Ethnic foods continue to trend heavily in the culinary landscape of America. It’s a common enough consumer desire that today consumers have come to expect ethnic offerings from retailers and foodservice establishments. The retail bakery possesses an innate advantage in this respect as many of the core items in the bakery have an ethnic background and history.
While France might come to mind first when thinking of pastries, Italy has a rich and flavorful pastry history itself. Many Italian pastries have already become regular products on retail bakery menus, and for good reason.
American consumers know about and frequently purchase cannoli. The ricotta filled pastry tubes are a comfortable Italian choice, and they should remain on menus. But other, lesser known Italian pastries deserve the chance to be seen by the average American bakery shopper.
Sometimes it pays to go beyond the comfort zone, but finances need to dictate how far you’re willing to go. As with any new product, roll offerings out slowly and in small numbers to see how they work before you commit totally to something your customers aren’t used to.
Italians eat these filled donuts as a snack and as dessert. American shoppers who like donuts will probably warm up to these fairly easily and quickly. They distinguish themselves from the filled donuts of other countries by having the filling put in from the top rather than the side. Residents of Tuscany often buy them from a cart and enjoy them on the beach. Fill them custard, chocolate, marmalade and Jam.
Another Italian style donut, frittole dough contains a mixture of raisins, orange peel and lemon peel. The Giuliani areas of Trieste and Venice came up with the sugar sprinkled, oil fried treat, but they are also eaten around the Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Veneto regions, as well. A common variation includes filling with custard or chocolate.
Common in Calabria, the Sicilian pastry Pignolati (plural) originated in Messina. Pignolata starts out as a soft pastry covered with chocolate and lemon flavored syrup or icing. Then, half is iced in one flavor with the other half iced in a different flavor. Once the outer icings harden, it’s ready to serve. Each complete pastry serves several people by cutting into small pieces. To vary it from the original, start with small portions of fried pastry in a hot honey sauce and cover with chopped almonds and hazelnuts.
An excellent addition to any cookie line-up, many believe these wafers developed from the ancient Roman crustulum. Originating from Ortona in the Abruzzo region of central Italy, a simple flour, egg, sugar and butter or vegetable oil makes up the core of the recipe. Flavoring usually consists of anise or anisette, but vanilla and lemon zestare also used.
Traditionally made with a pizzelle iron, similar to a modern waffle iron and patterned like a snowflake, held by hand over a burner on the stovetop. Cooling creates a crisp texture on the golden brown cookie. Sandwich flavored ricotta between two, or roll while still warm to make a cannoli shell for variety.
Struffoli is a Neapolitan dish made of deep fried balls of dough about the size of marbles. Crunchy on the outside and light inside, struffoli are mixed with honey and other sweet ingredients. Use your imagination and dress them however you, and your customers like, but the traditional way is to mix them in honey with sprinkles, cinnamon, and bits of orange rind. In Calabria they are also known as scalilli. They are often served at Christmas and are sometimes served warm.
6. Torta Bertolina
The Bertolina cake (also known simply as Bertolina) is a typical autumnal dessert from the small, northern Italian town of Crema. Round in shape, but often cut into slices, the golden brown cake smells like the small American or concord grapes which are one of its main ingredients. The crust has small holes and an uneven look. It does have some variations, however, especially when homemade. Many families hand the recipe down generation after generation. Its origins are unknown, but the cake was probably made for the first time in the early nineteenth century. The first news about the American concord grape comes from this time period, and it seems this is when people started using it in their daily lives.
Remember to give new products a chance to flourish by merchandising and marketing them. Engage your customers with the history and stories behind why you’ve decided to offer them the newest additions to your production.