A kiss on the hand may be quite continental, but glittering black sugar sprinkles and sparkling orange hard candies are a girl’s best friend…
That’s right, friends, it’s not all panna cotta skull graveyards and moldy tarts around here—we can do glamorous Halloween food, too! This elegant cake features contrasting black and orange layers of extra-chocolatey devil’s food cake and pumpkin-butterscotch frosting. Top it off with some chocolate buttercream, a coating of glimmering black sprinkles, and radiant orange candies, and you have a Halloween layer cake fit for a queen…or better yet, a Marilyn Monroe impersonator!
This cake has been haunting my brain for at least a month now. I bought the sparkling black sugar one day, and the next day found the glittering orange backdrop, and bam! The idea for the cake was dropped fully-formed into my head. You all know I have a tendency to go a little over-the-top, but sometimes the classiest and most elegant desserts are also the simplest. All this cake needed was a solid coating of sprinkles and a few jewel candies, and it was ready to go.
I made the jewels myself, using a hard candy mold and a quarter batch of the candy recipe from my Dia de los Muertos Skull Cake from last year. Homemade jewel candies are not a requirement and I think this cake would look equally awesome with orange gumballs or Sixlets or a variety of other orange hard candies.
Let’s talk chocolate…cake, that is. I wanted this cake to be the richest, deepest, darkest devil’s food imaginable. I wanted my taste-testers to beg for a glass of milk after finishing a slice. I wanted them to stick out their tongues and see only inky blackness when they were finished. Okay…that last part is kind of gross, but you get the idea.
To achieve all of these effects without food coloring or chemical shenanigans, I used black cocoa. If you’re not familiar with it, black cocoa is extra-alkalized cocoa powder. It has a very dark color (some might even call it black, fancy that) and a really, really deep chocolate taste. Here’s a handy comparison of some of the cocoas in my kitchen. From L-R: Hershey’s natural cocoa, Valrhona Dutch-processed (aka alkalized) cocoa, and Black Onyx cocoa.
Natural cocoa is the kind most often found in the cheap Hershey’s can. It has a really light color and a mild cocoa flavor. My preferred cocoa is Dutch-processed or alkalized cocoa, meaning that the cocoa has had its acidity reduced and is a deeper color and has a smoother, richer flavor. My favorite brands are Valrhona and Cacao Barry Extra Brute, and I’d say I use them in about 90% of my baking. And for special occasions, when I want to really let the chocolate flavor rip, I reach for the Black Onyx cocoa powder. It gives this cake a natural black color and a crazy intense chocolate flavor. I should note that I typically substitute up to half of the cocoa in a recipe with black cocoa—it can have a drying effect on baked goods, so I like to cut it with other cocoa powder, and use it in recipes with a generous amount of oil or other fat.
Don’t worry, though, there is nothing dry about this cake recipe! Even using half black cocoa and half “regular” alkalized cocoa, it still has a super dark color and super-intense chocolate taste. It comes together quickly in one mixing bowl, no melting of chocolate, alternating wets and drys, or creaming of butter and sugar required. Lazy baker high five!
I know it’s been a lot of yadda yadda about the chocolate cake so far, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to tell you how much I love this pumpkin-butterscotch frosting. It is definitely two great tastes that taste great together. The flavors of pumpkin puree, pumpkin pie spice, and butterscotch chips meld beautifully into a sweet, spiced frosting that is perfect when paired with dark chocolate. I also think that this would be great made with the seasonal Nestle Pumpkin Spice chips, if you happen to snatch those up in stores.
Au revoir, friends, go and have yourselves a sparkly, jewel-encrusted, chocolate-flavored, frosting-filled day!
- 12 oz (2⅔ cup) all-purpose flour
- 2¼ oz (3/4 cup) black cocoa
- 2¼ oz (3/4 cup) dutch-processed cocoa
- 1¾ tsp baking powder
- ¾ tsp baking soda
- 1½ tsp salt
- 24½ oz (3½ cups) granulated sugar
- 1¼ cups coffee or water, at room temperature
- 1¼ cups buttermilk, at room temperature
- ¾ cup vegetable oil
- 2 eggs, at room temperature
- 2 egg yolks, at room temperature
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- 9 oz (1½ cups) butterscotch chips
- 24 oz (6 cups) powdered sugar
- 8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 4½ oz (1/2 cup) pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
- 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ½ tsp salt
- 8 oz unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
- 24 oz (6 cups) powdered sugar
- 8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 6 tbsp milk, plus more if necessary
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- ¼ tsp salt
- 6 oz sparkling black sugar
- Orange candy for decoration (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 325 F. Line three 8x2-inch round baking pans with parchment paper, and spray the paper with nonstick cooking spray.
- In a large bowl, sift together the flour, both cocoa powders, the baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- In the bowl of a large stand mixer, combine the sugar, coffee or water, buttermilk, oil, eggs, yolks, and vanilla. Beat with a paddle attachment on low speed until well-mixed. Stop the mixer and add the dry ingredients to the mixing bowl. Beat on low speed until the flour is moistened. Raise the speed to medium and beat for about 4 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally, until the batter is smooth. It will be very thin.
- Divide the batter evenly between the three pans. If you have a kitchen scale handy, each pan should get 24.5 oz of batter.
- Bake the cakes at 325 F for 45-50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached. Cool the cakes in the pans, then turn them out onto a wire rack. Once cool, wrap them in plastic wrap and place them in the freezer until semi-firm—these cakes are much easier to work with when they're partially frozen. The cakes can be made in advance and kept in the freezer for several weeks. When you are ready to assemble the cake, allow the rounds to partially defrost before assembly.
- Place the butterscotch chips in a microwave-safe bowl and melt them in 30-second increments, stirring after every 30 seconds until melted and smooth. Set aside to cool to room temperature. The melted chips will be fairly thick, but you should be able to stir them easily.
- Place the remaining ingredients (sugar through salt) in the bowl of a large stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the sugar is thoroughly moistened, then add the melted butterscotch chips. Raise the speed to medium and beat for 1-2 minutes, until light and fluffy.
- If the frosting seems too soft, press a layer of cling wrap on top and refrigerate it for 20-30 minutes, until stiff enough to spread and hold its shape. The frosting can be made several days in advance and kept in the refrigerator. Allow to come to room temperature before using.
- Place the chopped unsweetened chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and melt it in 30-second increments, stirring after every 30 seconds until melted and smooth. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
- Place the remaining ingredients (sugar through salt) in the bowl of a large stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the sugar is thoroughly moistened, then raise the speed to medium and beat for 1-2 minutes, until light and fluffy.
- Turn the mixer speed back to low, and add the chocolate. Once the chocolate is mixed in, raise the speed back to medium and beat for one minute more. Use immediately, or place in an airtight container with plastic wrap pressed on top. The frosting can be made several days in advance and kept in the refrigerator. Allow to come to room temperature before using.
- Place a partially frozen cake round on an 8-inch cake cardboard, and put it on a cake turntable. Spread half of the pumpkin-butterscotch frosting on top of the cake, smoothing it all the way out to the sides, and top it with a second cake round. Spread the remaining pumpkin frosting on top, smooth it into an even layer, and top it with a third cake round. Spread a thin layer of chocolate frosting over the sides and top of the cake, and refrigerate for 30 minutes until the frosting is firm.
- Spread the remaining chocolate frosting over the top and sides of the cake in a thick layer. Try to get it fairly smooth and even, but it doesn't have to be perfect—after all, it will soon be covered in sprinkles!
- Pour the black sparkling sugar into a pie tin or shallow bowl. Hold the cake in one hand over the bowl of sprinkles, and use your other hand to grab handfuls of sprinkles and press them against the sides and top of the cake, letting the excess drop back into the bowl. Repeat until the cake is entirely covered in sprinkles. Finally, add any decorative candies you want, using a bit of chocolate frosting to stick them to the outside of the cake. For the best taste and texture, serve this cake at room temperature.
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. For more information, see my Affiliate and Advertising Policy.