The type of pastry you choose to make is secondary to what you put on top, and there's no end to the possibilities.
After the jump, find everything you need to make your own graveyard cupcake extravaganza.
First, decide what sort of graveyard you want -- sheet cake, round cake or cupcakes? It all depends on where and when the treats will be served. The next question is which flavor cake the "ground" will be made of. For the most realistic dirt, start with a dyed or chocolate-based batter.
Added flair: If you want up the ante on the cake, try adding chocolate chips for rocks in the dirt, caramel swirls for tree roots or jam for a gooey, sanguine surprise in the center.
While these may look like the most difficult part of the decoration, they're actually very easy to create. We used dyed gum to make the hands, but you can also work with any other edible treat that can be molded (such as marzipan). Gum paste gives the best flexibility. If you can't find something to mold, hit a thrift shop or garage sale to get some small doll hands. Just be sure to clean them properly before, er, hacking them up and putting them on the cake.
To make gum paste hands, follow these directions or check out the gallery for a visual of the process:
- Gather all the materials you need. While gum paste won't dry in a blink, it does dry quite quickly when not being handled, so speed is of the essence.
- Color the gum paste by adding a few drops of flesh-colored dye and kneading it in.
- Roll up a small ball in your hands, leaving the rest of the paste wrapped tightly in plastic wrap.
- While holding the ball between your thumb and pointer finger with one hand, press your other thumb into it to flatten. As it's flattening, use the other two fingers to gently pull the excess paste seeping from the sides of your thumb down into a stump.
- Pull more in until the tip looks hand-shaped and the stump is long enough to build an arm.
- Using a sharp knife (not serrated), cut slices to form five fingers.
- Roll the stump into a longish arm. (Not too long, just enough to stick out from the top of the cake and a little extra.)
- Start molding the fingers. Depending on the shape of the hand pre-cut, you might have to slice extra bits off the fingers to get them to the right size. However, don't go cut until you start rolling each finger between your own fingers to get the right curve to it. As you do this, the fingers will stretch thinner, and can then be adjusted for length and width.
- Once the hand is as you want it, gently insert a toothpick into the center of the arm, stopping when about half is buried inside. Once it's in, check the arm for any smoothing or corrections.
- Insert toothpick into top of cake or cupcake.
At their easiest, these can be nothing more than a piece of colored cardboard. However, it's more fun, and tasty, to make edible graves. Using the same technique as the hands, you can easily shape up some wicked headstones from gum paste. Or, if you want a chocolate topper, pick up gravestone candy molds at your local baking supply store. This will involve chocolate tempering (try a guide like this one), but once it's tempered, all you have to do is pour the chocolate, tap and chill. In no time at all, you'll have chocolaty graves for the cemetery. Some molds come with edible bases as well, but they might be a little big for your cupcakes. If keeping the gravestone vertical is an issue, use some toothpicks to help support it from behind. (If you find gravestone lollipops, just add the sticks and cut off the bottoms to the appropriate depth to keep the pop upright.)
Piped buttercream makes great grass and is easy and inexpensive to make. Just use green food coloring to dye vanilla frosting.
If you're not up for piping, just layer green-dyed frosting all over the top of your cake. When piping, do the same in a thin layer, then begin to pipe haphazard and small shards of grass with a small, round pastry-bag tip.
If icing is the devilish thorn in your side, dirt is also a good way to go -- it just means the difference between zombies that have had chance to, um, "season" underground and those that are freshly buried. If you're making these for kids, take crumbled oreos and carefully pour a mound around the hand reaching out of the cupcake. It's a quick and easy, albeit messy, fix.