Spring sunshine is warming the ground and supple shoots are emerging from the soil, reaching toward the light.
In our hearts it is always winter, with steely grey skies lying flat over skeletal tree branches, their leaves as dry as bones. We’re not only melancholic—we’re also hungry. In honor of both, we offer up these bone cakes, drenched in chocolate fondant and decorated with skulls and horns. They are the detritus of life, rotting in sugar. And they are delicious.
The Melancholic Earth
To create the base of the bone cake, use your favorite recipe. For my tooth-cakes—perverse petit-fours!—I opted for a rich pound cake and, for the larger versions, a creamy orange. The choice is yours. I used jumbo and petite muffin pans as my base shape, but there are myriad options available. Just be sure to choose a shape with smooth surfaces so that the poured fondant will not gather or bubble in cracks and crevices.
Once you have baked your cakes, place them on cooling racks set on cookie sheets lined with parchment or waxed paper. Or, if you don’t have cooling racks, you can place your cakes directly on the parchment or paper. In either case, the cookie sheet is critical, since it will prevent the poured fondant from spilling all over the counter and cottage floor.
The Molten Black Fondant
Once your cakes are fully cooled, you are ready to make your poured fondant. The basic recipe can be found here. For a vegan option, this one is excellent. Because you are going to be tinting your fondant black, you can use dark chocolate or milk chocolate in place of the white chocolate called for in the first recipe. When the fondant is ready, it will be glossy and smooth. Do not whip it too vigorously! Even though you might like it, too much flogging will make air bubbles. Once the fondant cools below 100˚F, it will become sluggish. This means you will need to work quickly.
Pour the fondant over each cake, starting in the middle and making sure that it is drenched on all sides. A lot of poured fondant will wind up on the waxed paper or parchment. That’s a good thing! You can always crack the dried fondant off the paper and re-melt it. Use it to frost cookies or even make molded candy. No wasting carbs! Let the fondant dry.
The Bony Remains
Time to get witch-crafty! First you will need a batch of white fondant. It can be made from scratch using either marshmallows or Fluff or agar-agar, if you’re vegan. You can also buy it in either mixes or boxed and ready to use. Lay down a piece of parchment as a work surface, scrub your hands, and get sculpting! When planning my bone cakes, I used images of animal skeletons for reference. Be sure to incorporate imperfections into your shapes, using a skewer to stipple and drag striations in different areas.
Fondant is very easy to work with, but it has limitations. First, if it gets too warm, it will become sticky. Set it down and return to it in a minute if this happens. Second, it’s made out of marshmallow, so your ability to carve detail is limited. Let go of perfectionism and let your intentions guide your creativity. After all, you’re sculpting remains and no two corpses are alike—and at least this detritus is delicious.
Once your basic bones are sculpted, let them dry for about an hour. When they are no longer sticky or overly soft, prepare a brownish wash to make your bones look organic and old. Mix a mere dab of food coloring with water and test your mixture on a scrap piece of fondant or paper. When you are happy with the transparency, use a clean, kitchen-dedicated paint brush—a liner works best—and apply the wash to several areas of your bones. If it’s too dark, wipe some off. Be sparing with the wash as too much will make the fondant sticky again. If this happens, set it aside for a few minutes. No worries!
Once the bones and cakes are dry to the touch, you can begin assembling your creations using a thick batch of royal icing as both cement and décor. I kept these relatively simple, but they could become quite elaborate. Imagine blood-red roses emerging from a skull’s eye, greenish moss clinging to leg bones, whatever your darkling heart might desire!