If you watch a lot of food-related TV, you have probably heard of the show Cake Boss. The show, which is aired on TLC, is focused on the day to day workings of Buddy Valestro’s bakery in Hoboken, New Jersey, including everything from the family dynamics of those who run to place to the efficient production that goes into make beautiful cakes for weddings and birthdays. Many people expect the bakery to be called “Cake Boss” due to the popularity of the show, but the bakery is actually called Carlo’s Bakery. The bakery was opened in 1910, by Carlo Guastaffero, and was purchased by Buddy’s father in 1964. It’s been in the family ever since.
The bakery specializes in Italian pastries, including biscotti, tiramisu, cannoli and sfogliatelle, which are also known as Lobster Tails. Naturally, after spending a good bit of my morning waiting in line, I wanted to make sure that I got some of everything.
I started with the sfogliatelle, which is a pastry made with lots of incredibly thin layers of flaky pastry that resembles the tail of a lobster. It is filled with a rich cream filling that contrasts well with the crispy layers of the pastry. Although it resembles croissant dough at first glance, this pastry is much less buttery and it really holds its texture even with that lovely cream filling inside.
And they are generous with the cream filling. It’s one of the bakery’s signature items and it is a must-have, even if you don’t try anything else. I could have eaten three (and only didn’t go back for more because I didn’t want to wait in line again).
The cannoli are another signature item of the bakery. The shells are thick and sturdy, so they hold up well to the creamy, chocolate chip-studded ricotta filling without getting soggy or breaking in transit. Both the shells and the filling were very fresh and very delicious. They even impressed some of my cannoli-critic New Jersey relatives!
The biscotti are a great choice when you are traveling with cookies, since they hold up well to a little bit of packing and unpacking. These biscotti were big and filling, loaded with toasted hazelnuts and sliced almonds, depending on what flavor you choose. These were sturdy cookies that held up exceptionally well to a cup of coffee – and they sustained me through a snackless cross country flight a few days later when I returned home.
If you have enough people to justify getting a cake, Carlo’s is definitely known for their cakes. Their whimsical fondant cakes are what first wowed audiences on Cake Boss, but they’ve been making more traditional cakes for a lot longer than the show has been on. I wanted to give one of their cakes a try, but I needed something that would hold up for a bit of travel time. One of the bakery staff recommended this Chocolate Truffle Cake. Ultra-rich and great for any chocolate lovers, this cake was delicious. It looked small at first glance, but it was very heavy because it was so dense – and the weight all came from chocolate cake and chocolate ganache. It was a great dessert to share and it served more than 10, since the richness meant that even a small slice was decadent and very satisfying.
A couple of tips for visiting:
- A big line will form outside Carlo’s, especially on weekends and holidays, so it is a good idea to come early if you don’t have to wait around for too long. I will tell you that the line was only inside the bakery when I got there, but it ran onto the next block when I left. There are a lot of people working, but people tend to make big orders and the staff is very careful about packing everything, so the line doesn’t move that quickly.
- If you live in Hoboken and bring in some mail, like a phone bill, with your address on it, you’re going to get pushed to the front of the line. This is a fantastic way to make sure that the locals always get good service and the place doesn’t turn into just a tourist attraction.
- If you aren’t going to eat your cannolis right away, you can get the filling on the side. This will keep the shells crispy until you are ready to serve them. I kept my filling (in the fridge), put the shells in an airtight container, and served them the next day.
- They offer lots of cake decorating classes if you want to learn to make some fun theme cakes using the techniques that have helped make the bakery such a great success.
The original Carlo’s is just a short ride from NYC and definitely worth visiting if you’re in the area. They have other locations in and around New Jersey, and recently opened a bakery at the Venetian in Las Vegas. It’s not just a show with a charismatic guy that happened to make it big on TV, this bakery is the real thing with great products and lots of happy customers.
95 Washington Street
Hoboken, New Jersey 07030