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Famous Muscarella's Cannoli to debut at Jazz Festival

by jmaloni
Thu, Aug 17th 2017 03:25 pm
Lines of people were the norm outside the award-winning Muscarella's Cannoli stand at the recent Galbani Buffalo Italian Heritage Festival.
Lines of people were the norm outside the award-winning Muscarella's Cannoli stand at the recent Galbani Buffalo Italian Heritage Festival.
Beloved pastry recently awarded 'Best Dessert' at Italian Festival
By Joshua Maloni
Managing Editor
I can't prove it, but it seems likely that when Clemenza said, "Leave the gun. Take the cannoli," it's because the pastry came from Muscarella's.
"The Godfather" scene notwithstanding, what can be factually stated is it's unwise to doubt Angela Berti.
The prized publicist sent word Muscarella's Cannoli would be a new addition to the Northwest Jazz Festival in Lewiston. Not long after she suggested a story, this writer visited the signature white stand at the Galbani Buffalo Italian Heritage Festival.
It took a minute to get to the serving window, as Muscarella's boasted long lines of people waiting for a ricotta cheese or Bavarian custard cream-filled shell. And, wouldn't you know it, hanging outside the stand was an award for "Best Dessert."
Dozens of entrants had submitted scores of Italian pastries - everything from ├ęclairs to cookies to chocolate-covered you name it. But only one dessert would reign supreme.
Annette Losi of Hamburg had just purchased a pair of cannolis.
"I've eaten one as I've walked!" she exclaimed when asked about her acquisition.
"They're just authentic Italian cannoli," she said. "They're just delicious. We've been getting them for years from here."
"We never miss it," Losi added. "We always bring some home."
Tony Campione of Clarence Center is a self-described "connoisseur of sweets," with "a tremendous sweet tooth" and "really sensitive taste buds, so I can really distinguish certain tastes."
He said, "When I went to the Italian Festival, there were plenty of Italian pastry stands. There was just nothing else there that compared to what they had."
When Campione learned Muscarella's took the top prize,  "I wasn't even surprised," he said. "I told everybody I was with, 'You've got to taste these. They're incredible.' And I sampled like three other cannolis at the festival, and it wasn't even close.
"It wasn't even close."
Tom and Xander Muscarella serve patrons at the Galbani Buffalo Italian Heritage Festival.
More than 100 years ago - 1905, to be exact - Vincenzo Muscarella and his wife, Concettina, opened Muscarella's Pastry Shop on Busti Avenue in Buffalo. For the next seven decades (including a move to Niagara Street), the Muscarella name would by synonymous with high-end desserts.
"When I was a child, I remember the Muscarella Pastry Shop in the west end of Buffalo," Campione said. "I never really had the fortune of ever really eating a pastry, because I was just a small child. (But) I'd ride my bike and look into the window and see the spectacular-looking pastries."
Dick Portale, who has lived in the Lewiston/Porter area for nearly 60 years, said, "My experience with them goes back when I was just a little kid - 8, 9 years old. Our family, who lived on the west side of Buffalo ... a special treat was, on a Sunday afternoon, we would go to Muscarella's Bakery."
"We would go for a cannoli or maybe some lemon ice," he said. "And that was a very special treat."
Portale has known brothers Anthony and Vincent Muscarella since he was in high school. They are Vincenzo and Concettina's grandsons.
"We have a group of guys from Buffalo, and Western New York, now, that go fishing every year," he said. "And Tony would bring to the fishing trip - we would be up north, in the north woods and north lakes - and Tony would bring cannolis with him. And he would stuff them right after dinner. And I can't tell you what a treat that would be to (have one). There were probably anywhere from 15 to 20 guys from Buffalo, most of which were Italian. What a treat that was to have Tony bring cannolis with us."
When the brick-and-mortar pastry shop closed in the late 1970s, Anthony Muscarella and his wife, Mary Kay, began selling cannoli at the Italian Festival and the Erie County Fair.
Today, Tom Muscarella - Anthony's nephew and Vincent's son - is the fourth-generation of family members making cannoli. He and his wife, Karen, and their sons, Nick, 16, and Xander, 14, recently visited Mangano's Vin-Chet Bakery in Amherst to assemble the family's prize pastry.
"We've got our 100-year-old family recipe - secret recipe - of the ricotta cheese and sugar and the other items that go together," Tom said.
While he wouldn't divulge particulars, the Muscarella family was working with between 400 and 500 pounds of Sorrento cheese, almost 30 pounds of chocolate chips, and unspecified quantities of sugar and vanilla.
"We make approximately four to five batches of cheese, which is a couple thousand cannoli," Tom said.
"We'll sell them in any quantity you want," he noted. "We do singles ($3.50 each); we do a special of six ($18 at the Italian Fest). ... We package them up in a nice box and send them home with you."
The key to a successful cannoli, Tom explained, is to make it fresh.
"What we do is we fill on the spot," he said. "We don't prefill the cannoli (cream) into the shell, because it gets it soggy. If you order it, you get it (filled) while you're ordering."
"If they're filled ahead of time, by the time you get to the them the next day, you're getting a soggy cannoli," he added.
As Tom and Karen stood guard over the mixing bin, where cheese and chocolate chips formed a gloriously delicious union, he explained, "People love cannoli. They really do.
"Ours are good. People have come up to our stand and said, 'Oh, I had one over there and I ate half of it.' And then they buy it from us. 'Yours is great. I love yours. We're coming back to see you.'
"It's a testament to the product and the tradition and the recipe."
"The way the cheese is, the way the cheese tastes, the consistency is (key to) the cannoli," Tom said. "You don't want one that's too hard, too grainy or too loose. It's got to be right in the same spot where it's perfect. Our recipe comes out that way."
The cheese, or custard cream, is piped into an oversized crispy shell. It's not just nudged into the two outer ends.
As the couple kept a close watch on the batter - "You don't want to lose any of this stuff; this stuff's like gold," Tom said - Karen described what should come out of the mix.
"The chocolate chips are evenly distributed and it looks nice and smooth and creamy," she said. "You've got to make sure all the vanilla mixes in."
And the taste?
"Creamy, cheesy, smooth, sweet," Karen said. "I like a little crunch. They should have a little bit of chocolate chips."
Indeed, the cheese filling (which comprises "90 percent" of cannoli sales) is luscious and smooth, with just the right amount of sweet.
Upon tasting the first batch, Tom said, "It's going to be a good year."
At next weekend's Lewiston Jazz Festival, the white Muscarella's Cannoli stand is slated to be near KeyBank on Center Street.
"My uncle decided to keep the family tradition alive and sell cannoli at the Buffalo Italian Festival. He did it up until last year, when my wife and I took the business over. And then we're moving it forward and trying to expand it a little bit more - get the name out there and get the product to more places," Tom said.
"The Jazz Festival is our first jump into another event," he added. "We wanted to get one under our belts by ourselves. And everything went well."
"We did it with him for five, six, seven years, also," Tom added. "But last year was our first one by ourselves. Before we did too much, we wanted to make sure we could be successful at one. Because we want to do it right. We have a reputation. ... It needs to be the right way."
Portale said Muscarella's Cannoli will be "a good fit" in a village with "culinary advanced taste."
"I think Lewiston will love them," he said.
The Jazz Festival runs from 5-10:30 p.m. Friday, and from noon to 10:30 p.m. Saturday.
While the Muscarella family doesn't expect to sell cannoli in the colder months, Tom and crew do take special orders. To learn more, call 716-867-4257.
The Muscarella family worked with family friends at Mangano's Vin-Chet Bakery to assemble prize-winning cannoli. Pictured, from left, are Xander, Tom, Karen and Nick.

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