We visited Bread and Salt Bakery in Jersey City, New Jersey for a lesson in delicious Italian treats
On the weekends, droves of savvy New Yorkers head across the Hudson River to Bread and Salt Bakery in the funky, multi-cultural Jersey City Heights neighborhood. There, renowned baker, pizza maker, and owner of Bread and Salt, Rick Easton, satisfies their craving for his specialty pizza, Focaccia Barese, sandwiches, and a stunning array of Italian pastries. Among them is his "super old-fashioned, Italian cookies" that he bakes with pastry chef Diana Valenzuela.
"In Italy, the role of a cookie is different," Rick explains. "Throughout the day, cookies are dipped in wine, which is a foreign concept for many Americans who are so used to milk and cookies." Also, he says, "Cookies are part of the ritual of Italian hospitality —you should always have a stockpile on hand because they're such a lovely thing to put out for a guest." Rick’s philosophy, which underscores each of his goods at Bread and Salt, is about encouraging moments of pleasure, slowing down, and thinking about what you are eating. "You're not going to starve to death if you don't eat cookies, so why not make those cookies the one thing in your day that's incredibly special."
Here's a rundown of some of the pastries and desserts that he offers.
CIAMBELLINE AL VINO BIANCO AND VINO ROSSO
Rick offers these ring-shaped hard cookies, which take their name from the Italian word for a donut, called "ciambelle." They come in two styles: one made with red wine and wild fennel seeds, the other made with white wine and anise seeds. Rick first encountered them in Rome, but they're common throughout Central Italy and perfect for wine dipping.
These classic, hard biscotti are perfumed with anise and perfect for enjoying with espresso. "The older I get," says Rick, "I understand that it's harder to do classic things very well—it's much easier to hide behind innovation."
BISCOTTI AL LATTE
Rick's take on these favorite breakfast cookies is made with 100% stone-milled flour, giving them a tremendous depth of nutty flavor. They are made for dipping in milk, as is tradition, or your preferred beverage.
Known as cantucci in Tuscany or tozzetti in Rome, Rick makes this classic almond biscotti with a hint of orange zest and pizzuta almonds —a flat, richly flavored almond that he imports from Sicily — giving his tozzetti "a wisp of butterscotch."
These Sicilian-style square cookies are topped with sesame seeds. While many of Rick's cookies are vegan and made with olive oil, such as the ciambelline, Rick says, "This the only one made with lard, that we render ourselves, giving it a little more of that rich taste that is a part of this cookie's tradition in Palermo."
These almond cookies get their name from the word "intertwined" and are a style of almond cookie popular in Puglia.
These soft cookies are delicately bitter from Rick's combination of Sicilian almonds and apricot kernels.
BRUTTI MA BUONE
"An absolute classic," says Rick, "we make brutti ma buone (which translates as "ugly but good") with Piedmontese hazelnuts." The hazelnuts are rich and sweet, which makes "ugly" (brutti) looking cookies taste "really incredible."
"Our version of krumiri, which differs from Piedmontese krumiri Rossi— a handlebar-shaped cookie invented by confectioner Domenico Rossi in 1878 and made with a blend of corn and wheat—is entirely made with 100% New York grown stone-milled corn.
Rick bakes traditional Neapolitan dunking cookies called rococo and lightly spiced, dark chocolate coated Calabrian mostaccioli at Christmas. For Italians, there is no time when cookies are off-limits: “We also have special biscotti for Lent, called quaresimali, which are very lean cookies," he says, “no fat.”
To savor "la dolce vita" through Rick Easton’s biscotti, head to Bread and Salt, 435 Palisade Avenue, Jersey City, New Jersey, open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 10 am to 4 pm.
Theresa Gambacorta is a writer and cookbook co-author. Her writing has appeared in such titles as La Cucina Italiana, Spin Magazine, Men's Fitness, Muscle and Fitness, and Centennial's special interest publications. She is the co-author of chef Joey Campanaro's Big Love Cooking (Chronicle, 2020), chef Nasim Alikhani's Sofreh (Knopf, 2023), and the forthcoming vegan cookbook, Eat What Elephants Eat by activist Dominick Thompson (Simon Element, 2024).