Photo by Patty Canedo
Working in a kitchen at this time of year, it's hard not to get bogged down with all the extra shifts and homesickness. In the real world, the season is about family and friends, but in the kitchen it becomes about doubles, mass production and seatings. I made it my mission to find my humanity and rekindle my adoration for this season's great pastry traditions. I NEEDED a visit to a bakery!
Walking in to Gran Forno, I already felt my spirit lifting as I smelled the wafting aroma of fresh baked cookies. I gasped at the sight of the gingerbread houses and took in the pretzel-roof tiles, candy cane hearts, and fine-tip piped icing. I began to feel rejuvenated. I savored the moment and absorbed the sight of fresh-baked breads and details on all the cookies and cakes.
Salvatore Anino (owner and baker) greeted me with an exhausted smile as he padded around the storefront in flour-covered green Crocs. I practically jumped up and down when he offered me a tour of the kitchen.
There was a thick blanket of flour on the floor and speed racks stocked with proofing breads and cooling cookies. He led me to a corner of the kitchen with a partially completed gingerbread house. He groaned at the thought of how much time it takes to make and decorate each one, even though the candy and icing details are gorgeous.
"We make our own Pannetone," he casually mentioned. I stopped dead in my tracks. He brought me to the case where they are lined up and wrapped with perfect little bows. Shaped like giant muffins, they are a light, airy cross between a bread and a cake.
"We make the traditional dried fruit," Anino said. "We have a walnut, rum raisin and a Belgium Chocolate with French chesnut." Knowing how much work goes into making each one, I am speechless. The bakery also churns out rows of golden pignoli, amoretti and gingerbread cookies. And then I saw them, the Busche de Noel!
"We make them with real butter cream, belgium chocolate and imported vanilla," Anino said. Lines in the shiny frosting give the treat the yule-log look and stop at the end of the cake to showcase the swirl of cake and frosting rolled together.
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Though Anino's day starts at 2 a.m. to orchestrate production and he looks forward to Christmas Day so he can sleep in, I continued interrogating him, hoping to break through his exhaustion.
"I don't think in terms of holiday," he said, describing his vision. "I like seeing that the aromas are right, the visuals are exciting for the season. Visually, I want everything interesting and colorful. I encourage my staff to smile until it hurts."
Before I leave pastry nirvana, Aninio reminds me why I began my quest. "Christmas is about cookies, cakes and pannetones because this season is all about family."
Gran Forno Bakery is at 1235 E. Las Olas Blvd and will be open on Christmas Eve for any last minute treats and Pannetone wishes.