Note – I wanted to use black, teal, and orange cake layers for this cake, and I have yet to be able to get a vanilla cake layer colored black without using so much gel food color that it tastes odd. So instead of just vanilla, I made one black chocolate cake layer and two vanilla cake layers that I colored teal and orange. I won’t lie, these recipes are difficult enough to scale that I just made a full recipe of both the chocolate and vanilla cake recipes below and measured out what I needed with a kitchen scale before I colored it. At the time of this writing, I still have one vanilla and two chocolate cake layers in my freezer that I’m not 100% sure what to do with….so if you want to go with a different color scheme and make a bit less work for yourself, I say go for it. You can skip either the vanilla or chocolate cake layer recipe below.
The vanilla cake recipe below is a slightly-simplified layer cake recipe from ChelSweets.com - I highly recommend checking out her site if you haven't before; she does some amazing stuff!!
Vanilla Cake Layers:
3 1/4 c. all purpose flour
3 c. granulated sugar
2 1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
1 cup unsalted butter (or 2 sticks) room temperature
2 t. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups buttermilk, room temperature
1/8 cup (28 grams) vegetable oil
Reserve and add later – 3 drops orange and 3 drops teal gel food coloring
Mix together all dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt) in a stand mixer with a paddle until fully combined.
Mix chunks of room-temperature butter slowly into the dry mix, on a low speed. Continue to mix until no large chunks of butter remain, and the mixture becomes crumbly.
Pour in eggs and mix on low until just incorporated. Mix in the buttermilk in two installments, on a low speed. Add in vanilla and oil, and mix at a low speed until fully incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, then beat on medium speed for about 30 seconds.
Divide batter evenly between the prepared cake pans (I find a kitchen scale helpful for this part). This guarantees your layers will bake to be the same height.
Bake for 35-37 minutes (or until a skewer comes out clean). Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then run an offset spatula around perimeter of the pan to separate the cake from the pan. Place cake layers into the freezer for 45 minutes, to accelerate the cooling process.
Once the layers have fully cooled, the caramelized bits can be trimmed from the sides / top of the cake using a serrated knife if desired. Be sure the layers are completely cooled or chilled before trimming. If you try to trim the layers while they’re still warm, they will crumble apart.
I doubled and slightly-modified a chocolate cupcake recipe from thescranline.com - check out Nick's site and his Instagram feed if you haven't already; he does some incredible work!
Of note...you'll need either a kitchen scale to measure ingredients in grams OR - you can use this fancy ‘grams to cups converter’ ... Or just use the conversions I ballparked for you. You’re welcome.
Chocolate Cake layers:
- 350g all purpose flour (roughly 2 c)
- 450g caster sugar (roughly 2 ¼ c)
- 100g cocoa powder (roughly 1 ¼ c)
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 c /250g /16 T unsalted butter, softened
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- 350ml milk (about 1 ½ ; I used a 2c pyrex liquid measuring cup with mL marks on the back)
- 2 t vanilla extract
4-6 drops black gel food coloring
Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (180C) or 320 FC (160C) for a fan forced oven. Grease 3 8-inch pans with baker's floured spray and/or line pans with parchment paper.
In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, add the cocoa powder, flour, salt, baking soda, and sugar. Turn mixer on low speed and allow it to mix for a couple minutes to help everything combine well (or sift the ingredients together). Add in the softened butter until it’s well incorporated into the dry ingredients and no lumps of butter are visible.
Next, add milk, eggs, and vanilla together and whisk until well combined. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients in a slow and steady stream until no dry ingredients are visible. Scrape down the bowl and mix for another 20 seconds.
Using a kitchen scale, divide your cake batter in to three parts, and color 1/3 black with the gel color. Spread into prepared pans and bake for 30-35 min or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Allow cake layers to cool about 10 minutes on a wire rack before removing from pans. Cool completely before stacking or frosting – set in the fridge or freezer to accelerate the cooling process if desired.
Black Chocolate Frosting:
8 oz (one package) cream cheese, softened
16 Tablespoons (two sticks) butter, softened
6 c powdered sugar
1 c cocoa powder
4-5 Tablespoons milk
1 T vanilla extract
1/4 t. salt
5-7 drops black gel food color, to get desired black color
Beat together softened cream cheese and butter; slowly add in powdered sugar alternating with cocoa powder and milk until frosting reaches desired consistency. Add vanilla, salt, and black gel food color and beat until well combined.
- 1 8- or 9-inch cardboard cake circle
- small / large piping bag & small / large tips
- large nonpareil sprinkles if you want to use them for more color between your cake layers
- Cake leveler, cake turntable, offset spatula, and bench scraper - not all 100% necessary but incredibly helpful!
- 1 batch White chocolate ganache, for drip
- 1 batch Rice Krispie treats – recipe below
- Fondant for decorations- you can buy fondant or make your own (recipe below)
- Red, orange, and yellow candy melts - if you want to try your hand at flames for the base of the ccake
- Gold, silver, and/or large pearlized sprinkles, if desired – I found these at my local craft store
Once your cakes are cool, trim and level them (if needed/desired). This can be done with a cake leveler or a large serrated knife and a ruler. Place a smear of frosting on your cake circle (to keep the cake from sliding while you decorate it) and center your first cake layer in the center of the circle. Spread the layer with frosting. I used some teal and orange large-sized nonpareil sprinkles to add a little bit more color in between the cake layers, but they’re 100% optional.
Repeat the process with your remaining cake layers, adding the final layer on top.
Now you're ready to crumb-coat . If you're unfamiliar with crumb-coating, it's just what it sounds like – spreading a thin layer of frosting over the entire outside of the cake to keep crumbs out of your final layer.
Once your crumb coat has set (this takes about 5-10 minutes in the fridge), add your final layer of frosting and smooth. ( Note – reserve about ½ c to use to cover your Rice Krispie dragon if you want the dragon black as well) I like to use an offset spatula and bench scraper for this part. Once your cake is covered, place it into the fridge or freezer to set the frosting.
This is a great time to make the candy melt flames and the ganache for your drip!
Candy melt flames:
Melt about 1/2 c each red, orange, and yellow candy melts in separate containers. With a spoon, place about 2t of each color together on a silpat mat or parchment paper, and spread with a spoon or offset spatula to resemble flames. Set aside.
White chocolate ganache (for drip)
I used a white chocolate ganache for this cake – I found my favorite white chocolate ganache recipe so far on ChelSweets.com.
- 1/3 cup heavy cream (77 grams)
- 1 cup white chocolate chips (175 grams)
- 1 squirt orange gel food coloring (or color of your choice)
Place heavy cream and white chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl, and microwave on 50% power in 30-second intervals until smooth, stirring in between. Stir in gel food coloring.
I used small zip-lock bags to pipe this drip – since my drip bottles were full of chocolate ganache and caramel at the time. I’ve used drip bottles before though, and I find them to be the easiest to work with.
When your ganache has cooled to a moderate temperature – it should feel slightly warm and still be fairly liquid – transfer it to a squeeze bottle or piping bag. A spoon will work if you don’t have either of those, I've just found spoons to be a little bit more difficult to work with.
Slowly drizzle ganache around the upper edge of your cake, pausing every inch or so to let more ganache fall in a drip down the side of the cake. Spread the rest of the ganache on top of the cake if you want the top of the cake to be all the same color. Return cake to the fridge or freezer to set the drips.
NOW for the fun part! Rice Krispie dragon time!
Rice Krispie Treats (for dragon):
- 4 T butter
- 6 c mini marshmallows
- 8 c Rice Krispie cereal
- Leftover black frosting from cake – I microwaved it for a few seconds to make it a bit easier to cover the dragon in frosting
- 1-2 T Crisco or butter (Optional – to coat your hands while shaping the dragon)
- 1 toothpick – also optional, but I found this to be the easiest way to keep the dragon’s head in place
Place butter and marshmallows in a large microwave-safe bowl, and microwave on 50% power in 30-45 second intervals until melted and smooth. Add in rice cereal, stirring until evenly coated and smooth.
I used another picture as a guide while shaping the dragon – I started with the body and neck, and then added the tail over the side of the cake before shaping and tacking on the head with a toothpick. The Rice Krispie mix will stay shapeable for a while, so you have time to work the mix into the shape that you want!
Once you’re happy with the dragon’s shape, cover it in black frosting with a knife or offset spatula. Fondant could be used to make a smoother-looking dragon at this point, but no one in my family is a huge fan of fondant so I opted to stick with just frosting and use smaller amounts of fondant for decorating.
To make the eyes, snout, nails, and ridge-back, I used marshmallow fondant – fondant can be purchased, but it’s also fairly easy and significantly cheaper to make your own!
I’ve tried a couple of different marshmallow fondant recipes, and Tastes Better From Scratch’s recipe is my current fave!
-16 ounce package mini marshmallows
-2-5 Tablespoons water
-8 cups powdered sugar
-1/3 cup vegetable shortening
Place marshmallows and 2 tablespoons of water in a large microwave-safe bowl.
Microwave for 30 seconds on high; stir until mixed well. Continue microwaving in 30 second intervals until they are melted and smooth. Stir in gel food color – you can add it later if you’d like, but it will involve a LOT more kneading to get the color even.
Place about 5 cups of the powdered sugar on top of the melted marshmallow mixture and gently fold it into the marshmallows.
Grease your hands and your counter-top generously with shortening. Turn marshmallow mixture onto counter and start kneading it like you would dough. Add more confectioners' sugar as needed and re-grease your hands the counter-top as needed.
If the marshmallow fondant is tearing easily, it is too dry; add water (about 1/2 tablespoon at a time) kneading until fondant forms a firm, smooth elastic ball that will stretch without tearing, about 8 minutes.
Whichever type of fondant you decide to use, soften it slightly in the microwave and then roll out a strip long enough to make a ridged ‘dragon back’ down the back of your dragon. Flatten the strip with your hands, and then use a knife to make a ridged pattern down the strip. Press it into the back of your dragon. Use small bits of fondant to make the dragons face and to add nails to its front legs if you’d like! I also used large nonpareil sprinkles to add some orange spots on my dragon.
ALL dragons hoard treasure, so I found some gold, silver, and pearlized sprinkles and added these around the dragon on top of the cake – to make it look like the dragon was sitting on top of a pile of treasure.
I happened across some foam craft leaves and orange pipe cleaners at my local craft store when I went there for sprinkles – I thought those looked cooler than the wings I’d been planning to cut from printer paper, but either option would work.
This wasn’t the fastest or easiest cake I’ve ever put together…but LOOK at the face at the end of the video! 110% worth it!!
Make this recipe? Let me know how it went - or find me on Instagram and tag @IntensiveCakeUnit in your photo!