 g
Click Here For Full Nutrition, Exchanges, and My Plate Info
Mexican Chocolate Skull Cakes for Day of the Dead

Yields 9 mini skull cakes

Spooky and spicy Mexican chocolate skull cakes, laced with cinnamon, cayenne, and just a little Scotch!

Save RecipeSave Recipe

Ingredients

For the cake
3 cups flour
2 cups dark brown sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder
2 tsp. Baking soda
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1/2 tsp. Cayenne powder
1 1/2 tsps. Cinnamon
3/4 cup olive oil
1 Tablespoon whiskey or Scotch
2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar or white vinegar
2 cups water
Spray oil for the pans
For the glaze
4 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup water
2 Tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350-degrees F. Give your pans a quick spritz with spray oil. Set them aside while you make the batter. 
  2. In a large mixing bowl, put the flour, dark brown sugar, unsweetened dark cocoa powder, baking soda, kosher salt, cayenne, and cinnamon. Whisk it all together until uniform.
  3. Add the olive oil, Scotch, vinegar, and water. Stir with a wooden spoon until uniform. (Don't use a whisk, it'll get too globbed up.)
  4. Ladle your cake batter into your prepared pans. Fill them about 3/4 of the way full.
  5. Bake in your pre-heated, 350-degree F oven for 25-30 minutes, or until they spring back when pressed gently with a finger and a toothpick comes out clean.
  6. When they're done, remove the pans from the oven and place on a rack. Cool the cakes in the pans for about 10 minutes. Then, remove them from the cake pans and place them on a rack to cool completely before glazing. 
  7. Whip the glaze together. Put the powdered sugar, water, heavy cream, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Mix together with a fork until uniform.
  8. When your cakes are completely cool, you're ready to glaze them. Place a wire rack on your counter. Pop a few paper towels under it to catch any glaze that drips.
  9. Grab one of your chocolate skull cakes. Holding him face-side down, dip him into your bowl of sugar glaze. Roll his face around, getting the edges. Hold over the bowl for a few seconds to let the excess drip off. 
  10. Set your chocolate skull cake face up on your prepared rack. Repeat with the rest of your chocolate skull cakes. 
  11. Leave them on the racks on the counter like this until the glaze sets up. 
  12. Serve and enjoy!
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Jessie Cross is a cookbook author and creator of The Hungry Mouse, a monster online food blog w/500+ recipes. When she's not shopping for cheese or baking pies, Jessie works as an advertising copywriter in Boston. She lives in Salem, Massachusetts with her husband and two small, fluffy wolves.

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