Thursday, April 27, 2017

Ferrara Bakery's Pastries in Chicago, IL

At Ferrara's, you can't lose.
In operation since 1908*, Ferrara Bakery is one of the few lingering family-owned Italian eateries on Taylor Street, the road to Chicago's "Little Italy." According to their website, they were actually the first pastry shop in the neighborhood! (The same family also went on to found the Ferrara Pan Candy Company, makers of Lemonheads, Red Hots and Atomic Fireballs, among other candies.) Since I've been finding myself in the neighborhood a lot, I've gotten around to tasting some most of their pastries. Here are my top ten:

(1) Tiramisu - The question isn't whether the tiramisu is the best thing at Ferrara's; the question is whether or not theirs is the perfect tiramisu. The dusting of cocoa powder neither overpowers, nor is overpowered by the espresso. The ladyfingers are a springy vessel that neither steals too much focus nor soaks in too much of the main event. And, blessedly, the predominant flavor is the layers of whipped mascarpone which is airy, but never light on flavor. With the balance of flavors in their tiramisu, Ferrara's has accomplished a rare feat, one worth trying for yourself.

(2) Eclair - From the rich chocolate topping to the the eggy pastry shell to the generous amount of custard within, this is an eclair as it is meant to be. Somewhat delicate, somewhat sturdy and all delicious. These remind me of my mom's cream puffs she made at Christmas, only better. (Don't tell Mom!)

(3) Sfogliatella - My favorite pastry from my 4 weeks spent in Italy and a rare find in America. Sometimes called a lobster tail, these pastries should have a little snap to their crust, but mostly be chewy inside. (A bad sfogliatelle is crunchy throughout. Just say no!) They are also filled with a thick custard (thickened by corn starch, maybe?) that is subtly sweet. At Ferrera's, the sweetness comes from the hints of citrus in the custard and the powdered sugar they sprinkle on top. It is a genuine taste of Italy for the curious. Molto bene! 

(4) Monachine - Take a biscuit--think cobbler topping, not something heavily seasoned and translucent with butter--then stuff it full of cannoli cream. Make sure the cannoli cream has a few chocolate chips in it. Then keep adding cannoli cream until it's overflowing. Add a maraschino cherry and you have a monachine. Sacrilege, I know, but even though it's basically a different take on the cannoli, I like it better than Ferrara's cannoli. 

(5) Limoncello Cake - This ever-so-slightly boozy dessert is a light layered cake with limoncello (or limoncello flavoring) used to add a citrusy punch. Mostly good, but one or two bites come on a bit too strong along the way...or maybe I just ate it too fast. 

(6) Ricotta Cheesecake - Cheesecake is usually heavy, but there's something even heavier about using ricotta. Fresh ricotta, though, offers a moist quality that makes each bite feel like a sip of water along the way. Order it and your gut will grow three sizes that day.

(7) Custard Chocolate Horn - Similar to the eclair in structure, but with a different shell. This shell is flakier, yet it crumbles more. Eating this pastry is more labor-intensive, even if the rewards are high. I highly prefer the eclair shell to this one.

(8) Cassata al Forno - A dense layered cake containing cannoli cream. Heavier than it looks, but no trouble to finish on my own. This would make a fine birthday cake with the right ice cream, maybe a small scoop of raspberry. Or maybe just raspberries. It's a good cake and flavor, but would benefit from something punching it up a little. 

(9) Cannoli - It's good, but something is off about the cream. A great cannoli offers a wave of different flavors, while Ferrara's offers only two: the shell and the cream. Still good, like I said, but it isn't even the best cannoli on Taylor Street. 

(10) Pasticiotto - Like a tiny pie crust filled with a thick, lemony custard. The lemon flavor is strong here. The texture of the crust is unlike any other Italian pastry I've eaten. Tasty and fun to try, but not one I'll likely revisit anytime soon.

There ya have it! Ten Italian pastries to choose from next time you find yourself on Taylor Street. Buon appetito! 

 * The infamous year the Cubs last won the World Series...OH, WAIT. THEY WON IN 2016. WORLD CHAMPIONS!

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