Battle of the Cannoli: Mike’s vs. Maria’s – Boston, MA

Boston, Food Adventures

When we were planning our journey to eat our way through Boston’s North End, we knew we had to get some cannoli – a Sicilian pastry consisting of a rolled up tube of fried pastry dough with a (traditionally) ricotta-based filling. The local debate is pretty heated, we hear, with Mike’s Pastry, Modern, and Maria’s Pastry Shop all garnering an impressive fan base. We were too stuffed to try all three, but here are our findings during our visits to Mike’s Pastry and Maria’s Pastry Shop. At Maria’s, we even tried a few other non-cannoli Italian pastries!

Sfogliatelle from Maria's

Sfogliatelle from Maria’s

Mike's

Mike’s Pastry

One of our first stops when we arrived in Boston (after checking into our hotel and standing en queue for dinner at Giacomo’s) was at Mike’s Pastry. Just about everyone in the area and visiting the area has heard of Mike’s. The throngs of waiting patrons spilling out the doors and into the sidewalk was indicative of just how popular their cannoli are.

So many people!!

So many people!!

Their menu features a variety of 17 flavors of il cannolo from the traditional plain ricotta to America’s favorite cookie – the iconic Oreo. There’s something for everyone seems to be the unspoken motto here.

Cannoli!

Cannoli!

To handle the sheer volume of customers, the cannoli here are pre-filled and displayed in glass cases for your gawking pleasure, just in case you have trouble picking just one flavor. It was almost overwhelming, and this does not even take into account their many other pastries including cakes, cookies, Italian favorites, and American classics.

The Mike's Pastry Box

The Mike’s Pastry Box

The line moves quickly as the women behind the counter swiftly pack up your selection of sweet treats into their white boxes, tied up with string suspended from above. Walking through the North End, especially along Hanover Street, you are sure to spot passersby toting these boxes filled with goodies.

Limoncello & Espresso Cannoli

Limoncello & Espresso Cannoli

I selected the limoncello cannolo (one cannolo, two cannoli). I love to bake with limoncello (and between you and me, it’s the critical ingredient to shaking up an excellent lemon drop martini), so I was eager to try this cream filling laced with lemony goodness. The pastry dough managed to stay crunchy and cracked with each bite, while the cream inside was packed with flavor from both the limoncello and the ricotta.

A close-up of our cannoli

A close-up of our cannoli

Martin had his eye on the espresso flavor since he first set foot in Mike’s. Decorated with teeny-tiny chocolate chips and dusted with cocoa powder, the espresso and ricotta combination worked well. I was unable to finish my cannolo but he enjoyed his so much that he polished it off with minimal effort.

Maria's Pastry Shop

Maria’s Pastry Shop

The next day, we stopped by Maria’s Pastry Shop. We learned about this place through Andrew Zimmern’s episode of Bizarre Food America – Boston, and we knew we just had to check it out. Maria’s is situated on Cross Street just across from the park, a little off the beaten path.

Marzipan!

Marzipan!

Cookies!

Cookies!

We admired the display cases of beautifully painted marzipan “fruit” and colorful cookies in all shapes and sizes and hues. Finally, we approached Grandma Filomina and mentioned that we had seen her on TV. She was enthusiastic to show off the pastries that AZ had sampled, and Martin replied with a cool and confident, “We’ll take one of each!”

Ready-to-fill Sfogliatelle shells

Ready-to-fill Sfogliatelle shells

As she took the pastry shells into the kitchen to be filled, we couldn’t help but stare in awe at the stunning layers of the sfogliatelle shell. We later learned that sfogliatelle means “many layers” or “many leaves,” a fitting name for the intricacy of the clam shell shape.

Lobster Tail

Ready-to-fill Lobster Tail

As if a clam weren’t enough, Italian-Americans also created a spin-off of the sfogliatelle in the form of a giant lobster tail. See the resemblance? We grabbed one of these, along with….

Rack of delicious pastries!

Rack of delicious pastries!

Of course, a cannolo! Maria’s had rows and rows of cannoli shells in both plain and chocolate-dipped form, lined up on a pastry rack waiting to be filled-to-order.

Little Friend!

Little Friend!

While we waited for our three pastries to be filled and boxed up, we were surprised to meet a little furry feline who wandered in through the front door. We thought it was a stray that had come to visit but a woman from the bakery beckoned it to come inside and stay inside. Apparently it belongs at Maria’s and had gone on an adventure!

Cannolo and Lobstertail

Cannolo and Lobstertail

It was a beautiful day outside, so we bid farewell to Maria’s and took our pastries out to the park. The cannolo was pumped to the brim with fluffy sweet ricotta and was delicious in its simplicity. The menu boasts that it had been awarded “Best of Boston” for its cannoli and we could see why!

Massive Lobster Tail

Massive Lobster Tail

Oh my goodness. We had no idea how to eat this. The lobster tail is described on Maria’s menu as a “flaky pastry shell filled with a vanilla mousse cream – big enough to share.” It was bigger than my hand, dare I say it was bigger than my head! Beautiful crispy flakes of pastry dough gave way to a delicately sweet vanilla cream that was a welcome change from all the ricotta indulgence. Definitely grab one (or two or three) of your friends to join in if you’re planning to get this!

Sfogliatelle

Sfogliatelle

And last but certainly not least, my favorite of them all – Maria’s sfogliatelle. After the initial unbelievably flaky crunch, the doughy middle held a wonderful orange flavor that just made my day. This “traditional Neopolitan sweet” is “filled with cheese, semolina flour and citrus fruit” — the hint of orange really makes this pastry unique.

There’s no shortage of good eats when you visit the North End, but if you’re craving something sweet, I definitely recommend the sfogliatelle at Maria’s Pastry Shop. I know this started out as the battle of the cannoli but after sampling the ones at Mike’s, Modern, and Maria’s, I hope you’ll save room to try some of the North End’s lesser-known Italian pastries. After all, there’s always room for dessert!

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Check out Mike’s Pastry: mikespastry.com

300 Hanover St
Boston, MA 02113

See their Yelp reviews here!

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Check out Maria’s Pastry Shop: mariaspastry.com

46 Cross St
Boston, MA 02113

See their Yelp reviews here!

Had a Hankering for Bread Pudding…

Desserts and Sweets, Recipes

I had this unusual craving for bread pudding, so I decided I would make my own bread pudding. After a quick browse courtesy of our friend Google, I made a beeline for the kitchen to assemble the ingredients, all of which I had in my fridge and pantry (I know that’s not an incredible feat itself for most people, but that’s actually a big deal to me). As I sit here eagerly awaiting my microwave timer to go off and silently praying to the dessert gods that my bread pudding will not curdle, I felt compelled to put together this entry. Rest assured, I will certainly revise this post and make the appropriate tweaks so that yours will come out great, but I’m feeling pretty darn confident so far. Moment of truth…

*Drumroll* The Finished Product!

Tada! Not very difficult at all, and having one (or two) of these is perfect for that warm fuzzy feeling on a cold night. Okay fine, it’s actually 80-something degrees outside, but it’s cold because of the air conditioning. Close enough.

Ingredients:

For 6 cupcake-sized servings:

2 eggs (mine were extra large)

5 slices of bread, any kind (I used whole wheat)

2 teaspoons butter, melted

1 cup milk (I used whole milk)

1/4 cup sugar (turbinado aka Sugar in the Raw gives a nice “warm” flavor to the final product)

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (plus a few extra dashes if desired.. I like adding extra)

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (plus an extra splash if desired.. I like extra of this too)

A little brown sugar to sprinkle on top

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Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Grab a large bowl, toss in the butter, and pop it in the microwave for a few seconds to melt. In the meantime, cut the bread slices into cubes (I’m a bit OCD, but you can feel free to tear or cut the bread into any sized chunks you want). This is a great opportunity to use up the end pieces that no one uses for sandwiches.

Leftover wheat bread, including “reject” end-pieces

In a medium-sized bowl, beat the eggs. Then add the milk, sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla and stir well to combine. I used turbinado (raw) sugar so I had to beat/stir my egg mixture a little longer to ensure the large sugar crystals had dissolved.

Cinnamon-y, eggy goodness.

Toss the bread cubes in the melted butter, coating them as evenly as you can. This will help the exposed bits crisp up later. Then pour in the egg mixture and stir to combine. I like to let it sit for just a minute or two so that the bread soaks up the egg mixture but does not quite turn into a soggy mush.

Note how they are moist but not quite soggy

Spoon the eggy bread into your baking tin. I made mini bread puddings using a 6-cup muffin tin, but you can also use a baking dish so long as you adjust the cooking time. Just before they go in the oven, sprinkle a bit of brown sugar on top. It will add a nice crunchy texture.

Into the oven they go for about 35-40 minutes. I like to let it go for 35 minutes, turn off the heat, and then allow it to bake in the residual heat for another 5-10 minutes. Check on them periodically and they’re ready when you touch the bread and it bounces back.

Bet you can’t eat just one! (I couldn’t.)

They’re best served warm and fresh out of the oven. We enjoyed these plain (although I’m reluctant to use the word “plain” as the cinnamon and vanilla worked wonders to transform that boring old wheat bread!) but you can serve them with a rum sauce, berry compote, ice cream, whipped cream, whatever your heart desires!

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Credit goes to this allrecipes.com version (and subsequent reader comments) for helping me figure out basic proportions, ingredients, and oven temperature. If you try our recipe at home, let us know how it turned out for you and if you made any changes that worked out for the better!