Clare Crespo's second book Hey There, Cupcake!: 35 Yummy Fun Cupcake Recipes For All Occasions (Melcher) is a cupcake lover's dream, perfect for kids or adults craving these delicious treats—with a twist. Crespo adds her own unique, wacky spin to the popular dessert, creating cupcakes that are almost too adorable to eat. Every single person I've shown the book to has swooned over it, instantly taken with the delicious designs Crespo's cooked up.
The author and mom-to-be exhibits a playfulness and love for the form that will surely endear her to anyone who appreciates the sweet perfection of this tiny treat. Some of the photos in Hey There, Cupcake! are so creative, you have to look several times before realizing that, yes, that bee, igloo, koala, crab, ball of yarn, hamburger or piece of sushi is indeed a cupcake. But what else would you expect from someone whose website is called Yummy Fun?
How did the idea for Hey There, Cupcake! come about and how long did it take you to write? Were there any designs that you'd thought would turn out great and wound up not being able to use?
Well, I am pretty obsessed about cupcakes, so I think I had the idea to do the book at birth. The struggle wasn't coming up with the idea, but how to convince a publisher to let me do a book about crazy cupcakes. I came up with hundreds of cupcake recipes for the book, so obviously a lot didn't make it in the book! Believe it or not, a lot of them were just too weird. Tomato cupcakes that were made with this weird tomato cake recipe didn't quite make it. Neither did "molecular model" cupcakes. It's hard to say how long it took me to do this book as I have been thinking about cupcakes for so long.
How many times do you have to test out your recipes before they become the final version?
I guess it depends on the recipe to see how many tests it takes to get it straight. The "Egg Cupcakes" (a white frosted cupcake with a canned apricot half as the yolk) didn't really take that much testing!
Was there any point where you got sick of cupcakes?
There's no way I could get sick of cupcakes. I would be really scared if I did. There would be a huge void in my life!
Where and when did you learn to bake? Did you have any mentors or get inspiration from others over the course of your career?
I learned how to bake from my Granny Helen. She's an awesome baker in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. And I am definitely a "baker" versus a "cook." I really like to follow the strict rules of baking. It makes me feel like a scientist. Okay, so maybe a mad scientist. I am inspired by Willy Wonka and Prince. I love an obsessed person so darn much.
These cupcakes are truly works of art—from the koala bears to the sushi to the piña colada cupcake. How can you bear to eat them when they're done? Some of them look so precious I don't know if I could actually break off a crab's claw just to eat it.
That's so nice. I bet if you smelled the frosting you could eat one though! I think cupcakes are really approachable though. That's one of their great attributes! They aren't too precious. Plus you could just do what I do and take a picture of the cupcake before you eat it!
There are some very creative ingredients, especially for some of the more bizarre looking cupcakes like the Eyeball Cupcake and Buttons and Thread. Do those extras come naturally to you, or is it a challenge to figure out what to use with which cupcake?
I must admit I spend A LOT of time in the candy aisle. I look at candy everywhere I go. I guess I have a candy collection. Candy is one of my art supplies.
In both Hey There, Cupcake! and your first book, The Secret Life of Food, the presentation is just as, if not more, important to the final outcome as the taste. Are the two interconnected? Do you think people appreciate food more if it looks pretty and/or artistic?
Well, I am not claiming to be a chef. I wanted the recipes to be easy and not intimidating, so that anyone could do them. I love fancy food for sure, but that's not what the books are about. I like the recipes to be simple and easy so that I can concentrate on the visual. If I was bogged down with a complicated recipe, I'd never make it to the frosting.
Who is your intended audience for Hey There, Cupcake!? Is it dedicated bakers, or does it include people like me, who haven't baked anything since microwave brownies in junior high? In other words, when you say these recipes are easy, how easy are they?
A friend of mine always says "if you can read, you can cook." If you follow the recipes in the book, they will turn out. There's no tricky stuff. But I also encourage taking short-cuts if you need to. Use a cake mix, or even use some store bought unfrosted cupcakes. People will still smile their heads off if you decorate them like crop circles!
Along the same lines, being more of a cupcake eater than a cupcake baker, I actually think of the book as a coffee table book. The photos are just incredibly expressive and say a lot more than just "eat me." Did you work with photographer Eric Staudenmaier?
Yeah! I want the book to be a picture book too. I don't really like telling people what to do so much, even though I understand why it needs to have the recipes in it. I like that the book might just amuse you or maybe even inspire you to be creative in the way you look at the world. Eric Staudenmaier is an architectural photographer. I am pretty sure he thought I was totally insane for wanting him to shoot the photos in my books. I just didn't want the books to look like cookbooks. I wanted the food to look like it lived in the world we know. How it goes on the shoot is that I make all the crazy food, then Eric comes over to my house and I put the food all over the place and he takes pictures of it. Come to think of it, he probably still thinks I am crazy.
I myself don't have a sweet tooth per se, but lately have been extremely obsessed with cupcakes, and so has the rest of New York it seems, with bakeries that specialize in them popping up all over. Lately, I can't seem to stop buying them. For you, what's the most appealing thing about cupcakes over, say, cookies or donuts?
I think I could talk about this for hours. Let me be concise. I think cupcakes are perfect. They are for the individual. You never share a cupcake. They are so darn cute and because it's just for you, it makes you feel special. You can't overdo it with a cupcake either. A cupcake doesn't make you feel sick. Have you ever seen anyone pick out a cupcake? It takes a bunch of time. They have to pick the one that speaks to them. Cookies and donuts don't speak to you.
You've written for various kids magazines including Nick Jr. and ElleGirl, and there is a very kidlike feel to the book and your website, with their colorfulness and fun designs, and you're about to have your first child yourself. What's the appropriate age for kids to start learning about cooking? Do you get feedback from kids as well as adults about your designs?
Lots of folks think my stuff is just for kids, and lots of folks think it's for adults. I think it's for anyone with a colorful brain. It makes me so so happy when a wild little kid writes me a letter or an email. I love to hear what people are up to and what they think of my nonsense. I love to write people I don't know who are doing things I think are neat, so being a recipient of those sorts of notes is cool.
I taught a bunch of kids' cooking classes, and realized that kids learn stuff at different times, so it's hard to say what age is appropriate for a kid to learn to cook. But I think if a kid is interested, they should be encouraged. It's awesome for a kid to learn how to feed him or herself. It feels good!
Hostess hired you to update some of their classics like Twinkies and Sno Balls. Are there any food classics that you think should just be left as is?
Well, I didn't update Twinkies or Snoballs, but I did help them by coming up with a bunch of crazy things to do with them (twinkie sushi and a caterpillar cake made with Snoballs for example). I would never update the Snoball, although I'd love to come up with a new freaky "snack cake." Jell-O is pretty perfect as it is, but maybe I'd like some new colors.
Out of all the designs in the book, do you have a favorite?
That's like asking me to pick out my favorite child! I could never pick! The others will get their cupcake feelings hurt!
What's next for you?
Who knows really? I hope I get to make more books. I'd love to open a crazy bakery. I'd love to invent candy. I get a lot of weird great jobs these days. For example, I just did Beck's portrait in food. I think I am just going to keep making buttercream icing and cross my fingers that the world lets me just keep going with my fantasy. So far so good.
Interview by Rachel Kramer Bussel