Ideally, use the Spiced Carrot and Walnut Cake or Ginger, Pecan and Salted Caramel Cake for this. If you have time, do make the little gingerbread house, poached pears and meringue ghosts. This is a great cake to do with kids, as everyone can decorate their own ghosts! Try making ghosts to represent each other. Maybe some are peaceful and others are vengeful spirits? The best thing about Halloween baking is that it doesn’t have to be neat. Wonky, cracked meringues have personality; imperfect houses look perfectly planned to give them that abandoned look; who can say how a spooky pear should look.
- spices, such as 1 whole clove, 4 cardamom pods, 1 cinnamon stick,
- 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
- 1 tsp dark brown sugar
- 3 pears
- 1 quantity of Meringue mixture (see below)
- 1 quantity of Ginger Cookie dough (see below)
- 1 quantity of Royal Icing (see below)
- black and red food dye
- Ginger, Pecan and Salted Caramel Cake (see recipe below)
- For the poached pears, place a pan of water on the stove and bring to the boil, then add all the spices and the sugar. Peel the pears, leaving the stems intact, and slice off the bottoms. Put them into the water to simmer for 20-30 minutes until soft.
- Meanwhile, make the meringue and pipe into a variety of ghosts, then bake (see below).
- Now make the ginger cookie dough (see recipe below), roll out and cut out the right shapes (you can find templates online). Bake, then cool on a rack.
- Make the royal icing and dye a small amount black (see recipe below). Put into separate piping bags.
- When the pears are soft, take them out of the water and leave to drain on a clean tea (dish) towel.
- To assemble the house, use royal icing to line up the sides, then place the roof on top last. Pipe spooky details, such as ghosts and angry faces.
- Using black food dye, pipe or paint faces onto the meringue ghosts. Carve faces into the pears and use a brush to add ‘gore’ with red and black dye.
- Assemble your cake layers with cream cheese filling.
- Now for the fun part! Carefully control some drips of salted caramel down the sides of the cake (see recipe below). Position the house with the haunted pears just behind. Assemble meringue ghosts on top of the cake and wedged into the buttercream down the sides. Splatter red food dye as desired. (I sometimes get too enthusiastic about this and the kitchen becomes covered, but it’s oh-so-satisfying …)
Ginger, Pecan and Salted Caramel Cake
The ginger flavour of this cake comes from both ground ginger and stem ginger, so there is a strong ginger undercurrent, and as a bonus you occasionally get a burst from a chunk of stem ginger. The pecans and salted caramel complement it perfectly – you will definitely want to go back for seconds.
Serves: 16-20 (makes 3 X 18-cm/7-in cakes)
- 250g (1 cup plus 2 Tbsp) unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 250g (1 1/4 cups) dark muscovado (soft brown) sugar
- 120g (1/3 cup) black treacle (molasses)
- 375g (2 3/4 cups plus 1 1/2 Tbsp) self-raising (self-rising) flour
- 4 Tbsp ground ginger
- 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
- 300ml (1 1/4 cups) whole milk
- 100g (3 1/2 oz) crystallized stem (candied preserved) ginger, finely chopped
- 3 large eggs
- 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
- 90ml (6 Tbsp) water
- 240g (1 1/4 cups) caster or granulated sugar
- 225ml (1 cup) double (heavy) cream
- salt, to taste
- 1 quantity of Cream Cheese Frosting (see below)
- 120g (1 cup) pecans, lightly toasted and roughly chopped
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit/Gas mark 4). Grease 3 x 18-cm (7-in) cake tins and line the bases with baking paper.
- For the cake, heat the butter, salt, muscovado sugar and treacle in a small pan over a low-medium heat, stirring constantly, until the butter has melted and combined.
- Combine the flour and ground spices in a separate bowl.
- Heat the milk in a small bowl in the microwave for a minute until warm. Set aside.
- Pour the liquid sugar and butter mixture over the flour mixture, then stir quickly until smooth and combined. Add the chopped ginger, then the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
- Add the bicarbonate of soda to the reserved warm milk and mix until foamy. Pour this into the main mixture and mix with a balloon whisk until smooth and just combined. Immediately pour the mixture evenly between the prepared cake tins and bake for 25-35 minutes until a knife inserted into the centre comes out clean.
- While the cake is baking, make the salted caramel. Heat the water and sugar in a saucepan over a low-medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has completely dissolved. Once the sugar has dissolved, turn up the heat and wait (don’t stir) until the sugar turns an amber colour. You can swill the pan around to even out the colour.
- When the sugar syrup has turned a deep amber colour, remove the pan from the heat, add the cream in one go and stir constantly with a balloon whisk. The caramel will bubble up, so be careful at this stage! Return the pan to the stove over a low heat and continue stirring until all the sugar has dissolved and you have a smooth and creamy caramel. Pour into a medium bowl and sprinkle with a little salt to taste. Don’t add too much; it’s better to add too little than too much. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the freezer for 30-45 minutes. It will thicken as it cools.
- When the cakes are baked, leave them to cool in their tins for 5 minutes, then run a knife around the edges and turn them out onto racks. Peel off the baking paper and leave to cool.
- Meanwhile, make the cream cheese frosting (see below), then transfer to a large piping (pastry) bag and cut a large tip.
- Make sure the cakes and caramel are cool before assembling. Stack the cakes using the guide below. In between each cake layer, pipe the frosting, drizzle the caramel and sprinkle with a third of the pecans. Continue until you have 2 layers of frosting and caramel, and have placed the third cake layer on top. Pipe the frosting on top of the cake and smooth with a palette knife. Cover the sides with more frosting, or leave them naked, depending on how you are planning to decorate this cake. Chill in the fridge, or freezer if you’re in a rush. Then it’s time to decorate!
Cream Cheese Frosting
This has a slight tang from the cream cheese, which works well with cakes that have warming spices such as cinnamon and ginger. It remains firm, so can be piped and used to cover cakes. Just be careful not to overmix it!
Makes: Enough to fill, crumb-coat and cover a tiered cake
- 115g (1/2 cup) salted butter, at room temperature, chopped
- 600g (4 1/4 cups) icing (confectioners’) sugar
- 300g (1 1/4 cups) whole cream cheese
Place the butter in a stand mixer (or use a handheld electric whisk) fitted with a balloon whisk attachment and beat until smooth and softened. Add half the icing sugar and beat until combined. Add the cream cheese and the rest of the sugar and whisk until combined. Don’t overmix, or the frosting will become too soft.
Cake Decorating Tips and Ideas
Sometimes your baked cake might dome upwards in the middle, which is not ideal for stacking. Level your cakes by using a serrated knife and judging by eye, or use a purpose-made cake leveller. This means you can reward yourself with the cake cut-offs …
Assembling Cake Layers
First, you want to use a cake board that is just slightly larger than your cakes. Put a blob of frosting on the cake board, then place the first cake layer on top. The buttercream will stop it sliding about! Cover the cake with a solid layer of room temperature buttercream (thickness comes down to personal preference, but you don’t want 2.5-cm (1-in) thick frosting!). You can pipe this buttercream on, or just spread it on with an offset spatula. If using jam and/or curd, see the ‘dam’ technique below. Place the second cake on top. If you’re planning on covering the sides of the cake, it can be helpful if the buttercream squeezes out of the side of the cake a little bit, then repeat until the last cake layer is placed on top.
Stacking Multiple Tiers
When stacking a cake with different sizes of tier, ensure that each tier has a cake board underneath; use thinner cake boards for the tiers higher up. Also make sure each tier is properly chilled before stacking. For 3 or more tiers or softer, fragile cakes, it helps to use dowels. Thick straws work well, too. You need to insert one down the centre, and then a few around it. Trim them so that they stick out a tiny bit above the cake and are all the same height. The aim of the dowels is that they – rather than the actual cake – take the weight of the tiers above.
This is useful when you are working with softer fillings in between cake layers, such as jam or curd. You pipe a “dam” of buttercream (see picture opposite) around the circumference of the cake so that it can be filled with the softer filling, which then won’t ooze out.
This is the first coat of buttercream you apply all over your cake in order to stop the pesky crumbs sneaking into your second layer, and so that you can play about with colour on your second layer. Chill your crumb-coated cake in the fridge or freezer before applying the finishing coat. To crumb-coat your cake layers, smooth buttercream all over the tops and sides of the cake using an offset spatula. Then, to get this as smooth as possible, it helps to use a turntable and cake scraper. Hold the scraper at a 45-degree angle and slowly spin the turntable to get a smooth finish. You may have to do this a couple of times.
Meringues are one of those things that a lot of people view as tricky, but they are straightforward really – they just require patience and following the instructions carefully. The great thing is that when you are confident with meringue, then you can make lots of different creations from it!
Makes lots of little meringues!
- 140g (3/4 cup minus 2 tsp) caster (superfine) sugar
- 80g (2 3/4 oz) egg whites
- pinch of cream of tartar (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius (400 degrees Fahrenheit/Gas mark 6). Line a baking sheet with baking paper and spread out the caster sugar. Place in the oven for about 7–8 minutes until warm but not caramelized, discarding any bits that are caramelized and replacing with an equal weight of caster sugar. Leave the oven door open to allow it to cool down to 100 degrees Celsius (212 degrees Fahrenheit/Gas Mark 1/4).
- Add the egg whites or aquafaba to a stand mixer (you can use a handheld electric whisk but you will be whisking for a long time, so a stand mixer is ideal). Mix on high speed until you have soft peaks, then gradually add the sugar, 1 Tbsp at a time, whisking for about 30-60 seconds after each addition. It is important to add the sugar very slowly so that it all dissolves properly.
- When all the sugar has been incorporated (the meringue mixture should feel smooth and not gritty between your fingers), add the cream of tartar, if using, then use a spatula to transfer the meringue to a piping bag.
- Pipe desired meringue shapes onto baking paper or a silicone mat and bake for 45-60 minutes for meringues that are gooey in the centre, or bake for 1 hour 30 minutes, then switch off the oven and leave the oven door closed for a few hours to completely crisp and dry the meringues.
Meringue Ghosts: Pipe and bake meringue kisses as normal, then use black gel food dye mixed with a little vodka to paint ghoulish faces. You can vary these and create different personalities for your ghosts! If there are any cracks in the meringue, you can be creative and incorporate these into the ghost’s expression.
Ginger Cookie Dough
These ginger cookies hold their shape when baking, which makes them a perfect go-to recipe for decorated, shaped treats. Not to mention that lovely cinnamon, ginger and clove flavour – it makes your whole house smell like Christmas!
- 150g (2/3 cup) salted butter
- 120g (1/2 cup plus 1 1/2 Tbsp) dark muscovado (soft brown) sugar
- 2 tsp black treacle (molasses)
- 2 Tbsp beaten egg
- 2 Tbsp ground ginger
- 3/4 Tbsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 225g (1 2/3 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
- Line a baking sheet with baking paper. Place the butter, sugar and treacle in a stand mixer (or use a handheld electric whisk) fitted with the balloon whisk attachment and mix on high speed until fluffy. Add the beaten egg and spices and mix briefly. Add the flour and combine into a ball with your hands. Turn out onto a floured surface and roll out to the thickness of a coin. Use cutters or templates to cut out your desired shapes, then transfer to the prepared baking sheet and refrigerate for 15 minutes. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius (340 degrees Fahrenheit/Gas mark 3).
- Bake for 10-12 minutes until just beginning to colour. Leave to cool for 10 minutes on the sheet, then gently transfer to a rack to finish cooling.
This makes enough for a decent number of cookies.
- 40g (2 2/3 Tbsp) egg white
- 210g (1 1/2 cups) icing (confectioners’) sugar
- plus extra egg white and icing (confectioners’) sugar to adjust and get the right consistency
Use a stand mixer (or handheld electric whisk) fitted with a balloon whisk attachment to combine the egg white and icing sugar until you get a smooth consistency. Then add tiny amounts of extra egg white and/or icing sugar to get the right consistency. Add food dye to colour as desired! That is it!
Also from Baking with Kim-Joy:
Recipes excerpted with permission from Baking with Kim-Joy: Cute and Creative Bakes to Make You Smile by Kim-Joy, published by Hardie Grant Books, September 2019, RRP $24.99 hardcover.