Cactus Cake (Mexican Chocolate Cake)

Last weekend, some friends and I decided to throw a little Mexican fiesta. We had the works – fajitas, guacamole, ceviche, tortilla chips, salsa, etc. We even had a piñata!

As a centrepiece to our Latin American feast, I wanted something spectacular and fun. And so, this cactus cake was born.

The cactus cake looks like it doesn’t qualify as a basic bake. But really, although it took a little time and effort to put together, there’s actually very little skill involved as you’ll see after the break.

I settled on a cactus cake after a quick Google search. Turns out lots of amateur bakers have made this cake before (i.e., it’s very achievable). However, I wasn’t particularly keen on making all those cactus needles on my own. What most did was was to pipe out many thin lines of royal icing and let them dry out and harden. Way too much work in my book.

My brainwave was to use short spikes of angel hair pasta instead. And although you don’t get to eat them, I think it’s much more fun to have whoever’s eating the cake pluck the needles out of the “cactus” first before eating it.

My other nod to the Mexican theme of the party was to have a Mexican chocolate cake. What makes it Mexican? There’s a little cinnamon in it. Oh, and cayenne pepper too. Yes, cayenne pepper. It gives the chocolate flavour a little kick and leaves a nice tingly feeling in your mouth. (If the cayenne pepper’s a tad too adventurous for your liking, feel free to leave it out.)

I also loved that I got to use my soccer ball pan again. I’d bought the pan earlier this year to make a soccer ball cake for my colleague’s son’s birthday party. (Here’s a photo of it.)

If you don’t own a similarly shaped tin, an over-proof glass bowl (like Pyrex) is a great substitute. However, if you don’t want to buy a novelty cake tin and can’t be bothered to do that much decorating, this recipe also makes an excellent 2-layer cake.

INGREDIENTS

  • 175g unsalted butter, softened
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 200g all-purpose flour
  • 40g unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2/3 cup sour cream

Makes 2 layers of 8-inch cake. (Or a largish hemisphere.)

For the icing:

  • 100g shortening
  • 50g unsalted butter, softened
  • 300g icing sugar
  • 50ml sour cream
  • About 1-4 tbsp milk to thin the icing to your desired consistency
  • (For cactus-green) 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa + 1-3 tsp green food colouring
  • (For spikes) Angel hair pasta
  • (For soil) Chocolate biscuits
  • Gum paste flowers (opt.)

DIRECTIONS

Step 1: Preheat your oven to 175°C (350°F). Grease and line 2 8-inch round cake tins. (Or just grease and flour your bowl-shaped tin for the cactus cake.)

Step 2: Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time.

Step 3: Sift in the flour, cocoa, salt, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, baking powder, and baking soda. Add in the sour cream and mix until combined.

Step 4: Divide batter equally into the 2 tins and bake for 30 minutes. If you’re making the cactus cake, pour all of the batter into the bowl-shaped tin. Cover the top loosely with foil and bake for 1 hour. (The shape of the pan really throws off the baking time, so the cake might take even longer; after 45 minutes, keep checking your cake at 15-minute intervals until it’s done.)

Step 5: To make the icing, beat the shortening and butter together on high for 5 minutes until lightened. Sift in the icing sugar, add the sour cream and and mix to combine. Add milk by the tablespoon until you achieve a spreadable, smooth consistency that can still hold a peak. (If you’ve overdone it and your icing is too thin, just sift in more icing sugar and continue mixing.)

To get cactus-green, sift in the cocoa and mix that in. Now, beat in the green food colouring a teaspoon at a time until you get a slightly rusty-looking deep green.

Step 6: When the cakes have cooled, it’s time to decorate!

For a layer cake, just spread icing evenly between the two layers as well as around the sides and on the top. (You can use a spatula, a large spoon, or a palette knife.)

For the cactus cake, transfer the hemisphere onto your serving board. (If you can get a large, shallow planter, it’ll make the illusion all the more believable!)

Then, cover the dome with a thin layer of your green icing. Spoon the rest of the icing into a piping bag topped with a large star tip. (I used a 4B piping tip). Pipe stars all over the dome. You don’t have to be neat; just make sure you cover the dome completely with stars. After you’re done, place the gum paste flowers (if you have them) on the cake.

Break strands of angel hair pasta into 2-inch spikes. Stab three spikes into the centre of each star, splaying them apart. (This part can be pretty tedious, so get help if you can!)

Lastly, throw some chocolate biscuits into a resealable plastic bag and bash away with a rolling pin until you’ve pulverised all of them. (Or you could grind them up in a food processor; easier and faster, but much less satisfying.) Spread the chocolate rubble around the sides of your cactus.

Then, it’s time to pull out your maracas and arriba!



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