The Marvellous Night Circus cake

circus-detail“You like baking, right? Do you accept cake commissions? She said you’re really good at cookery.”

Flattery may get you everywhere, but it doesn’t make receiving a message like that from your friend’s dad any easier.

“Chocolate. Would you like a challenge?”

Eek. Only a little hesitance. “What are your ideas?”

“Popping candy and jelly pieces. Is that possible?”

“Like the Marvellous Creations?”

“Exactly right.”

Obviously I had to say yes, despite the unshakable feeling that it would all go horribly wrong, based on past experience. Not because I can’t bake, but because I only ever seem to fluff it when it’s important.

But, challenge accepted.

Based on Cadbury’s jelly popping candy Marvellous Creations bar, this absolute behemoth of a cake has poppy candy in the ganache filling and a surprise piñata jelly bean centre.

And the design? Well, it’s all about a book, of course. The Night Circus is a tale that the birthday girl and I have both fallen in love with, not because of suspense or twisting plot, but because of the world created. The Night Circus is black and white through and through, even the costumes and various tents. Entirely, that is, apart from the flashes of red worn by it’s biggest fans and the bright auburn of two characters’ hair. And so, the cake: black and white on the outside, with black, white, red, and orange jelly beans set into a hole in the middle so that when it’s sliced open, they spill out.

candlesI won’t be writing a tutorial for the decoration, because it was fiddly as hell (Rulers! Right Angles! Craft knives!) and meant the cake overall took about eight hours to make. But you can have a recipe for the cake inside, a chocolate-heavy delight that’s still – brace yourselves – moist a week later.


Makes an 8 inch, four layer piñata cake! It’ll serve…loads. 20 at least, I’d guess.circus

Recipe adapted from that chocolate cake


600g caster sugar
425g plain flour
135g cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 1/4 tsp baking powder
2 1/4 tsp baking soda
3 eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cup milk
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup hot water

300ml double cream
Knob of butter
400g dark chocolate, quite finely chopped
4.5 tbsp icing sugar
1.5 tbsp cocoa powder

Jelly beans
Popping candy (not the cheap stuff!)


The cake*

Preheat the oven to 170C and grease and line four 8″ cake tins (not lose bottomed ones!)*.

Mix all the dry ingredients – sugar, flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder, and baking soda – in one bowl. Combine the wet ingredients – eggs, oil, milk, and vanilla extract – in another.

Pour the wet into the dry and mix on a low speed (or by hand) until fully combined. Add the hot water and again mix until smooth. Yup, it’s a really wet batter.

Divide between tins – about 520g of mixture per tin – and bake for 35-45 minutes. They’re done when a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.

When they’re cool – or, even better, after they’ve cooled and had about 45 minutes in the freezer, each wrapped in cling film – level the tops. (These leftover bits can later be mushed up with any leftover frosting to make cake pops!)

The ganache frosting

Warm the cream and butter on the hob, until hot but not boiling, and pour over the chopped chocolate. Stir together with a spatula. When smooth, sift in the icing sugar and cocoa powder, and again stir until smooth. Set aside.

The construction

Okay, let’s go! You should now have four lovely leveled layers. This’ll go easier if they’re frozen for a bit but it’s not absolutely necessary.

Using a 3″ circle cutter, cut out the middle of two of the cakes. (You can add this to the cake pop pile!)

Pick your bottom (whole) layer, transfer to whatever you’ll serve on, wriggle it into the centre, and throw on a nice big dollop of frosting. Spread it all the way to the edges, and generously cover with popping candy. Add one of your ring layers, frost, sprinkle. And again.

Pour the jelly beans into the hole, and pop the top layer on to cover, with the leveled-out side facing down so the top is smooth. Allow the whole thing to set for about an hour so it’s nice and sturdy before you do the outside and top.

Finally, frost the sides and top, smoothing using a palette knife. Depending on how crumby your cakes are, you might need to do a crumb coat and then a final layer. Decorate as you wish! Maybe pipe some ganache in a ring around the top of the cake? Sprinkles? More popping candy? Stars? Flowers? The world (cake) is your oyster (art project)!

 Notes: *I absolutely advocate doing this a day in advance, so you can allow all the cooling and setting time you need. Preparation is key.

**I only had two tins, so I did it in two batches. The batter was fine having rested a little.



4 thoughts on “The Marvellous Night Circus cake

  1. Rebecca says:

    This cake is amazing! so impressive. I could never spend eight hours making and decorating a cake so well done!
    I’ve read the night circus and I agree with you it’s such a good book! Can’t believe it hasn’t been made into a film yet.
    Seriously though, the cake looks so good, I wish I had the patience to make something that cool!

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