Come see a Sicilian pastry kitchen in Carroll Gardens
Bakers make sfingi and cassata cake at Pasticceria Monteleone
I’m in a dessert lover’s dreamland.
Zeppole and sfingi surround me. A baker brushes glaze on tarts topped with fresh fruit. Three perfect lemon pies with sky-high swirls of meringue are coming out of the oven in a minute.
I’m in the kitchen at Pasticceria Monteleone, a traditional Sicilian bakery in Carroll Gardens. I have a lifelong obsession with pastry. This is paradise.
The other day I introduced myself to owner Antonio Fiorentino and asked if I could watch him and his fellow bakers at work.
One summer during college I had a job at a Paris pastry shop called Fauchon. I stood behind a counter and sold ice cream. They never let me set foot in the kitchen.
Fiorentino was kinder than my French colleagues of yesteryear, and said yes to my request.
Mountains of meringue
Here are some more details of what I saw on Tuesday at Pasticceria Monteleone, which is located at 355 Court St.
In case you don’t know what sfingi and zeppole are, they’re pastries filled with ricotta or custard that Italian bakeries sell in great quantities around St. Joseph’s Day. Catholics celebrate this feast day on March 19.
On the counter I noticed a strainer full of amarena cherries. The bakers put these inside the zeppole.
Fiorentino stood nearby dipping the top of a lulu, which is a Bavarian cream-filled pastry, into melted chocolate.
His son Joe put the finishing touches on cannoli.
The meringue on top of the lemon pies started out as shapeless mounds before a baker sculpted them into precisely contoured mini-mountains. I took photos of the pies in different stages in their progress, but it might be overkill to show you all of them.
The baking goes on for eight hours a day at Pasticceria Monteleone.
“Everything is about freshness,” Fiorentino told me. “We’ve got to work continuously.”
I also spent time out front in the shop, photographing other dreamy desserts like a Sicilian cassata cake.
I saw baskets filled with marzapane — that’s the Italian spelling of “marzipan.” This almond-paste confection was shaped into uncannily realistic replicas of fruits.
And Fiorentino showed me a marzapane lamb that’s a traditional Easter dessert in Sicily.
He’s looking forward to Easter, which falls on April 21 this year. Heavy sales during major holidays like Christmas, Easter and Mother’s Day boost the pasticceria’s bottom line.
A baker since the 1970s
Fiorentino was born in Sicily and emigrated to the United States with his parents in 1977 when he was 17. They settled in Bensonhurst, where continues to live today.
He started baking professionally at age 17. On summer vacations he went back to Sicily, where his Uncle Domenico, a talented baker, taught him a lot.
Fiorentino’s job is time-consuming. Luckily, he loves it.
“Christmas, Easter, everybody is having fun and you’re in the kitchen,” he said.
His whole family is involved in Pasticceria Monteleone, which he opened in 2011. His wife Teresa and son Joe work full-time. His daughter Rosemarie and son Sal help out part-time though they also have other jobs.
Bakeries at this location have used the name Monteleone for many years.
His landlady always wants the storefront’s tenant to be a bakery. Long ago her dad’s business, Buscemi Bakery, occupied the space.
Follow Brooklyn Eagle reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.
Leave a Comment
Leave a Comment