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How to make a 'poisoned' apple Halloween cake

The perfect bake this Halloween - topped with crunchy, glossy toffee apples and decorated with brittle chocolate 'trees'. This decedent 'poisoned' apple Halloween cake is sure to impress.

  1. Skewering the apples

    Preheat the oven to gas 4, 180°C, fan 160°C. Grease and line the base and sides of 2 deep, 20cm cake tins with baking paper. Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda into a mixing bowl. Stir in the sugar and 1 tsp fine salt; mix well. In a large jug, combine the oil, buttermilk, vanilla extract, 4 tsp food colouring and 50ml water. Add the eggs and whisk until smooth. Pour over the dry ingredients and whisk until just combined. Divide the mixture between the prepared tins and bake for 35-40 mins or until risen and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tins for 10 mins, then turn out onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely.

    Meanwhile, make the toffee apples. Remove the stalks from the apples and insert wooden skewers in their place, making sure they are firmly wedged. Making sure you have a good grip on the apples, pull out the stalks and carefully push the skewers about halfway into the fruit. They need to be secure enough to hold the apple when dipping in the hot toffee. Line a baking tray with baking paper.

    Skewering the apples
  2. Making the toffee

    Put the sugar, lemon juice and 50ml water in a medium-large saucepan and warm over a low heat for 3-4 mins or until the sugar has dissolved. Gently swirl the pan to move the sugar around, but don’t stir. The golden rule of toffee and caramel is not to stir it while it’s boiling – this will cause the sugar to seize and become grainy. Instead, gently swirl the pan to help it cook evenly and prevent any sugar crystals forming.

    Making the toffee
  3. Testing the toffee

    Add the golden syrup, increase the heat to medium and gently bubble for 4-5 mins (keeping an eye on it) until it reaches 150°C on a sugar thermometer or the ‘hard crack’. To check if the toffee is ready without a thermometer, drop a teaspoonful into a bowl of cold water; it should harden and turn brittle instantly. If not, return the pan to the heat for a couple of minutes and test again.

    Testing the toffee
  4. Coating the apples

    Holding the end of the skewer, dip the apples, one by one, into the pan and turn to coat in the toffee, being careful not to touch it, tilting the pan a little to help coat all over. Lift out, allowing any excess to drip off, then transfer to the lined tray. As soon as the toffee is set but still a little soft, gently wiggle the skewer to ease it out, then twist and pull to remove.

    If the toffee begins to set while you’re working, gently reheat to soften.

    Coating the apples
  5. Cutting the sponges

    For the icing, combine the butter and icing sugar in a bowl and beat until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the soft cheese, a spoonful at a time, followed by the vanilla extract until smooth and combined.

    Slice each cooled sponge in half horizontally to make 4 evenly sized sponges. To give your cake a professional finish, ensure your sponge layers are even. To do this, cut a small guideline about 0.5cm deep and slice each sponge into two with a large, serrated bread knife. Sandwich the cake layers together, spreading a few tablespoons of the icing between each.

    Thickly spread the remaining icing over the cake to cover it, then use a palette knife or icing scraper to create a flat top and sides. Use a knife to swirl around the sides, starting from the base and working your way up, creating slight ridges in the icing. Repeat on the top, starting in the centre and working your way out. Chill for 1 hr.

    Cutting the sponges
  6. Piping the trees

    Meanwhile, line a baking tray with nonstick baking paper. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water, then scrape it into a small piping bag or freezer bag. Snip the end off the bag and pipe 15-20 chocolate trees of varying sizes onto the baking paper. To help it hold its shape, ensure the chocolate is almost at room temperature before piping. Draw a template of your design on the underside of the baking paper and trace over it with the chocolate. Chill for 15 mins or until set firm.

    Piping the trees
  7. Finishing the cake

    Spoon some of the crushed biscuit into the centre of the cake and arrange the toffee apples on top, pressing down into the icing to secure. Spoon a little more crushed biscuit around the apple edges, then press the remaining around the base of the cake, creating a slightly wavy pattern.

    Stick the chocolate trees onto the sides of the cake, pressing gently to secure onto the icing, then arrange a few more in and around the toffee apples, pressing gently into the sponge to hold in place. Cut into slices to serve.

    Finishing the cake
  8. Ingredients

    We've included a handy ingredients list to help you make this spooky cake – don't forget to screenshot the list before going shopping!

    200ml vegetable oil, plus extra for greasing
    350g plain flour
    2 tbsp cocoa powder
    2 tsp baking powder
    1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
    300g light soft brown sugar
    284ml pot buttermilk
    1 tbsp vanilla extract
    25ml (5 tsp) red food colouring gel (we used Dr. Oetker)
    3 large eggs

    For the decoration

    3 red apples
    200g caster sugar
    ½ tsp lemon juice
    2 tbsp golden syrup
    75g dark chocolate
    50g bourbon creams, finely crushed

    For the icing

    150g salted butter, at room temperature
    400g icing sugar
    200g tub full-fat soft cheese
    1 tsp vanilla extract

    Serves 18 | Takes 1 hr 40 mins plus chilling

    Freezing and defrosting guidelines

    Freeze undercorated cakes. In order to enjoy optimum flavour and quality, frozen items are best used within 3 months of their freezing date. For more tips on freezing and defrosting food, read our article Love Your Freezer.

    Each serving contains

    • Energy

    • Fat

      25g 36%
    • Saturates

      10g 48%
    • Sugars

      60g 67%
    • Salt

      0.7g 12%

    of the reference intake
    Carbohydrate 77.4g Protein 5.2g Fibre 1.7g