Chocolate Spider Cake

This cake makes a perfect, child-friendly dessert for a Halloween party. It’s not too in your face with the spiders but there are enough of them to make the cake look a little bit creepy. The cobwebs are also super fun to create which is always a bonus when baking. Hidden away beneath the spiders is a rich devil’s food cake sandwiched together with whipped cream. The cream cuts through the richness of the cake, helping to balance the flavour, and acts as a strong glue to keep the cake in one piece.

Devil’s food cake has been around for just over one hundred years. It is a variation of the red velvet cake and is generally distinguished from a classic chocolate cake by the addition of water as the primary liquid. This increase in water (and decrease in egg content) results in a very dense, rich, moist cake which I far prefer to a classic chocolate sponge cake, which can get very dry. The other main difference between a devil’s food cake and a classic chocolate cake is the addition of not only baking powder but also bicarbonate of soda. The raising of the pH by the bicarbonate of soda causes the cocoa to turn a far darker shade of brown, leading to the almost black appearance of the cake.

The decoration on this cake looks really cool but I would check with the people you are making it for because, although they are not real, the spiders on top can really upset some people. Arachnophobia is an interesting condition because it would have helped our ancestors to avoid contact with spiders – they knew that spiders were dangerous but didn’t know which ones could kill. It is interesting that such a small creature can pack such a powerful punch and it makes sense that a healthy fear of them keeps you alive longer. The thing about arachnophobia is that the extremeness of the fear is not healthy. Like all phobias, arachnophobia isn’t just having an aversion to arachnids, it is an overwhelming sense of fear and panic which is completely disproportional to the danger being posed. For some people, the sight of webs or a picture of a spider can cause heart palpitations, panic attacks or even fainting.

Spiders permeate many different cultures. From Arachne in ancient Greek mythology, to Anansi in African folklore, to Aragog from the Harry Potter series, spiders have woven their way into stories for thousands of years. They are usually representative of some sort of trickster god or betrayal – whether this came before the fear of spiders or after is a cause for debate – and rarely have positive connotations. It is interesting that such a small animal can have such a big effect on ancient stories and even how we act today.

Living in a country where you can almost guarantee that any spider you see will not be dangerous, I find it fascinating how strong a reaction some people can have to them. Even for people without a genuine phobia, the unease felt around spiders is what gives this cake its creepiness and what makes it perfect to serve up around Halloween.

 

Chocolate Spider Cake

75g cocoa

150g brown sugar

1 ½ cups (375ml) boiling water

180g unsalted butter

225g caster sugar

340g plain flour

¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda

¾ tsp baking powder

1 tbsp vanilla extract

3 eggs

 

For the filling and icing:

200g soft butter

300g sifted icing sugar

50g sifted cocoa

1 tbsp milk

300ml double cream

2 tsp vanilla

 

To decorate:

200g marshmallow

Small round chocolates (Halloween themed spheres and maltesers both work)

50g milk chocolate

 

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4.

Grease and line three eight-inch tins with butter, cocoa and baking parchment.

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Place the brown sugar and cocoa into a bowl together and pour over the hot water. Stir until combined.

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Cream the butter and caster sugar together in a bowl.

Add one egg and a spoon of flour and beat to combine.

Repeat with other eggs to mix them in.

Add the bicarbonate of soda and baking powder along with half of the remaining flour.

Turn the mixer onto slow to avoid covering the kitchen in a cloud of flour.

Once the flour has mostly mixed in, add the rest and beat again to combine.

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Finally, pour in the liquid chocolate from earlier and slowly mix together until you have a smooth, glossy, chocolaty batter.

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Divide this batter between the tins and bake for 25-30 minutes until the cakes have risen and a skewer inserted into the centre of each cake comes out clean.

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Turn the cakes out onto a wire cooling rack and leave until they are cold.

 

To make the icing, beat the butter with the whisk attachment on a stand mixer until it is soft and fluffy. Using a stand mixer is far easier than a hand held one but if you don’t have one, any electric set of beaters will do!

Add half of the icing sugar and beat slowly until the sugar has been mixed in. Then increase the speed of the mixer and beat the icing for another minute.

Repeat the above step with the cocoa and then with the remaining icing sugar.

Tip in the milk and beat the icing for another five minutes to make it ultra fluffy.

Once the icing is done, add the vanilla to the cream and beat until the cream just reaches hard peaks. Make sure not to overwhip it or you will end up with butter!

 

To assemble the cake:

Level each layer of cake – it doesn’t have to be perfect as you can bulk out small dips with extra cream and icing (no one will mind).

Place the bottom layer on a cake board and pipe a circle of icing around the edge. Fill the centre with the cream.

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Add the next layer and pipe more icing onto it before filling the centre with cream.

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Finally, place the top layer onto the cake and cover the cake with the remaining icing. There should be enough to give a thin layer of icing on the top and the sides of the cake – you will still be able to see the cake layers through the side of the icing. If you want a completely opaque layer around the outside, multiply the icing recipe by 1.5 and make the layer around the cake much thicker.

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Place the cake into a fridge for at least half an hour to set the icing.

 

To decorate the cake:

Melt the chocolate.

On a sheet of baking parchment, pipe lots of little chevrons about 1cm tall and 1.5-2cm wide. These will become the legs of the spiders so make sure to pipe at least 9 per spider so you have a spare for when one of them inevitably snaps. Put these in the fridge to set.

Cut the base off each chocolate sphere (about ¼ of the way up the sphere)

 

Once the cake has been sufficiently chilled, you can make the webs.

Pour the marshmallows into a bowl and microwave for 30 seconds.

Stir them and microwave again until all of the marshmallows have melted. You may want to stop heating when there are a few lumps left as these will melt if you stir the mixture.

Continue to stir the marshmallow for three or four minutes until it becomes super stringy.

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Pick up a blob and use all of your fingers (wash your hands first!) to stretch it out into a white sheet or a large number of strings. Wrap this around the cake and continue to wrap the strings or marshmallow around the outside until they snap.

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Continue to add layers of cobwebs to your cake until you are happy with the appearance. You want to still see the icing underneath as it gives a good contrast. (Wash your hands again to remove residual stickiness!)

 

Use the stickiness of the marshmallow to stick the balls of chocolate all over the cake and add eight legs to each of them. Pipe a small head at one end of each spider.

For added colour, brush a tiny amount of lustre dust over the back of each spider.

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This cake looks really cool and is perfect to serve up on Halloween for a party or just to an arachnologist at any point of the year. It can look super creepy and with multiple layers of cobweb, the 3D effect stops the cake looking too flat and boring.

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are looking for another Halloween recipe, check out my amazing brain cake – it’s super gory but looks really cool! Of course, if you want something a little bit more tame, why not treat yourself to a wonderful coffee and walnut cake – or even a lemon drizzle cake!

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a delicious lunch which is as good cold as it is hot.

H

Halloween Brain Cake

As we approach Halloween, it is time to start thinking about horror cakes for parties. I have never been trick or treating but I love the opportunity to use face paint (which I may overdo ever so slightly) and the inspiration that Halloween gives to cooks is truly remarkable. From cute spiderweb biscuits to witches’ hat cupcakes, the wealth of Halloween themed food out there is incredibly vast. The cake which inspired this recipe was created by Yolanda at How To Cake It and I have been saying for about three years that I would recreate it for. Finally, I have.

Hidden beneath the terrifying exterior is a delicious red velvet cake which can, of course, be baked and eaten without any of the extra work required to scare it up. Although most red velvet cakes are now coloured with red food colouring, the original colour was completely natural. The cocoa powder most of us use has undergone the Dutch process which increases the pH of the cocoa (making it less acidic), darkens it, and rounds out the flavour. The raw cocoa is very high in an indicator known as anthocyanin (check out more about that in my purple sweet potato soup recipe) which turns red when exposed to acid – such as the vinegar added to a red velvet cake. This natural indicator was the original dye used to colour these cakes. The addition of buttermilk and replacement of butter with oil ensures that the cake is super moist although the softer crumb can often be harder to work with than a standard sponge cake.

The title of velvet was introduced when the cake was created to tell customers that the cake was softer that the cakes they were used to. It was created during the Victorian era and was iced not with cream cheese frosting but with ermine icing. This involved making a roux as the base for the icing which helped to stabilise it – especially in warm temperatures as the icing won’t melt as fast as either cream cheese or standard buttercream in the summer sun. Boiled beetroot juice was added during the second world war as this gave a far more intense red colour to the cake and beetroots grew well in England so were in good supply.

Somewhere during the decoration of a brain cake, there is a point at which the cake starts becoming horrifying to look at. It is a bizarre experience as you know that it is still a cake but for most of us (who haven’t seen a brain) the realism of this cake is decidedly unnerving. It would make a great food to bring to a Halloween party – or a viewing of The Silence of the Lambs. You could also use it to teach people about different areas of the brain if you are that way inclined. Whatever you do with it, you are sure to be remembered by all those who eat this cake. I had the misfortune of taking this cake on the train and I received (understandably) many weird looks from people who were standing around me.

I hope you enjoy making this as much as I did and that any Halloween party you take this to will remember you forever.

Red Velvet Brain Cake

Serves: 20

Prep time: 30 minutes (only about 15 minutes if you are making the classic red velvet cake, not the brain)

Cook time: 20-30 minutes

Decoration time: 1 hour (for the brain cake)

Cooling and resting time: 1 hour

500g plain flour

2 tbsp cocoa powder

4 tsp baking powder

2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

550g light brown sugar

1 tsp salt

4 eggs

300ml vegetable oil

1 tbsp vanilla extract

2 tsp white vinegar

200ml plain yoghurt

200ml water

Concentrated red food gel (you must use the gel as liquid colour isn’t enough. I used around 20g for this cake)

Cream Cheese icing:

125g butter

180g (one tub) soft cream cheese

400g sifted icing sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 pinch salt

Decoration

500g marshmallows

900g sifted icing sugar

2 tbsp water

Yellow and red food colouring

1 jar of seedless raspberry jam (you can use normal jam and force it through a sieve)

4 tbsp water

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4

Line two large swiss roll tins with baking parchment – or if you are doing a traditional red velvet cake, four eight-inch round tins.

Sift together the flour and cocoa into a large bowl.

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Stir through the rest of the dry ingredients

Mix together the wet ingredients in a separate bowl.

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Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ones and beat the cake mix until it is smooth.

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Divide the cake mixture between the tins and bake for around 20 minutes for the large flat cakes or around 25-30 minutes for the circular ones – or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

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Once the cakes are cooked, let them cool for about 10 minutes before removing from the tins (leaving the baking parchment on the base of the cakes) and leaving to cool completely.

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To make the icing:

Beat the butter until it is fluffy.

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Add half of the icing sugar and beat on slow until the icing sugar has mostly been absorbed before increasing the speed of the mixer. The icing will be quite stiff at this point.

Tip in the rest of the icing sugar along with both the vanilla and the cream cheese. Again, mix on slow to mash the sugar into the rest of the ingredients before beating on a high speed until the icing is fully combined.

For the fondant:

Place the marshmallows into a bowl along with two tablespoons of water.

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Microwave in 30 second bursts, stirring between each one, until the marshmallows have melted.

Add a small amount of red and yellow food dyes to make the marshmallow a pale peach colour (like the colour of a brain – I refused to look up a photo of a real brain online).

Tip in around 2/3 of the icing sugar and used a spoon to mix together until the mixture looks lumpy.

Pour it out onto a work surface knead the fondant together. Add the remaining sugar as the fondant becomes sticky. The fondant is ready when a small amount pinched between your fingers can be pulled about an inch away from the main blob of fondant without breaking off. Wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge.

To assemble a standard red velvet cake:

remove the baking parchment and stack the layers with a quarter of the icing between each one before spreading the remaining icing on the top of the cake.

To make a horrifying brain cake:

Cut the slabs of cake in half width wise.

Stack them on a board with a quarter of the icing between each one.

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Carve the cake into the rough shape of a brain with a thin cleft down the middle. I googled cartoon pictures of brains to get a good idea of the shape without making myself feel sick.

Spread the remaining icing around the outside of the cake to create a crumb coat.

Place in the fridge for half an hour to set.

Once the cake has set, it is time to turn it into a brain.

Divide the fondant icing into quarters and roll one of them out into a snake about 1cm thick.

Cut the snake in half and then arrange each piece in symmetrical looping designs at the front of each hemisphere of the brain. It is easiest to start at the base of the brain to give the fondant some support from beneath, so it won’t fall off. Make sure that you leave a small gap down the centre of the brain to show the divide between the two hemispheres.

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Use two more of the quarters to repeat the above process to cover the outside of the brain.

Take the last quarter and cut it in half. Roll each half into a short, thick sausage and flatten half of each one. These will make up the cerebellum which is a different shape to the rest of the brain. Indent lines along the outside of each of the sections of the cerebellum.

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Place the cerebellum onto the serving plate and place the rest of the cake on top (ensuring the cerebellum is at the back).

Mix the jam with the remaining four tablespoons of water to thin it down.

Use a pastry brush to paint the entire outside of the cake with jam to make the brain look moist and fresh. If there are any sections with gaps in the fondant, add a little jam into the gap to make it look like the brain is oozing blood.

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This brain cake is truly horrifying to look at and you don’t even need to clean down the serving plate as a little extra ‘blood’ just adds to the effect. The cake is moist and has a light chocolate flavour which works wonderfully well with the tangy cream cheese icing. It is sure to a lot of attention when you bring it into a room or even just have it sitting in the centre of a table when people arrive. The best way to serve it is to cut down the centre of the brain and then serve slices from each side.

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you love cake but would rather make one that is a little less terror inspiring, why not treat yourself to a beautiful unicorn cake? It’s ombre on the inside too! Of course, if you are more of a savoury person than sweet, you could always make yourself a big bowl of Laksa. It’s perfect to keep you warm as winter approaches.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a flavour packed rice dish.