Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Halloween Chocolate Marshmallow Ghost Cake, Belated

Halloween is over, but not forgotten.  Vestiges of my costume still lie scattered on the floor, though my hangover is gone.  I’m sure that candy is still being eaten, or hoarded away for times of need.  And pictures are still being posted on Facebook of costumes and parties.

I like Halloween.  Mainly because I like dressing up.  As for the rest of it, I’ve never been the biggest fan.  I hate scary movies, scary stories, scary costumes, and well, anything scary.  I have since I was a kid, when I would refuse to go up to certain houses while trick-or-treating if the decorations were too scary or if I had seen hidden house owners who would jump out and startle other kids.  (I have a distinct memory of a family on my street growing up who would have someone hide in the rain gutter by their house and reach out and grab kids’ legs.  I gave them as wide a berth as was possible.)  I’ve been to one haunted house in my life, and will never go to another.

But, I love a good theme, and Halloween makes for excellent themes.  Ghosts, graves, vampires, spiders.  I certainly don’t mind creepy baked goods.  And so, since my friend Katie’s birthday was on Halloween, I wanted to make her an appropriate cake for her party.

I’d remembered seeing an adorable ghost cake from Martha Stewart a while ago, and decided to try that.  Apparently, it was delicious, and the icing was an especial hit. However, it didn’t turn out quite the way I envision, due to my fatal flaw when it comes to cooking: not reading instructions thoroughly.

Learn from me: Read Instructions.  I don’t know how many last-minute store runs/ruined dishes/temper tantrums I’ve had because I’ve gotten halfway through a recipe and realized a)I’m missing something, b) I need to leave something in the fridge for two hours when I need to leave for a party with said dish in an hour and a half, or c) I added all of an ingredient at once, instead of dividing it as clearly stated in the instructions I skimmed.

Luckily, this time it was not a disaster.  Just a slight disappointment.  What I did was ignore the fact that Martha clearly states that you should use three 6-inch cake pans.  In fact, I’m fairly certain it’s mentioned at least twice.  Since I didn’t actually pay attention, I grabbed my three 9-inch cake pans.  I don’t even HAVE 6-inch cake pans, but if I had paying attention, I at least would have thought to adjust the baking time or only done two layers instead of three.  Instead, I had three thin, slightly over-baked layers of cake, and not three thick, not-over-baked layers.  Also, the marshmallow ghosts weren’t as adorably clustered as they would be on a 6-inch cake.

But, no one seemed to notice.  I filled in the empty spaces with birthday candles.  You should keep this in mind, though.  Don’t make my mistakes, readers.

Disclaimer over.

Now, since this is a books-and-food blog, I’m now going to attempt to tie this in to literature.  Wait for it.

As I said above, I hate scary stories.  But ghosts aren’t restricted to frightening tales that I avoid like the plague.  They show up in classic literature: Cathy’s ghost haunts Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. Hamlet’s murdered father appears to him in Hamlet. There are a whole host of ghosts in the Harry Potter series, such as The Grey Lady, Nearly-Headless Nick, the Bloody Baron, and Moaning Myrtle.  There’s Casper the Friendly Ghost, who actually looks rather marshmallow-like, unlike most ghostly literary apparitions, which embody the forms of their once-living selves.

So, there you go.  Ghosts appear throughout literature, not just as chain-rattling terrors, but as characters who play into the plot, give information, and have lives (or after-lives) of their own.  I certainly don’t mind these (mostly) harmless ghosts.  In fact, they have a sort of charm as creatures that still care about what goes on in the world even after they have (mostly) departed it.

The ghosts on this cake seem to be of the harmless variety: big, comfy blobs of sticky marshmallow hanging out on a deep chocolate cake.  They’re fairly easy to assemble and even easier to pop into your mouth.  This cake is great for Halloween, of course, but would also go well with any ghostly-themed party.

I'm going to give the instructions for a 6-inch cake, because I really believe it will turn out better that way.

Photo courtesy of Gina Simon Photography.

Chocolate Marshmallow Ghost Cake
(makes a three-layer 6-inch cake)
adapted from Martha Stewart

3/4 c. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, plus more to grease pans
2/3 c. black cocoa powder* (or unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder), plus extra to dust pans
2 1/4 c. flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 1/4 c. sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 c. milk

8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1 c. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Chocolate sprinkles

*I LOVE black cocoa powder.  A friend gave me a bag of it, and I don't know what I'm going to do when it runs out (well, besides immediately figure out where to get more).  It's darker than regular cocoa powder, giving the baked good a black color, and has a more intense flavor.  I love it.  If you've never tried it, I recommend it.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Using the extra butter, butter three 6-inch cake pans, then dust with the extra cocoa powder.  Tap out excess powder.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients: coca powder, flour, baking powder, and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together butter and sugar on medium high until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.  Mix in vanilla.

On low speed, alternate adding the flour mixture (in three batches) and the milk (in two batches). Mix until just combined.

Divide the batter evenly between the three cake pans (about 2 cups per pan), and smooth batter with a spatula.

Bake in pre-heated oven for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool completely in pans.

To make the icing, beat the cream cheese and powdered sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until pale and fluffy, about 8 minutes.  Mix in vanilla.

Use approximately 2/3 cup of icing to frost between each layer, then use the rest of the icing to cover the top and sides of the cake.

For each marshmallow ghost, you will need two regular marshmallows, a mini-marshmallow, and two chocolate sprinkles.  (You can also make little baby marshmallow ghosts with two mini-marshmallows.)

Twist the top of the mini-marshmallow between your fingers to form a point.  Trim all three of the marshmallows so they will stick together and stack them on top of each other.  Use a toothpick to make holes for the eyes, and then stick a chocolate sprinkle in each hole.  Position as desired on and around the cake.

P.S. Go vote!