New York City pastry chef Brooks Headley's new book, Brooks Headley's Fancy Desserts, is a lot of fun. The Beard Award-winning Del Posto pastry chef is clearly trying to avoid writing your typically precious, fussy pastry book, all immaculate layer cakes and pristine candies. The book is edgy, raw, funny; it looks kind of like if a textbook from the 80s had a baby with a 90s music zine.
Unlike most photo-heavy pastry books, the exciting part here is the text. This is one you'll want to read cover-to-cover. In addition to recipes, there are essays from Headley — one about how years ago he used to blatantly knock off dishes from the then-pastry chef of wd~50 called "Alex Stupak Scares the Shit Out of Me" — and others including Eater critic Robert Sietsema. There is a Mad Libs-style form letter Headley claims is a real drunken email that got him his Del Posto job: "If you are looking for pastry work, you'd be smart to use it." (If anyone actually does, let us know if it works.) There are brief "Profiles in Courage," short surveys filled out by folks (mostly chefs) like Barbara Lynch, Christina Tosi, Kathleen Hanna, and Gabrielle Hamilton.
The recipes are split into six sections: Fruit, Vegetables, Grains & Flours, Chocolate, Seeds & Nuts, and Dairy. Many of them are complex, plated restaurant desserts, but I think a competent home cook could try their hand at their components. And there are a few recipes that are definitely for home kitchens: the "Fake Healthy Chocolate Chip Cookies With Lots of Salt" are particularly tempting.
The photography is by Jason Fulford and Tamara Shopsin. In addition to shots of the actual recipes, there are cheeky illustrative photographs: a shot of two hands, one holding a flaming lighter and one holding a can of Vo5 hairspray, finger on the trigger. Some hastily carved Jack-o-Lanterns. A sad, melting, gelato snowman. It's traditional cookbook photography, loosened up.
"Perfection is overrated," writes Headley in the book, and while that might be a guiding principle for his desserts, the same may be true of his book. It's not the giant, glossy, pastry porn-laden, dare-I-say-stuffy coffee table book someone like, say, Pierre Hermé might put out. But it's a hell of a lot more fun.
Brooks Headley's Fancy Desserts is out now from Norton (order on Amazon).