Karaoke microphones, Chinese takeout, koi swimming across a blue platter — when it comes to cupcake designs, normal limits don't seem to apply for Karen Tack and Alan Richardson.
Their bestselling "Hello, Cupcake" taught America that all it takes is a zip-lock bag, some fruit chews and a little ingenuity to create awe-inspiring, edible art. Now, the Connecticut cupcake decorators are at it again.
A quarter million copies of "What's New, Cupcake?" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 230 pp, $16.95) rushed sweetly into bookstores last week, and the pair's book tour will bring them to Sur La Table cooking schools in Palo Alto and San Francisco this weekend for cupcake decorating demonstrations.
The new book is not so much a compendium of recipes as a well-illustrated instruction manual for achieving incredible effects — turning Laffy Taffy fruit chews and green sprinkles into broccoli for the "Chinese Takeout" cupcake, for example, or using Nutter Butter cookies and orange Froot Loops to make charming hippos.
And Tack is eager to share those insider tips. You don't have to know how to bake, she says, to turn a cupcake into a whale or a dachshund. You just need a few key techniques and a willingness to get sugary.
Q: How did you figure out you could make a career of playing with food?
A: I went to culinary school after college, worked in restaurants and thought, 'Oh my God, what did I get into?' So I decided to work for a magazine and learn to food style. I met Alan and we started to get paired doing whimsical cakes. We did this one job for Good Housekeeping — a whole grid of different cupcakes — and we had so much fun doing it. Ooooh, it was like a little canvas here.
Q: You use a lot of colorful candy as your, er, artistic medium. What's the appeal there?
A: We consider ourselves lazy decorators, in the best sense. Candy is already made and colored. It's just wonderful for that. Taffy can be rolled out and shaped, and that's so much fun. Cookie crumbs become dirt and fur. Spice drops can be rolled out and color added.
Q: You must look at the supermarket cookie and candy aisle in an entirely different way from most shoppers.
A: (Laughs) Oh my God, it's like looking at art supplies.
Q: Are there limits to what you can do with the cupcake genre?
A: They're 3½-inch circles, but we're not exhausted yet.
Q: So, why cupcakes?
A: I just love doing this. It's something these days, with the economy, to make people happy. Cupcakers just want to have fun.
Q: And the cupcake demos you've got planned in the Bay Area?
A: That's what's so much fun. It's like giving people the secret behind the magic trick.