The crystal skull

The crystal skull

Devil's cardamom-chocolate cake

The Birthday Cake Book
Laura Edwards

For full-on bling, this cake is encrusted with more than 530 Swarovski crystals! Though you can always use dragees for a more economical option. The skull can be made weeks in advance, stored in a cardboard box, then placed on the cake on the day. If you double the cake and ganache recipes and bake for 35–45 minutes in a 30 cm, 7.5 cm-deep round tin, this will make one large and delicious plain cake that you can decorate with gold leaf.

For the cake


Quantity Ingredient
unsalted butter, for the tins
1 Vampire cupcakes, batter only

For the chocolate ganache

Quantity Ingredient
150g 70% cocoa solids chocolate, chopped
200ml double cream

Special equipment

Quantity Ingredient
skull template
2 thin cake boards

To decorate

Quantity Ingredient
500g white sugarpaste
black food colour paste
edible glue

Special equipment

Quantity Ingredient
small paint brush
1 can edible pearl lustre spray
2 packets swarovski 6 mm non-hot fix clear crystals
1 16 mm non-hot fix rivoli round clear crystal
1 18 x 10.5 mm sew-on stone clear crystal
1 tiny dragee


  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C/fan 160°C. Lightly butter two 20 cm round cake tins and line the bases with baking parchment. Divide the batter between the tins and bake for 18–20 minutes, or until a skewer emerges clean. Remove from the oven. Leave for a few minutes in the tin, then turn out on to a wire rack and remove the papers.
  2. When the cakes are completely cold, trim the top surfaces flat, if necessary, and place them in the fridge to firm up. (They can be made in advance and freeze well.)
  3. Now, draw or trace a skull, complete with all the facial markings. It needs to be 20 cm long to completely cover the cake. Trace its outline on to both cake boards, then cut out the shapes with a sharp pair of scissors or a knife. Reserve the original skull drawing. Place one of the boards on top of each cake in turn and cut around using a sharp knife.
  4. To make the ganache, melt together the chocolate and cream in a heatproof bowl over barely simmering water. Make sure the bowl does not touch the water. Stir until smooth. If it is very runny, let it cool to thicken. Spread a thin layer between the two cakes, and sandwich them together. Stand the cake on one of the skull-shaped boards, using a little ganache to attach it, and place on a wire rack, with baking parchment underneath to catch the drips. Pour over the ganache. Allow to harden for a few hours before adding the skull.
  5. To decorate, take about 50 g white sugarpaste and colour it black using the food colour. Seal in a polythene bag and set aside. Brush the second skull-shaped cake board with a little edible glue.
  6. Take about half the remaining sugarpaste and mould into a rough oval to completely cover the board, making it thicker at the top (for the forehead) and tapering towards the chin. Smooth all the edges with your fingers (none of the board should be showing). Press in your thumbs, to form the two eye sockets and the nose.
  7. To make the mouth, cut out a template using your original skull drawing and mark with a knife. Remove excess sugarpaste to create the mouth void and line with the black sugarpaste. Roll two thin sausages from the black sugarpaste and place them behind where the teeth will be at the top and bottom, to support the teeth. Make teeth ‘sockets’ by indenting the sugarpaste around the mouth with the end of the paint brush.
  8. Use most of the remaining white sugarpaste to build up the forehead, bridge of the nose, the cheekbones and the top of the mouth. Mould and smooth the icing with your fingers. Don’t worry about all the seams of icing, they will be covered up by the crystals, you just need to be satisfied with the overall shape. Seal the remaining sugarpaste in a polythene bag and set aside. Lay the skull on to a protected surface and spray with the pearl lustre spray. Leave for a few hours to dry.
  9. To apply the crystals, paint about 5 cm square of the skull at a time with edible glue, then position the smaller crystals with the tweezers. I found it easiest to start in the middle of the skull and work outwards, outlining the mouth, eyes and nose areas first. The two sides need to be more or less symmetrical. Use the two large crystals to form a medallion at the centre of the forehead.
  10. To make the teeth, take small pieces of the remaining white sugarpaste and form into teeth shapes with your fingers. When you are happy with the teeth, place them into the tooth sockets, top and bottom, sticking with edible glue. Stick the tiny dragee on one of the top teeth. Place the skull on top of the chocolate cake.
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