Once upon a time, long long ago, one of your mortal writers came to Hell for what we like to call a sightseeing trip. He was, for all intents and purposes, just a spectator, getting the grand tour of all our spaces and facilities.
He took that trip and turned it into a book you guys all refer to now as “The Inferno.” While it does take some creative liberties (hey, he’s a writer, we get it…writers embellish) there was a lot he got right, including Canto XII and the seventh circle. In a nutshell, the seventh circle of Hell is reserved for those guilty of violence and is divided into three rings. The first ring of the seventh circle houses the murderers, the war-makers, plunderers, and tyrants. They’re all immersed in Phlegethon, a river of boiling blood and fire.
For you who have never seen Phlegethon, it’s actually a pretty nice place. In the spring I’d even go so far as to call it downright pleasant, which is why I decided to make a cake to celebrate that serene little slice of the underworld.
Much like Phlegethon, this cake is hot both literally and figuratively. It’s a jet black buttermilk chocolate cake spiked with chili wrapped in thick fudgy frosting and sweet shards of black chocolate. Spicy hand pulled flames of cinnamon sugar rise from the surface and surround a jet black hand poured skull of pure chocolate.
The first thing we’ll need to do is make your black chocolate skull. This is a step that can be done quite a while ahead of time (as in days or weeks, depending on your schedule). Plan for at least 2 1/2 hours to make the skull as it is a little labor intensive.
Start with a skull mold. There are a number of them online for purchase right now. My personal favorite is one I picked up a while ago here. It’s a 3 part, 1:1 anatomically correct skull mold in food-safe silicone.
You’ll also need:
- 2 bags black candy melts divided into 4 equal piles
- ¼ bag yellow candy melts
- ¼ bag red candy melts
Assemble the two halves of the upper cranium and secure. I placed mine inside a box that just happens to be almost the perfect size to hold the two halves together. I brace the sides with a little extra foam to keep it from wiggling.
Melt one of your 4 piles of black candy melts. You can do this either by placing them in a Crockpot or electric fondue pot set to low or by zapping in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time and stirring between cookings.
As you can see from this photo, I’m using white chocolate for the photo tutorial.
That’s because I want to make sure you can see exactly what I’m doing. The black chocolate looks amazing when done, but it’s harder to photograph and show you details…
so for the sake of this recipe, pretend this is black chocolate.
Once your candy melts are liquid and smooth, pour them into the half of your mold that makes up the upper cranium. Tilt the mold back and forth to make sure you get an even coat on all sides. A pastry brush can also assist in getting the chocolate into the grooves and spots that might be a bit tougher to reach just by tilting. Set this aside and allow the chocolate to cool.
Melt your second 1/4 pile and repeat the process with the lower portion of the mold, again allowing it to cool and harden.
Do the same with your next 1/4 pile and use it to fill the lower jaw of your mold.
Melt your fourth and final pile of black candy melts, but this time allow it to cool almost to room temperature. You want to be able to pour it into your mold without having it melt through the layer you’ve already poured.
When it’s cooled down enough, pour it into the upper half of your cranium and then assemble the mold, placing the two halves together. Make sure your mold halves are secured together. I use a strap wrapped around the entire thing to make sure all the pieces stay where they are supposed to stay.
Now comes the fun part…rotational casting.
Carefully start rotating your mold around 360 degrees. You want to make sure that the liquid chocolate inside the mold fully coats and covers every inch of the mold which means you have to turn it upside down and all around.
Do this for a good hour. It’s a workout, but worth it. I like to watch TV while I’m doing it…usually, a good episode of Supernatural is all it takes to get me through.
Now place your mold in the fridge. Every five minutes for the next 30 minutes, rotate your mold by flipping it onto each side.
At the end of those thirty minutes, turn the whole thing upside down so the front of your skull is facing down and leave it alone for 2 hours! WALK AWAY. Go watch a movie. Take a stroll. Do whatever you want, but leave the mold alone.
When it comes time to open the mold, do it carefully. Gently rock the silicone pieces back and forth to help release their hold on your chocolate.
Be prepared, you’re going to have breaks. It happens…but for this cake, it’s okay… If it happens, save the pieces and you can either glue it back together using more liquid candy melt, or simply leave it broken and tell everyone you meant to do that. In fact, when I was unmolding the black skull for this cake, my hands slipped and I dropped it, knocking a huge hole in the back. Rather than panic and remold the whole thing, I just rolled with it…and I’m glad I did. I think it looks better with the hole back there. In fact, I’m so happy with it, I’m gonna just tell anyone who asks that it was intentional.
Now let’s decorate it and make it look even creepier!
Start by melting down your red and yellow candy melts.
Using a paintbrush or toothpick, carefully drizzle these across your skull along the natural bone joints and seams.
I also used them to drip down inside my skull in the nasal cavity, eye sockets, and of course, that massive ‘intentional’ hole in the back.
To give the skull a juicy, sort of ‘wet’ look, I like to spritz it with vodka and then quickly run a torch or flame over it. The alcohol ignites and instantly burns off, leaving the chocolate just barely melted and shiny. Don’t touch it after this step! Your fingerprints will be all over it. Pop it in the fridge to firm up for about 5 minutes. Once it’s cool, it’ll be safe to touch again.
Set your skull aside and let’s work on the rest of this massive bastard, starting with the cake.
To make your own Inferno cake, you will need:
- 3 Cups flour
- 3 Cups sugar
- 1 1/2 Cup dark cocoa powder
- 1 Tablespoon baking soda
- 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 eggs
- 1 Cup buttermilk
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1 cup brewed espresso (can be substituted with 1 cup warm water and 2 Tablespoons espresso powder)
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- Black chocolate skull
- Black candy melts
- Yellow candy melts
- Red candy melts
Start by preheating your oven to 350F/170C. Mix together your dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, mix together your wet ingredients. Drizzle your wet ingredients over your dry and mix to combine.
Place into 2 greased and floured circular cake pans (I used 2 8″ pans) and bake for between 45-50 minutes.
While your cakes are cooking, it’s time to make your sugar flames.
For these you will need:
- 2 cups sugar
- 3/4 cup white corn syrup
- 1 1/4 cup warm water
- Cinnamon oil
- Red food coloring
- Yellow food coloring
In a large pot, combine together your sugar, corn syrup and warm water. Simmer on medium and stir until all your sugar is dissolved.
Once all the sugar is dissolved, turn your heat up to medium-high and allow to reach 300F/148C. DO NOT STIR YOUR SUGAR AT ALL WHILE THIS IS HAPPENING. Just ignore it. I mean, don’t totally ignore it…you don’t want it to boil over or anything…but just don’t touch it. Leave it alone.
Once it reaches 300F/148C (the hard crack stage) turn off the heat and stir in your cinnamon oil and your yellow food coloring. Be careful, it will bubble and steam as the cool oil hits the hot sugar. Do not breathe in the steam…it will sear the nose hairs right out of your snot factory!
Using a ladle, spoon a small amount of liquid sugar onto a Silpat or silicone baking mat and drag out into a flame like shape. Add a drop of red food coloring to the base of your flame shape and use a toothpick to swirl the color into the still liquid sugar. Allow to cool for about 2 minutes. By then the sugar should be just cool enough to touch. Carefully peel off of your Silpat and twist into flame shapes. Set aside to fully cool and firm up.
Do this with the rest of your sugar until you have a good number of flames.
By now your cakes should be cool. Carefully remove from their pans and level the tops off using a knife. Save the scraps, you can use those to make cake pops like these.
To make the buttercream icing you will need:
- 2 sticks (1 cup) room temp salted butter
- 5 cups powdered sugar
- ½ cup whole milk (or cream if you really want to make it rich and thick)
- 2-3 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Red food coloring
- Yellow food coloring
Sift your powdered sugar into the bowl of your mixer and then add in your softened butter and vanilla. Whisk on high until fully incorporated. Slowly add in the milk one tablespoon at a time until you achieve a thick, heavy frosting.
Divide your frosting into two bowls and color one bowl red and one bowl yellow.
Slather on a thick layer on top of one cake and gently set the second on top of that.
Next, layer scoops of your red and your yellow on both cakes, using your spreader to blend the colors along the edges like flames.
Next we’ll be creating the cracked lava surface of the cake.
To make this, you will need:
- Black candy melts
- Red candy melts
- Yellow candy melts
Melt all three of your candy melts down until they’re smooth and liquid. Pour your black candy melts out onto a parchment paper lined cookie sheet in a thin, flat layer and allow to cool.
When it’s cooled, crack the black candy melt sheet into smaller shards.
Gently press these shards all around the surface of your cake, using the buttercream frosting as your glue. Try to fit the pieces together in such a way that they look almost as though they were once a solid piece. Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be perfect.
Take a toothpick or small paintbrush and drizzle your red and yellow candy melts along the edges of your black shards just like you did with the black skull in the steps above. This will give them the appearance of being molten. If you’re planning on using a light beneath your skull to give the appearance of fire, I suggest hollowing out a small depression in the center of your cake and dropping the light in there.
Now let’s start assembling the whole cake!
Place your black chocolate skull on the top of your cake.
Once you get your skull positioned, start pressing your sugar flames into the surface of your cake.
This part is completely open to your own interpretation of inferno. Use as many or as few flames as you like. Here is a short time-lapse video of me adding on my sugar flames.
Once you’re done with the placement of your skull and your sugar flames, step back and bask in the glow of your damn(ed) good Inferno cake!
Like what you see? Want to see more? Help me keep making my disgusting creations by visiting my Patreon page.
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