Bobby Mallozzi says he and his people at Villa Italia are not afraid to get their hands dirty.
That means "dirty" with almond paste, cinnamon, confectioner's sugar, chocolate sprinkles, raspberry jam, honey and ricotta cheese, among other savory construction materials. The bakers' good work keeps Villa's long, refrigerated display cases stocked with trays full of sweets.
The well-known "pasticceria" on Broadway in Schenectady, located just a short walk from State Street, has become a popular place for cakes, coffee and especially pastries.
At Christmas time and other holidays, people are happy to pay $13.99 per pound for cream-filled and chocolate-dipped delicacies. Bunches of moms in the Capital Region probably received boxes of Villa sweets today for Mother's Day.
Culture and tradition have helped the success of Villa, which opened in the Broadway location in November 2005. "It's old family memories," Mallozzi said. "Thank God there are still people who are passing those traditions along."
The Villa story began in 1965, when Joe Mallozzi opened his first bakery. Fifty-two years later, the Mallozzi operation includes Villa; Mallozzi's restaurant and party house and the Belvedere Inn, both in Rotterdam; Johnny's in downtown Schenectady; Treviso in Guilderland; and the Clubhouse, located on the grounds of Western Turnpike Golf Course in Guilderland.
"We have a very special place in our heart for Schenectady," said Mallozzi, who owns and manages the pasticceria. "It's where my father first got his opportunity to work when he came to this country, he worked at the White Eagle bakery on Crane Street.
"We have no problem staying within our wheelhouse of Schenectady," Mallozzi added. "We're very proud of this city and very proud of being part of the resurgence of downtown."
The menu at Villa Italia will change, according to demands. The lunch menu will change seasonally, the coffee bar will add new coffee drinks. If people make special requests, the Villa kitchen will try to accommodate them.
"At the heart of it, we're just bakers," Mallozzi said.
Here's Mallozzi's Top 10, starting with the end of the list and snacking all the way up to the most popular sweet at Villa Italia.
"It's a very light dessert, custard made of mascarpone cheese, eggs, sugar, Marsala wine and lady finger cookies that are infused with rich espresso coffee and then topped with cocoa.
9: Almond crescents
"They're also gluten-free, which is very popular today, and ours are made of pure almond paste, confectioners sugar, and egg whites rolled in sliced, blanched almonds and baked to a golden brown."
8: Torrone candy
"The torrone is all natural and gluten-free, it's a nougat-type candy made only of egg whites, local honey, sugar and nuts and we use almonds and pistachios in ours. It's a big candy traditionally made at the holidays (in Italy) but year-round here now in the states."
"Some people call them rainbow cookies, come people call them three color, tricolors. The way we make ours is from a petit four recipe, so the dough is very almond-y and buttery. They're layered, three layers with raspberry jam in between and they're coated in a fudge topping on the top and bottom."
"A cronut is a combination of a croissant and a doughnut, so it's a very rich, flaky, buttery dough that's formed and then deep fried and tossed in cinnamon sugar."
"It's literally translated into 'filled dough.' They're very similar to miniature cream pies. The dough is a flaky shortbread dough and we do two versions, vanilla pastry cream and chocolate."
4: Chocolate Mice
"Our chocolate mice, they have a base of amaretti almond cookies, piped chocolate mousse and two sliced almonds as ears. The whole thing is dipped in dark chocolate. It's hugely popular with kids and chocolate lovers. It's very, very rich."
"It's actually a Jewish cookie. We had an old Hungarian baker years ago who came to work for us and he brought his rugelach recipe. It's a cream cheese cookie that's rolled with cinnamon and walnuts."
"It's a very flaky, layered pastry. It's filled before it's baked, the cream that's inside is made of baked semolina and ricotta cheese, it has diced lemon and orange peel, a hint of cinnamon and the outside flake shell is similar to a phyllo dough. They're baked and best eaten hot right from the oven. We sell them frozen for people to bake them at home, which is how I recommend buying them."
1: Sicilian cannoli
"I think pop culture has helped make them popular, you hear about cannoli being the most popular Italian pastry.
"What makes ours special is the shell, it's crispy-fried, lightly-cinnamoned, fresh ricotta filling, chocolate chips and we fill them as we need them so they're not filled the day before. They're always nice and crispy. The key to a good cannoli is the crispy shell."
Mallozzi said Villa Italia will sell between 200 and 400 cannoli every day. The bakery makes four varieties.
"We do the traditional Sicilian, we do a chocolate-dipped Sicilian, we do a puff-pastry cream cannoli and we do an all-chocolate cannoli, which is a chocolate shortbread shell, dipped in chocolate, filled with chocolate and then chocolate sprinkles," Mallozzi said.
This baker's dozen includes two more picks.
Mallozzi's favorite in the whole store is the rum cake, a sponge cake soaked with rum sugar syrup. Chocolate, vanilla pastry cream, sliced almonds and whipped cream are also part of the package.
Mallozzi also includes aragosta, also known as a lobster tail (a variation of the sfogliatella) to fill up his pastry box.
"Rather than fill it with the sfogliatella cream made of baked ricotta and semolina, we fill it with cream puff batter," he said. "A cream puff, when it bakes, it bakes hollow. The aragosta, when you fill it with the cream puff dough, it expands, so it becomes very long and hollow and then we fill it with a very light cream which is similar to an egg cream."