Day Six • 12 Tastes of Brooklyn
CANNOLI WERE TRADITIONALLY MADE IN SICILY for Carnevale, or Mardi Gras, a final luxurious burst of richness before Lent. But really, aren’t they perfect for any feast? I have to agree with Mediterranean cooking scholar Clifford A. Wright: “A freshly made cannoli is an extraordinary taste of celestial paradise, a perfect conclusion to a feast.”
Villabate Alba, a family-owned Sicilian pastry shop established three generations ago in Bensonhurst, is the place to experience that paradise—and other seasonal delicacies, too. As the Michelin Guide would say, “Worth a special journey” if you don’t happen to live in the neighborhood. (They also ship.) The cannoli have perfectly crisp shells and are filled with ricotta flown in from Palermo. Candied orange rind at one end and a cherry at the other perfect the package.
Villabate (named after the village in northern Sicily where the shop’s founders, Angelo Alaimo and his son Emanuele, used to bake bread) is bustling every time you go in. But at this time of year, lines form. You’ll find tables stacked high with panettone boxes and lots of special cookies and sweets traditionally made around Christmas.
They bake mostaccioli cookies, popular all over southern Italy—and Brooklyn—for the holidays. Apparently these used to be made with grape must (we’re talking back in days of the Roman Empire). They’re redolent of the spices of the Silk Road (think Italian gingerbread), filled with figs and topped with chocolate.
Rococò are crisp wreath-shaped cookies made with ginger and cloves, infused with almonds and studded with whole almonds. Honey balls stacked in a pyramid… The temptations are many. But be careful. You could go into a sugar coma just looking.
Villabate Alba Pasticceria & Bakery
7001 18th Avenue, Bensonhurst
Photographs by Basia Hellwig. Date stamp typographic design by Joy Makon Design. The font is Goudy Oldstyle, by Frederick W. Goudy, Linotype, 1915.