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Scordato baker has a sweet spot
The Scordatos — Alessandro (left), Giovanni, Irina and Antonella — know a thing or two about making a great cookie. They all have a hand in Scordato Italian Bakery and Deli.
Giovanni Scordato came to America from Italy in 1966, but Italy can still be found in his voice - and his cookies.
He had no intention of being a baker; he preferred going out dancing. But he had to make a living, and he had an uncle, Peter Sciortino, who had a pretty good business going on E. Brady St. Soon Giovanni was working for him at Peter Sciortino's Bakery, 1101 E. Brady St., and he saw the wisdom in bread.
"You can't survive without bread," Scordato says. "That's the minimum, the cheapest thing you can buy." People will always need bread, he realized.
Uncle Peter had the bread well in hand, so Giovanni and his cousin, Alfred Maglio, turned their attention to cookies.
"Alfred was a dentist officially, but his passion was cookies," Scordato says. "He was my teacher."
Soon Giovanni and Alfred (who now lives in Naples, Fla.) were at work on cookies for the Brady St. shop, filling it with cases and cases of cookies that looked like jewels.
Eleven years ago, Scordato opened a shop bearing his name - Scordato Italian Bakery and Deli, 5011 W. Howard Ave. - putting out breads, Sicilian pizza called Sfinciuni ("a masterpiece when it's done right - there's no Christmas in Sicily without it!"), plus wedding cakes and lots of cookies.
He produces thousands of cookies in a busy day, and there are a lot of those right now. They turn out 5,000 or more cookies in a morning at the shop and spend the rest of the day dipping them or rolling them in powdered sugar. The shop sells its cookies at several grocery stores, including Sendik's in Brookfield and Franklin, and the Sentry at 6700 W. State St. in Wauwatosa.
At age 63, Scordato is technically retired. "But you can't take me out of the cookies," he says. "It's my love."
He continues to run the shop with his wife, Irina, daughter Antonella and son Alessandro.
As the holiday baking season cranks up, Giovanni Scordato took some time to talk about something he knows well: The art of the cookie.
Q.You have racks and racks of cookies in your shop. How many kinds of cookies do you make?
A. I got 36 kind of cookies. And every one is different.
Q.Do you make all your cookies by hand?
A. I was doing everything by hand. Now I bought a machine. It can produce about 400 cookies per minute. But 75% I make by hand.
Q.Is there an art to making cookies?
A. Of course. You've got to know what this (ingredient) is good for, why you're using this, why you're using that. You need quite a bit of experience and skill, especially when you work by hand. You don't just put on your apron and say, "Let's make cookies."
Q.What are some secrets to great cookie-making?
A. OK, I guess my real secret: I don't do shortcuts. I use butter if the recipe calls for butter. Real eggs. I don't use imitation, frozen.
Like grandma used to do. That's all! And I put all my love and I put all my proud in my cookies. If they don't come the way I want it, they don't come in the store.
My advice for cookie making is don't wait until Christmas. Do a little exercises during the year, if you're going to make cookies. The cookies, it's important to be a beauty. It's supposed to be beautiful. You've got to taste it with your eyes before you eat it.
Q.You've got 36 different kinds of cookies. Do you think you might add any new cookies to your lineup?
A. I'm always trying to improve. I believe next year I'm going to make another couple. And believe me, nobody has 38 kind of cookies all different. Nobody. I'm going to Italy this summer to come up with another couple recipes.
- Jan Uebelherr