When Andrew Carmellini hired Karen DeMasco as his pastry chef at Locanda Verde, he knew he wanted to give the former Craft confectioner-in-chief a stage of her own. In this case, it happens to be a marble counter installed in the restaurant’s streetside café, which opens today for breakfast. While DeMasco, known for her homespun American classics, spent weeks testing recipes and experimenting with Italian flavor profiles to complement the restaurant’s menu, Carmellini took a proprietary interest in the look of the space, which he hopes will become a neighborhood pit stop. Those vintage trays and cake stands that display DeMasco’s muffins and scones? Carmellini acquired them on antiquing forays to Dutchess County, the North Fork of Long Island, and Stamford, Connecticut. (Although he claims to be a novice in the antiquing arts, the chef has a surprisingly firm grasp on aesthetic details. Those ceramic pitchers arrayed on the shelf? “Deruta,” he says, nonchalantly.) Scenery aside, the spotlight is firmly on DeMasco’s pastries. From 7 a.m. until 11:30, they’re vaguely breakfasty (if you, like us, are the type to call a sticky bun breakfast), and then come afternoon she brings out the heavy artillery: oozing mocha ganache tarts, cream sandwich cookies, a knockout almond cake. Click through for the annotated spread.
1. Chocolate-walnut biscotti: Bagged in four-packs, these biscotti are just crunchy enough — but not enough to chip a tooth — and dipped lengthwise in dark chocolate.
2. Polenta-anise biscotti: Not too sweet, good with espresso.
3. Fruit gels: Passion-fruit-and-apricot, with tart-sour fruit flavor and a smattering of black seeds.
4. Spiced nuts with fennel seed and red-pepper flakes: a great savory riff on candied nut brittle.
5. Hazelnut sticky bun: Sticky buns might not be Italian, but hazelnuts are.
6. Peanut-butter cookie with peanut-butter cream: DeMasco invented these for ’wichcraft. “They’re my favorite all-time cookie, and they’re not Italian at all,” admits the chef, who swears by Skippy Creamy.
7. Parmesan scones: “It was really tough to find the right amount of cheese. I like scones that are light, fluffy, and flaky.”
8. Oatmeal cookies with white-chocolate-cream-cheese filling: Never a fan of white chocolate, DeMasco confesses, “I recently started liking it paired with tangy things like cream cheese or citrus zest.”
9. Lemon tart: “Citrus is a big Italian flavor,” says DeMasco. Her custard is unusually light and delicate with an intense flavor and a clear, bright color.
10. Blueberry polenta muffin: “Instant polenta gives them the right blend of coarseness and corniness.” They’re light, but also rich, thanks to sour cream.
11. Fig and almond streusel muffin: “It’s kind of a Fig Newton–y filling with cinnamon, pepper, and white wine.”
12. Almond cake: Almond paste and sugar are ground together for a moist, dense texture and crisp outer layer.
13. Strawberry scones: Look for Greenmarket farmer Franca Tantillo’s highly prized Tristar berries to show up in these.
14. Nero cookies: DeMasco calls these little nuggets Italian brownies, only made with almond flour and ground almonds, flavored with mint extract, and rolled in confectioner’s sugar.
15. Mocha tart: DeMasco uses Valrhona and Amadei milk and dark chocolates in this lightly set ganache, made with coffee-infused cream.