Had enough of year-end wrap-ups, lists, and “best of’s”? Me too. Sure, it’s nice to see a year’s worth of progress and celebrate the successes (especially if you’ve got a glass of bubbly in hand), but let’s look forward, not back. Rather than review all the delicious food finds, seasonal cocktails, and food travel experiences of the past year (and there were lots!) I thought I’d share a new experience and end the year on a sweet note.
After my day of food in Boston, I was craving (yes, craving) cannoli. Cannoli! I’d forgotten how much I lurve it, and why the hell didn’t I indulge more often? Oh, wait, that’s right… a 40-minute drive to North Beach. And then the hunt for parking. In that neighborhood. Um. Nope. (Geez, have I become that suburban? You betcha.)
And then, as I was sitting on the flight home from Boston, it hit me in a total-face-palm kinda way: I could get cannoli right here in the 650. Not frozen grocery-store cannoli or wanna-be cannoli, but fresh, local, handmade cannoli! If you live on the peninsula, maybe you know where I’m headed with this… a place on El Camino Real that I’ve driven right past every day for years: La Biscotteria.
If you’re not familiar with this place, let me bring you up to speed! Run by husband-and-wife team Augustine and Angela Buonocore, it’s a little jewel-box of a shop with a powerhouse of a kitchen that turns out wholesale and retail Italian pastries of both the sweet and savory kind. Not only does La Biscotteria make the shop’s namesake item (biscotti) in about a dozen flavors, but they also make a delectable assortment of sweet pastries, savory focacce, and pastas and sauces. Their tagline — “From our garden to your home”– echoes their committment to using fresh, local, and organic ingredients, some of which come right out of their own garden.
La Biscotteria is a family-run business with local roots and a true neighborhood vibe. Augustine, a master baker and pastry chef, is a Redwood City native who comes from a food-business family (his grandfather was a co-owner of the California Macaroni Company in San Francisco). The sweet and savory pastries are influenced by his Italian-American heritage and family recipes. Angela, who runs the front of the house, has such a warm and friendly manner that you feel like you’ve known her for ages. Have a question about ingredients? Want to know which items are gluten-free? (Gluten-free treats? Oh yes, indeed!) Need a special order or a gift basket? Angela will hook you up!
With so many tasty options, where’s a girl to start? Focus was key for my first visit to La Biscotteria. Yes, it’s easy to get distracted by all the deliciousness available. I had to keep reminding myself that I was there for the cannoli, but in the end, I couldn’t resist sampling an assortment of La Biscotteria’s specialty pastries. (I could claim professional interest — but let’s face it: pastry is my thing. I love well-made, sweet things of all kinds.) So here’s my pastry roundup of treats to try from La Biscotteria. (Look for reports on some of La Biscotteria’s other goodies during the new year.)
The base for La Biscotteria’s cannoli is a perfectly cooked, crispy shell that is filled to order with your choice of traditional filling (lightly sweetened ricotta with mini chocolate chips, garnished with the best candied cherries I’ve ever tasted) or chocolate-kahlua filling. While the traditional and chocolate-kahlua versions are available year-round, one seasonal flavor — pumpkin (yes, it’s delish) is available in limited supply during the holiday season.
The cannoli fillings are rich and flavorful, and like traditional Italian pastries, not overly sweet. Of the three options, the chocolate-kahlua is the sweetest — although still not sweet by American standards — with a flavor that is more chocolate than coffee (so if you’re a chocolate fan, this one’s for you!). I had a hard time choosing a favorite between the chocolate-kahlua and traditional, until I realized that I didn’t have to choose. I could have both.
Confession #1: the almond torte was a total impulse buy during my second visit to La Biscotteria. I’d already placed an online order of other items and was just stopping in for a quick pickup, but the torte caught my eye. Then I overheard Angela talking about how good the torte tasted, and I was hooked. Yes, please.
The almond torte comes in two sizes: small (4″) and large (9″). It’s rich, so don’t be put off by the size. A small torte could easily provide a nice, small dessert for 2-4 people. A thin, cookie-like pastry shell holds a layer of berry marmalade topped with an almond filling that is a cross between cakey and marzipan-y. If you love marzipan and jam, this is your, er, jam. Confession #2: totally addictive. Confession #3: This + a fresh pot of coffee or tea? Best. Breakfast. Ever.
These seasonal treats — available around Christmas time — are the size of baseballs, deceptively simple in appearance (but not taste!), and light as a feather. Well, ok, maybe not quite that light, but as desserts go, these beauties manage to combine a light texture with rich flavor.
Two layers of yellow sponge cake are filled with a layer of Italian pastry cream AND a layer of raspberry marmalade (oh my…), then covered in a light buttercream and rolled in shredded coconut. As I said: this baby is light and soft in texture, but rich in taste. It’s the kind of indulgence that you might share with a special someone, but only if he or she has been very (and I do mean very) good.
Cuccidati are another holiday pastry that are available only around Christmas time. Again, deceptively simple in appearance, cuccidati delivers big on flavor.
Cuccidati are available in two sizes: large are sold singly, while minis are sold in a gift box of about a dozen. The large (which I “sampled”) is about the size of hand pie: approximately 3″ x 5″. The pastry is much like a once-baked biscotti dough (remember: biscotti means “twice-baked”), with the same flavor, but more like a firm cookie pastry. The pastry crumbles nicely, rather than shattering. The filling, which consists of dried fruits, citrus peels, nuts, spices, cocoa, and liqueurs brought back all the memories of my Auntie Pam’s mince pies and just said “Christmas” to me. For a truly indulgent experience, enjoy cuccidati with an aged madeira or Amaro Nonino.
I will tell you straight up that I am crushing hard on this particular pastry. It’s another impulse buy that totally surprised me. And for those of you who are gluten-restricted, rejoice. This treat is gluten-free!
Amaretti are an almond-based cookie, much like the French macarons that are now all the rage. The Italian version typically consists of ground almonds (almond meal), sugar, and egg whites. It’s less colorful than the French version, with a more pronounced almond flavor.
While the ingredient list sounds simple, it takes practice and skill (and the right oven) to produce the perfect texture and flavor. La Biscotteria’s version has soft, marzipan-like texture, which is topped with a layer of dark-chocolate ganache, then finished with a thin, crisp layer of tempered dark chocolate. If you like marzipan and dark chocolate — or know someone who does — get this. Foodgasms. Seriously.
So how can you get your hands on La Biscotteria’s goodies? If you’re in the Bay Area, and can plan ahead, place your order on their website for pickup Tuesday – Saturday (place your order 2 days in advance). If you like to live dangerously, La Biscotteria is open for walk-in business on Saturdays, when you can buy foccaccia, individual cannolo, individual sfogliatelle, and some seasonal items. You can also order some items for shipping. (Unfortunately, cannoli, sfogliatelle, and focacce are too delicate to ship and are only available at the bakery.)
Have you visited La Biscotteria and tried their pastries? Share your favorites in the comments section below.
What: La Biscotteria
Where:2747 El Camino Real, Redwood City, CA 94061
Parking: Street parking or lot (shared with Ayar’s Produce Market)
Hours: Tues – Fri: 6 am – 4 pm, Sat: 6 am – 4 pm
(Focacce Pick Up after 10am)
CLOSED December 28 – January 7, 2015