Sunday, October 14, 2007

Be back soon...

Do not fret if you visit and there are no new posts. When I return from my travels and holidays, I will post new entries. In the interim, have a wonderful and safe holiday season!

Monday, October 8, 2007

The Joy that is Mille Folie

As far as wedding cakes tend to go, most are rather bland repeats of the previous wedding you attended. The majority of couples pick “safe” cakes—vanilla, chocolate, carrot—with flavors most guests will eat. Sometimes, to spice things up, they’ll throw in a raspberry, strawberry, or cream filling, but again, nearly everyone likes those flavors combined with the traditional choices of cake. This observation is in no way a criticism of the couples who choose these cakes for their special day, rather it is meant to show the limited possibilities presented to them by bakeries.

Barring a lactose-allergic fiancĂ©, a very tasty, yet not at all trendy choice for a wedding cake would be a mille folie (pronounced mee-lay foe-lee-ay). “Mille folie” essentially means a thousand sheets in Italian. This dessert is a very light Italian cake made with layers of thin, flaky dough (not unlike cooked filo dough), alternating between layers of thick, creamy custard. The custard soaks into the dough, softening the flaky layers. Topping all this is a light, whipped frosting that neither attempts to upstage the cake nor shirk away from its responsibility as the “icing” on top. It’s rich without being heavy and dense without being overwhelming. Mille folie absolutely melts in your mouth.

Mille folie is the cake of choice in my family (on those rare occasions when we decide to purchase dessert rather than make our own). What dessert should we serve at Easter lunch? Someone needs to pick up the mille folie. What kind of cake should one of the cousins order for their wedding? Mille folie, of course! An aunt is visiting from Italy? Let’s order the mille folie for the first dinner she’s here—she’ll love it! Our family goes nuts for this delicious treat. And it’s also beginning to look like the wedding cake of choice for this generation in our family, so don’t be surprised if you attend more than one Monari wedding and find, hopefully to your delight, that you are served the same type of cake.

Where can I find this most amazing Italian cake that La Famiglia thinks so highly of?!?

I’m so glad you asked! There is this delightfully quaint Italian pastry shop called Dianda’s. They have two locations—one in San Francisco and one in San Mateo. If you can, take a trip to visit either one. The treats you will find are well worth the price of gas and the miles on your car. The San Mateo shop—conveniently located near my office—is nestled between a fresh fish market and an Italian delicatessen. The smell of barbecue greets you before being replaced by the sweet aroma of confectioner’s sugar upon entering the bakery. Cases filled with delicious treats welcome as you enter, as do the tiny ladies working behind them.

Take a moment to slowly examine all the possibilities found behind the glass. Showing off their dazzling white frosting adorned with spring-colored flowers, cakes wake patiently in their cool storage space before being claimed by an eager customer. In the next case, there are personal-sized samples of the cakes in the refrigerator. This is where you will find your own gone-in-two-minutes mille folie. Also available, and equally wonderful, is tiramisu cake, rumcake, cannoli, and a wide assortment of more traditional dense cakes made with all the lightness of the Italian bakers’ ancestors. Each of the large slices are about five inches long and maybe two inches wide, with three inches of height. It’s probably healthier (and better for your hips) to split one of these with a friend, but it can easily be consumed by a single eater—trust me on this one! On the shelf behind this counter would be my sister’s weakness—almond torta. A dense cake-like dessert, this is in a class all of its own. It’s sweet almond taste is accented by a thin layer of raspberry filling along the bottom. It’s like eating a slice of Italy—absolutely delicious and absolutely addicting!

The next display proudly offers all kinds of tempting cookies. Amaretti—round cookies with pine nuts nestled on top; alunetti—squared-off, finger-length, flaky cookies decorated with powdered sugar; biscotti—traditional long cookies with almonds, accented with a slight orange flavor; chocolate cookies; big cookies, small cookies; all yummy cookies. And then finally, you get to the candies. These flavor-filled, chocolate-coated bites of sugar rival anything found at See’s Candy.

Order whatever tickles your fancy and enjoy it with a cappuccino or espresso at one of their charming cafĂ© tables, or take some home to share. And just maybe, people will begin to catch onto the wonder that is Dianda’s cakes, helping wedding guests truly enjoy the cake served at the reception.

Dianda's in San Mateo
117 De Anza Blvd.
San Mateo, 94402

Dianda's in San Francisco

2883 Mission St.

San Francisco, 94110