Category Archives: Bakery

NYC Cheesecake: Rocco’s vs. Veniero’s

Back in October 2013 in Dina’s Guide to NYC Italian Bakeries on my blog, I declared that Pasticceria Rocco on Bleecker Street in the West Village had the best New York-style cheesecake in the city. Four years later, do they still? I decided to compare theirs to Veniero’s for a West Village/East Village cheesecake challenge.

On a recent trip to Rocco’s, I got a slice as well as some taralli for the road. I love the creaminess of this cheesecake. In my book, it has the perfect consistency that I look for in cheesecake. In addition, it has the right amount of sweetness, which is not too much.

For the first time, I tried Veniero’s cheesecake. Veniero’s is located on E. 11th Street in the East Village. A nice creamy texture and good flavor, not too sweet. A serious contender, but for me, Rocco’s has a little something extra that makes it keep top spot on my list.

Of course, you can do your own cheesecake taste test and see which old world Italian bakery makes the best cheesecake to you.

The New Italy in New York: Unico Taste of Sicily

New York is continually hosting new immigrants. Due to high unemployment and negative economic forces in Italy, many Italians are seeking work and opportunity elsewhere, much like their cousins did 100 years ago. These new immigrants/expats are moving to other parts of Europe and the United States, particularly New York. Some are opening food-related businesses in areas that used to be predominantly Italian, like Little Italy, the West Village or Soho.

Unico looks to be one such business. A café in Soho across from the predominantly Italian Roman Catholic church of St. Anthony of Padua, Unico specializes in Sicilian cuisine. It is a small, hole-in-the-wall spot, but it serves contemporary Italian breakfast items like coffee and pastries, as well as snack foods like arancini (rice balls) and sandwiches to traditional Sicilian desserts like cassata and cannoli. Some of it could be classified as Sicilian street food like the panelle (chick pea fritter) sandwich and the arancini with various fillings like eggplant or mushroom and fontina.

On my visit, a hot day, I got some gelato, lemon and cassata. Both were yummy. I was able to try a sample of cannoli, unfortunately it had been sitting out in the sun, so it’s not the best example. The food looks very good here, and I’d like to go back and try something more substantial besides gelato.

In general, I wouldn’t say Unico (which means “unique” in Italian) is unique because Italian and Sicilian-style cafes have been in the city for over 100 years. But I would say the cornetti, pastries with sweet or savory fillings, are the unique item that you wouldn’t find elsewhere, especially the savory variety. “Cornetto” or plural “cornetti” is the Italian word for croissant. Usually, in the United States, these are served plain or as a sandwich, not with fillings. So that is something unique to try.

 

Sfogliatella, a Neapolitan Pastry

The sfogliatella (sfogliatelle, plural) is a popular Neapolitan pastry eaten for breakfast or dessert that is also prevalent at Italian bakeries in the United States.  There are four varieties of sfogliatelle that exist in Naples–the shell-shaped riccia, which is the classic sfogliatelle, often with a ricotta-based filling;

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the circular frolla, which has a pasta frolla crust and the same filling;

pasta frolla

frolla

the santarosa, which has a custard filling and cherries on top;

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and the lobster tail, a longer version of the sfogliatelle riccia.  The classic shell-shape of the riccia, santarosa and lobster tail is named for its many sheets of dough.  Foglia means “leaf” or “sheet” in Italian.  It is very labor intensive and difficult to make, so one usually buys them in a bakery.  In contrast, frolla is easily made at home.

The traditional sfogliatella riccia was first made in a Medieval convent in Naples.  Pasticceria Pintauro in Napoli’s Quartiere Spagnoli, or Spanish Quarter, a historic area of the city, is about 200 years old, although it has had different owners through the years.  It is known for its sfogliatelle.

As is Antico Forno delle Sfogliatelle Calde Fratelli Attanasio, a bakery not far from the main train station, opened in 1930. It comes hot from the oven–just how it was made in the convents of old.  Attanasio’s is by far the best I’ve ever had.  The thin layers are crisped to perfection for a wonderfully crunchy bite.  According to its history, it is not only supposed to appeal to the taste buds, but the ears as well.

sfogliatelle

sfogliatella

The santarosa is named for the convent where it was first made, Monastero di Santa Rosa, which is now the site of a hotel on the Amalfi coast.

In New York City, sfogliatelle riccie and lobster tails are found at most Italian bakeries.

–Dina Di Maio

10 Foods to Try When Visiting Naples

If you are visiting Napoli, these are the 10 must-try foods that I recommend.  There are so many wonderful dishes, foods, fruits, vegetables, cheeses, meats, seafood, etc that come from Naples or the Campania region.   It’s hard to narrow it down to ten.  But the average travelers don’t have an Italian nonna to cook local dishes for them nor do they have access to a refrigerator to buy groceries for themselves.  So I compiled this list with the vacationer in mind.  I think these foods are the best for visitors to try.

  1. Pizza–In the birthplace of pizza, there are many places to try the city’s favorite dish.  Neapolitan pizza is different from American-style and New York-style pizza.  If you prefer the crispy crust of a New York-style pizza, you may not like Neapolitan pizza.  However, the ingredients on Neapolitan pies are usually top notch.  A trendy place to try is Sorbillo.  My favorite was Vesi, although I liked Da Michele too.

    Da Michele

    Da Michele pizza

  2. Sfogliatelle–A Neapolitan pastry that can be eaten for breakfast or dessert.  It’s a popular one in Italian-American bakeries.  The sfogliatelle is a difficult pastry to tackle and master–not one for the home cook.  You must try one from Antico Forno delle Sfogliatelle Calde Fratelli Attanasio, a bakery not far from the main train station.  It is by far the best I’ve ever had.  It comes hot from the oven.  The thin layers are crisped to perfection for a wonderfully crunchy bite.  The custard and cherry ones are a special treat too.

    sfogliatelle

    sfogliatelle

  3. Pizza portafoglio–This pizza is the perfect fast food.  It is sold from carts outside pizzerias.  It’s a personal-sized pizza folded in quarters.  Unlike most Neapolitan pizza, this pizza is crispier and doesn’t have the “soggy” center.  It also doesn’t have much cheese. But the taste is divine.

    portafoglio

    portafoglio

  4. Taralli–A crunchy ring of dough, taralli is Neapolitan snack food.  It comes in sweet and savory varieties. IMG_2938
  5. Pizza fritta–Pizza fritta is a popular Italian-American snack too.  It’s a fried calzone with a cheesy filling in the center.  It is also sold from carts outside fry shops.

    pizza fritta

    pizza fritta

  6. Rum baba–This pastry can be seen all over Naples.  It is also a popular pastry found at Italian-American bakeries in the United States.  IMG_2870
  7. Neapolitan ragu–aka Sunday gravy in the United States.  Ragu is a slow-simmered tomato-based meat sauce for pasta. IMG_2660
  8. Frolla–The frolla is the easier version of the sfogliatelle that can be baked by home cooks.  Or just as easily bought at numerous cafes in the city.

    pasta frolla

    frolla

  9. Gelato–There are many gelateria in Napoli. One of my favorites with multiple locations is Fantasi Gelati.  There are many flavors to choose from.  I liked the cioccolato–so rich–and fior di panna. IMG_2755
  10. Mozzarella–Try some mozzarella di bufala made from buffalo milk.  Yes, this is available in the United States, but it loses something on its refrigerated trip here.  It is absolutely creamy and wonderful fresh. You can order it as antipasto or in a Caprese salad. IMG_2630–Dina Di Maio

Rose & Joe’s Italian Bakery

This week, I’m going to write about two New York City institutions.  Today, it’s Rose & Joe’s Italian Bakery in Astoria, Queens.

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I have been wanting to come here for a long time since I’d heard so many good things.  Rose & Joe’s doesn’t disappoint.  It’s an old-school Italian bakery with the standard Italian pastries as well as bread and American cookies, cupcakes and Greek cookies.  And . . . of course, pizza.  I love a good Sicilian slice–and can so rarely find one–and that is a specialty here.  It is indeed delicious.  The only downside is there are no seats here, so I got my slice and pastries/cookies to go.

Rose & Joe's pizza

Day 8: 12 Days of Southern Food Gifts

To represent the 12 Days of Christmas (which start the day after Christmas but I’m doing it earlier so you can give these as Christmas gifts), I’m showcasing 12 days of delicious artisanal food treats from the American South.  These are hand-picked by me, Dina, because I’ve tried them and they are delicious.

benne wafers, Byrd's

Day 8, Savannah, Georgia: Byrd’s benne wafers

When I first heard of benne wafers, I didn’t know what they were. When I found out they were sesame cookies, I wanted to try them. Italians also make sesame cookies during the holidays (and other times), and I love them.

The history of the benne wafer is that sesame seeds were brought from East Africa to the United States by African slaves. Benne is a Bantu word for sesame, and the cookies symbolize good luck. They are an old-time Southern tradition and also are served for Kwanzaa.

Byrd’s is a family company that has been baking cookies for 91 years. This year, its benne wafers are available in a replica of the original tin used more than 50 years ago. The cookies are the delightfully small size of coins and have a sweet chewy crunch.

Day 6: 12 Days of Southern Food Gifts

To represent the 12 Days of Christmas (which start the day after Christmas but I’m doing it earlier so you can give these as Christmas gifts), I’m showcasing 12 days of delicious artisanal food treats from the American South. These are hand-picked by me, Dina, because I’ve tried them and they are delicious.

Moravian cookies

Day 6, Winston-Salem, North Carolina: Salem Baking Company Moravian lemon cookies

During the holidays in North Carolina, Moravian cookies are a staple. They are a thin spice cookie baked by the Moravian people who founded Salem in 1766. I’m not the biggest fan of crispy cookies. However, my aunt told me about the lemon variety, and I can’t get enough of them. The Salem Baking Company has been baking Moravian cookies since 1930. The ones I have pictured are from Carolina Cupboard, a store selling North Carolina products in Hillsborough, North Carolina.