succulents cake

img_9212img_9214img_9180 Taking a big layer cake on the train is such a conversation starter! Who knew?! 😅I had people offer me their seats and ask if they could do some quality-control…

I took this cake across the country this weekend for my friend’s birthday party. She’s a botanist, so a mud cake topped with little plants fit the bill perfectly.

The plants were surprisingly easy to do – type in ‘succulent cake tutorial’ into YouTube and you’ll find many videos; the ones by Wilton and CakeStyle were the ones I used. The plants are made out of plain and simple buttercream, so are completely edible. I had to invest in a few more tools to create them but they didn’t cost much: a couple more shades of green food colouring, a set of flower/leaf/petal piping tips, a flower ‘nail’ and some more piping bags {and great news – you can now get biodegradable ones}.img_9183The mud cake is a Katherine Sabbath recipe and is absolutely delish – very fudgy without being too dense. I’ve done my usual mathematical b.s., scaling up the recipe to make 3 layers in 20cm diameter tins. If you’ve got a baker in your life that you love dearly, get them KatSab’s amazing pop-up cookbook here.


Succulents Cake

a rich, fudgy mud cake topped with mini buttercream plants


  • I baked this cake in 20cm (8″) circular tins 
  • The buttercream plants are best made at least 24 hours before you want to assemble the cake. I made mine on the Tuesday evening when the cake was going to be assembled on the Friday and eaten on the Saturday; they sat quite happily in an airtight box in the fridge until I needed them
  • The quantities listed below for the buttercream plants will make much more than you need for this cake; you can save the remaining buttercream as back-up in case you run out whilst decorating, or make loads + loads of plants/flowers and freeze them for another project


Mud cake:

  • 300g unsalted butter
  • 300g good quality dark cooking chocolate, chopped
  • 125ml espresso coffee + 40 ml water {or just 165ml water, NB. you can’t taste the coffee in the finished cake}
  • 68g cocoa powder
  • 1½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 300g caster sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 164g plain flour
  • 9g baking powder

Light chocolate buttercream:

  • 285g soft, unsalted butter
  • 420g icing sugar
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • ¼ tsp fine salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 60ml milk

Buttercream plants:

  • 560g icing sugar
  • 250g soft unsalted butter
  • ¼tsp vanilla extract
  • 3tbsp milk
  • green food colouring in various shades {I used SugarFlair Spruce Green and Eucalyptus as well as my bog-standard green}
  • leaf, petal and star piping tips
  • piping bags
  • a flower nail
  • small squares of greaseproof paper
  • silver lustre dust + vodka + fine, clean paintbrush {if desired}


Mud cake:

Line three circular tins with greaseproof paper and set aside. Weigh your mixing bowl whilst empty if you want your layers to be perfectly even. Preheat your oven to 160*C.

In a medium-sized saucepan on a low heat, melt together the butter, chopped chocolate, coffee, water, cocoa powder, vanilla extract and sugar. Once smooth, pour it into your mixing bowl and set aside to cool until it’s lukewarm.

Beat the eggs into the mixture one by one. Finally, sieve in the flour and baking powder and fold through.

Weigh your mixing bowl {now full of cake batter} again and subtract this weight from your first measurement. Divide this roughly by 3, leaving some room for error because some batter will be impossible to remove from the bowl/spatula.

For me this meant there was approx. 500g of cake mix going into each tin. Weigh the batter into each tin, give them a gentle shimmy to get rid of any big air bubbles, and then bake for 30 minutes. You’ll know when they’re nearly done as the kitchen will smell great.

Test for doneness with a toothpick or skewer, then set aside to cool.

Light chocolate buttercream:

Weigh out all of the ingredients into a mixing bowl, sieving the cocoa and icing sugar if they have lumps in them.

Beat using electric beaters, slowly to begin with {you can cover your mixer with a clean tea-towel to stop icing sugar decorating the walls} and then on medium-high for several minutes, until pale and uniform in colour. Scrape down the bowl as you go to make sure all of the butter is well-combined. 

Taste for sweetness and add more salt if desired. Set aside until ready to assemble.

Buttercream plants {best done at least 24 hours before cake assembly}

Beat together the icing sugar, butter, milk and vanilla, slowly to begin with and then on medium-high for a few minutes until the mixture is pale and fluffy. 

Put a couple of spatulas’ worth into a small bowl and dye with green food colouring to your desired shade. Spoon into a piping bag fitted with a leaf or a petal tip and pipe a dollop of buttercream onto the flower nail. Stick a square of greaseproof paper on top. 

Create your design by piping with one hand and rotating the nail with the other. There are lots of great YouTube videos demonstrating this, which can explain the technique much better than I could with words! When you’re finished, gently pull the greaseproof paper off the nail and set the plant down on a tray. 

Repeat, changing tips and colours until you’ve made around 25-30. If you have any green buttercream left over, keep it until you assemble the cake as you can use it to fill in any gaps.

Put the tray into the fridge overnight so that the plants set hard. Transfer to an airtight box and return to the fridge until ready to use.  


Level the cakes if they are uneven, saving any scraps to crumble into ‘soil’ for decorating later. 

Spread a little chocolate buttercream onto the cake board, then put the first cake layer down on top. Top with buttercream, then stack the next cake layer on top. Repeat until all three layers are in place, covering the top in chocolate buttercream too. There should still be a little buttercream left for sticking down the plants and covering the exposed bits of the cake board. 

Retrieve your plants from the fridge. One by one, peel off the paper, spread the base with a little buttercream and stick on top of the cake. Repeat until you have filled up all of the space, using any leftover green buttercream fitted with a star tip to create cacti in the gaps. 

If you wish, cover any exposed cake board in a thin layer of chocolate buttercream and cover with crumbled leftover cake so it looks like soil. You can also put crumbled cake over the plants on top, but bear in mind the crumbs will get into the nooks and crannies of the plants {I used a clean, soft paintbrush to scoop most of them out, but couldn’t get rid of all of them}. If you have a paintbrush to hand, you can mix a tiny amount of silver lustre dust with some vodka and then paint silvery details on some of the plants.

If the cake will fit, return it to the fridge when you’re done decorating until you’re ready to serve it/take it on a crosscountry journey…

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