Satisfy your sweet tooth in Pittsburgh with treats from ethnic bakeries
Time was when a bakery was just a bakery. But today's houses of delicious delights have expanded their cultural reach. Having noticed a more diverse offering, we decided to take a cultural tour of Pittsburgh's bakeries.
If you've ever been to Taiwan — or maybe a big-city Chinatown like Toronto, San Francisco or New York — you can't help but notice how great their bakeries are. They're full of enough attractive sugar-dusted, nut-encrusted and fruit-glazed offerings to draw you in — and full of enough unfamiliar, odd and off-the-wall items to surprise you.
The Pink Box Bakery Cafe (2104 Murray Ave., Squirrel Hill, 412-422-2138), which just opened in early July, is a good example. There are cakes, cupcakes and pineapple buns — and weird stuff like pork taro buns and hot dogs-in-croissant-type-things that seem to break all the rules at once. A great place to start is with a strawberry coconut layered bun or a green-onion pork bun.
Baking is as much a science as it is an art, and Ivy Lin of Bubble Pi Baking Arts (2218 Murray Ave., Squirrel Hill, (www.bubblepi.com, 412-422-0993) knows both. She and her family have always been into math — her son went to Carnegie Mellon University at age 11 — and pi is the only mathematical symbol that sounds like a delicious pastry. The Bubble part comes from flavored tea with tapioca “bubbles” at the bottom.
Lin's lab is the kitchen. While she makes a lot of savory bean buns and other standard Taiwanese bakery items, she's always experimenting with new cookies and pastries.
A Korean bakery, Sumi's Cakery (2119 Murray Ave., Squirrel Hill, 412-422-2253, www.sumiscakery.com) is almost too pretty to be a bakery, which tend to be flour-dusted, crumb-strewn messes after the morning rush. The former tenant, Sweet Tammy's, was a bakery until they needed more space and began a major restoration project. Now, there's a beautiful tin ceiling, chandeliers, fresh breads in rustic baskets and a few tables.
Korean bakeries are a bit like Taiwanese bakeries, with some Japanese and French influences. Sumi's does everything from towering, fondant-flower-topped wedding cakes to red bean bread and mango cream bread. Taro buns are particularly popular — other flavors include green tea, chocolate, coffee, strawberry and blueberry.
Kristi Harper of Monaca knew she already had an audience when she opened her bakery in February 2003. Harper had lived in Texas for many years, working in the banking industry, and got hooked on the popular kolache confections sold at many Houston bakeries. When the Beaver County native would come home for visits, friends and family would request she bring lots of kolache, because they didn't know where to get it around here.
Her Cafe Kolache (402 Third St., Beaver, 724-775-8102, www.cafekolache.com) is known for the signature pastry — with sweet fillings like apricot, apples, cherries or cream cheese. Kolache dough is not overly sweet, and it goes well with breakfast and lunch fillings like cheese, ham, bacon and veggies.
Harper says clients come from Ohio to get her kolache, and customers often compare it to their grandmothers' recipes.
When it comes to creating picture-perfect pastries, no one beats the French. Pop inside a local French bakery, and you'll find their shelves filled with museum-quality displays of expected staples.
Tartelettes — tiny, shortbread shells topped with meticulously arranged jewel-bright slices of fruit — are mini works of art. So are Paris-Brest pastries — flaky rounds of choux dough held together by hazelnut-flavored buttercream — or the crusty, golden batons of bread we know as baguettes.
Pittsburgh's French bakeries devote room for their specialties and favorites: At Jean Marc Chatellier's French Bakery (213 North Ave., Milvale, 412-682-1966, www.jeanmarcchatellier.com) those include it's crisp, buttery Breton cakes and a sturdy Quiche Lorraine. The warm and savory Jambon Croissant — a sandwich with slices of ham stuffed inside a flaky croissant and covered with shreds of melted cheese and a slather of bechamel sauce — is featured at La Gourmandine Bakery and Pastry Shop (4605 Butler St., Lawrenceville, 412-682-2210, www.lagourmandinebakery.com). And the rainbow display of dozens of delicately tinted Macarons in flavors such as pistachio, sea-salt caramel or passion fruit entice customers at Gaby et Jules (5837 Forbes Ave., Squirrel Hill, 412-682-1966, www.gabyetjules.com).
More a full-service Greek deli than strictly a bakery, Greek Gourmet (2130 Murray Ave., Squirrel Hill, 412-422-2998) has a nice selection of gooey, honey-soaked baklava and other baked goods.
They also make gyros, falafel and lots of different kinds of hummus. It's an unpretentious, cozy little spot packed with everything you could need for an ouzo-fueled bacchanal. Or, well, a nice lunch.
Tradition is what's kept Moio's Italian Pastry Shop (4209 William Penn Highway, Monroeville, 412-372-6700, www.moios.com) in business since 1935.
Started by his grandfather, Raphael Moio in East Liberty, and then his father, Anthony Sr., the business was taken over by Tony Moio at age 19. He uses the homemade recipes of his ancestors in everything from cannoli to pasticciotti to sfogliatelle. Cannoli is the top seller.
Moio's fries 1,000 shells a week. It's a fried, wine dough shell stuffed with a sweet ricotta filling and fresh chocolate custard. Pasticciotti is the Italian cream puff, a sweet, tart dough filled with fresh lemon custard. The sfogliatelle, which means “many layers,” is a crispy shell stuffed with baked ricotta cream with pieces of candied fruit inside.
“We are a scratch bakery,” Moio says. “There are no mixes here where we just add water. It's all made from fresh ingredients.”
But, an Italian bakery doesn't have to make only ethnic pastries, says Maria Stephenson, owner of Dolce Mia (332 S. Main St., Butler, 724-991-8978). She is glad she took the time to write down recipes of her Italian grandmother, mother and aunts so she can create the items precisely.
Try a fresh pizzelle or melt-in-your mouth cream puff — a recipe from her mother — as well as red-velvet mini cheesecakes, triple-layer brownies and lava cake.
“When we say homemade, we mean homemade — made from scratch,” she says. “It is fun to make something just like Mom and Grandma did. I think of them. It's all about family here.”
Biscotti Brothers (in DeLallo's, 5142 Route 30, Greensburg, 724-838-0570, www.biscottibrothers.com) takes its name from its most popular item. Biscotti means “twice cooked.” The dough is shaped into a flattened log for the first bake, then sliced into individual cookies and baked again. Flavors include almond, anise, cranberry, cherry, orange pecan, chocolate almond, chocolate hazelnut and cranberry pistachio. The most popular are almond or chocolate almond.
Biscotti Brothers ships baked goods all over the country and supplies many local stores with Italian-made goodies. Biscotti aren't the only item on the menu. This bakery makes tasty cannoli, pizzelles, cakes and pies, says Dave Linsenbigler, owner of Biscotti Brothers Bakery.
“We do everything from scratch,” Linsenbigler says. “And our cannolis are not filled ahead of time. It is so important to use fresh ingredients and to not skimp on flavor and use all natural ingredients. You can taste the difference.”
To satisfy your sweet tooth with a taste of Mediterranean flair, visit Pitaland (620 Brookline Blvd., Brookline 412-531-5040, www.pitaland.com). The Lebanese grocer and cafe includes a bakery where homemade treats are created daily. In addition to its famous pita, which is sold at grocery stores and coffee shops around the region, Pitaland offers an array of savory and sweet goods.
The most popular item: the baklava at $1.25 per piece. Other offerings include rolls filled with almond and chocolate, dates and coconut, cashews, apricot, apple or strawberry ($1 to $1.25 per piece).
Some recipes remain family secrets.
“We've been making these for over 30 years,” says Donna Tweardy, whose family owns the business. “My dad (Joe Chahine) is the only person who knows how to make the namoura. He still comes in and makes it in the morning.”
Savory options include the popular spinach, meat and cheese pie, lamb and pepperoni and cheese pies.
— Rachel Weaver