This post is also available in（こちらの言語版もある）: Japanese
Long time no blog! What has it been? 5+ months?! I apologize for the long absence, but between my trip to Germany back in May, training a new team at work, moving to a new (and much larger!) apartment at the beginning of August, and multiple overseas business trips this autumn, I have hardly had any time at all to bake, let a lone blog about it. To be honest, things haven’t really calmed down all that much on the day job front, but October is already upon us and it would be a complete waste to let my beloved Halloween season go by without baking up some spooks. Luckily, one of my spooky-inclined friends has a mid-October birthday, giving me the perfect opportunity to break in my new mini skull cake pan and kick-off the Halloween baking season in style. The tequila and lime flavors I decided to go with for these margarita-inspired cakes may be a bit of a departure from the usual pumpkin-y, spicy fall flavors, but the bright flavor of lime with a tequila kick is a refreshing treat any time of year, so I definitely recommend these margarita skulls to anyone looking to make something a little different this Halloween★
When I first came to live in Japan some 5-6 years ago, Halloween was almost entirely a non-event, but every year the Halloween festivities and variety of Halloween goods on sale has ramped up to the point that it is safe to say that Japan (or at least Tokyo) has come to embrace the Halloween spirit. That said, the Halloween season in Tokyo still doesn’t hold a candle to the US in terms the sheer variety of Halloween decorations, Halloween-themed treats and foods, and over-the-top costumes, so when I found out I would be going on not one, but two business trips to the US this autumn, I knew I would have to make the best of these rare opportunities and stock up on all the Halloween decorations and baking supplies I can’t get here while over there. For example, I left Tokyo for three days in Las Vegas with 10 lbs (about 5 kg) of stuff in my suitcase…and then between a trip to Target and William Sonoma for Halloween decorations, baking supplies, and candy, I managed to leave the city with a 50 lb (about 23 kg) suitcase. Hands down the heaviest thing in my suitcase was this mini skull cake pan I picked up at William Sonoma. Before I left Tokyo, I had seen it on William Sonoma’s website and fallen in love with it, so I took it as a sign that said pan was meant to belong to me when there was a William Sonoma located right next my hotel that had it in stock and basically had no choice but to buy the thing and bring it back to Japan with me (along with a ghost spatula and gummy bats to compliment my Target haul).
Once back in Japan, I couldn’t wait to have the opportunity to finally try out the (frankly really heavy) pan of my dreams. Lucky for me, I did not have to wait long since my friend had a birthday this last weekend and I can hardly think of an event more skull-cake-worthy than a goth boy’s (or girl’s) October birthday party. The only thing to decide then was the flavor. For my first attempt with the skull pan I knew I wanted to go “traditional” with white skulls, so I bypassed all of the seasonal pumpkin spice-y goodness and went through my collection of white cake recipes. For some reason, the first recipe in the list to jump out at me was a margarita cupcake recipe brimming with tequila-lime flavor. In hindsight, perhaps the idea of white skull cakes reminded me of calaveras or the iconic sugar skulls of Mexico’s vibrant Día de los Muertos festivities, which in turn made me think of Mexico…which then brought me to tequila…or something. Either way, margarita skulls sounded good to me so I went with that.
The cake recipe baked up just fine in the skull pan, but I knew they would dry out without some kind of icing covering, so I melted a batch of tequila lime butter cream frosting to pouring consistency in the microwave to make a faux pourable fondant to coat my skulls. The first layer I poured on made for an even, thin coating that didn’t obscure the skulls’ features, so I got cocky and tried to pour on a second layer to get more icing bang for my buck. Unfortunately, despite trying to reheat the butter cream back to optimal pouring consistency, the second time it went on much thicker and far less even. The uneveness may have lended a more realistic sculpted effect to the skulls, but the thickness obscured the skulls’ delicate features, so I had no choice but to try to draw them back on with chocolate pens. I am frankly never going to win any awards for my chocolate pen drawing skills, so if I did these again I would definitely stop at one layer of faux fondant and call it a glaze.
Outward appearances aside though, how did they taste? To be honest, I did not have the chance to taste test them before bringing them to my friend’s birthday celebration, so I waited in nervous anticipation, fingers crossed that they tasted good when he took his first bite. To my great relief, he happily declared them tasty, passing around a cake for others to sample. The consensus seemed to be a) that the lime flavor was refreshing and tasty and b) that the skulls were cute enough to quit my day job and sell. While I am positive that my decorating skills need a lot of work before I attempt to sell anything and have no plans to quit my day job that sends me to the Land of Exciting Baking Goods (read: US) any time soon, I was thrilled and flattered that my first baking creation of the Halloween season was so well-received. Hopefully this is a good omen for the rest of spooky baking season, but in the meantime, by all means put your own skull pan to work with these margarita skull cakes★
- For margarita cake:
- 1½ cup (188 g) of all-purpose flour
- 1½ tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp salt
- ½ cup (113 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
- 2 eggs, at room temperature
- Zest and juice of 1½ limes
- 2 tbsp tequila
- ¼ tsp vanilla extract
- ½ cup (120 ml) butter milk (see notes about how to make your own substitute if you don't have any butter milk)
- For brushing cakes:
- 2 tbsp tequila
- For tequila lime icing:
- 1 cup (226 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2¾ (344 g) cups powdered sugar
- 1 tbsp lime juice
- 2 tbsp tequila
- pinch of salt
- For decorating:
- chocolate decorating pens
- Make skull cakes: preheat oven to 325 F (165 C). Grease skull pan and set aside.
- Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, use an electric mixer on medium-high speed to cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
- Add eggs one at a time and beat thoroughly on medium speed.
- Add lime zest, lime juice, and tequila and mix until combined.
- Add the flour mixture in three batches alternately with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Mix on low until combined.
- Pour the batter into the prepared skull pan until each skull is about ¾ full and then bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean.
- Allow cakes to cool 5-10 minutes, remove from the pan, and transfer to a cooling rack.
- Brush the cakes with 2 tbsp of tequila and allow to cool completely.
- Make tequila lime frosting: cream the butter with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy.
- Gradually add the powdered sugar, beating on medium speed until combined.
- Add the tequila, lime juice, and salt and beat on medium-high speed until combined and fluffy.
- Transfer the icing to a microwave safe bowl and heat in the microwave for 20 seconds or until it reaches a pourable consistency.
- Pour the melted icing over the cakes and allow to harden for about 10 minutes.
- If desired, heat the remaining icing back to a pourable consistency in the microwave and then pour a second layer of icing over the cakes.
- Allow to harden at least an hour and then draw on facial details with a chocolate pen. When the chocolate is set up, you're ready to dig in!
★If you don't have the skull cake pan, you can use a normal cupcake pan and make 12 margarita cupcakes instead.
Margarita cake recipe inspired by: http://www.browneyedbaker.com/2011/05/05/margarita-cupcakes-cinco-de-mayo/