Zilly Rosen celebrated last Halloween by eating one of her employees alive, right in the window of her Elmwood Avenue cake shop.
Passers-by who peered into the Zillycakes window could eventually figure out that the red stuff Rosen slashed from the helpless woman's midsection was actually red velvet cake, covered with a layer of flesh-colored fondant.
So it wouldn't surprise Rosen's fans to learn that she's delved deeply into the world of creepy cupcakes, resulting in a cookbook that offers a master course in undead desserts. In "Zombie Cupcakes," Rosen and her design team offer ghoulish bakers the last word in terrifying treats.
It's been published in England, but the American edition won't be out until March. Rosen was able to offer News readers a sneak peek in time for Halloween.
Zillycakes, the specialist bakery Rosen opened in May 2009 at 1008 Elmwood Ave., has gotten even more attention locally for its sculpted cakes, filling the market created by television shows like "Ace of Cakes" and "Cake Boss." Rosen said several customers told her they were ready to drive to New Jersey for sculpted cakes before they found her. "It's the Food Network," she said. "They are out there doing all my marketing for me."
After turning out cakes including a fire engine complete with flashing lights, and an elephant raising its trunk, Zillycakes' cake schedule is filled through November. They'll still make you cupcakes, though.
The zombie cupcakes are a seasonal sideline. Rosen's publisher, Ivy Press, sought her out after she made international headlines with a cupcake mosaic portrait of President Obama, created after his 2008 election.
Rosen wasn't a fan of zombie movies, and wasn't sure how undead brain-eaters would translate to confectionary creations. But Shannon Pilarski, her shop's designated "cake sculptress," is an avid zombie movie fan. So much so that Pilarski dressed her entire family as zombies to shamble down Elmwood Avenue in broad daylight for a July "zombie walk" fundraiser.
Pilarski and Hannah Russell, another Zillycakes baker, watched classic zombie movies like "Night of the Living Dead" for inspiration, then started sketching out ideas with Rosen.
"The challenge of the book was that the first four came easily," Rosen said of the book's 16 designs. "Then as we added to the collection they all had to be of similar quality. We wanted the gross factor but we also wanted the cool factor."
Coolness is in the eye of the beholder, but the grossness is undeniable. Fondant crows tear at icing flesh, with tiny sugar maggots. Eyeballs gaze back at the eater. An undead hand reaches skyward through a fresh grave of crumbled cookie.
Another one is called Bludgeon to Survive. It's interactive: You kill the zombie, then you eat it.
The Zillycakes team designed these cupcakes to be served with edible crowbars, shovels and baseball bats, made from fondant, so kids can bash their zombie before they're devoured.
Note: Weapon-making instructions are at blogs.buffalonews.com/hungryformore (or they can be purchased from Zillycakes).
This recipe doesn't include directions for making the zombies' eyes and mouths from "half and half," a blend of fondant and gum paste. The directions can be found at Hungry for More. You can substitute candy pieces or use black and white prepared icing in tubes from the supermarket instead.
> Pumpkin Zombie Cupcakes
For the cupcakes:
2/3 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
7 oz (about 3/4 cup) canned pumpkin
1 1/2 cups all-purpose, cake, or pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
For vanilla cream glaze:
1 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoons salt
2 drops green paste food coloring
1 drop yellow paste food coloring
3 drops purple paste food coloring
For the royal icing:
1 large egg white, plus extra if necessary
1 pinch cream of tartar
1 3/4 to 2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
black paste food coloring (optional)
Preheat the oven to 325 F. Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 12 paper cupcake liners. Put the oil, eggs, sugar and pumpkin in a large bowl and, using an electric mixer, beat together until combined and smooth.
Sift in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt and mix together. Spoon the batter into the liners. Bake for about 25 minutes, turning once halfway through baking, until well risen and firm to the touch. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.
When the cupcakes are cool, make the glaze. Put the confectioners' sugar, heavy cream, vanilla extract and salt in a medium bowl and mix together with a wooden spoon until smooth. Transfer half the mixture to another bowl. Add the green and yellow food colorings to one bowl to make bright green, and purple food coloring to the other bowl to make bright purple. Dip 6 cupcakes into the green glaze and the remaining cupcakes into the purple glaze.
Press the small end of a medium plain piping tip into the glaze repeatedly in a curved shape to make the appearance of a bite mark. Let the glaze set for 20 minutes.
Make the royal icing:
In the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer, beat egg white and cream of tartar together until frothy. With machine still running, gradually add confectioners' sugar until mixture begins to stiffen and turn opaque white. Scrape down sides of the bowl and beat briefly on high. The mixture should be stiff but still pliable. If necessary, thin the mixture with a little extra egg white or a drop of food coloring.
Cover with a damp dish towel to prevent a crust from forming. To store, put it in a container, place plastic wrap directly over the surface to prevent a skin from forming, and seal the container. Keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
To color icing, add paste food coloring in drops and beat in until you achieve the desired color.
Use a small amount of white royal icing to attach 2 eyes and a mouth to each cupcake. Use the black royal icing to pipe suture lines on one side of the face and to give the zombies mean eyebrows.
Fill a pastry bag or parchment paper cone fitted with a fine plain piping tip with the white royal icing and use to pipe teeth in the mouths and crossed bones on the cupcake liners.