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French Memories, 60 S. Main St., Cohasset. 781-383-2216. Mon.-Sat. 6:30 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sun. 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Additional store: La Patisserie in Hingham.
French Memories was started in Duxbury in 1989 by two couples who met while working at a wholesale bakery in Florida. A few years after opening the second location, they split the business. Now Debbie and Philippe Odier own the Duxbury location and Ann and Jean Jacques Gabanelle own the Cohasset shop. Each shop features pastries, croissants, and breads. While they carry many of the same items, they each have their specialties.
French cakes usually consist of a thin layer of sponge cake, called either biscuit or genoise, topped by layers of mousse.
Duxbury store specialties include:
Bee Hive: A rectangle of biscuit cake topped with caramel mousse and banana mousse. Its name comes from the honeycomb finish of the top layer.
Annabelle: A butter cake topped with red currants and meringue; the New England version uses cranberries.
Cohasset store specialties include:
Oak jewel: A tart shell filled with chestnut mousse and covered with dark chocolate.
Apple tart: An apple-shaped puff pastry (complete with stem) and topped with thinly sliced apples.
L'Alouette is a small space packed with French goodies. The kitchen prepares French take-out foods and a few sweets, including creme caramel. The rest, made for the shop by Pastry Art bakery in Rhode Island, are displayed in a cylindrical case in the center of the shop. Specialties include:
Gateau Concorde: An large chocolate mousse cake layered with chocolate meringue and covered with tube-shaped bits of chocolate meringue. Also available in miniature size.
Gateau Opera: A chocolate genoise layered with chocolate ganache and coffee butter cream.
Greenhills Traditional Irish Bakery, 793 Adams St., Dorchester. 617-825-8187. Mon. 5:30 a.m.-2 p.m., Tues.-Sat. 5:30 a.m.-7 p.m., Sun. 7 a.m.-2 p.m.
Dermot and Cindy Quinn, a former bricklayer and gold buyer, respectively, opened this shop in 1991. Brown bread and Irish soda bread are the main staples, along with a few pastries. Specialties include:
Cream slices: A puff pastry layered with fresh whipped cream and apple, strawberry, or raspberry jam.
Apple squares: A thick, biscuit-like crust and sliced apples, but no cinnamon (a spice rarely used in Ireland, Cindy notes).
Keltic Krust excels at Irish breads, including a fabulous brown bread (they supply it to Aer Lingus), as well as several yeast breads. Most of the pastries, other than scones, are European in style. Specialties include:
Eccles cake: A round, flat pastry, 5 inches across, made from buttery puff pastry and filled with currants, brown sugar, and butter.
Barm brak: A sweet yeast bread, enriched with butter, and mixed with raisins, diced orange peel, and sliced almonds.
Italian bakeries are predominant throughout the Boston area, but the densest concentration is in the North End. Certain pastries are ubiquitous, including ricotta pie (a double-crusted cheesecake), cannoli, and biscotti. Cookies come in all shapes, sizes, and flavors, and each bakery has its specialties.
Maria's Pastry Shop, 1371 Washington St., Newton. 617-332-9343. Mon. 7 a.m.-6 p.m., Sun. 7 a.m.-1 p.m.
The window and shelves overflow with cookies, homemade marzipan, and other pastries, including several holiday specials. This is a family operation - Maria and her mother are the bakers; sister Enza works the counter. Specialties include:
Sfoglatelle: A large, triangular flaky pastry filled with a creamy filling flavored with citron. Best warm from the oven.
Mustacioli: Diamond-shaped chocolate-spiced cookies, plain or filled with figs and walnuts.
This shop doesn't go big on display - pastries are in flat boxes partially covered with cloths and plastic - but invariably there's a line of customers. Specialties include:
Torrone: Italian nougat, an egg-white and honey-based confection, studded with almonds. The shop makes at least nine flavors, including chocolate and cappuccino. Pan torrone is a log-shaped confection, about 2 inches in diameter, that is sold by the slice. In the center is cake soaked in Strega liqueur. This is surrounded by a ring of marzipan, then a ring of torrone, and the whole thing is covered with chocolate.
Josephine Alfe, mother of co-owner Peter Alfe, makes the specialty cookies here. Mike Regnetta, nephew of co-owner Robert Regnetta, manages the shop and decorates the homemade marzipan. Specialties include:
Sicilian macaroons: Almond-paste cookies flavored with lemon or pistachio.
Meringues: In Josephine's version, a cupcake-size confection, crisp on the outside, chewy inside, and laced with slivered almonds.
You'll find certain items in most Jewish bakeries, like challah bread and bagels; more significant is that these bakeries are kosher. There are two types of kosher bakeries, parve and dairy. Both follow strict rabbinical supervision to ensure that no unkosher ingredients enter the kitchen. Jewish dietary laws dictate that dairy products may not be eaten with meat. A parve item means that it has no dairy (butter, milk, etc.) or meat ingredients, and so can be eaten with any meal. Many Jewish pastries were influenced by Eastern European traditions.
Lederman's Bakery, 1223 Centre St., Newton. 617-527-7896. Daily 7 a.m.-7 p.m.
Lederman's is a kosher dairy bakery, started in 1961 by the father of current owners Barry and Bruce Lederman, who are twin brothers. Specialties include:
Rougeleh: Small rolled pastries traditionally made with a cream-cheese dough and filled with jam and chopped nuts.
Kichel: A light, crispy rectangular puff. Made unsweetened or sprinkled with sugar.
Mandelbrodt: The Jewish equivalent of a biscotti, made plain, with candied fruit, almonds, or swirled with chocolate.
Bubka: A sweet yeast bread enriched with eggs, sprinkled with streusel, and studded with raisins; optionally swirled with jam and nuts.
Tuler's is kosher parve, and non-dairy versions of the above traditional baked goods are available here.
Central Bakery, 48 Walnut St., Peabody. 978-531-2101. Mon.-Sat. 5 a.m.-6:30 p.m., Sun. 5 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Alex Couto is the third generation of his family to run this Portuguese bakery. The specialty is yeast bread, notably a dense, chewy one made with corn meal, and Portuguese sweet bread, rich with eggs. The shop also makes baklava and other Greek pastries. Portuguese specialties include:
Suspiros ("sigh" in Portuguese): Bite-size meringue cookies sprinkled with sugar.
Pastais: Individual tarts with four fillings - de nata (egg custard), de feijo (almond), de coco (coconut), and de larange (orange custard).
Swanson's Swedish Bakery, 19 Union Circle, South Weymouth. 781-337-5527. Daily 7 a.m.-7 p.m.
Karl Swanson's parents started this bakery in Norwell in 1976 and ran it until '97. Swanson opened this branch in 1995. Besides pastries, he makes a Swedish breads, notably a cardamom braid, a buttery dough flavored with cardamom. Specialties include:
Swedish almond tarts: Made from ground almonds.
Cinnamon rusks: Made from homemade white loaf bread, sliced, dried, and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.
Pepparkakor: Star-shaped molasses spice cookies.
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