Thursday, December 1, 2011

Thinking outside the cookie jar -- Great holiday treats in Queens

Hand-painted marzipan at Terrizzi Pastry Shop

(A version of this article appears in the December issue of BORO magazine)

The holiday calendar is marked full of jovial festivities with family and friends—many of which call for bringing a treat in tote.  While not all of us  may be as equipped as New York’s first lady, Sandra Lee, to whip up a glorious semi-homemade dessert, we do have at our fingertips some pretty spectacular treats just around the corner, in a borough boasting some of the city’s best bakeries.

“I could eat these all day long,” laughs ‘Mamma’ Gianna Cerbone, owner of Manducatis Rustica.  Dating back to an 18th century monastery in Salerno, Italy, sfogliatelle are one of the most difficult pastries to master.  Pastry dough is stretched out on a long table, lathered with butter, and rolled.  Sliced cross-sections are then formed into pockets, and stuffed with sweetened ricotta and citrus zest.  Served warm, the baked outer shell separates ever so slightly, creating layers of delightful golden crunch, which then yields to soft, warm pastry, and a citrusy cream filling.

***Mamma Gianna is offering a special for Boro readers for the month of December.  Present this article from BORO, and receive a box of 4 sfogliatelle and 4 cannoli (stuffed to order!) for $12.99 (usually $17).

If you thought popcorn was just for trimming the tree or hoovering while watching A Christmas Story marathons on television, this treat will turn your world upside down.  “I made my first version of this recipe when I was 6 years old,” reveals Chef Michele Addeo.  “It actually came rom Highlights magazine.”  Her grown-up version, now available at Sugar Freak, features a thick pudding studded with popcorn for texture, draped in a salted caramel sauce, and then capped with a snowfall of homemade cracker jack shavings.

If you’ve ever been that guest who reaches into the bowl of shiny polished fruit only to hear snickering from your dinner host who loves to display wooden imposters, this is your chance to get back.  Traditional holiday treats in Italy, marzipan are shiny little fruits and vegetables that are anything but “for display only.”  The meticulously hand-painted candy coating gives way to a soft and chewy almond-flavored center.  Terrizzi Pastry Shop has been making these edible sculptures since 1964.  Even though Mike Terrizzi took over the shop for his father, Frank, three years ago, “my dad still paints every single piece you see in the display by hand.”

Everyone has seen a chocolate fudge cake more than once or twice, but New Yorkers from all over have probably seen this particular cake more than they even realize.  If you’ve ever enjoyed this quintessential dessert at Pax Wholesome Foods, Europa Café, or any number of other delis throughout the city, you can stay in Queens and enjoy this decadent slice from the original source, Omonia Café.  That’s right, Omonia actually provides the sweets for many of the city’s busiest dessert cases, and this is one of their most popular. Devil’s food cake layered with actual fudge, crowned with glazed strawberries.  What’s not to love?

This Berry Napoleon first appeared on the menu of one of Astoria’s most famous bakeries just three years ago.  The creation of George Stertsios of Martha’s Country Bakery (the pie shop shares the name of his mother and newborn daughter), this mixed berry stack is a new twist on a classic.  The exquisite and delicious dessert begins with a flaky puff pastry crust—which is hand-rolled daily—layered with alternating tiers of angelically light vanilla pudding and fresh raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, and blueberries, all dusted with confectioner’s sugar.

Whether providing some holiday cheer for co-workers, or simply jazzing up a winter breakfast at home, the spreads at Brooklyn Bagel are second to none.  Using real, fresh, preservative-free Philadelphia cream cheese as the base, the creative team meets weekly to discuss and test new flavors. Popular holiday spreads include pumpkin and apple cinnamon.  The bagels are made with unbleached, unbromated flour, then hand-rolled and water-boiled for that extra snap. 

Though the typical New York residence doesn’t boast a fireplace large enough to burn the biggest tree you can chop down, you can still enjoy the European yule log tradition in its edible form. The white mocha yule log at Astor Bake Shop is “our version of the traditional yule log, even down to the little meringue mushrooms,” smiles Chef George McKirdy.  His elegant take is a coffee sponge cake layered with a milk chocolate cremeaux that has been rolled into a log, then blanketed with white vanilla butter cream, a white chocolate glaze, and a traditional meringue mushroom garnish.  One 8-inch log serves 6-8 guests (also available in other flavors like praline or chocolate).

If you stop by Malu bakery in Long Island City for these chocolate-covered Fritos, make sure you buy a small bag for the trip home.  Otherwise, it is not at all improbable that the confection will never last the journey to its intended guests.  A genius marriage of sweet and savory, those beloved little salty corn scoops are dipped in a milk chocolate, and served alongside several other homemade candies and ice cream at this gourmet ma and pa sweets shop.

The only thing even remotely crumby about his cake is the wonderfully buttery streusel topping that puts the “crumb” in crumb cake.  In fact, it might astound you that something this blitzed with juicy blueberries can even stay together, as the ratio of berries to actual cake seems dramatically askew.  It’s one of the most moist, delicious blueberry streusel coffee cakes to ever hit the neighborhood, and it’s born from the talents of Beverly Lauchner at Sweet Leaf.  Take one bite of this exceptional pastry, and you just might forget you even ordered the coffee to accompany it.

“The Gianna Special”

This favorite aperitif is the perfect way to kick off a holiday gathering, as the Aperol (somewhat like Campari) stimulates the appetite.  Versatile, however, it may be enjoyed between courses or after a meal, as well, as the blend also acts as a digestif.


1 bottle of chilled Prosecco or Moscato d’Asti
½ cup of gelato (lemon, orange, kiwi, strawberry, or pear)
½ cup of Aperol (Italian aperitivo made from herbs, bitter orange, and rhubarb)
sliced persimmon wedges (or other fruit, such as strawberry) for garnish


1)   pour a little bit of Prosecco into the gelato, and gently stir until it resembles a granita (no lumps).
2)   Pour the remainder of the Prosecco into your desired serving vessel.
3)   Carefully add the gelato, as it will form foam atop the effervescent wine.
4)   Drizzle the Aperol into the mixture.
5)   Pour into champagne flutes and garnish.

Serves 8 to 10 (or 2 to 4, depending on the direction you want the evening to go).  Show the BORO article at Manducatis Rustica throughout the month of December for $4 off your gourmet homemade gelato purchase of 500 or 1000 grams (usually $14 and $20 respectively).

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© Copyright 2011 Bradley Hawks
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