I haven’t had as much fun in the kitchen in a long time as I had making these mini bleeding heart Halloween cakes; yes I am still trying to clean the food colouring off my hands and worktops but it was a fun and almost therapeutic craft project. The hearts are the brainchild of Lily Vanilli, an incredibly talented baker and author who originally designed the hearts as an anti-valentines cake. I thought they would be great for Halloween and would look even more impressive placed on top of mini red velvet layer cakes with a cascade of ganache ‘blood’ down the side.
The hearts are actually surprisingly easy to make, so would make a fun, gruesome Halloween project to do with kids. They are more for decoration than for eating however; they are completely edible, but are made mostly of fondant so probably don’t taste great; I recommend tearing them apart and just eating the cakey innards. I am usually loathe to use fondant for anything as I like everything I put on my bakes to be edible and tasty, but I’ll make an exception for something like this. The hearts are so glossy and shiny because they are painted with piping gel which has been tinted deep red. You can buy piping gel if you like, but it is really quick, easy and cheap to make yourself so there’s no need to seek it out, I’ve included the recipe below. You do need to get some decent quality gel (not liquid) food colouring in red and black, I recommend getting two pots of red, as you need it for the cake, piping gel and ganache; I use Sugarflair in Christmas red.
The cake itself is an extremely moist red velvet cake; I used the same cake mix for both the mini cakes and the cupcakes for the hearts to save having to make more than one batch. Because the cake is so soft it is best to bake it the day before you want to assemble the cakes, otherwise you will struggle to cut out the circles neatly. You can also make the piping gel the day beforehand and store it in an airtight container; make the hearts on the day you want to serve them as they can soften and fall apart if made in advance.
I was sent some of OXO’s new bakeware range to try out, I have to say, I think it might be some of the best quality bakeware I have ever used, it is incredibly sturdy and well made, with a really effective, scratch-resistant non-stick coating. You can tell that it is good quality just by looking at it, and it isn’t just great for baking, it looks good too! I’m a little bit in love with it and will definitely be investing in some more of the range. I used the 23cm square cake tin to bake the cake for these mini cakes in; I then used a 7cm round pastry cutter to cut out rounds from the square cake to build my mini ones. I got six rounds – enough to make three tall mini cakes, you could also try baking the cake in a rectangular traybake tin which would enable you to cut out more rounds and make more (shorter) cakes; just bear in mind that because it will be thinner it wont take as long to bake.
The frosting had to be white to contrast against the bloody hearts, I would usually make cream cheese frosting to go with red velvet cake but in this case I thought that it would be too soft to be able to ice the cakes neatly and hold up against the moisture from the ganache and piping gel so I made ermine/cooked flour frosting instead. Ermine frosting is actually the original frosting for red velvet cake; it is slightly unusual – made by making a roux with milk and flour which is cooked until thickened, cooled then whisked into butter and caster (not icing) sugar. The result is an incredibly light, fluffy, not-too-sweet buttercream that is perfect for spreading and piping.
For extra flavour, I recommend serving the cakes with berry coulis, which has the added bonus of looking like blood. To make it just simmer 250g mixed frozen berries with 60g sugar and 60ml water until softened and slightly thickened, then puree the mixture and press it through a sieve to remove the seeds. Don’t pour it on until you are ready to serve though as the moisture may melt the hearts. As for what to do with the cake scraps, I’ve put mine in the freezer and intend to use them in a trifle at some point; or you could make some Halloweeny cake pops.
For the construction of the hearts, it is easier to watch it being done than to attempt to visualize how to do it so I’ve linked to a helpful video featuring Lily Vanilli herself which shows all of the steps; it’s a good idea to watch it through before you start.
- 300g (2 + ½ cups) plain flour
- 45g (generous ⅓ cup) cornflour (cornstarch)
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
- 2 tbsp cocoa powder
- ½ tsp salt
- 150g (1/2cup + 2tbsp) softened butter
- 400g (scant 2 cups) caster sugar
- 180ml (3/4 cup) vegetable oil
- 4 large eggs, separated
- ½ tbsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp white wine or cider vinegar
- 240ml (1 cup) buttermilk
- about 2 tsp red gel food colouring
- 70g caster sugar (1/3 cup)
- 1 tbsp cornflour (cornstarch)
- 60ml (1/4 cup) water
- 60ml (1/4 cup) lemon juice (about 2 medium)
- red and black gel food colouring
- 300ml (1 + ¼ cups) full fat milk
- 6 tbsp plain flour
- 260g (1 cup + 2tbsp) softened butter
- 260g (1 + ¼ cups) caster sugar
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- pinch salt
- 60g (2 oz) white chocolate, chopped
- 40ml (scant 3 tbsp) double (heavy) cream
- red and black gel food colouring
- about 750g (26oz) red fondant
- about 60g (2oz) black fondant
- Bake the cakes the day before you want to assemble them. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Grease a 23cm/9in square tin and line with baking parchment. Line a muffin tin with fairy cake/small cupcake cases.
- Sift together the flour, cornflour, bicarbonate of soda, cocoa powder and salt, set aside. Using an electric mixer, whisk together the butter and sugar until well combined. Whisk in the oil a little at a time, whisking well after each addition. Whisk in the egg yolks, vanilla extract and vinegar, beating until well combined.
- With the mixture on a low speed, fold in one third of the flour mixture, followed by half the buttermilk, then another third of flour, the remaining buttermilk then the remaining flour.
- Add red gel food colouring a little at a time until you reach the desired shade, bear in mind that the colour will darken a fair bit when the cakes are baked so you don't need to get it as dark as you want it to be.
- In a clean bowl, vigorously whisk the egg whites with a balloon whisk until good and frothy but not yet beginning to stiffen then fold them into the cake batter.
- Pour about three quarters of the mixture into the square tin then divide the remainder among the cupcake cases, I made five fairy cakes and three cupcakes.
- Place the square tin on the lower middle oven shelf and the cupcake tray on the upper middle one. Bake the cupcakes for about 15 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean; remove the cupcakes from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool. The large cake will take about 45 minutes to 1 hour to cook, cover loosely with foil towards the end of baking if the top starts to brown too much.
- Place the tin on a wire rack and leave the cake to cool in the tin. Once cooled, store the cake and cupcakes in an airtight container.
- Place the sugar in a small saucepan. Place the cornflour in a small bowl and gradually stir in the water to make a smooth paste, tip into the pan along with the lemon juice. Whisk until smooth then place over a medium heat and whisk constantly until the mixture comes to the boil and thickens; it should go from being white coloured to almost translucent. Scrape into a bowl, cover and leave to cool.
- Once cooled, add red gel food colouring, along with a teeny bit of black, a little at a time until the gel is a deep, dark blood-red colour. Store in an airtight container.
- Place the flour in a saucepan, whisk in the milk a little at a time until it is all combined. Place the pan over a medium-high heat and whisk constantly until it thickens to a very thick pudding-like consistency. Scrape into a bowl, cover with clingfilm directly on the surface and refrigerate until cooled.
- Whisk together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer on high speed for at least five minutes until very light and fluffy. Whisk in the vanilla extract and salt then whisk in the milk and flour mixture a spoonful at a time until it is all incorporated. Continue to mix until the buttercream is very smooth and fluffy.
- Place the chocolate and cream in a bowl, microwave in short bursts, stirring regularly, until melted and smooth. Add food colouring a little at a time until it reaches a blood red shade. Set aside until cooled and thickened but still pourable.
- Knead a bit of black fondant into the red fondant to darken it. Break off a piece (about 125g worth) and roll into a ball. Sprinkle a work surface lightly with icing sugar. Roll out the fondant into a rough rectangle about 5mm thick.
- Remove the liner from one of the cakes and place it in the middle of the rectangle, fold the two long ends over the cupcake to make a parcel. Fold in the bottom end and trim off the excess. Use your hands to mould it into a sort of heart shape, don't worry too much about any creases or folds, they look great once the hearts have been painted with piping gel. Trim a bit of the excess fondant off the top and use your fingers to form three arteries. Watch the video I linked to above to get a better idea of the technique, it's easier to watch than attempt to visualise the technique.
- Repeat with the remaining cupcakes, you can re-use the fondant trimmings. Once the hearts are formed, use a soft paintbrush to brush them all over with the coloured piping gel, I brushed it on quite thickly so it looks like congealed blood.
- Turn the cake out of its tin and peel off the parchment paper. Trim the top of the cake to level if needed (mine baked perfectly flat). Use a 7cm(2.75in) round straight sided pastry cutter to cut out as many circles of cake as you can, I got six.
- Use a blob of buttercream to stick one cake round to a serving plate. Spread over a dollop more then place another cake round on top, upside down so that the top is perfectly flat. Carefully spread a thin layer of buttercream over the whole cake, it is quite soft so be gentle; I found the easiest way to do it was to hold the cake steady by placing two fingers on the top while I iced the sides, then gently spread buttercream over the top. It will be very full of crumbs, this is fine and exactly why crumb coats are important! Just make sure you don't get any crumbs back in the bowl of buttercream.
- Repeat these steps to make two more mini cakes then place them all in the freezer for about 15 minutes or so until firm.
- Spread another, thick layer of buttercream over each cake, using a dough scraper or pallet knife to get it smooth and even. It should be easier to spread this time as the cakes are firm. Once the cakes are smooth, return them to the freezer for another 15 minutes or so.
- Remove the cakes from the freezer and drizzle some of the ganache over one side of each cake (if it has thickened too much you can give it a very short blast in the microwave to melt it a bit). Place a heart on top of each cake and serve.
I was sent some products to review by OXO but I wasn’t paid to write this post and all opinions are my own