My first sculpted cake: a skull!

A few weeks ago a friend from my old running group asked me to make her husband’s 60th birthday cake. She requested a skull, after explaining it might be unusual, but her husband would love it. At first I didn’t know if I could, but then I researched it a bit, and realized I could definitely do this. I had not made a sculpted cake before but learned a bunch of tricks over the past few months that I knew would help.

So I said yes, I will make your skull cake. Fortunately they only needed to serve about 10 people, so I did not have to make a lot of cake.

I will share some tips in this post from what I learned while making this sculpted cake and share some photos I took throughout the process.

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Well, I first baked a 9×13″ cake, and then one 6″ round. I didn’t get photos of this process, I kind of forgot. Essentially I just made my favourite butter cake recipe, converted to a chocolate version.

Once the cake was baked and cooled, I cut the cake exactly in half, so there were two pieces about 6.5″ wide by 9″ long. I sliced those in half as well, so there would be about 4 pieces of cake roughly and inch thick. I stacked them all with swiss meringue buttercream in between. Then I placed the 6″ round on top (only one layer of 1″ high cake).

I crumb coated the whole block of cake, but later realized I did not need to crumb coat it just yet. I froze the block of cake, after wrapping it really well in plastic wrap. I double wrapped it.

The next day, I took the cake out and placed the frozen stack on my cake wheel. I had a few photos of skull cakes and real skulls that I found online, and I kept them nearby on my tablet so I could reference as needed. I find I work well when I have an image to copy or replicate. But this cake ended up being an amalgamation of all the photos. These are some of the photos I referenced:

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I used my serrated bread knife and began to carve the cake to look like a skull. I cut away large pieces of cake at first, and as it narrowed down to finer details the cake bits were smaller that I carved off. I had a HUGE pile of cake below my turn table. But all of these scraps froze well, and saved them for future cake pops. Cake freezes really well.

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After carving most of the cake, I realized the top of the skull was not quite round enough. Fortunately i had lots of solid scrap pieces and I was able to mold the top of the head to be more rounded. Seen above there is a bit of a mix of cake and icing on top, while the rest of cake is layered more nicely.

Once I achieved the desired shape of cake I wanted, I started to coat the cake in buttercream. Then I chilled it in the fridge to let it set.

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Once it chilled, I used a small offset spatula (or you could use the back of a pairing knife, the straight edge) and gently smoothed all the edges of buttercream. This helps ensure the fondant covering looks as smooth as possible.

Then I chilled it again, and prepared my space for rolling fondant. The night before I made my marshmallow fondant, learned in school; and my first batch of white modelling chocolate. The latter was a chore, as I never made it before, but wanted to use it because I knew white chocolate would offer the most realistic colour for a skull bone. I researched a bunch of recipes and figured out how to make it, it was easy but I later learned I over mixed it. Then I learned that once it set, it was more chunky and should have been smooth. I managed to correct that with a little nudge of heat in the microwave. Then it kneaded very smoothly.

I mixed half fondant and half white modelling chocolate for the finishing layer of this cake. It was a great combination because it offered the best colour and the most flexibility for covering this shape of cake.

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I did all the sculpting and finishing details in one afternoon/evening. Once the fondant was on, it was just a matter of the finishing details and ensuring it was balanced/ symmetric (as best that I could get it). By this time, the cake had softened to room temperature and was easier to manipulate details into, like the brow and cheek bones. I gently used my hands to shape these areas.

For most of the finishing details I wore disposable gloves so that the details looked as smooth as possible. Once I achieved the desired finish look, I started on the teeth. I basically used little pieces of fondant and adhered them to the mouth area. I even counted them so there was a realistic number. The teeth were pretty fast to make actually.

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Now that I had everything done in terms of the fondant, I added the finishing colour using cocoa powder. Disposable gloves were absolutely needed for this, or you could cover your hands with plastic wrap, or a sandwhich baggie. At any rate, you do not need much cocoa powder at all – it goes a long way. I just dipped my fingertip in the cocoa and then massaged it over the areas of the skull that needed some depth and darkness.

The teeth needed the most cocoa powder, I used a combination of my little cake brushes to paint the cocoa onto the teeth and my gumpaste tools to add the powder. I started with a heavy application of cocao and then brushed it away to create this finished look.

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Once the cake was all done, I cleaned up my space and prepared the cake board to transfer it to. I covered this in fondant as well. Then transferred the cake to the board. This is always a stressful part of the cake process for me, but I am feeling more and more confident each time I move a cake. With practice, I have learned that you start to get a better feel for the cake and “how it moves”, and thus, how you have to move it.

The final touch on the cake was writing the message on the board, I used dark chocolate. I also added some beeswax birthday candles I recently found – and love – I thought it would be fun to use these natural looking candles with the cake.

Here is the finished skull cake. I am very proud of this cake, I think it is my best work yet.

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My real birthday is coming up, I might make another a sculpted cake for myself. I think I want to build a snowman… gingerbread cake! (**Insert Disney’s Frozen lyric track here**). Ha!

4 thoughts on “My first sculpted cake: a skull!

  1. domnakis says:
    Great job, the cake looks worderful! And thanks for the tips you posted, I am sure I will find them very helpful when I try to make one of my own :) Congrats I am sure they loved the cake!
  2. Kelly says:
    The cake was a huge hit and my husband loved it!! I had no idea what I was asking you. Thanks again for taking it on and writing about it here. I've been showing pictures to everyone and now I can also share this!

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