By Kimberly Maul
As some of you may have noticed, certain cupcake makers nowadays have elevated the mini-confection to the level of true culinary art. Allison and Matt Robicelli of Bay Ridge are making rich contributions to the lofty heights of the cupcake world, with a stunningly creative variety of complex flavors that combine delicate cakes with creamy buttermilk frostings and unexpected toppings.
For Allison and Matt, the cupcake business wasn’t even the original plan. In September 2009, they opened up Robicelli’s Gourmet Market, a high-end specialty food shop in Bay Ridge, but because the pair was well-known for their baking and customers kept asking more and more for their cakes, they switched gears.
“Baking is like a bad boyfriend,” Allison says. “You keep saying you’ll leave it, but it sucks you back in.”
The duo decided to focus on cupcakes rather than cakes, and “make them small and awesome,” Allison says. They closed the store in October 2009, and started making cupcakes to sell wholesale in November. You can now find Robicelli’s Cupcakes in 10 locations throughout Brooklyn and Manhattan, and with the Robicellis currently moving to a bigger production space, they plan to add more locations soon.
Known for unique flavors like Chicken & Waffles, PB&J, the Bea Arthur (coffee-infused chocolate cake with cheesecake buttercream and espresso ganache), and many many more the Robicellis love to brainstorm about new recipes. In fact, it was one way they bonded when they started dating five years ago. Clearly, creativity is not a problem for these two; they’ve got close to 100 varieties in play now, and add new ones frequently.
The couple, who both grew up in Bay Ridge, met when friends introduced them at a bar. Allison suspects her friends were sick of hearing her talk about food, and hoped Matt, a graduate of the prestigious pastry arts program at the French Culinary Institute, would be willing to listen. And he was.
“We love being in the kitchen with each other and we love being creative,” Allison says. “We’re more of a love story than a food story.” They have continued that love story with two kids: 3-year-old Atticus and 2-year-old Toby.
Maybe it’s the unique flavors or maybe it’s that they are only available in a few places around the city, but the Robicellis have gained quite a following, with customers making long journeys to score their goods. They’ve also gotten a lot of positive press, including being named rising stars of the NY food scene by Time Out, and being profiled by Tasting Table.
I went out to the Red Hook Mercado, where Robicelli’s Cupcakes make an appearance every week. A charming outdoor space created to emulate a traditional open-air central-american Market, the Mercado opened in May and features several of the famed Red Hook Ballfields Latin-American food vendors, some clothing and accessories, and picnic tables so people can hang out.
Allison suggested that I tried the ‘Car Bomb’ and the seasonal ‘Peach Cobbler’ varieties.
The Car Bomb, flavored like the Guinness-focused drink, had a moist chocolate Guinness cake, with Jameson Whiskey ganache and Bailey’s Irish Cream buttercream frosting. You could really taste the Guinness in the cupcake, and the rich chocolate mixed well with the creamy frosting—just like the flavor mix in the drink.
With peaches having an epic summer, I was stoked to try the Peach Cobbler, which also happens to be one of my favorite desserts period. The white peach cake was covered in vanilla buttercream and topped with sautéed jersey peaches and cinnamon streusel. Super-sweet and delicious, it somehow tasted just like a peach cobbler, with ice cream, in cupcake form. Just another reason why I wish peaches would be in season year-round!
The Robicellis use local and seasonal ingredients as much as they can, and it shows in their ever-evolving weekly lineup of flavors and varieties. Allison says they really embrace “present eating,” or being in the moment while enjoying food, and not rushing through.
“Food is supposed to bring people together,” Allison says. “We never want to put quantity above quality…quality of product or quality of life.”
You can currently find Robicelli’s Cupcakes at the following locations:
Blue Apron Foods in Park Slope
Cafe 474 in Park Slope
Hom in Bay Ridge
Market in Ditmas Park
Farmacy in Carroll Gardens
Radish in Williamsburg
Red Hook Mercado (where you’ll find Allison and Matt themselves each weekend)
Tazza in Brooklyn Heights (both locations)
Lilly O’Brien’s in Midtown Manhattan
For even more fun with the Robicelli’s check out their Cupcake Wars audition video. Enjoy!