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This Nightmare Before Christmas cake features a tender chocolate cake, colorful swiss meringue buttercream, and whimsical decorations. A fun and spooky Halloween dessert inspired by the Tim Burton movie!
If you love Halloween as much as I do, this Nightmare Before Christmas cake will be right up your alley. It combines all things spooky and frightful with lots of baking joy. The cake itself is a pretty simple yet satisfying chocolate cake. Then we’ll use colorful swiss meringue buttercream for the icing, chocolate-dipped cookies for gravestones, and a colorful sugar paste for Jack and Sally. We’ll even be piping colored buttercream into pumpkin shapes!
Why You’ll Love This Nightmare Before Christmas Cake
- Moist cake decorated with frosting. No matter how amazing a cake looks, it must taste great. Otherwise, what’s the point? I have never been a fan of dried-out, tasteless cake covered by sickly sweet fondant. Instead, whenever I create a cake, I want it to look great and taste incredible.
- Colorful and fun. I love the colors on this cake! Orange and purple frosting paired with chocolate-dipped Milano cookies is a pretty fantastic combo if you ask me.
- Impressive, yet achievable. If you want a cake that will impress your Halloween party guests, this may just be it. I’m not going to say it is as easy to make as a basic chocolate cake, but it’s also not incredibly difficult to make. If you are comfortable piping frosting and melting chocolate, you can make this cake.
What You’ll Need
Here’s a quick look at what you’ll need to make this Nightmare Before Christmas Cake, along with my notes. Be sure to scroll down to the recipe card for ingredient amounts.
- All Purpose Flour
- Cocoa Powder – Use natural unsweetened cocoa. I usually use Hershey’s.
- Baking Powder
- Eggs – At room temperature so they blend easily.
- Milk – I recommend using whole milk since the extra fat will help keep the cake moist.
- Butter – Always choose unsalted butter unless a recipe specifically calls for salted.
- Vegetable Oil – You could also use canola oil.
Swiss Meringue Buttercream
- Egg whites – Don’t throw away those yolks! Egg yolks will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days and can be used in ice cream, custard, mayonnaise, or carbonara.
- Butter – Unsalted butter.
- Food coloring – I used orange, green, and purple.
- Yellow sugar paste – Sugar paste is also known as fondant icing and ready-to-roll icing
For the Toppers
- Milano cookies – You can also use other cookies of similar shape.
- Chocolate – Chop up dark or milk chocolate depending on the color you prefer for the gravestones.
- Vegetable oil (optional) – Canola oil is a great choice because it has a mild flavor.
How to Make Nightmare Before Christmas Cake
Before you get started, make sure all of your ingredients are at room temperature.
Make the Cake Layers
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Grease two 7-inch round cake pans. Coat the bottoms and sides of both cake pans generously with butter followed by a light layer of flour. Tap any excess flour out of the cake pan. Set the pans aside.
- Make the cake batter. Mix the flour, cocoa powder, and baking powder together and sift into a large bowl. Add in the sugar, eggs, butter, oil, and milk. Using a hand mixer or a stand mixer, beat the batter until well incorporated. This should take between 3 and 4 minutes.
- Divide the batter evenly and pour it into the prepared pans. Tap the pans lightly on the counter to remove any air bubbles.
- Bake. Bake the cakes for about 50 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean from the center. Remove the cakes from the oven and let them cool in the pans for about 10-15 minutes. Tip the cakes out of the pans and let them cool completely on a wire rack. Wrap the cakes individually in plastic and place the cakes into the fridge overnight.
Make the Spiral Hill Cake Topper
Next we’re going to use sugar paste to make the cake topper showing Jack Skellington and Sally. This will take 2 days because the topper needs to set overnight, so plan accordingly.
- Roll the paste out and cut into a 4-inch circle. Using a knife, cut the edges to make a beautiful, neat circle. If you have a 4-inch biscuit cutter, this is a great way to make a perfect circle.
- Add the sticks. Press two popsicle sticks into the back of the circle.
- Leave the circle to dry at room temperature overnight. Do not cover it.
- Draw Jack and Sally. The next day, make a Spiral Hill drawing with Jack and Sally silhouettes, using a very thin paintbrush and black gel food coloring. Leave it to dry.
Make The Buttercream Frosting
- Cook egg whites and sugar. To make the buttercream, add the egg whites and sugar to a heat-proof bowl. Place the bowl over a pan with simmering water, taking care that the water doesn’t touch the bowl. Constantly stirring with a whisk, heat the mixture until the sugar completely dissolves and the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees F. Remove the bowl from the pan and set it aside.
- Add room temperature butter to a separate bowl. Beat the butter for 5 minutes on high speed until it becomes light, fluffy, and whiter in color. Set this bowl aside.
- Clean the whisks very well before starting to beat the egg white and sugar mixture. Beat the egg white and sugar mixture for 15-18 minutes until stiff, glossy peaks develop (this process will be quicker with a stand mixer).
- Add 1 tbsp of whipped butter at a time, beating after each addition until its well incorporated. After adding all the butter, beat the mixture for an additional 1-2 minutes on high speed. Add 1 ½ cups of granulated sugar and beat until fully incorporated. You’ll be left with a glossy, smooth buttercream.
- Divide the buttercream and add food coloring. Divide the buttercream into 2 equal parts. Color one half with orange food coloring. Take a couple of tablespoons of the orange buttercream and set it aside. We’ll be using this to make the pumpkins. Take 2 tbsp of buttercream from the original buttercream and ccolor it with green food coloring. This will be for the pumpkin stems. Set aside another 2 tbsp of white buttercream to write RIP on the cookies. The remaining buttercream will be dyed with purple food coloring.
Make The Graveyard Cookies
You can use any graveyard-shaped cookies for this part. Milano cookies work great.
- Melt chocolate. Place some chocolate in a bowl and melt. You can do this in the microwave or over a double boiler.
- Dip the cookies. Cut the Milano cookies in half, add a toothpick or small skewer, then dip them into the chocolate. Place on parchment paper to set.
- Variation Idea. If you want to make some small “dirty” dots on the cookies, you can add 1 tsp of vegetable oil to the melted chocolate. This will leave some stains that add character to the cookies.
- Add letters. Write “RIP” on each cookie using the white buttercream you set aside earlier.
Frost The Layers
- Cut the domes from the cakes and cut the cakes laterally into 2 equal parts. This will result in 4 equal layers of cake.
- Don’t throw away the extras! We’ll use the discarded domes later for a decoration, so don’t throw them away!
- Add frosting between the layers. Place a a small amount of buttercream on a cake turntable to prevent the first layer from slipping around. Place the first layer on top of that buttercream. Spread a layer of orange-colored buttercream over the top of the first layer. Cover with the second cake and repeat the process. Do it again with the next layers, finally topping with the fourth layer cake.
Make The Buttercream Pumpkins
Now we are going to make pumpkins out of frosting. Here’s how:
- Place orange frosting in a piping bag. Using a piping bag fitted with a tip (I recommend the decorating round tip 7/16”), make the pumpkins with the orange buttercream.
- Shape the pumpkins. Make the foundation and then, moving from the bottom the top, make the shape of the pumpkin.
- Add green frosting “stems.” Using a piping bag fitted with a 3/16” tip, make the pumpkin stems with the green buttercream.
- Chill. Place the pumpkins in the fridge for about an hour to firm up.
Assemble Your Nightmare Before Christmas Cake
This is where the magic happens! Now that all your elements are ready to go, it’s time to put your cake together.
- Coat the cake with purple buttercream. Using an offset spatful, make the up and down pattern on the sides of the cake. I covered the top of the cake with white buttercream, but you can do it with purple if you’d like. We’ll be covering the top with cake crumbles and other elements of decoration.
- Add “dirt.” Crumble up some of the cake pieces you saved earlier and sprinkle the crumbs over the top of the cake to make dirt.
- Decorate. Decorate the cake with the Spiral Hill Topper, buttercream pumpkins, and graveyard cookies.
- Refrigerate the cake. Place the fully decorated cake into the fridge to set. Take it out of the fridge for about an hour before serving.
Tips For Success
As you’ve seen, making this cake isn’t as difficult as it seems. However, here are a couple of tips that will help you masterfully make it (and improve it), even if you don’t consider yourself a baker:
- Start with room temperature ingredients. Room temperature ingredients blend easily and create silky smooth batters and buttercream.
- Use a non-reactive bowl. Glass and stainless steel bowls should be your go-to for making the swiss meringue buttercream because they are non-reactive. Other kinds of bowls, especially those made of plastic and copper, can cause an undesirable chemical reaction with the mixture’s ingredients to the point where can’t achieve stiff glossy peaks.
- Don’t skip the chilling time. You’ll note that there are several periods in this Nightmare Before Christmas Cake recipe that we ask you to chill things. This chill time is meant to help firm up the buttercream decorations so they don’t fall apart when you decorate this Halloween cake. Don’t skip these steps!
- Plan your time well. This Nightmare Before Christmas cake recipe will take place over 2 days. If you’re feeling stretched for time, you can make the Spiral Hill topper, graveyard cookies, and the cake layers on day 1 (be sure to tightly wrap your cake in plastic wrap and refrigerate if you do). Then, all you’ll need to do on day 2 is make the buttercream and assemble the cake!
How to Store
- Counter. I like to keep this cake on the counter with a cake cover and stand. It will stay fresh for 3 days. This method allows you to see the gorgeous decorations you created while protecting the Nightmare Before Christmas cake from air exposure.
- Fridge. You can also store it in the refrigerator for up to 7 days. First place it unwrapped in the fridge to give the frosting a chance to harden up. Then cover with saran wrap and place back in the fridge. I usually let slices warm to room temperature before digging in.
Can I Freeze the Cake?
Yes, you can freeze this cake. I recommend that you freeze individual slices on a plate or baking sheet covered with parchment first. Then, wrap the frozen slice in saran wrap and put it in a freezer bag. This method of ‘freezing before you freeze’ will protect the cake from freezer burn and prevent the frosting from sticking to the plastic. When you’re ready to eat, take the slice out of the freezer, remove the plastic, and let thaw on a plate.
More Cake Recipes
Nightmare Before Christmas Cake
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
- ½ cup cocoa powder
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup + 2 tbsp milk
- ¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- 2 tsp baking powder
Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
- 8 egg whites
- 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
- 2 ½ cups unsalted butter, softened
- Food colorings, I used orange, green, and purple
- Yellow sugar paste for the topper
- 5-6 Milano cookies, or other cookies of similar shape
- ½ cup chopped chocolate
- 1 tsp vegetable oil, optional
- Preheat the oven and prepare the pans. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Coat 2 (7-inch) round cake pans generously with butter, then flour, tapping out any excess flour. Set aside.
- Mix the cake ingredients. Mix flour, cocoa powder, and baking powder. Sift the mixture into a large bowl. Add sugar, eggs, butter, oil, and milk. Using a hand mixer, beat the batter for about 3-4 minutes until well incorporated. Divide evenly and pour the batter into prepared pans.
- Bake the cakes and cool overnight. Bake for about 50 minutes until the toothpick comes out clean. Remove from the oven, and let it cool before taking it out of the pans. Wrap with plastic wrap and place the cakes into the fridge overnight.
- Make the Spiral Hill topper. To make the Spiral Hill topper we will use sugar paste. Roll it out into a 4-inch circle. Using a knife, cut the edges to make a beautiful neat circle. Press popsicle sticks into the back of the circle, and leave the circle to dry a little bit at room temperature overnight. Do not cover it. The next day, make a Spiral Hill drawing with Jack and Sally silhouettes, using a very thin paintbrush and black gel food coloring. Leave it to dry.
Make the Buttercream
- Cook the egg whites with sugar. To make the buttercream, add egg whites and sugar to a heat-proof bowl. Place the bowl over a pan with simmering water. Water should not touch the bowl. Constantly stirring with a whisk, heat the mixture until sugar dissolves and the internal temperature of the mixture is 160ºF. Remove the bowl from the pan and set it aside.
- Beat the butter. Add room temperature butter to a separate bowl. Beat for 5 minutes until it comes light and fluffy and becomes whiter. Set aside.
- Beat the egg white mixture. Clean the whisks very well before starting to beat the egg white with sugar. Beat egg/sugar mixture for about 15-18 minutes, using a hand mixer until stiff glossy peaks form (with a stand mixer, the process will be quicker).
- Finish the frosting. Start adding butter by 1 tbsp, beating after each addition until well incorporated. After adding all the butter, beat for 1-2 minutes at a high speed. 1 ½ cups granulated sugar. You will get glossy, smooth buttercream.
- Color the buttercream frosting. Divide the buttercream into 2 equal parts. Color the one half with orange food coloring. Take a couple of tablespoons of orange-colored frosting and place it into a separate small bowl, we will need it to make the pumpkins. Take 2 tbsp of buttercream from the other half of buttercream, and color it with green food coloring (we will use it to make pumpkin stems). The remaining buttercream will be colored with purple coloring (or you can coat the cake with white buttercream and then make a thin layer of purple coloring). Leave a tiny amount of white buttercream to write RIP on cookies.
Assemble the Cake
- Cut layers of cake. Cut the domes from the cakes and cut the cakes into 2 equal parts to get 4 layers of cake. Make the crumbs from the cut parts (we will use them for the decoration later).
- Add frosting. To assemble the cake, place a small amount of buttercream on a cake turntable to secure the first cake on top of it. Spread a layer of orange-colored buttercream over it. Cover with the second cake and repeat the process. Do it again with the next layers. Top with the fourth layer cake.
- Make the graveyard cookies. To make the graveyard cookies, we will need any graveyard-shaped cookies, for example, Milano cookies or any others. Cut the cookies in a half and press a toothpick or small skewer into the back. Melt the chocolate. Using a fork, dip each cookie into chocolate, and place it on parchment paper to set. If you want to make some small “dirty” dots on the cookies, you can add 1 tsp of vegetable oil to melted chocolate and mix, leaving some stains. Write “RIP” on each cookie using a white buttercream.
- Make the buttercream pumpkins. Using a piping bag, fitted with a tip (Decorating Round Tip 7/16"), make the pumpkins. Make the foundation and then, moving from the bottom to the top, make the shape of the pumpkin. Using a piping bag (with Decorating Open Star Tip 3/16"), with green buttercream, make the stems. Place pumpkins in the fridge for about an hour before decorating the cake.
- Coat the cake with purple buttercream. Using an offset spatula, make the pattern on the sides of the cake. I covered the top of the cake with white buttercream, as we will decorate the top with cake crumbles and other elements of decoration.
- Decorate the cake. Crumble some of the cake you saved earlier and sprinkle ot over the top to look like "dirt." Decorate with Spiral Hill topper, buttercream pumpkins, and graveyard cookies.
- Chill. Place into a fridge. Take it out from the fridge for about 1 hour before serving