For me, personality is crucial in a cookbook, and Robicelli’s: A Love Story, with Cupcakes oozes personality. As a result, pitting it against Jane Coxwell’s Fresh Happy Tasty is almost unfair. It’s like 1970s-era Muhammad Ali jumping into a schoolyard fight. Did I mention the Robicellis are from Brooklyn?
Robicelli’s is what all cookbooks should be: an intensely unique affair, packed with good recipes, salty language, and solid advice. I’m not just buying recipes when I buy a cookbook. I can get all the recipes in the world online. Fresh Happy Tasty? Six pages of biographical information on a woman who worked as the personal chef aboard Diane von Furstenberg’s yacht, who sailed around the world and who hails from South Africa is not enough in a 310-page book. Where are the personal snapshots, the maps, the travelogues?
Still, Coxwell’s recipes have a beauty and a simplicity to them that makes you wish she were your private chef. I made her Grapefruit, Watercress, and Carrot salad and could have wept over how delicious and easy it was. But the cookbook is plain Jane, when it should have been globetrotting, awesome, woman-of-the-world Jane.
The Robicellis could have taken the easy path and pumped out a formulaic cookbook consisting of generic pictures and recipes. The latter (spoiler alert!) are for cupcakes and cupcakes only, and I’ll admit, that’s slightly limiting. But their cookbook category is one of the few bright spots in the world of publishing; I’m guessing baked good cookbooks, particularly ones about cupcakes, sell well no matter how dull or sparkly the content. The Robicellis went for sparkly, and they deserve your $35 (the cover price) and probably even $70 for their wit and effort.
You will read this cookbook and actually laugh out loud. Perhaps you’ll even bake from it. I made an attempt, only to discover my boyfriend had stolen my scale, candy thermometer, and cupcake tins and brought them to the kitchen at Seersucker, one of our restaurants. (“When is the last time you used them?” he asked, not a bit contrite.) I wound up making the recipe for American Frosting. If you are on a diet, skip ahead to the next paragraph. The recipe consists of three sticks of butter, two cups of powdered sugar, mascarpone cheese, and heavy cream. I used a hand mixer, even though Allison Robicelli really, really wants you to use a stand mixer, which I don’t own.
I fully intended to make some other recipes, but the weeks leading up to the due date for this essay, which the Piglet gals refer to as the “judgment,” (such a harsh word for a competition I’m assuming was named after Winnie the Pooh’s bestie), were busy ones. The new issue of Cherry Bombe finally arrived and needed to be distributed. And then, Time magazine published the now-infamous “Gods of Food” issue and made the mistake of slighting every female chef and food entrepreneur on the planet. (If there are babes baking on Mars, they should be pissed too.) To say I got angry and distracted would be accurate. So no mise-en-placing took place, no bringing sugar to the softball stage, no rushing around to buy the stand mixer I should have bought years ago.
My hunch is that the same folks who dismiss women in the world of food get apoplectic over the existence of cupcakes. A macaron is bad enough, but a cupcake? A cupcake?! They can’t stand to be in the same room or breathe the same oxygen as a cupcake. The Robicellis don’t care. They tackle this subject in the book. It pisses them off and amuses them in equal measure. Bring it on, they say.
But I caution you: Please don’t. They will win. They are from Brooklyn, as I mentioned earlier. And not the twee part of Brooklyn where I reside.
I’m about to go out on a limb (I hope it’s a sturdy tree) and say Robicelli’s: A Love Story, with Cupcakes is one of the best cookbooks ever. Fresh Happy Tasty is a lovely book with recipes for food you would like to eat every day and that you should eat every day, but it needs more of the author. There was lots of quinoa, but I wanted more Jane Coxwell.
To hate cupcakes is to hate life. Maybe this book is in the wrong category. Maybe this is a self-help book masquerading as a cookbook. There’s a blurb on the back cover from one of the Big Gay Ice Cream guys, but next time? Oprah all the way.