Romance, the Hard Way

‘Robicelli’s: A Love Story, With Cupcakes’

Of all the baked goods out there, there are very few I can’t abide. One of these would be the cupcake. I’m quite vocal on this point. But, a funny thing happened a few months ago when, in the Wall Street Journal, Emily Maltby and Sarah N. Needleman reported that the gourmet-cupcake craze had hit a wall and was, possibly, on it’s last leg. At first, those of us who are sick of these over-dressed, poorly-made confections cheered. But then, pastry chef Allison Robicelli of Robicelli’s bakery in Brooklyn began to tweet, quite ferociously, in defense, less of cupcakes, and more of the small businesses—many of them owned and operated by women—that traded on the sweet stock. Allison’s humor and eloquence, and her dedication to making the kinds of cupcakes that are an exception to my hater clause, compelled me to reach out and see if she’d like to write for Medium. The result was a diatribe on the alleged demise of the cupcake followed by her uproarious column “Having it Some.”
When my advance copy of the cookbook-memoir she co-wrote with her husband Matt arrived, I knew it would be the only book devoted to cupcakes I’d ever want to read. Regardless of your stance (pro- or anti-cupcake), I promise, you’ll adore every page. That’s why I asked Allison if I could excerpt it here. Thank goodness, she agreed. When she isn’t championing cupcakes or channeling Lucille Ball with madcap adventures and gaffes of her own, Allison is supporting her community. She is committed to Bay Ridge, where she grew up and built her business, and to surrounding areas such as Long Island’s North Fork. In the passage below, you see her devotion the East End, her husband, and, of course, the cupcake.
-Charlotte Druckman

A Love Letter To The East End

I have been going to East Hampton each summer to visit my Aunt Rosemarie since I was a kid. Not, mind you, to the part filled with fancy mansions where every Christmas Billy Joel drunkenly drives his Mercedes through your front door. No, we summered entirely in the salty fisherman/starving artist/lesbian spiritual guru community, which, as you might imagine, is far more entertaining.

For me, it was never a land of fancy nightclubs or polo matches but rather thousands of acres of family farms busting with the most delicious produce you’ll ever taste, bays filled with fish and crustaceans we’d spend each day plucking from the pleasantly briny water for our dinner, and miles upon miles of vineyards producing wines that were perfect for steaming that day’s oceanic bounty. Weekends in the Hamptons were about one thing to my family: feasting off the land in a way that still allowed us to enjoy such wonders as air conditioning and indoor plumbing. To a girl from Brooklyn who’s terrified of all forms of wildlife (including small birds) and who has a steadfast refusal to poop in the woods during her lifetime, it was roughing it.

Matt and I were engaged during the summer of 2005, shortly before my twenty-fifth birthday. I thought the perfect way to celebrate both milestones would be a weekend in East Hampton. I could impress my former Boy Scout fiancee by showing him how to catch a blue crab or dig for clams, cook side by side with him at night, and then cap off the trip with a romantic tour down the main road of the North Fork, stopping at wineries and farm stands along the way as we said grown-up things lke “this red has notes of pencil shavings and elderberries,” and “this farm-stand cheese has a certain aroma of field moss and dew that evokes the early morning of (insert name of made-up town here), France.”

I woke up on our first morning there and began to ready myself for a day of clamming, as all girls who are so freakishly pale that they are borderline see-through do: by slathering every inch of my body with SPF 10,000 sunblock. I asked Matt if he wanted me to put sunblock on his back for him, to which he replied that he didn't need to because his skin didn’t get color. Having known the man for only four months, what choice did I have but to believe him? We hit the bay, grabbed our clamming rakes, and spent three hours in the water.

That weekend, Matt and I each learned something very important about each other. Matt learned that in any instance where he accidentally gets hit in the balls so hard that he starts throwing up, I will laugh to the point where I will start hyperventilating and almost pass out.

I learned that when someone says, “I don’t need sunblock,” he has no idea what the hell he is talking about and God will punish him for his stupidity by giving him acute sun poisoning, so that while his fiancee is cooking the romantic dinner she has planned for weeks, he will be lying on the cold bathroom floor with his head in the toilet. And when his fiancee is in the tasting rooms in every vineyard of the North Fork talking about pencil shavings and elderberry, he will be in the bathroom of each and every tasting room with, you guessed it, his head in the toilet. And on the day of her birthday, will his fiancée be off at a fancy restaurant toasting with champagne and slurping down oysters? No! She will be rubbing antibacterial lotion all over the idiot’s back, which is now covered with open sores; bandaging his burns with numerous rolls of gauze, and holding him while he shivers and cries (in the most masculine way possible).

I bought several bottles of wine that weekend, none of which can be consumed by anyone with acute sun poisoning. Rather than wait a few weeks for him to recover so we could drink the wine properly, I used it to bake with. Though I don’t doubt that many of you have already tried savory dishes with wine, I’m sure many of you haven’t tried it in baked goods, which is a shame. All those funny flavors we talk about in wines — the deep notes of chocolate, aromas of blackberries and nectarines, bright flavors of citrus — those sound like the perfect complement to baked goods to me. These next cupcakes are an ode to the flavors of the eastern tip of Long Island, and a stark reminder that if you don’t listen to your wife, she’ll one day write in a book about your throwing up and crying.

And wear sunblock, folks. It’s good for you.

If it looks like a Duckwalk and tastes like a Duckwalk…

The Duckwalk

Of all the wines produced at Duck Walk Vineyards, the one that is so spectacular, so memorable that you’ll want to chug it out of the bottle and try to ride your neighbor’s motorcycle like a dime-store ride is their velvety blueberry port. It’s so good that I wouldn't recommend cooking with it — a wine this delicious deserves to be drunk on its own while listening to Coltrane and reading something insanely pretentious.

For this recipe, we simmer richly flavored wild Maine blueberries in a moderately priced port wine to make a richly flavored compote, then strain out the blueberries and reduce the remaining liquid to a thick syrup. But just because we’re doctoring up a cheaper wine to make it seem shi shi doesn't give you carte blanche to go buying your port at the 99-cents store and expecting miracles. Go to your local wine shop and ask for a bottle that won’t break the bank.

Port Blueberries, Three Ways

2 cups frozen blueberries (we prefer Wyman’s of Maine, but whatever brand you can find will be fine)

3 cups port wine

1/4 cup sugar

Vanilla Cake

12 tablespoons (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter

4 large eggs

1 cup milk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 cups all-purpose flour

1.75 cups sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

Blueberry Port Mascarpone Buttercream (American Style)

3 sticks unsalted butter

1.5 cups (12 ounces) mascarpone cheese

2 cups 10x powdered sugar

1/4 cup heavy cream

0.5 cup (4 ounces) mascarpone

Blueberry port syrup (from port blueberries, phase two, below)

Port Blueberries, Phase One

Put the blueberries, port, and sugar in a medium nonreactive saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn down the head to low and let simmer while you make the cupcakes.

Vanilla Cake

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line cupcake pans with 24 baking cups.

Melt the butter in a microwave at 60 percent power for 1 to 2 minutes. Keep the butter warm — do not allow it to sit and cool off.

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs on medium-low speed for 2 minutes until light yellow and lightly foamy.

Increase the mixer speed to medium-high. Pour the warm butter into the eggs slowly, so that the mixer tempers and the eggs do not scramble. Once the butter is added, reduce the speed back to medium-low.

With the mixer running, add the milk, vanilla, and salt. Mix for 1 minute until well combined.

Sift together the flour, sugar, and baking powder and add to the batter. Mix on medium until just combined, 10 to 20 seconds. Remove the bowl and paddle from the mixer and use the paddle to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl, ensuring that everything is well mixed.

Scoop the batter into the prepared baking cups, filling them two thirds of the way.

Bake in the middle of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. The cupcakes are done with the centers spring back when you touch them.

Remove the cupcakes from the oven. Let cook for 5 minutes, then remove from the pan and place on a baking sheet.

Dip a pastry brush into the simmering blueberry port liquid and brush the top of each cupcake three times. Let cool.

Port Blueberries, Phase Two

Strain the remining blueberry port mixture, setting the blueberries aside and returning the liquid to the pan. Bring the head up to high and boil until the liquid is reduced to a syrup that coats the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes. Pour the syrup into a bowl to cool.

Blueberry Port Mascarpone Buttercream

Cream together the butter and mascarpone cheese with a mixer set to “high” until light and fluffy. Add powdered sugar 1/4 cup at a time, beating well between each addition. Add heavy cream. Continue to beat on high for an additional minute to incorporate air.

With the mixer running, stream about 1/4 cup blueberry port syrup into the buttercream until the mixture is brilliantly blue. taste and add more syrup according to your personal preference.

Mix any additional syrup back into the reserved port simmered blueberries.

Assembly

Fill a pastry bag fitted with a fluted tip with the blueberry port mascarpone buttercream and pipe onto each cupcake.

Using the back of a teaspoon, make an indent in the center of the buttercream. Fill with the port-simmered blueberries (about 2 teaspoons, depending on how rough you are with your indenting skills).

So You Have Extra……

Port Blueberries

  • Pour over vanilla ice cream.
  • Pour over warm Brie or Camembert cheese and serve with crackers.
  • Mix into Greek yogurt

Half-Assed Corner

If you don’t want to go through all the trouble of reducing the leftover blueberry port to add to the buttercream, this cupcake will still be delicious with plain mascarpone buttercream topped with a spoonful of the simmered blueberries.

Robicelli’s: A Love Story, With Cupcakes is available on October 17, 2013 from Penguin USA/Viking Studio.