What happened to those cute Halloween cupcakes, the ones decorated with confectionary bats and ghosts? Apparently, they were eaten by vampire rats and disembodied clown heads.
Sweets have gone subversive. Celebrity cake designers on the Food Network's Cupcake Wars and TLC's Ultimate Cake Off have elevated both the artistry and the wicked factor to construct deliciously evil creations. And, if you have been to a Twilight or True Blood viewing party anytime recently, you know that scary treats are now a year-round tradition.
With this much inspiration, skip the jack-o'-lantern cake pops this year. With the right tools and techniques, you can make spine-tingling treats with all the, er, trimmings - from mummy gauze and eyeball veins to spattered blood and human skin.
The importance of tools is apparent as soon as you enter the Oakland, California, headquarters of Debbie Does Cakes, an industrial kitchen where drills, pliers, serrated knives and wire cutters hang above stainless steel sinks like a scene out of Dexter, whose title character is clearly not the only blood-spatter expert - and this is no venue for making kindergarten classroom treats.
Celebrated cake artist Debbie Goard's bizarre, off-putting and often disgusting sculpted cakes - can of worms, anyone? - have earned a devoted following on the Food Network and on Facebook, where fans from around the world visit to see what devilish treats she will bake in time for Halloween. Goard will be teaching classes in her native North Carolina; otherwise, the horror movie junkie says she would be whipping up a gothic Edgar Allan Poe-inspired raven with a Celtic cross tombstone.
"It doesn't have to be bloody to be creepy," says Goard in her warm, Southern drawl as she sails through the kitchen, pointing out a Chihuahua cake that has a head too big for its body. Talk about creepy.
Most of the designs featured in her new book, Twisted Cakes (Harper, $19.99, 128 pages), are made from a combination of cake, modelling chocolate and fondant. The book is filled with illustrated instructions and templates to help recreate Goard's intricately iced gravestones, Siamese pigs and tortured teddy bears, if that's your thing. She can even make a candy bar scary.
"You wouldn't believe how easy maggots are," says Goard, whose work has been featured on Food Network Challenge and been commissioned by Google and Apple. "It's just pinches of white fondant scored with a modelling tool and airbrushed ivory-grey."
Colour is critical to creepiness, especially when it doesn't occur in nature, says Candace Nelson, the founder of Los Angeles-based cult favourite Sprinkles Cupcakes and Ice Cream, which recently opened an outpost in Palo Alto. Work colours such as blue and purple and grey into your pastries, she suggests.
"It breaks all the rules for what is appetizing," Nelson says. "It's so wrong, but it strikes a chord." Earlier this year, Nelson and Hostel director Eli Roth judged a round on Cupcake Wars. The competition was fierce, she says: "We saw severed fingers, open wounds and glass shards."
Her tips: Red piping gel is a dead-ringer for blood, especially when mixed with green to give it that darker, hemoglobin effect. Mummy strings? Rolled fondant. Glass? Cook sugar, then cool and break apart.
But often, it takes nothing more than one simple step to transform something simple, like a white cake, into a centerpiece of horror. To create the spattered blood on her Frosty Split wedding cake, Goard dips a stiff paintbrush into a mixture of super-red airbrush colour and white opaque gel colour. Then she flings and flecks to desired effect.
And if you're willing to work from the real thing, you can make just about anything, including the "gauze" wrapped around Goard's rendition of the swaddled, alien-like newborn in David Lynch's Eraserhead. She says: "I just flattened my white fondant onto strips of gauze."
Is that why her severed arm cake looks so realistic?
"I looked at medical books for those," Goard says, reassuringly.