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Day of the Dead Cakes

Sometimes you find a pan to bake with, sometimes you let the pan tell you what to make.

I have this awesome skull baking pan from Nordicware (mine is from Homegoods) that I’ve been dying to make something with – and when the inspiration strikes, you go for it.

Chocolate skulls. That’s what I needed for Halloween this year! Well, that’s if you plan ahead enough. I don’t – so they became Dia De Los Muertos or Day of the Dead cakes instead. 🙂

skull cake mold

Note: If you aren’t familiar with Day of the Dead, it is a celebration that originated in Mexico where families welcome back the souls of their beloved deceased relatives for food, drinks and a party. It is held October 31 – November 2nd and according to the tradition, the gates of heaven are opened and the spirits of the children can join their families for 24 hours. The spirits of adults can do the same on November 2. It’s not a new holiday, the history of the celebration stretches back 3,000 years and crosses cultures from European religion and Spanish culture. And as far as I’m concerned, definitely calls for cake. 

Chocolate cake would be ideal for this baking project, the only problem was, I only had yellow cake mix, and going full on scratch baking was going to make me lose my momentum. Thankfully – you can change a yellow cake mix to chocolate pretty easily.

Skull Cakes

Mix together:
1 box yellow cake mix
1 small box (3.6 oz) of Godiva chocolate pudding
6 tablespoons of Hershey’s dark chocolate baking chocolate
4 eggs
1 and ¼ cup of water
½ cup of oil

Bake at 350. For these cakes, I put them in the oven for 20 minutes and they came out PERFECT.

But then…. The project took a turn.

Why stop at chocolate cake skulls, when you can make Day of the Dead Cakes?!

ready for frosting

Day of the Dead Cake Decoration

This was the perfect excuse for me to go shopping at Michael’s (because we all know that I don’t need any arm twisting to go to the craft store). I was really keen on using the Kaboom Chocolaka chocolate pens. I thought I would use them for hot cocoa bombs this winter but turns out, this was a great reason to try them.

I also picked up sugar flowers from Sweet Sugarbelle, which were the perfect colors to go with the pastel Kaboom Chocolaka chocolate pen set.

I have to say, I’m pretty impressed with the Kaboom Chocolaka chocolate pens product. They were so easy to use, just put the pens in a bowl of warm water to melt, snip the ends off and squeeze like a pen. They show you exactly where to snip it too. Don’t fault my messy work to the pens, I do not have a steady hand so I’m sure someone who does could make something really beautiful with these!

When the chocolate pens seemed to harden a bit, I just filled a glass with hot water, dropped them in tip up, and melted the chocolate in just a few minutes.

I also really liked the Sweet Sugarbell products. They actually tasted pretty good — with the exception of the edible confetti, that tastes like a communion wafer. Pass on that. (I did like the colors though.)

I used cookie frosting from Betty Crocker to fill in the eyes and the nose and some of the teeth, and also to glue down the flowers. I wouldn’t recommend this though. After a few hours, the icing soaked into the cakes which tastes fine, but you lose all of the detail and makes the cakes super moist. I’d use a regular frosting, not the cookie kind if you’re not going to serve these right away. I had to go back over all the teeth with the Kaboom Chocolaka chocolate.

colorful decorations

Once I figured out my general Day of the Dead skull design, I was able to decorate these pretty quickly. My general tips are: pick a large flower for the middle of the forehead of the skull, two smaller ones for each of the sides, and then doodles along the cheekbones and to fill in around the flowers. I also dusted them with a bit of edible glitter. That’s just a springboard of ideas for you to get going. There are SO MANY options you could do with these! Sprinkles, edible pearls, frosting flowers…

I’ll definitely do this again and work on my technique. After making a dozen of them, I got over my perfectionist self and ultimately decided to give these to the soccer team – who truthfully care very little about how they look. Teenage girls just want cake after working out.

Getting all these cakes to practice was an issue though, I wasn’t going to bring a big platter with napkins. Weird. I went the single-serve direction and picked up the cupcake boxes from Michaels and happened to see this bundle of sewing trims and instantly fell in LOVE. The colors were already curated perfectly for this project so I grabbed that too – I needed ribbon to hold the boxes shut.

colorful ribbons on boxes

An annual Day of the Dead tradition in the making? Maybe… I do think this would be a fun Halloween activity with the family as sort of a nice twist on Christmas cookies, but in October. What are your thoughts?

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