Add a little Halloween flair to the usual Dirt Cake.

This past weekend, I volunteered to make two cakes for the cake walk at our school’s fundraising event, Pumpkinpalooza. I always love an excuse to bake and don’t usually shy away from an opportunity to make a layer cake from scratch. For those who don’t know what a cake walk is, I recently heard someone describe it as part musical chairs and part bingo. Participants walk in a circle on top of numbers and when the music stops, a number is randomly chosen. The winner gets a cake as his or her prize. It’s quite thrilling, especially for baking/baked goods enthusiasts!

While trying to decide what to make, I remembered back to my first cake walk memory. My elementary school hosted an annual event called Family Fun Night. We looked forward to it all spring. Carnival-inspired games and the ever-popular though accident-inducing Space Walk (large, inflatable jumping cage) were crowd pleasers. Long lines were expected at the “infirmary” where patients received large gauze wraps touched with blood-red paint.

When I was in third grade, I won the cake walk at Family Fun Night. I was standing on number 20. As adrenaline pumped through my little veins, I scanned the table of cakes and chose one to take home. Clearly, it was one of the biggest moments in my early childhood since I can still picture that winning number written in chalk peering out from under my feet!¬†Earlier that week, I had enjoyed another cake-centered win by earning a blue ribbon in my class cake baking competition. I’d used animal crackers and straws to create a carousel cake.

As I let the waves of nostalgia roll over me, I realized that I shouldn’t bake the cakes that I wanted to bake for last weekend’s event but to consider my audience and create something that would make the cake walk winners excited. I have always loved the idea of dirt cake and decided to create this spooky, seasonal version. It also lent itself to the practical, give-away container. It’s not easy to pack layer cakes “to go” for outdoor events.

This recipe swings the pendulum as far as it can reach from a “scratch” cake. You basically buy a half dozen highly processed foods and toss them all together. I’ve decided there is a time and place for Oreos and Cool Whip. I can’t be a purest all the time.

I was fortunate to stumble upon chocolate skulls and bones at Target that I ¬†sprinkled across the top. I’ve seen Pepperridge farm Milano cookies used as headstones and they are adorable but I forgot to buy them. The graham crackers got a little soggy and started to droop but my daughter claimed they looked even better and spookier that way. Thanks goodness for Mommy’s little fan club :)

We arrived a little late and found that the Graveyard Cake had already been won. A half hour later, I saw some young boys at a picnic table hovered over the pan, dangling the gummy worms above their mouths and laughing. My girls played the cake walk a number of times and on the third attempt, our little 2 1/2 year-old won! She chose a chocolate cake that was loaded with star-shaped sprinkles. She was beaming with pride as we sampled her cake, shared it with friends and explained that we could bring it home. I wonder if she will remember her first win for decades to come?

Graveyard Dirt Cake
(adapted from a few different recipes)
1 package Oreo cookies (16 ounces)
12 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
3 packages (3.9 ounces each) instant chocolate pudding
4 1/2 cups milk
1 carton frozen whipped topping, thawed (16 oz)
Gummy worms, chocolates, graham crackers or cookies for decorating

Pulse oreos in a food processor until they resemble dirt. Cream together softened cream cheese and butter. In a separate bowl, combine pudding and milk and milk until thickened. stir in whipped topping. Combine pudding mixture and cream cheese mixture. If using a 9 x 13 pan, sprinkle about a half of the cookie mixture on the bottom of the pan, then spread the pudding and top with the rest of the cookies. Decorate the top. If you are using a flower pot or deeper container, split the cookie mixture in thirds and add a layer in the middle.

Chill for at least 4 hours or overnight before serving.