Snag delicious, classic Italian goodies right in the heart of D.C., or learn one of the recipes in my February edition.
Welcome back and happy Black History Month/Valentine’s Day/Mardi Gras! It’s been a long month so far, but I’ve managed to fill it with lots of delicious meals, snacks and goodies. I even tried out a protein cheesecake recipe, which sounds like it may not taste indulgent, but I promise it was. And now, despite all the brownies, ice cream and King cake I have in my kitchen, I’ve decided to continue to bake, since that’s my happy place.
This month: I decided to stay close to home and reached out to a local bakery about a 5 min. walk away from my apartment. The welcoming storefront with an adorable bright yellow dog decal drew my eye, and turned out to be a unique bakeshop offering traditional Italian pastries, which I include a recipe of below. Also, I’ve decided to dedicate myself to crafting more content for you guys as well, especially on my Instagram, so please feel free to send me or comment any feedback you may have — and please like, share, save and comment so I know if you like it! My first reel of the baked feta pasta trend went pretty well so I’ll keep experimenting with those. Finally, I would still love to hear from every one of you on what you expect to see in the new year.
Some background: In a monthly newsletter, I combine a DC local’s story behind their favorite recipe(s), or ones that whip up some nostalgia, with photos and prose of my attempt at replication. These recipes vary in difficulty, but they are always ones close to the heart. This newsletter is sent on the third Sunday of each month as the name suggests.
A fun note: Make sure to mark this email as NOT spam, move it to your inbox or add my sending address to your address book to avoid the newsletter regularly ending up in the abyss. Sometimes Mailchimp email campaigns go straight to spam.
When you first spot Nino’s Bakery on L Street NW, the first thing you spy is the giant yellow dachshund decal. The namesake of that decal and the bakery itself is Miranda’s 16-year-old dog, Nino, who she says is blind but has quite the sniffer. Miranda adopted Nino when he was 6 in Italy, and they lived together in Milan nearby loads of bakeries and cafes. While Nino couldn’t see, he sure could smell, and he would insist that the two of them stop into each bakery wafting out scents of pastry. Miranda said Nino has definitely also taste tested pastries throughout his years, so one could say he’s an expert worthy of a bakery after his name. Miranda had lived in Italy for her final tour in the Foreign Service, in which she served for nine years. Prior to that, she was stationed in Afghanistan, which led her to decide to get a dog for company. She took Nino everywhere with her, and then she decided to move back to the U.S. and settle out of the service with a new career path.
Before she did, she decided to study the pastries she and Nino so loved in cafes. She took a pastry course on Saturdays, which required a competency test at the end administered by the Italian government, and she learned how to make old-fashioned European pastries. Once she arrived back in the U.S., she went to Chicago for a nine-month course at The French Pastry School. The school, she says, is run by two French chefs who make students learn the fundamentals of making a perfect pastry, with no shortcuts. She credits the two methods that she now blends at her shop for her ability to make an amazing pastry that she can then experiment with flavors.
When she moved back to D.C., Miranda found there weren’t many traditional bakeries offering the types of pastries she had mastered, so she opened Nino’s! The bakery may not churn out thousands of pastries each day, but Miranda assures you that each croissant is freshly homemade with only the best ingredients since she focuses on quality over quantity. She’s the sole owner still up to arms in butter and flour in the kitchen. The bakery first offered everything traditional Italian, but then Miranda realized most customers loved her croissants, so she pivoted to focusing on those. Her buttery croissants have unique flavor offerings, such as her favorite, chocolate hazelnut, or the customers’ favorite, almond, and they take three full days to make. That process includes a dough made with flour, salt, sugar, water and yeast layered meticulously with European butter using a sheeter that turns the pastry properly. Miranda credits a proofing machine for helping craft the ideal environment before she bakes her croissants. The end result? A perfectly flaky croissant.
The story behind the recipe.
But Nino’s isn’t all croissants, as delicious as they may be. Miranda does still bake plenty of French desserts, such as macaroons, and Italian desserts, like these classic Baci Di dama cookies. These types of desserts are better after lunch snacks for workers headed back to their job who may need to satisfy a sweet tooth in the simplest way.
Miranda chose to feature these cookies, she says, because she grew up eating them in an Italian American household, so they’re a bit nostalgic for he
The cookies are a traditional Italian dessert known throughout the country, and they’re made with simple yet quality ingredients to create a quality cookie. Each ingredient is actually the same measurement (except the chocolate). The easy recipe is well worth your time, with the end product of a delicious, addicting cookie that is the perfect size — not too big, but not too small.
One of those ingredients is a bit hard to find, however. Hazelnut flour is not typically widely sold in grocery stories, and I didn’t have the time to wait for it from Amazon.
I ended up going the old-fashioned route and roasting, peeling and grinding up hazelnuts in a food processor until I got a meal I could use. It was honestly a very rewarding process, resulting in what I think is a crunchier cookie made with more love, and I even got a chance to make a little bit of homemade Nutella. The process didn’t add much time on, so I highly recommend making your own hazelnut meal as well. This recipe linked here is what I loosely followed to make my own.
Miranda says that her customers at Nino’s used to be loads of those office workers taking a break from their job nearby since the bakery does have a location downtown, where there aren’t as many residences (except for me).
With the pandemic switching that customer base to at-home workers that now may live nowhere near the pastry shop, Miranda has had to adjust a bit, like most businesses and restaurants in D.C. Nino’s used to just be open 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday for those downtown Washingtonians, but now it’s harder to trek across the city during typical work hours while in your home office, so Miranda expanded to Saturdays. She says that’s now their busiest day of the week!
And since the bakery is a smaller storefront, there’s no seating inside to help keep the staff healthy and safe and still slinging out fresh pastries.
That means Miranda expanded to more delivery and online ordering for customers to have less contact and allow the bakery to prepare and stagger out orders. Since the croissants and other pastries do take a few days prep time, the online ordering does also help Miranda better plan how much to bake, whereas sometimes it can be a guessing game for how many they’d need in their cases throughout the day.
It’s hard to say what Nino’s and other businesses will look like after the pandemic, she says, because workers may continue to stay home and dependent on delivery services, but those same services do charge the businesses an arm and a leg. On the other hand, Miranda thinks people may be very excited to, finally, safely go outside.