Chocolate Skull Cake with a Strawberry Mousse Brain

TLSO has a thing for skulls so I was quite giddy to find a skull cake tin, by the good people at Wilton. The tin came with a recipe for a pumpkin cake, because, you know, of course you would be using this to bake a cake for your Halloween celebration. No. Instead, I baked TLSO’s birthday cake in it – hence the rather fetching candle stuck into the skull! So, off I went … looking for new recipes for a chocolate cake. Lo and behold: “Mccall’s Cooking School’s Perfect Chocolate Cake” seemed to fit the bill, and the tin. You can find the recipe posted on various places online; I, as per usual, located it on The cake recipe is actually for a layer cake and comes complete with filling and frosting recipes, but I only used the cake part, for I had other cunning plans.

Chocolate Cake:

1 cup unsweetened cocoa

2 cups boiling water

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup butter, softened

2 1/2 cups sugar

4 eggs

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat oven to 170 C.

Grease and flour the skull cake tin. Do this with utmost care: you don’t want it to get stuck and break and ruin the whole look. The skull is in the details! (Trust me, I know. I made three of what-were-supposed-to-be-skulls last week using metal clay and a silicon mould: two of them ended up looking like monkeys and not like skulls at all.)

In a medium bowl, whisk cocoa with boiling water until smooth. Cool completely.

Sift flour with baking soda, salt and baking powder.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer at high speed, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla, beat well.

At low speed, beat in flour mixture, alternately with cocoa mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Do not overbeat.

Divide batter evenly into the pan; smooth top. Bake for about 45 minutes or until surface springs back when gently pressed with fingertip.

Let cool a little before turning the cakes out, then allow the cakes to cool completely. Wash the cake tin and place the cake halves back into it. Dig out the insides of the skull with a knife and a spoon, to make room for the strawberry mousse brain.

For the strawberry brain, I used this recipe for strawberry and lime mousse cake; only the mousse part, omitting all traces of lime, and adding two gelatine leaves to ensure a firm mousse. Note that the recipe makes way too much mousse: you could easily halve the recipe and probably still have quite a bit left over. I didn’t want to try and figure out what to make with half a package of each of the ingredients, so I made the whole recipe. I turned the leftover mousse into cupcakes, using the cake I’d dug out of the skull halves as a cake base for them.

Strawberry Mousse

500 g strawberries (frozen are fine; just thaw them first!)

200 ml whippable vanilla sauce

200 g thick, plain yogurt (Greek/Turkish)

100 ml powdered sugar

200 ml whipping cream

7 gelatine leaves

2 tablespoons strawberry juice or water

Puree the (thawed) strawberries using a hand-held mixer.

Whip the vanilla sauce until thickened. Add plain yogurt, strawberry puree and powdered sugar, mix.

In a separate bowl, whip the whipping cream until stiff peaks form. Add to the vanilla sauce mixture, mix well.

Soak gelatine leaves in plenty of water for 5 minutes. Heat two tablespoons of strawberry juice/water in a saucepan or in the microwave. Squeeze out the gelatine leaves and dissolve in the hot juice/water. Allow to cool for a while and mix the liquid into the strawberry cream mixture.

Pour the mousse into the skull halves, cover, and transfer to the fridge; allow to set overnight.

Carefully turn the cakes out of the pan and assemble cake. I used a simple cocoa, powdered sugar and milk mixture as “glue” for attaching the two parts of the skull together. I goofed when trying to make the two parts fit and hence my skull cake needed a chin support made out of foil to maintain its balance. ;-) I didn’t make a frosting as I didn’t want to cover any of the skull-ness (details, remember), so I just sifted plenty of powdered sugar on top, covering the eye sockets with parchment paper rounds so they remained nice and dark. I’ll have to look into fondants and frostings to see what I could use that would conform to the shape of the cake… Hmm!

… aaand then I stuck a candle into the skull’s forehead, sang happy birthday, TLSO chopped the skull’s top off, and we ate it. Good cake.  :-)


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