Sunday, February 17, 2008

'Hello, Cupcake!' ...

Nearly two years ago, I wrote a post that was really about cookies but in which I spent a fair amount of time blathering on about cupcakes.

For the purposes of this post, here's the part you need to read:

My cupcake memories are of PTA or Cub Scout meetings in my grade-school gym. There would always be a refreshments table, and the kids had turned cupcake selection into a science, and by "science" I mean picking the cupcake with the biggest schmear of frosting. Typically, the moms who cupcaked were pretty stingy with the frosting, but I ask you: What's the point? The frosting is always the best part of a cupcake. Skimp on that, and, well, it's barely worth eating.

And then there are the cupcake liners. We can put a man on the moon (or on a space station) but we can't make a cupcake liner that doesn't retain 20 percent of the cupcake upon its removal? The only thing worse than a frosting deficiency when you're a child is an inability to suck the cupcake endoderm off the cupcake liner, but those obnoxious pastel paper liners seemed to be designed to disintegrate on contact with saliva. Dammit.

As an adult, I'm amused by the by-gone refreshments table. Those were the days when people didn't obsess about nutrition, so it made perfect sense to serve cupcakes and punch to the kids. Here, honey: Have a hunk of sugar, topped with sugar, and wash it down with a cup of sugar.

Ah, yes, those were the days.

As an adult, I can't remember the last time I ate a cupcake. A muffin, sure, but not a cupcake. Cupcakes are big business. Magnolia Bakery in New York seemed to create the craze and then Sprinkles got in on the action and cupcake cookbooks started popping up all over the place.

(I was just thinking about my pal Kelley's birthday party – she had cupcakes, though I did not partake – and the next time I started to type "cupcake," I started it with a capital K, thinking of Kelley, so that it came out "Kupcake," which made me think that it's too bad that Irv Kupcinet is no longer with us, because he could have hopped on the specialty-cupcake bandwagon with a vanity cupcake. But I digress.)

ANYWAY, last year, I wrote a story for a client about cookie decorating (I did not decorate the cookies that appear with the story; that's stock photography) for which I interviewed Karen Tack, a food stylist with some crazy-impressive credentials – Gourmet, Bon Appetit, Martha Stewart Living, and many more ... – who was completely adorable and fun to talk to and full of good ideas, basically an interviewer's dream.

She told me that she was working on a book called Hello, Cupcake!, which I mentioned in the story. (We bakers gotta stick together.) And today, I received an e-mail from her, letting me know that Hello, Cupcake! will soon be in stores.

Included in the e-mail was a link to the Hello, Cupcake! web site with the request, "Let us know what you think!"

I will, at this moment, confess to Karen and you and the world that when she first told me she was working on a cupcake cookbook, I thought it would be so much cupcake white noise on a bookstore shelf already brimming with cupcake tomes.

Oh, how wrong I was. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Wrongy McWrongerson, that's who I am.

This is not just another cupcake cookbook.

Do you want to know why?

Because Karen Tack is an artist, that's why.

That's right, an artist. She and Alan Richardson, her partner in cupcake crime, they're not just smearing a big glob of frosting on an oversize cupcake. (Not that there's anything wrong with a big glob of frosting on an oversize cupcake, other than its ninja-like ability to assassinate my willpower ...)

Oh no. These two are cupcake geniuses. You might look at a cupcake, some miniature marshmallows, and a Tootsie Roll and see a cupcake, some miniature marshmallows, and a Toosie Roll, but not these two. They see this:

Can you freakin' stand it?! Is that not the most adorable cupcake in the history of cupcakes? (I know it's a tiny picture. I cropped it out of a picture that was small to begin with, so you'll just have to go to the Hello, Cupcake! web site to see it, along with all the other cupcake art. Art, I say!)

I'm completely blown away. Truly. She didn't ask me to plug her book, but I'm happy to blog about it. I know when I've seen cupcake genius and this is it.

Anyone can dress up a plain cupcake with sprinkles or some shredded coconut but can they make cupcakes that look like the New York City skyline? Complete with a chocolate-covered, graham-flavored, teddy-shaped cookie standing in for King Kong?

I think not. But Karen and Alan can. And they did. And for that, I love them. Teddy Graham King Kong. Genius!

Hello, Cupcake! is due out toward the end of April. You can get more info or pre-order it from Amazon here. Karen will be teaching cupcake-decorating classes and signing copies of the book at Sur La Table locations across the country. Check out the Hello, Cupcake! web site for locations and dates.

If you go to the Chicago class on May 8th, I'll see you there.


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