An insider's view of the Connecticut dining scene
Nov 1, 2013
02:01 PMThe Connecticut Table
'Small, Sweet, and Italian,' Sweet Maria's New (Waterbury Bakery) Book of Mini Bites
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The arrival of the holiday season gives rise to lots of thoughts. Plans for Thanksgiving, and wish lists for gift-giving and receiving rank high at the moment, and interwoven with those is another shared, defining theme—food, as in feasts, finer and heartier fare than in fairer weather and a seasonal amnesty from sweet-treat restrictions.
That’s where Maria Bruscino Sanchez—aka Sweet Maria—comes in.
The owner and baker for nearly 24 years at Sweet Maria’s in Waterbury, a Connecticut destination bakery for cakes, cookies, biscotti and more, Bruscino Sanchez recently released her latest cookbook, and it’s a perfect one both for this time of year and for how we like to live, and eat, now.
In Small, Sweet and Italian, with 75 recipes and simple, straightforward instructions, “The mini sweet trend takes an Italian holiday with recipes like Cappuccino Hazelnut Cupcakes, tiny Torta Caprese, mini Italian cream horns, cannoli, Bellini and Limoncello cupcakes.”
The word “mini” is the key here; these are small bites that are far more delicious and satisfying than they are filling—meaning you can sample a variety without guilt.
“Mini everything has taken hold of the entire bakery industry,” Bruscino Sanchez writes at the beginning of the book, which, before digging into the recipes, offers an ingredients/pantry section, notes on the necessary equipment, helpful mini primers on baking techniques and even a section on pairing desserts with dessert wines. (Maria Bruscino Sanchez, above; Donna Cloutier photo.)
Quality over quantity has become the preferred culinary balance, which offers just the right equilibrium, Bruscino Sanchez said over coffee and cream puffs with strawberry-mascarpone filling at the bakery recently.
“I grew up in a family where small portions meant a meal to serve twelve!” she writes in an opening section of the new book entitled La Dolce Vita means “The Sweet Life.” “Many of us love keeping up traditions, yet our lifestyles have changed to eat smaller and lighter. By baking minis, you can have it all: flavor, tradition, and variety.”
In that spirit, Bruscino Sanchez is offering her legions of devoted fans, and those who will discover her through Small, Sweet and Italian, (St. Martin’s Press; $27.99) an Italian-accented way to “sample two or three desserts. Indulge—they’re tiny.”
Tiny they may be, but the flavors—they’re big, rich, sweet and distinctly Italian.
Lemon-almond amaretti or Sicilian cannoli paired with a strong double-espresso: That’s culinary/cultural perfection.
Zeppoli di San Giuseppe or pumpkin biscottini with a hot cup of tea and a good book by the fire: That’s pure Italian comfort.
Or how about hibernating on a cold, dark weekend night with a good movie queued up on the DVR and Apples in Pastry With Brandy Cream on the sideboard to look forward to enjoying with the film—after a dinner of Lasagne Quattro Formaggi or Artichoke and Spinach Lasagna, paired with a rich Italian red wine? (Bruscino Sanchez can be savory, too, but more on that later.)
And none of those tempting thoughts even mentions the potential of Small, Sweet, and Italian to be the smartest pre-holiday purchase you make, the one that returns delicious, family-bonding dividends in every party and visit with friends and relatives from now into 2014.
“I always baked at home with my mom and my grandmother,” said Bruscino Sanchez, whose recipe for becoming one of Connecticut’s most famous and in-demand bakers evolved as she added ingredients to her life narrative.
“My life as Sweet Maria started in a close-knit Italian-American neighborhood,” she writes in the book. “I was surrounded by my grandmother, her sister, her sister-in-law, her cousin, and more relatives. It was a great way to grow up, with a huge extended family that helped nurture my budding passion for baking.”
That Italian-American tradition is extremely important, and not just for yielding delicious results. When Bruscino Sanchez recounts that her father was a barber for 50 years, and that the family didn’t eat until he came home—and he didn’t come home until all his customers were taken care of—she doesn’t have to offer what comes next: “I was always trained that the customer comes first.”
It’s clear in everything Bruscino Sanchez does in the bakery, which was just redone and is warm, welcoming and molto forte la tentazione.