Since becoming a Master Sommelier in Italy this past September, I have come to savor the tasting notes of every item I eat. A sandwich is more than a sandwich in and of itself; it is an amalgamation of cultures over time that have adapted with modern food consumption trends to become the American sandwich as we know it today. Milk is not merely a drink, but an unspoken journal entry of the mother cow’s nourishment during the time she produced her milk, creating a higher level of intimacy between cow and parched human. A Saltine is not just a cracker, but an ode to the Great Salt Plains of Oklahoma, a story of the prehistoric oceans of yore all told on one wafer.
As you can imagine, my newfound intensity for really feeling everything I eat or drink is a hit at dinner parties.
Still struck with Italian fever after returning to Queens, I felt the pull of creamy cannolis from four subway stops on the Q away. It was coming from Vaccaro’s Bakery, home of the Donnoli.
A Donnoli is a donut and a cannoli cannibalized into one unholy pastry. I have previously blasted bakeries for their sacrilegious attempts at modernizing the donut beyond a recognizable donut composition. So when the Donnoli began getting shared by my zealous aunts who love Facebook-viral over-the-top food porn, I thought I’d take advantage of this Food Network special located a few blocks from my residence, as donuts are the sole reason I moved to New Yawk.
Vaccaro’s Bakery breaks the sugar glass ceiling with their out of the donut box pastry inventions. In the baking community, they are known for size. Everything on display is either mini or grand compared to the typical size of the goodie… Unless the sweet treat is known for being large or small, in which case Vaccaro’s makes it medium. Really, they do whatever it takes to be different from the norm, which I can relate to.
I arrived at Vaccaro’s at 8pm and expected to walk into a picked over selection of cakes and cookies after a busy day of slaying through inventory. Despite it being so late, Vaccaro’s Bakery had fully stocked shelves and a wide variety of goods & wares. It took me a solid 15 minutes to narrow down which flavors of Donnoli I would be placing my judgement on today, which thankfully were in agreement with my tasting accomplice’s palette: local Queens foodie Miss Marin. Friends don’t let friends eat $7 donuts for dinner alone.
While deliberating which pastries to prey up in a very unladylike manner, the owner’s kids were nigh unto manic, running circles around the bakery as a prelude to the sugar rush I was about to give to myself. I couldn’t wait to eat myself sick with a sugar bomb of fried dough and cannoli cream topped with sugar coated cereals, too!
Choosing a flavor was an arduous task. I stood there, shaking in my Rothy’s, dripping with stress sweat from the immense pressure ridding on this decision. With over a dozen flavors to chose from, which was my doughmate? I had one shot, I couldn’t mess this up. Which is why I bought two.
While Marin and I ultimately chose a classic, a fruity pebbles and a cookie crisp, it was not without second guessing our hearts. The other Donnolis offered full bouquet of flavor as well. Once aerated, the nose of the maple bacon Donnoli was quite prominent and aromatic, well balanced for a sweet and savory pairing. Meanwhile, the legs on the chocolate drizzle cocoa puff were long, thick and slow, indicating a high level of cocoa richness in the glaze.
With a harrowing decision behind us, Marin and I started in on my Donnoli adventure checklist:
- Line up for headshots and auditions
- Bust that open and expose the cream filling
- Hand model
- Feast with no inhibition
The Donnoli was not at all what I expected, despite having watched over 50 hours of Donnoli footage beforehand. The creation was more donut than cannoli, which is to be expected in the crust but less so in the cream. Much of this comes from the refrigeration. While the Donnoli filling looks perfectly dolloped on the ends, it was actually quite hard and not at all fluffy.
Donnolis are not made fresh… To preserve the filling, they must stay cold. I understand the need for dairy health codes, but I do not believe I have ever eaten a cold donut in all my years as a donut queen. And I hope I don’t ever again, if I can help it. Eating a cold donut is like giving a hug without arms, there’s no comfort in it.
As the only two patrons in the store, Vinny Vaccaro himself asked us if we were enjoying ourselves. Marin and I said yes, and I wished I had a notepad on me to geek out with a donut interview. But alas, I said nothing remarkable, perhaps nothing coherent either, and watched the dough genius walk away…
On our way out, I got a second chance. Vaccaro asked us our thoughts now that we had finished eating. This was it! The man on Food Network, eating and LAUGHING with Guy Fieri, stuffing donuts in viral Facebook videos. The man who had accomplished everything I want to in life, wanted to know MY opinion on his donut.
Big Vinny, don’t mind if I call him Vinny, made the first move transitioning from small talk to hard hitting questions, asking our genuine opinion on what we thought of the Donnolis being refrigerated. I told him honestly I expected a crunch but the refrigeration made the cereal stale and chewy, a little off putting. Oh, and I mentioned I have a donut blog that is kind of a big deal in Ohio.
Marin shared our tasting notes with him about how he really achieved a wonderful ratio of cream to donut, striking perfect balance of flavor and texture for a cannoli donut hybrid, while politely reinforcing the sentiment that refrigeration takes away from the traditional experience.
I wish I would have asked more questions about the business. This was my chance to take my post to the next level! The donut queen of the internet meeting the Cake King of Queens! But I stood there, mouth open, very likely drooling.
I did not get a picture with Big Vinny like I so badly wanted either because there’s this trend going around that you should wash your hair less. And while I’m all for luscious locks, by day two of no wash I look like a greasy middle schooler who isn’t showering to spite her parents currently trying to teach her about hygiene. Or just lazy. Such are the pains of being trendy and natural!
The next morning I went to work and sat sipping my tea whilst contemplating my brush with fame the night before. I was chilled from having taken the ferry to work, which my coworkers were eager to point out showed in my wind tangled hair, known to me as a silent way to brag I boated to work, but to them announce I stupidly sat outside on a 30 minute boat ride in 50 degree weather. My point is, I did not want a refrigerated breakfast. I wanted something warm…
Despite my aversion to using microwaves given that they are the leading cause of exploding brain cells, I microwaved my leftover Donnoli bits into heavenly, gooey, toaster strudel-like wonders. Chocolate chips melted, cereal softened, dough softened, as it should be… It was perfection. Abandoning civilized utensils, I made a mess of myself, warding off my coworkers who so much as thought of asking for a bite of my incredible smelling creation in the process.
Should you be so lucky as to find yourself at Vaccaro’s Bakery holding a Donnoli or three in your hands, I advocate for warming it first. Heating up a cannoli would get you thrown into the coliseum in Italy, but given that this concoction displayed more donut qualities than cannoli, I would say it is better served hot.
Lastly, Marin is crazy and ordered an iced coffee at 8pm on a cold fall night. She rated the coffee as subtly nutty but still dark and roasty. Excellent flavor consumed black, as she did, because that’s how people who drink caffeine at night take their coffee…
Flavor: 7/10 – The redeeming qualities of the pastry were the uniquely cannoli-like cream filling and the microwavability of the concoction. Overall, the cold donut and stale cereal detracted a great deal from the enjoyability of the sweet. In fact, because all of the flavors were so over the top, only the original Donnoli maintained any discernible cannoli-like qualities. Ahia, duro ma vero…
Bang for Buck: 6/10 – I have paid $5 for a donut on a few rare occasions.. but $7-8 for a Donnoli? The Donnoli is so big you can eat for a meal, or dessert and breakfast, but the high price makes it hard to sample a variety. A crying shame since the selection is so expansive…
Aesthetics: 4/10 – The lowest rating I have yet to dish out on this blog. While it is clear Vaccaro’s was not designed around attracting the millennial crowd, but more an authentic Queens vibe, the exterior and interior both offered little photographic background. Even the Donnolis themselves made it challenging to find a good angle, despite my extensive food styling experience.