BY KELLY KENDALL
Maria Carlassare can whip up confections that set mouths watering: a tart of fresh preserves nestled in buttery Italian shortbread, say, or pillowy hazelnut nocciolata cake enveloped in chocolate ganache.
Just don’t ask her to bake a scone or a muffin. “I could look at a recipe,” she says with a laugh. “But we do not really do those kinds of cakes in my business.”
Her business is Piccoli Dolci, or “little sweets,” a baking venture that Carlassare started in 2011. What began with six varieties of traditional Italian cookies available at Bloomingfoods has evolved into a company that offers tarts, cakes, and cookies in the European pastry tradition.
“I started looking at the offerings available in stores in Bloomington, and I realized that there are a lot of cookies but almost none of them were this kind,” says Carlassare, who is from Padua in northeast Italy. She settled here in 2009 with her husband, a professor at Indiana University.
Eight heirloom styles of cookies are her specialty. The most popular is cantucci, better known here as biscotti. Krumiri, a light, buttery cookie, also sells briskly.
Carlassare’s version of tiramisu, the beloved Italian dessert, starts with homemade ladyfingers and mascarpone custard and finishes with a dusting of cocoa on top. The classic recipe hails from Venice, near her hometown.
“A lot of the recipes I have, they represent a region — they’re really connected to the food culture of Italy — so that makes the food product more interesting,” says Carlassare. “Customers are curious to know the story behind the actual product.”
Piccoli Dolci cookies are sold by the bag at Bloomingfoods; the Bloomington Winter Farmers’ Market; and the Bloomington Community Farmers’ Market, where select pastries and cakes are also for sale. Or you can place an order for anything from a cake to an entire buffet of sweets. Just don’t expect oodles of buttercream.
“My perspective on cakes is I prefer to use more fruit,” says Carlassare. So, for instance, her Pastry Cream Layer Cake (an 8-inch cake for $38) uses fruit with cream instead of frosting.
“It’s lighter,” she says. “That way, you can have maybe two slices.”