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Fantastic Feasts: Beetlejuice cake

Contributed by
Mar 30, 2018

I believe in time travel and wormholes. Not because I’ve been listening to any science podcasts lately, and certainly not because I’m a student of quantum physics or anything. No, my belief in time travel comes from the fact that today is the 30th anniversary of Beetlejuice, and there is absolutely NO WAY it’s actually been 30 years.

Beetlejuice movie poster

 My theory is that there had to have been some temporal shift somewhere along the way. The space/time continuum got folded, a shortcut was created, and somehow this movie (and pretty much all of the neon and big hair awesomeness that was the '80s) was rocketed backwards at an unnaturally fast speed, resulting in our current situation, where a movie I distinctly remember seeing in the theaters when it was released is somehow 30 years old, while I’m pretty sure I’m not technically that old either.

Regardless, the movie holds up like a fine wine. It’s still as fun as it was when it was first released. With Lydia’s darkly brooding cynicism, Delia and Charles Deetz’ self-involved oblivion, Otho’s over-the-top dramatics, Adam and Barbara Maitland’s absolute denial over their current situation, and the entire cast of characters both living and dead, the film plays as well today as it did 30 years ago.

Of course, the film's crowning glory is Beetlejuice himself, in all his sleazy, manic, poltergeist glory. Played by the deliciously over-the-top Michael Keaton, the ghost with the most provided the perfect bridge between the living and the dead, driving the entire ridiculous plot forward in one eye-popping display of poltergeist power after another.

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This film solidified my undying love for all things Tim Burton, and to show my appreciation, I decided to make a 30th anniversary cake befitting the film—a three-tiered monstrosity featuring six layers of key lime and lemon cake sandwiched with thick slabs of homemade buttercream frosting, wrapped in soft marshmallow fondant dripping with electric green slime, a hand-rolled Sandworm, and crowned with my homage to Keaton’s brilliantly unhinged “Attention K-Mart Shoppers” carnival scene.

Now, before we launch into this cake, I’m going to issue a small disclaimer.  While this cake won’t take the full 30 years we’re celebrating for the film, it will take you at least a good solid six to eight hours (or longer, depending on your cake-making skills). This isn’t a cake for the faint-hearted. That being said, it’s not an impossible cake, and with a little patience and some time, I am confident in saying that a baker of almost any skill level should be able to pull this off (much as Barbara did to her own face when hanging in the closet).

To start, you’re going to need to gather your ingredients.  You will need:

  • Two boxes of cake mix in flavors of your choice (I used one box of key lime and one box of lemon supreme)
  • Sour cream
  • At least 1 ½ cups whole milk (set aside 2 tablespoons for your butter cream frosting)
  • Eggs
  • Two boxes lime gelatin (optional)
  • One can of light colored pre-made frosting (I used key lime)
  • ½ cup Crisco
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 8 cups powdered sugar (plus extra for dusting)
  • 1 teaspoon flavoring extract
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice, divided
  • 1 1/3 cups white candy melts
  • 1 1/3 cups black candy melts
  • 3 ½ cups mini marshmallows, divided
  • 1 cup Karo syrup (divided in half)
  • White eyeball cookie decorations
  • Green cake decorating gel
  • Black food coloring
  • Neon green food coloring
  • White food coloring
  • Teal food coloring
  • Red food coloring
  • Yellow food coloring
  • Edible wafer paper
  • Black edible pen
  • Large green sugar balls or small gumballs
  • 1 cup vodka
  • Toothpick

You will also need:

  • Bowls for mixing (at least one must be microwave safe)
  • Wooden spoon for mixing
  • Rolling pin
  • Electric mixer
  • Cardboard sucker sticks
  • Scissors
  • Knife
  • 4” cake pan
  • 6” cake pan
  • 8” cake pan
  • 6” cake board
  • 8” cake board
  • Piping bag with star tip
  • Icing spatula
  • Regular large spatula
  • Food safe scissors
  • Food-safe paint brush
  • Black construction paper
  • Twine
  • Scissors
  • Tape or glue
  • Black washi tape
  • Drinking straw
  • Plastic food wrap

The first thing we’re going to do is make our cakes. We’re going to follow the directions on the back of the boxes—to a point.  Because this is a stacked cake, we want our cakes to be able to stand up to some weight, which means we’ll need them to be a little denser than usual. While we will be providing some internal structural support using our cardboard sucker sticks and our cake boards, I like starting with a cake base that is thicker and a little less prone to crumbling than some of the box cakes turn out to be, which means making some small adjustments to the recipe, like substituting an equal combination of sour cream and whole milk for the water and adding an additional egg to the mix. For the box mixes I used, I ended up using ½ cup sour cream and ½ cup whole milk to replace my 1 cup of water and a total of four eggs instead of three.

I also added a box of lime gelatin to each cake. This not only helps keep them moist but really punches up the green color and adds an additional layer of flavor.  If you decide to do this step, simply add a complementing flavor of gelatin (or pudding) to your batter.

Make one box cake at a time, dividing up your batter between your 4”, 6”, and 8” pans and filling each one to just half full.

Bake according to the directions, but be aware you may need to leave them in for an additional few minutes to make sure they’re cooked all the way through (dense cakes take a bit more time than lighter cakes).

Set each cake layer aside and allow to cool as you continue to make all your cakes. You should ultimately end up with:

Two 4” cakes

Two 6” cakes

Two 8” cakes

We will be using both the 6” and 8” layers, but only one of the 4” layers, so if you’re craving cake and can’t resist, feel free to eat that one as you decorate the others.

After your cakes have cooled, level off their tops and pop into the fridge to firm up for at least an hour.  Now we’ll make our buttercream frosting.

In your electric mixer, cream together your ½ cup Crisco with your ½ cup softened butter until light and fluffy. 

Add your teaspoon of flavoring. Because my cakes are citrus, I used lime, but you can use whatever flavor you like that will complement the cakes you are making.

Slowly sift in 4 of your 8 cups of powdered sugar, a cup at a time, until fully combined with your butter/Crisco mixture. Make sure to scrape the sides of your bowl as you go to ensure all your frosting is well mixed.

Pro tip: Shut your mixer off before you add your powdered sugar and bring the speed up slowly when you do turn it on. This will prevent the powdered sugar from exploding in a cloud of white that will end up everywhere in your kitchen except your frosting!

You should end up with a mixture that is extremely thick and hard to stir. To loosen it up, slowly drizzle in your 2 tablespoons of reserved whole milk and whip for an additional two to four minutes or until smooth and thick.

By now your cake layers should be nice and cool. 

Put a blob of buttercream in the center of your 8” cake board and use that to adhere one of your 8” layers to the board. 

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Stack the second 8” layer on top of your first layer by piping a thick bed of buttercream down and setting the second on top. 

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Give the entire thing a crumb coat of your buttercream, piping on a thick layer and then using your spatula to smooth and thin. 

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Once covered, put the whole thing back into the fridge to firm up while you repeat the process with your 6” layers and your 4” layer (your 6” layer should also be glued to the 6” cake board using buttercream as a glue, but don’t worry about your 4” layer going onto a cake board).

While the layers are firming up, let’s make your marshmallow fondant. Making your own fondant is absolutely optional. If you prefer, you can also use store-bought fondant. I like making my own because I think it tastes better.

Ugh, I can already hear the fondant haters whining. “Why are you using fondant?!  It tastes so awful!”

Here’s my take on fondant. It’s a bit like a peel on a banana in that it serves two distinct purposes:

1. It looks good.

2.  It protects what’s inside.

3.  You absolutely can eat it, but you don’t have to.

Bottom line is this: This cake looks better because of fondant, and with that protective layer over your cake, it will stay fresh and moist for longer than it would if you used just frosting. If you don’t like fondant, just peel it off. Problem solved.

Now, back to making our fondant.

In a microwave-safe bowl, melt 1 3/4 cups of your mini-marshmallows and 1 tablespoon of your lemon juice together, cooking them in 15-second bursts and stirring between each cooking.

When they are smooth and melted, add in your 1 1/3 cup of white candy melts. Continue to cook in the microwave in 15-second bursts and stirring between each burst until all the candy melts are melted and mixed in.

Slowly pour the now-liquid candy into your powdered sugar, mixing as you go until you achieve a thick, dough-like paste. When you are unable to stir the mixture any longer using a wooden spoon, turn out onto a surface liberally dusted with powdered sugar and knead until smooth and pliable.

Repeat this process for your black candy melts. You should end up with two balls of marshmallow fondant, one white and one black.

Lightly dust your work surface with powdered sugar and your rolling pin to prevent your fondant from sticking. Roll out ¾ of your black fondant until it’s the size of your 8” stacked cake.

Gently place your fondant over the stacked 8” cakes and smooth, using your hands or a fondant smoother.

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Beginning in the center of the cake, move outwards and down the sides, making sure to gently press the fondant into the buttercream and smooth out any bubbles or wrinkles. Work slowly, as the fondant can tear if moved too quickly or roughly.   

Trim off any excess fondant at the bottom of your cake with a sharp knife or clean, food only scissors, leaving you with a smooth, black fondant-covered two-cake-high base.

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Repeat this exact same procedure with your white fondant and your 6” layer and again with your black fondant and your 4” layer.

You should now have:

One 8” two-layer black fondant-covered cake

One 6” two-layer white fondant-covered cake

One 4” black fondant-covered cake

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To create the black stripes on your white layer, roll out your remaining black fondant until approximately ¼” thick. Cut strips 6” long and ¾” wide. 

Using your food safe paint brush, lightly brush the back of your strips with vodka and press onto your 6” layer cake in a wagon wheel spoke pattern, trimming the ends with your knife.

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Now it’s time to make our slime frosting for the bottom layer of our cake.

Pop your tub of pre-made frosting into the microwave for about 20-30 seconds or until fully liquid.

You should still have a ton of the buttercream we made left over. Scoop about ½ a cup of this into a bowl and then pour your now liquid pre-made frosting over and mix well.

Add a few drops of neon green food coloring and mix to combine. The frosting will come together in a thick, liquid mix.

Starting in the center of your black fondant covered 8” cake, pour out a generous pool and then use your spatula to push this to the edges of your cake, allowing it to drip down the sides.

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WARNING: This frosting sets up fast so be prepared to move quickly! Add to your drips using a spoon to drizzle additional slime down the sides of your black cake.

Set this aside and allow it to harden at room temperature (about 30 minutes or so)

Now let’s start stacking our cakes!

The first thing we need to do is add some structural support to help make sure our 8” layer doesn’t get crushed with the weight of all the decorating we’re going to do on top of it. Push five support rods (our cardboard sucker sticks) into your cake through the fondant in the following pattern, making sure that they’re at least one inch in from the outer edge:

Snip off the top of your sucker sticks so they are flush with the top of the cake.

Use a blob of buttercream to glue the fondant covered 6″ cardboard cake round to the top of your 8″ cake, covering all your sucker sticks.

Using more buttercream as glue, stack your 4” layer on top of your 6” layer. You should now have a fairly impressive, three-tiered black and white and green slimed cake. Congratulations!

Now we could stop here, but I say: let’s keep going! 

Fill up your piping bag with more of your green buttercream frosting and this time add on your start tip. 

Use that to add little dots of green buttercream to the top of your 6” layer to help hide the edges of your 4” layer. 

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Follow up each frosting dot with an additional tiny amount of your green cake decorating gel and press on a sugar eyeball.

Repeat the same buttercream decorations on the top of the cake and top each with an additional dot of green decorating gel and a green sugar ball/gumball.

And we’re finally onto my absolute favorite part of this whole project…the Sandworm!

As you may remember, sandworms live on Saturn (wait, you mean you didn’t learn that in 6th-grade Earth Science class?!?) and have a taste for ghosts. 

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As hard as it is to believe, I know there are those of you out there who have not seen the movie, so I won’t spoil it, but I will say, Sandworms may have a relatively small role in the film, but the part they play is pretty big... which is why I believe they deserve a place of honor on my cake.

To make your own Sandworm, we’ll need to make some modeling chocolate.

As you may remember from my earlier Syfy.com Porg Pops recipe, we’ve used modeling chocolate before with fantastic results, and the same can be said here.

In two separate microwave-safe bowls, melt down your remaining 1 1/3 cup of white candy melts and your 1 1/3 cup black candy melts. Once they’re melted, let them rest about 5 minutes. 

You’ll want the candy to still be liquid smooth, but just above the melting point.

One at a time, mix in ¼ cup of light corn syrup into each bowl. 

At first, the candy melt and corn syrup will mix smoothly, but then you’ll notice the mixture getting thicker and thicker and harder to stir (use either a wooden spoon or a stiff spatula to mix).

When the mixture comes together in a thick almost paste-like texture, pull out of the bowl and use your hands to knead together.

This part is VERY MESSY! I strongly suggest doing this part over the sink. As they mix, you’ll have a lot of liquid coming out of the dough; don’t worry, this is normal! Just keep kneading. Eventually, all the excess liquid will either drip off or be worked back into the dough and you’ll be left with a smooth clay-like final product.

Once you are done making your modeling chocolate, roll out a tapered white modeling chocolate snake approximately long enough to wrap around the base of your 6” layer.

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To create the stripes, simply roll out your black modeling chocolate to a thickness of approximately ¼” and cut stripes roughly 1 ½ inches wide. Using your vodka again as your glue, adhere these around your Sandworm body in evenly spaced stripes.

Pinch off a small amount of your remaining white marshmallow fondant and divide into three parts. Using food coloring, create a small amount of yellow fondant, red fondant, and teal fondant.

Create eye holes in your modeling chocolate Sandworm using the rounded end of your food grade paint brush and dot in a small amount of vodka for glue. 

Using your knife, split the head of your sandworm in half to create the mouth.

Gently press in a small ball of red into your eyeholes and set aside to firm up.

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Take another piece of white modeling chocolate and roll into a fat oval approximately the same size as the mouth opening of your larger Sandworm piece. This will be your inner Sandworm head.

Again, using your knife, split your second Sandworm head open to create a mouth.  Line the interior with red fondant and use your yellow fondant to make tiny sharp teeth.

Roll a small snake of teal and use that to form the lips of your inner Sandworm head. 

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Don’t forget to add small red food coloring dots on the snout! I used a toothpick for this part.

Create the smaller Sandworm head eyes the same way you made the larger Sandworm eyes, substituting yellow for the red. 

To create the black iris, press a small dot into your yellow eyeball with the back of a toothpick dipped in black food coloring. To add the white dot accent, wait for the black food coloring to dry and then dot with a tiny dot of white food coloring using the small tip of a toothpick.

Brush the inside of your larger Sandworm’s mouth with vodka and place the smaller Sandworm head inside.

To make the striped teeth for the larger Sandworm, simply twist together a small amount of black and white modeling chocolate and roll to points.

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Use more vodka to glue these into place and then wrap the lips with another roll of teal fondant.

Carefully wrap your finished Sandworm around the 8” layer at the base of your 6” layer, using buttercream as glue if needed.

Now let’s make the topper for our cake!

In the film, Beetlejuice is summoned forth by Lydia to help save Adam and Barbara from Otho’s séance. In order to distract the mortals, he emerges from the ground in a full body, carnival style costume, complete with black and white big-top hat and his (now) iconic black and white striped suit. 

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To help bring this scene to life, we’ll be making our own black and white striped big-top.

Download and print this file here:

beetlejuice_circus_tent.pdf

It should all fit on one single 81/2X11 piece of printer paper.

Cut out the pieces and assemble.  

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To create the striped pole it all sits on, I took a silver straw and wrapped it with black washi tape.

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Hang the bats from the edge of your big-top using inch long pieces of twine or thread.

Find the center of your 4” layer and press the end of your big-top straw down until you are left with approximately 5” sticking out. 

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You want your bats to hang about an inch or so above the edge of the cake.

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To make the actual Beetlejuice logo in the center of the 4” layer, I printed it out on a piece of edible wafer paper using an edible printer. If you don’t have access to one, you can simply trace the design onto your edible wafer paper using your edible marker. Another option is to go to a bakery that does photo cakes and have one printed out for you on sugar paper.

Gently adhere this to the center of your 4” layer using vodka.

Step back, take a deep breath, and congratulate yourself on a cake that is five layers, three tiers, one big-top and a two-headed sandworm of awesome!

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Your final step in this crazy long process is to carve yourself a huge slice, turn on the TV, rent Beetlejuice, and spend an afternoon watching this amazing film, marveling at how 30 years could have passed so damn fast.

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