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Christine’s Italian Pastry Shoppe

Christine’s Italian Pastry Shoppe

‘Stuffing’ has a new meaning this holiday season at the Northfield-based bakery

IT HAS BEEN a more-than-interesting year for holiday meals. Many families, whether they live hours away or blocks apart, faced quarantines and cancelled holiday traditions. Celebrations with grandma and grandpa have been reduced to family dinner with our immediate housemates.

Hopefully as this holiday season arrives, restrictions will have calmed and we can sit down together with our entire families for a good holiday meal.

One way to bring everyone around the table is by getting a stuffed bread order from Christine’s Italian Pastry Shoppe, an Italian bakery located in Northfield. The smell of the stuffed bread appetizers – a distinctive whiff of bread, pepperoni, sausage and other ‘stuffings’ – will fill the room as soon as you bring it home. If you tell your friends and family you’ll be bringing something from Christine’s, everyone will be at the dinner table before you know it.

The stuffed breads at Christine’s come in four varieties – pepperoni or spinach with provolone, homemade roasted red peppers with mozzarella, and finally hot sausage with hot cherry peppers. Owner Suzanne Gurski and her best-friend-turned-co-worker Carolyn Dearborn start off by prepping the stuffing for the bread before they make the dough. Using grills located behind the bakery, they roast peppers and grind and grill sausage until the bakers mouths are watering from the smell of cooking meats and veggies.

“For the hot sausage we cook it and grind it,” said Suzanne. “Then we do the diced hot cherry peppers for the roasted red pepper bread. The peppers we roast on the grill, then we marinate them with fresh basil, fresh cracked pepper, salt and garlic.”

As to how much of the simple seasonings they put in, it all goes into how much they feel needs to go in it. Whether it be a pinch of salt and pepper or a little more, the bakers gauge it by feel and 19 years of experience.

“Do not ask us measurements,” joked Carolyn.

“I have the original owners recipe book,” said Suzanne. “I tweaked stuff and changed it to my own thing. One time the original owner walked by and took a bite of cake I was making (he was diabetic so I had to yell at him for that) and asked ‘You’re not using my recipe?’ I told him I was and he said,  ‘It tastes a lot better than when I make it’”.

Everything that goes into the stuffed breads is prepped in house. From the sausage to the peppers, nothing in Christine’s comes from a jar.

“We cannot stand those canned peppers,” said Suzanne. “They just taste like vinegar.”

After the stuffings are prepared, the bakers make their dough with yeast, water and flour. Spreading it out to proportion along a baking table, the bread gets stuffed with aged provolone or mozzarella before the sausage, peppers or spinach goes in. Once everything is layered properly, the bread proofs in a heat box by heat and steam.

“[Proofing] activates the yeast,” said Suzanne. “It makes the bread puffy.”

Once the bread is proofed, it only needs a light egg wash before it’s baked until golden brown. When it comes out of the oven, the smell of the loaf fills the room. I know I said it before, but I cannot reiterate this enough. The smell overcomes you when you pick up your order, and you want to savor the bread right then and there. It might be hard to drive home without taking a piece (or two) off the end as a little snack.

You would think bread to be a little dry, but the stuffed breads at Christine’s are not dry at all. Between the right amount of yeast and the steam in the heat box, the stuffed pepperoni bread I had was just the right amount of crunchy on the outside and moist on the inside.

Bread however is not the only thing that this bakery has to offer. Christine’s sells dozens of awesome pastries in their storefront cases. The storefront has a abundance of desserts on display, from chocolate covered pretzels to seasonally decorated cookies. They bake everything from custom birthday cakes to candies to pumpkin cheesecakes, with pumpkin spices all over everything for the holiday season. The cheesecake they bake is definitely dense, but you will get to the end of your bite wishing you had more.

“We make a spiced wafer crust for the bottom,” said Suzanne. “The cheesecake is our normal cheesecake with pumpkin pie spice, baked in a water bath. This helps steam the cheesecake and bake it evenly.”

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The cheesecake is good, but what really takes the cake is their pumpkin cannoli. With a thin chocolate shell and sweet creamy filling with the right amount of pumpkin spice, I could probably pop off a half dozen of these after dinner myself.

Christine’s brings in people from Cape May to Manahawkin, and not just because it smells like the holidays should. Suzanne knows what it is like to need a gluten free option, and assures customers that Christine’s prepares their special orders with that need specifically in mind.

“People getting [our breads] know it is safe because we take it seriously for cross contamination,” said Suzanne. “I was diagnosed with celiac disease in ’07. I get sick when my family gets their hands in bread and then puts them in the ice tray. It is no fun when you get sick.”

Possibly the only thing better than the pastries at Christine’s is the show they put on when you pick up your order. The tight storefront feels like you are walking into a family kitchen bustling with holiday baking. The air is friendly too – from water guns to flip flop fly swatters batting at your hands smudging the glass – Suzanne and Carolyn know how to have fun when their customers come into the bakery.

“When you come here you get a comedy act,” said Carolyn. “It keeps it fun.”

Photo by Allie McEntee

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