The Chocolate Factories of Brooklyn

Day Twelve 12 Tastes of Brooklyn
Behind the tasting room at Mast Brothers: sacks of cacao beans and staff wrapping chocolate bars.

Behind the tasting room at Mast Brothers: sacks of cacao beans and staff wrapping chocolate bars.

dec17IT’S BEEN TWELVE YEARS SINCE MASTER PASTRY CHEF Jacques Torres shocked the culinary world by quitting his high-profile job at Le Cirque to open a factory in DUMBO (DUMBO???) to make high-quality handmade fine chocolate. Who knew he’d eventually be joined by so many other adventurers in chocolate-making?

For Rick and Michael Mast, of Mast Brothers Chocolate, the adventure goes well beyond the distinctive flavor notes of their chocolate. Last year, to save energy and appeal to their environmentally aware customers, they sailed The Black Seal, a 70-foot schooner, down to the Dominican Republic to pick up 20 tons of organic cacao beans they were purchasing from small cacao farmers there—and sailed it back to Brooklyn.  There, in their Williamsburg factory, they roast, winnow, grind and age the beans to make their dark chocolate bars.

A mural across the street from the Cacao Prieto factory in Red Hook. The painting was commissioned from artist Sebastian Gross Ossa.

A mural, commissioned by Cacao Prieto from artist Sebastian Gross Ossa, across the street from its factory in Red Hook. When we went by the other night, it seemed to have survived Sandy quite well.

Daniel Prieto Preston, owner of Cacao Prieto in Red Hook, makes his bars and bonbons (and liquors) from beans and sugar cane grown on the cacao farm in the Dominican Republic that has been in his family for 100 years. But with an eye to vertically integrating his business, Preston, an aerospace engineer and an inventor with 100+ patents to his name, also designs and custom builds production machinery for chocolate manufacturing.

Raaka Chocolate makes its “virgin chocolate” an unusual way—with unroasted beans. Cacao beans present a tremendous variety of flavors, according to founder Ryan Cheney. “Virgin chocolate lets the different flavors really stand out.”

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A cacao pod, with beans visible inside, at the Raaka booth at Columbus Circle Holiday Market in Manhattan.

Cheney considers the cocoa farmers’ welfare part of his company’s mission: The farmers from whom Raaka purchases its beans receive at minimum $500 above market price per metric ton of beans, which at today’s cocoa prices is equivalent to a 20% raise. At the other end of the production, Raaka donates its leftover cocoa husks from the Clinton Hill factory to the  Edible Schoolyard NYC at P.S. 216’s after-school to use as mulch and fertilizer.

nunu-hokey-pokey1255Justine Pringle of Nunu Chocolates became a chocolate maker when she and her husband, Andy Laird, a musician, were trying to think of something more interesting than T-shirts to sell at his music shows. Before they knew it, chocolate making had taken over their life. They use a single-origin cocoa bean  from a sustainable and family run farm in eastern Colombia. Go to their tiny storefront on Atlantic Avenue, and you can sip a glass of wine or a brew or a hot chocolate (yes!) with a view of the chocolate making in the kitchen out back.

OK, OK, so you want to know about the chocolate. Here are some of our favorites, all carefully tasted by yours truly and her friends. With packaging that is “font-snob-worthy gorgeous,” as one writer put it, these chocolate bars make great gifts—or an affordable little luxury (usually $8–$10 for bars; $2/piece for bonbons). And besides, think of all those health benefits.

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Jacques Torres Chocolate snowman and santa for sale at the Dumbo store

Cacao Prieto’s Pistachio and Apricot bar, one of five very tasty fruit and nut bars, all made from 72 % dark chocolate. Can’t decide? Try the sampler with all five! Certified kosher.
—Available online or at the factory’s storefront in Red Hook.

Jacques Torres’s Chocolate Snowmen and Chocolate Santas. The 4-inch snowmen ($8) come in milk, dark or white chocolate, with contrasting decoration. The hollow giant Santa, in milk or dark chocolate with a beautifully detailed flowing white chocolate beard, stands more than a foot tall, and contains two pounds of chocolate ($45, or $25 for a medium-size one).
—Only available in the stores, since they are too delicate to ship.

Mast Brothers Chocolate’s Stumptown Bar and Salted Caramel Bonbons. Collaborations like this one with Stumptown Coffee Roasters lead to some great flavors. The caramel bonbon is not chewy, as I expected, just melt-in-your-mouth paradise. For a bar with seasonally appropriate hints of cranberry and cinnamon, stop by any Shake Shack for the special edition Mast Brothers made for them.
—Buy at the tasting room attached to the factory, online,or at stores like Dean & Deluca, The Chocolate Room, Brooklyn Larder, Whole Foods.

Nunu Chocolates’ Hand Dipped Salt Caramel bonbons and the Craft Beer or Booze-Infused Ganaches. The salt caramel is Nunu’s best seller, with fleur de sel sprinkled on top. Absinthe ganache? Mezcal chili? Who can resist? Nunu uses 53–65 % cacao in their chocolates, which they find goes best with the flavors they add.
—Order online  for pickup in the store or at these stores.

Raaka Chocolate’s 71% with Sea Salt bar and the Bourbon Cask Aged (83% cacao) bar. Sea Salt is Raaka’s most popular bar; the  bourbon bar is aged in Tuthilltown casks. Deservedly, we think, it’s up for a Good Food award.
—Buy online, at Whole Foods or markets and small groceries around town.

Cacao Prieto
218 Conover Street, Red Hook
347-225-0130

Jacques Torres Chocolate
62 Water Street, DUMBO
718-875-1269

Mast Brothers Chocolate
111 North 3rd Street, Williamsburg
718-388-2625

Nunu Chocolates
529 Atlantic Avenue, Boerum Hill
917-776-7102

Raaka Chocolate
Clinton Hill
917-340-2637

Photographs by Basia Hellwig. Date stamp typographic design by Joy Makon Design.The font is Mason, by Jonathan Barnbrook, Emigre, 1992.

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Cookie Heaven

Day Eleven 12 Tastes of Brooklyn
The window at Betty Bakery one recent December evening. Cookie heaven.

The window at Betty Bakery on Atlantic Avenue one recent December evening.

dec16I WAS INVITED TO MY FIRST COOKIE-EXCHANGE holiday party this year, but alas, now it’s been cancelled and all motivation to cover myself in flour and sugar has gone out the window. Luckily, Brooklyn is rich in cookies—beautiful ones made by hand with the finest ingredients by the most ingeniously creative bakers. Here are just a few to tempt you.

Vintage Santa Postcard Cookies and Holiday Cookie Tin, from Betty Bakery
Bakers and cake designers Ellen Baumwoll and Cheryl Kleinman entice you with their beautiful store window and win you over with their delicious flavors and inventive designs. A large vanilla sablé decorated with a vintage Santa postcard image will be available during the holidays. I have my eye on the Holiday Cookie Tin, filled with 40 chocolate-chocolate trees, small gingerbread men, walnut linzer wreaths, lemon shortbread stars, sugar snowflakes plus a decorated cookie. Or how about gingerbread girls and boys, or some adorable little marzipan penguins and snowmen, or rugelah? Happy times.

Ninjabread and Mustache Cookies, from Butter + Love
We met Alison Walla of Butter + Love at Brooklyn Flea and fell in love with her Mustache gingerbread cookies, which have bits of crystallized ginger rolled into the dough—and her fun Ninjabread cookies, gingery and sweet.

Butter-Love-Ninja-Mustache

The Ninjas were named as one of the “Best Holiday Cookies”  this year by Timeout. We have to agree. And we love the story of how Alison, who came to New York to be a Broadway actress and singer, developed her cookie business.

Macarons, from Vendôme Patisserie
The Parisian pastry house Ladurée is credited with having invented the macaron—two airy almond meringue confections united by cream in the middle. Now we have Brooklyn-based Vendôme Patisserie, whose macarons “are the only ones in New York to rival the French forebear’s…Ladurée and Vendôme touch the hem of heaven,” a New York Times reviewer effuses.

Vendôme Patisserie macarons at Brooklyn Flea

Vendôme’s macaron flavors roll off the tongue: Campari Pamplemousse, Limoncello, Black Truffle and Roasted Chestnut, Kaffir Lime, Champagne Cocktail, and then melt in the mouth. We spied the beautiful red and green tower above at Brooklyn Flea. Vendôme Patisserie doesn’t have its own shop, but you’ll find their macarons at Bacchus Patisserie on Atlantic Avenue, and at the Columbus Circle Holiday Market until, yikes, December 16. Macarons are gluten-free.

Holiday Tea Collection and Whoopie Pies, from One Girl Cookies
The holiday season is always busy for bakers, but One Girl Cookies founder Dawn Castle and co-owner Dave Crofton really have had their hands extra full since last month when their second store, in DUMBO, which had been open just nine months, was damaged by Sandy flooding. One Girl Cookies is back up and running now, turning out their sweets.

Holiday Tea Collection (Photo courtesy One Girl Cookies)

Holiday Tea Collection
(Photo courtesy One Girl Cookies)

The cookies all have names—Lucia, Lana, Sadie. You’ll find descriptions (and can buy them) online.  For their Holiday Tea Collection, the bakers came up with three limited edition tea cookies with flavors inspired by the season: Lena, a rosemary shortbread named after One Girl’s mom; Kris, a chocolate cherry crinkle cookie and Fiona, a “sugar plum” thumbprint cookie filled with plum jam. And for a true Brooklyn experience, how about a Whoopie Pie—cream cheese frosting sandwiched between pumpkin or chocolate cake? You’ll find the recipe in the One Girl Cookies Cookbook, along with 66 others. Maybe I’m feeling a little motivation coming on after all.

What’s your favorite Made in Brooklyn cookie?

Betty Bakery
448 Atlantic Avenue, Boerum Hill
718-246-2402

Butter + Love
Fort Greene
info@butterpluslove.com
Butter + Love Etsy Shop

Vendôme Patisserie
Available at Bacchus Patisserie
411 Atlantic Avenue, Boerum Hill, and at Brooklyn Flea
917-892-2127, 917-602-2251

One Girl Cookies
68 Dean Street, Cobble Hill
212-675-4996
33 Main Street, DUMBO
347-338-1268
Photographs (except One Girl Cookies) by Basia Hellwig. Date stamp typographic design by Joy Makon Design. The font is Industria, by Neville Brody, Linotype, 1989.


The New Corner Grocers

Day Ten 12 Tastes of Brooklyn
salumi-platter-brooklyn-winery

Charcuterie and cheese plates, often with products from small local grocers, are offered up at Brooklyn’s wine and brew bars. This one at Brooklyn Winery.

dec15WITH SO MANY ARTISANAL FOOD MAKERS in Brooklyn, it’s good to also find some wonderful small grocery stores where you can buy their small-batch products. These are the anti-supermarket—you really want to call them shops because they often conjure up the feeling of a village shop where customers and proprietor greet each other by name. The selections in these diminutive stores are carefully chosen (dare I say curated?) from producers that the proprietors often know personally. They’ve tasted the cheese, or the salumi, or the sauces or pickles and they like them! And they want you to have them (for a price). I was on the hunt, recently, for salumi and cheeses and meze for a holiday gathering.

d-coluccioI’d already bagged my baba ganoush at Sahadi’s and some soppressata and Italian cheese from D. Coluccio & Sons (above), a store and importing/wholesale business that’s been around for half a century. (Like Sahadi’s, it has been an anchor in its neighborhood bringing hard-to-find artisanal and specialty products to a discriminating audience.) Now I’m ready to explore some of the small grocers.

Beth Lewand and Chris Gray opened Eastern District two years ago to bring their favorite beers and cheeses to Greenpoint. The shelves are stocked with plenty of local products, but the store sources farther afield too. The cheese selection will keep you there for half an hour trying to decide.

Mmmm....what to take? Great choices at Eastern District.

Mmmm….what to take? Great choices at Eastern District.

Salumi comes from such respected producers as Olympic Provisions in Seattle, Creminelli in Salt Lake City and Charlito’s Cocina in Queens. I sampled Charlito’s salumi earlier this summer at Smorgasburg. Charlito (Charles Samuel Wekselbaum), who was raised in a Cuban-American household, draws on the curing traditions of Spain and uses 100% pasture-raised heritage breed pork. (Check out his fig salumi, too.) Each week, there’s a different cheese/beer pairing at Eastern District, with rotating beers on tap (and growlers to take some home).

When you open the door of Bedford Cheese Shop, the pungent aromas of cheese hit you. This is a good thing. The cheese descriptions are witty, the staff helpful (they’ll always offer tastes). Salumi comes from small-batch producers.

Brooklyn Cheese Shop, established in 2003

Bedford Cheese Shop, established in 2003

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The whole shop is inviting, with shelves stocked with the best of Brooklyn and beyond. At a second branch on Irving Place in Manhattan, Bedford Cheese now offers classes. Next up, on December 19: whiskey styles and their cheese counterparts.

A.L.C. Italian Grocery is a gem of a store in Bay Ridge that has been open less than two months. Owner Louis Coluccio grew up in the specialty food business (he is one of the sons in D. Coluccio & Sons). Now, for his own store, he aims to combine “the best of Italian products and the best of local products,” he told us when we visited last week.

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The selection is meticulous and beautifully displayed. You’ll find Parmacotto Salumeria Rosi and smoked pancetta from Leoncini (both Italian) as well as Brooklyn Cured and Mosefund Farm meats.

Italian and Brooklyn products share the shelves at A.L.C. Italian Grocery.

Italian and Brooklyn products share the shelves at A.L.C. Italian Grocery.

Tastings happen often, sometimes twice a week; today was prosciutto—“Genuine prosciutto is made of only four ingredients: hand-selected legs of premier pigs, salt, air and skill.” A.L.C. Grocery is also working on some evening classes at the shop with select producers, which they hope to announce in early January.

Eastern District
1053 Manhattan Avenue, Greenpoint
718-349-1432

D. Coluccio & Sons, Inc.
1214 60th Street, Borough Park
718-436-6700

Bedford Cheese Shop
229 Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg
718-599-7588

A.L.C. Italian Grocery
8613 3rd Avenue, Bay Ridge
718-836-3200

Photographs by Basia Hellwig. Date stamp typographic design by Joy Makon Design. The font is American Typewriter, by Joel Kaden and Tony Stan, ITC, 1974.

 

Flavors from Afar, Right Next Door

Day Nine 12 Tastes of Brooklyn
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Sahadi’s has been on Atlantic Avenue for 64 years.

dec14SO MANY OF THE TASTES OF BROOKLYN—and we haven’t even scratched the surface here—have arrived with the waves of immigrants that grew the city into what it is today. Irish and Germans escaping famine or revolution at home—along with Brits and more than a few New England merchants and makers—had already made Brooklyn the third largest city in the U.S. by 1860. Then in the late 1880s came Russian Jews, Italians, Poles and Scandinavians, exploding the population and adding to its diversity again. By then, Brooklyn manufactured more goods than almost anywhere in the nation. The Great Migration brought Southern Blacks; Puerto Ricans arrived to work in the needle trades and cigar factories. Today, there are vital Caribbean and African-American and Chinese and Arab and Italian communities, just to mention a few. So you know where to go—right?— to get the very best patties or black cake or sufganiyot or sweet potato pie or dim sum or baba ganoush. Just head to a neighborhood and ask a local.

tower-of-takeout

Tower of Takeout: makings of a party for less than $20

As times and economics change, ethnic enclaves blossom in a neighborhood and then fade and reappear in new neighborhoods. And always, they bring with them, and leave behind, the tastes of home—grocery stores, restaurants, food trucks. In more than a few cases, the grocers, of necessity, become importers—how else to get the beloved artisanal ingredients their customers need to make the handcrafted recipes that have been passed from generation to generation?

Sahadi’s Importing Co., with its retail grocery on Atlantic Avenue and a warehouse in Sunset Park, is just such a place. Charlie Sahadi’s father, Wade, came from Lebanon in 1919 to work in his uncle’s food business, established in 1895 in Little Syria (or Little Lebanon—Syria and Lebanon were part of the same country at the time) in lower Manhattan. In 1941 Wade decided to start his own business in Brooklyn, moving to the Atlantic Avenue location in 1948. “So I can’t take any credit,” says Charlie, far too modestly.  “I was four at the time. But my brother and I, and now my children also, have kept it going. We’re in our 64th year.” Much of the Atlantic Avenue Arab-American community has moved to Bay Ridge or beyond now, and a thriving Sahadi’s welcomes crowds of multi-ethnic lovers of nuts, dried fruits, spices, olives, cheeses, breads, prepared foods (see above), olive oils and shelves and shelves of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern delicacies.

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Olives and baba ganoush from Sahadi’s, in bowls by potter Claire Weissberg of Claireware.

This is the perfect place to go foraging if you’re pulling together drinks and bites for a crowd. The tower of takeout pictured above—from bottom: baba ganoush, Mediterranean olives, tabouleh, hummus, Moroccan picholine olives—came to all of $17.65. The baba ganoush is made with nothing but eggplant, tahini, garlic and lemon juice; the hummus with chick peas, tahini, garlic, lemon juice and water, the chef tells me. Yes, they have chefs because the food is prepared in their kitchens. The tabouleh is more parsley than bulgur, as it should be, and comes out of the kitchen bright green, freshly made.

Since I recently visited Claire Weissberg of Claireware: Urban Folk Pottery in her studio in Gowanus and purchased two beautiful little bowls, seen above, with olives and baba ganoush, I’m ready for my crowds. Well, I may need a few more bowls.

Sahadi’s
187 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn Heights
718-624-4550

Claireware
543 Union Street, Gowanus
718-875-3977 (call before making the trip)

Photographs by Basia Hellwig. Date stamp typographic design by Joy Makon Design. The font is Rockwell, by Morris Fuller Benton and Frank Pierpont, Monotype, 1934.

Pies, Glorious Pies

Day Eight 12 Tastes of Brooklyn
Felipa-Lopez-Pie-Corps819

We visited Felipa Lopez, co-owner of Pie Corps, selling pies at New Amsterdam Market this fall.

dec13 date stamp by Joy Makon DesignSAVORY PIES BRING YOU A WHOLE NUTRITIOUS MEAL in one perfect packet, which could come in mighty handy as the house fills up with guests and you have more meals than just that one Big Holiday Dinner to plan. Turkey, sweet potato and rosemary pie, lamb curry and pea, stout-braised beef, winter greens with white bean, feta and walnut—is your mouth watering yet?—Moroccan beef with chick pea and almond, red wine mushroom pie: Cheryl Perry and Felipa Lopez of Pie Corps hand make them all in their Greenpoint bakery. Specially for the holidays—still my beating Québec ex-pat heart—they are baking tourtières as well. And just as English miners carried Cornish pasties for a perfect portable lunch, we now have Pie Corps’ hand pies. Plus, of course, those irresistible bite-size Pie Pops—maple bacon, pear or apple cinnamon.

Pie pops are fun to eat!

Pie pops are fun to eat!

Carefully sourced ingredients and creative combos are their trademarks. The pies are all made with organic flour milled in Lancaster, PA, butter from a Vermont cooperative of dairy farmers and fresh produce and meat from their farmer friends all around New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. You’ll find the pies at New Amsterdam Market on Sundays, or at their newly opened shop on Driggs Avenue in Greenpoint, where you can grab yourself a cup of Brooklyn Roasting Company coffee as well.  Yes, Pie Corps also makes sweet pies—gingerbread custard among them!

And for DIYers, it has just started giving monthly baking classes: January 23 is “Savory Winter Pies,” $65. (At press time, one or two spots are still open in the December 18th class, too.) Hand pies, $6; savory 10-inch pies, $40; sweet 10-inch, $35.

steves-authentic-key-lime-pie

Add lime slices and whipped cream to your pie, if you like. (Photo courtesy Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies)

Speaking of sweet, we head over to Red Hook, where, hallelujah, Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies is back in production again, after some serious flooding  by Sandy. Baker/owner Steve Tarpin, who grew up in Florida, makes the pies by hand in small batches using 100 percent pure fresh butter for the graham-cracker crust and freshly squeezed key lime juice. Reconstituted juice may be OK “if you’re stripping paint or removing rust, but not not in a food product,” he insists. The key lime (citrus aurantiifolia) is much smaller than the familiar “Persian” lime, about the size of a ping pong or golf ball; he points out it’s not exclusive to the Florida Keys (it’s native to Southeast Asia), but was brought to the Keys and naturalized.

In addition to the elegant and aromatic key lime pies, you’ll want to try a Steve’s Authentic exclusive, the Swingle—a Belgian chocolate–dipped frozen tart on a stick. Wow. Steve delivers his pies around town, including to Union Markets in Brooklyn. Or he’ll sell you one at company headquarters on Pier 41. Walk-in hours vary throughout the week but with more certainty Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and weekends, 11 am–5 pm (at least). Call ahead to be sure. 10-inch pie, $28; 8-inch, $18; 4-inch tart, $5; Swingle, $6.

Pie Corps
77 Driggs Avenue, Greenpoint
917-721-3052 / 917-582-2769

Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies
204 Van Dyke Street, Pier 41, Red Hook
888-450-5463, 718-858-5333

Photographs by Basia Hellwig. Date stamp typographic design by Joy Makon Design. The font is Shelley Allegro, by Matthew Carter, Linotype, 1972.

Ancient Craft, New Artisans

Day Seven 12 Tastes of Brooklyn
Miche, Bien Cuit's signature artisanal bread

Miche, Bien Cuit’s signature artisanal bread

ARTISANAL BREAD MAKING IS NOT FOR SISSIES. The baker’s day starts before the sun rises, and a small batch of handcrafted loaves can take up to three days to make, from start to finish, with repeated fermentation and kneading and rising stages. The natural yeast starter used is a living organism, combining yeast from the air with lactobacteria from the flour and the air to create a fermenting or leavening agent. It’s not called wild yeast for nothing—it can be temperamental, depending on which exact strains of bacteria develop, how they combine with a particular wheat flour, the temperature, and so on. It is the baker’s art to nurture their starter—the mother yeast (madre, if you’re an Italian baker)—like a baby, keeping it alive often for decades, for that is what gives each baker’s breads their distinct flavor and texture.

This was the way bread was made for centuries—and it’s a craft that is still being practiced in some special places in Brooklyn. So forget that 30-Minute Artisan Bread recipe.

Raisin walnut, baguette, olive—just a few of Bien Cuit's breads.

Raisin walnut, baguette, olive—just a few of Bien Cuit’s other breads.

Go instead to Bien Cuit in Boerum Hill or Settepani Bakery in Williamsburg where you’ll be hit by the most intoxicating smells as you walk through the door. Two of our favorite loaves:

MICHE, from Bien Cuit
This is Bien Cuit’s signature bread (pictured, at top)  made from three wheat and three rye flours and fermented for up to 68 hours. It’s round and beautiful with a well-done (bien cuit) crunchy crust and very tasty crumb texture. Master baker Zachary Golper learned to bake on an Oregon farm at 19, where he watched and learned from a man who made bread by traditional European methods: building up the starter over a few days and baking the loaves in a wood-fired adobe oven. Golper went on to refine his craft, working in France and at the Bec-Fin in Philadelphia, until, luckily for us, he and his wife, Kate Wheatcroft, opened up a bakery in Boerum Hill. We’ve heard he never sleeps, and we believe it because starting at 7 am, baskets at the bakery are full of fresh bread, including the miche, $10 for a 1 lb loaf.

PANETTONE, from Settepani Bakery
These festive raisin-studded tall round loaves appear in bakeries and groceries around Christmastime, sometimes in beautiful elaborate gift boxes that look good enough to hold the crown jewels. Many are shipped from Italy, where the panettone was invented centuries ago in Milan. (Like all old Italian recipes, there seem to be a lot of  tall tales about how it came it be.) But nothing beats a fresh-baked panettone, which is what you’ll find at Settepani Bakery.

Rows of Milanese panettone at Settepani Bakery in Williamsburg.

Rows of Milanese panettone at Settepani Bakery in Williamsburg

Owner Nino Settepani (the name means “seven breads”—how perfect) was born in Sicily, but has lived here most of his life. A master baker trained at the French Culinary Institute, he’s been baking breads and pastries of all kinds for over 30 years now. Production of the panettone begins in the fall each year. The first step is to “wake up” the yeast starter that he uses year after year, refreshing it every day to make it strong and active.

Settepani's chocolate panettone comes in a beautiful gift-worthy box.

Settepani’s chocolate panettone comes in a beautiful gift-worthy box.

By November 15, he begins making his first batch of panettone, a process that takes up to 30 hours—mixing the dough, proofing it overnight for 12 hours, mixing it again and letting it rise in a temperature-controlled steam box for another 6 or 7 hours. “It might come out at 2 pm, but lately it’s been 4 or 5 pm because it’s so cold,” he tells me. After that the loaves are baked very slowly for two hours. Each holiday season, Settepani Bakery produces more than 600 panettone of various types. The Milanese has raisins and cut dried fruit in it; the Veneziano, almonds, but no raisins. There’s also a chocolate one. They come in 1 lb, 2 lb and “baby” sizes. The Milanese is $16 for 2 lbs, $10 for 1 lb, $2.50 for the baby.

Bien Cuit
120 Smith Street, Boerum Hill
718-852-0200

Settepani Bakery
602 Lorimer Street, Williamsburg
718-349-6524

Photographs by Basia Hellwig. Date stamp typographic design by Joy Makon Design. The font is Gill Sans Ultra Bold, by Eric Gill, Monotype, 1928.

Villabate Alba’s Famous Cannoli

Day Six 12 Tastes of Brooklyn 
Villabate Alba's pastry displays knock you over when you walk in the store. That's the cannoli, top left.

Villabate Alba’s pastry displays knock you over when you walk in the store. The cannoli are top left.

dec11CANNOLI 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.

Marzipan fruits, good any time of year.

Marzipan fruits, good any time of year.

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.

Villabate-cookies

Christmas cookie plates, ready to go.

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.

A pyramid of honey-soaked biscuit.

A pyramid of honey-soaked biscuit.

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

718-331-8430

Photographs by Basia Hellwig. Date stamp typographic design by Joy Makon Design. The font is Goudy Oldstyle, by Frederick W. Goudy, Linotype, 1915.

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