Riverside resident and partner revolutionize the cupcake business

Business partners Karen Tack and Alan Richardson play with design ideas for the tractor cake that will be featured in their fourth book, which is expected to be available in January 2015. Below, a close-up of the cake complete with Potato Stix standing in for hay. — Kait Shea photo

Business partners Karen Tack and Alan Richardson play with design ideas for the tractor cake that will be featured in their fourth book, which is expected to be available in January 2015.
— Kait Shea photo

Riverside resident Karen Tack and her partner Alan Richardson have made a career out of turning the ordinary into extraordinary with a cupcake business that breaks the mold each time the team conjures up a sweet new confection.

The pair are the authors of Hello Cupcake, What’s New Cupcake and Cupcakes, Cookies and Pie, Oh My — revolutionary guides to decorative cupcake making that they claim anyone is capable of. Before the duo teamed up, however, their work was a bit more conventional.

Ms. Tack, a cooking school graduate, worked at restaurants around Greenwich for some time before getting a job at a cooking magazine based in Bridgeport, she told the Post. The position entailed testing and developing recipes, as well as food styling — the skills she has since used to transform traditional baking. It wasn’t until after the publication folded and she began freelance work, however, that Ms. Tack would find her “partner in crime.”

Employed as a freelancer for Ladies Home Journal, Ms. Tack said she was first paired with Mr. Richardson while styling Christmas cookies for the magazine’s holiday issue. Mr. Richardson was a respected photographer whose “great imagination” was unlike the rest, she said. Before they knew it, she added, the pair was being teamed up for other publications.

It wasn’t long until Ms. Tack approached Mr. Richardson about creating a cookie book together. The concept was nothing new, however, so the pair began to brainstorm. According to Mr. Richardson, it was around that time that he and Ms. Tack were asked by Good Housekeeping to do a 24-page cupcake layout all within one photo. Realizing each cupcake would look the same if they weren’t uniquely defined, the pair began experimenting with candy and other household snacks to spruce the confections up. And that’s where it all started, Mr. Richardson said.

The concept of using everyday items to construct whimsical cupcake designs is something Mr. Richardson and Ms. Tack have carried through each of their books, including a fourth book centered around creative cakes, which is still a work in progress, Ms. Tack said.

“We’re lazy,” Ms. Tack said laughing. “We want the biggest wow factor with the least effort.”

For example, she said, Laffy Taffy, which is already a brightly colored candy variety, can be softened in the microwave, then rolled out to be any number of things, such as a blanket for sleepover party-themed cupcakes. Simple ingredients like marshmallows, she added, can be used as building materials for virtually any design, like the petals of a flower.

An Oreo cookie, Mr. Richardson, added, is also a simple but versatile ingredient. It can be used whole as the center of a sunflower, cut with a serrated knife to get two half moon shapes that become an animal’s ears, or crushed and sprinkled onto a cupcake to look like fur. The shape of an ingredient “kind of talks to you to tell you what it wants to be,” he said.

“You don’t have to buy fancy tools” to create a unique look either, Ms. Tack said. “Go to your kid’s desk drawer and find something you can use there.”

People are often intimidated by Ms. Tack and Mr. Richardson’s creative designs, but “it’s not brain surgery,” Ms. Tack said, which is what she and her partner’s books aim to illustrate. Once people realize how simple it can be, by using basic ingredients and kitchen tools in a creative way, they are amazed at what they can accomplish, as if they’ve been given permission to think outside the box, she said.

With cupcake designs that range from owls to Christmas ornaments to Thanksgiving turkeys to meatballs, Ms. Tack and Mr. Richardson said it’s hard to pick which of their designs stands out the most, but there are some top contenders.

For Mr. Richardson, the high heel shoe cupcake is one of the “craziest” models the duo have concocted, and one that often evokes double and triple takes from the public. Ms. Tack’s favorite, however, is the corn on the cob design featured in Hello Cupcake because it’s composed of three cupcakes side by side that, when viewed as a whole, look strikingly similar to the real thing. The pair’s comical designs aren’t just meant for kids though, but rather for people of all ages who enjoy playful creations.

“We have a lot of fun,” Ms. Tack said, adding that her partner constantly pushes her to reach the next level when a design doesn’t have enough “oomph” yet.

“We always try to go beyond pretty,” Mr. Richardson agreed. “It’s hard to contain ourselves while we’re working.”

To learn more about Ms. Tack and Mr. Richardson’s creative sweets, visit Hellocupcakebook.com. To download the Hello Cupcake app, visit Itunes.apple.com/us/app/hello-cupcake!/id463891492?mt=8.


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