Borough Bites: From simple sweets to classy confections, Collingswood eateries serve up desserts aplenty

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Four year old Juniper Brill, of Collingswood, points to treats at Constellation Collective.
Four-year-old Juniper Brill, of Collingswood, points to treats at Constellation Collective. (Jamie Giambrone/08108)

So you’ve spent entirely too many hours binge watching “The Great British Bake Off” on Netflix, and now you’ve convinced yourself that you’re ready to give baking another whirl. You’ve made your way into the kitchen and started rooting around your pantry for the necessary supplies only to realize you don’t own baking soda, brown sugar or the proper bakeware to cook anything in, even if you did have vanilla extract.

Fear not. When you come to the realization that some things are best left to the professionals, Collingswood has you covered. In a mere three block stretch along Haddon Avenue, you’ll find not one, not two, but three bakeries sure to satisfy all your baking needs.  

For when you need a quick fix 

Sometimes you need sugar now. You woke up, and you’ve decided those overnight oats in your fridge just aren’t going to cut it. You need a strong cup of joe, and something that tastes like biting into happiness to start the day off right. That’s when you leave the oats behind, grab your keys and head to Constellation Collective (685 Haddon Ave.).

Stepping into Constellation Collective feels a bit like stepping into your favorite aunt’s kitchen. The space is intimate and inviting with homey decor and fixtures that instantly make you feel at ease in the cafe/bakery.

Founded five years ago, the cafe/bakery is the byproduct of three women’s passion for scratch-made food. Founders Valentine Fortuna, Maura Rosato and Lindsey Ferguson were each small business owners when they first crossed paths. Fortuna had recently started her own pastry and baked good venture when she met Rosato and Ferguson who were co-owners of a pickling and preserve business. 

The trio met while working at The Farm and Fisherman Tavern in Cherry Hill, and soon after, it became apparent they shared a passion for scratch-made, locally-sourced food. In 2015, they joined forces and leased a residential kitchen space at The Factory on Fern Avenue in Collingswood. Given that they weren’t one sole business to start out with, they landed on the term “collective.” 

“We met each other, and we just joked it was written in the stars,” Fortuna said. 

So, the Constellation Collective was born, and a year later, they found their current space. Their Haddon Avenue location opened up, and on a whim, Fortuna called to inquire about the rent. Before she knew it, she’d hit it off with the landlord, and they were moving around the corner to a shop of their own. 

While the Collingswood of today is something of a food mecca, five years ago, the scene was a bit more limited. Fortuna said at the time, not many places in the area were focused on sourcing their ingredients locally and baking on premise. 

Since then, Constellation Collective has become a local brunch spot, with their popularity growing to the point where they’ve acquired the space next door and plan to turn it into a designated locale for their breakfast-lunch combo. While the two spaces will have separate entrances, they’ll share the same name and kitchen. Fortuna said they’re shooting for a soft opening in March.

Ferguson has since left the business, but on any given day, you’ll see Fortuna and Rosato in the kitchen whipping something up. Fortuna said their connection with their customers is what’s made Constellation Collective a success, and they’ve been known to take requests when it comes to adding new items to the menu. 

“It really has become a community here, and that’s something I feel we’re really proud of,” Fortuna said. 

She said some of their popular items include the salted honey pie, scones, the “morning bar” and the fried chicken biscuit. The cafe/bakery also boasts a blend of coffee from Revolution Coffee (located a few blocks away), which the coffee roasters created specifically for them. 

When Fortuna told me the morning bar was gluten free, I’ll admit, as a gluten addict, my expectations weren’t particularly high. One bite in and I realized, I stood corrected. The bar, a cross between an oatmeal cookie and a granola bar, was the right amount of delicate sweetness, which went perfectly with the store’s bold and flavorful blend of coffee. The pair quickly took my morning from a good morning to a great morning. 

As someone whose cravings generally tend to lean more salty than sweet, the salted honey pie was right up my alley. The salt cut the sweetness of the pie in a way that made the slice perfectly balanced as the flavors washed across my taste buds. By the time I hit the apple cider doughnut, I needed no further convincing: Constellation Collective was my new morning spot. 

So, for your morning where you’re feeling a bit self indulgent or when you want somewhere with a cozy and welcoming vibe to meet a friend for some brunch, I say head to Constellation Collective. 

For when you want something classic 

Al DiBartolo Jr., owner of DiBartolo Bakery, holds a tray of colorful cupcakes. (Jamie Giambrone/08108)

Sometimes, you’ve been tasked with bringing the cake to the party, and you’ve decided that cake should be in the shape of Philadelphia Flyers’ mascot Gritty. That’s where Al DiBartolo, Jr. comes in. 

Stepping into DiBartolo Bakery (667 Haddon Ave.), it’s immediately apparent that DiBartolo’s imagination has run wild in the best possible way. Behind the counter, the display runs the gamut from a cake in the shape of Deadpool’s head to one sculpted into the infamous Popeye’s chicken sandwich. While the confections are certainly eye-catching, they don’t lack in the taste department either, given baking has been the family business for more than 50 years.

In 1969, DiBartolo’s grandfather, Benjamin, decided to pursue his long-deferred dream of opening a bakery, and so at 62 years old, he bought an existing bakery in Pennsauken and converted the space. 

In 1991, the business was thriving, and they’d outgrown the location. So they moved to Collingswood where they’ve stayed ever since. While his cousins and brother always viewed working at the family bakery as something akin to punishment, DiBartolo viewed baking as his creative outlet and could long be found airbrushing and decorating cakes.

When the show “Cake Boss” became popular in the early 2000s, the show and accompanying baking creative revolution challenged DiBartolo to take his own confectionary creations from two dimensions to three.

Around 2012, the economy was suffering under the recession, and DiBartolo Bakery was no exception. Their saving grace came in 2013 when the Food Network came calling to ask if the family had any interest in being featured on a new show called “Save My Bakery.”  

DiBartolo said he was initially fearful because he knew remodel shows often painted the owners in an unfavorable light, but he took a leap of faith and agreed. He said while their facility looked a bit dated at the time, he knew they were clean as could be and didn’t have much to fear.

The show renovated the facility and began what has become a long-standing relationship with the Food Network for DiBartolo, who has since appeared on eight different baking shows. To this day, DiBartolo has customers who come to see the bakery after watching the Food Network. 

“Not only did they give us a fresh look, they completely restarted my batteries,” DiBartolo said.

DiBartolo said their approach to baking is customer-centered. When you walk in, he wants you to feel welcome, and if you want a custom cake, he has every intention of exceeding your expectations. While their recipes are traditional, their style is innovative. 

“I always refer to it as one foot is in the past, but you lean forward,” DiBartolo said. 

He said they’re most well-known for their butter pound cake and Italian rum cake — both of which are in the bulk of the wedding and birthday cakes they create. He said their Italian cookies, cannoli and chocolate mousse tower are also popular among their customer base.

Having left with all of the above in hand, I can confirm DiBartolo’s cookies, cannoli and mousse tower are well worth the hype. The Italian cookies looked like any other cookies I’d had in the past, but the flavor instantly proved otherwise. The trio of butter cookies, almond macaroons and coconut macaroons were packed with flavor while still somehow remaining light and airy in texture. 

It became clear as I sampled the other baked goods that DiBartolo has honed in on the balance of sweetness in his confections. The cannoli and chocolate mousse tower proved equally light but flavorful, making it easy to finish the desserts whole. 

So, for your classic baked good needs — a cake for your friend’s birthday or a tray of cookies for the office party — I say head to DiBartolo Bakery. And if you’re looking to up the ante and add a little extra flare when the cake box is lifted to reveal Gritty, I say Al DiBartolo, Jr. is your guy. 

For when you’re feeling fancy

A gluten-free and nut-free Raspberry Torte is one of many delectable desserts at Dulce Artisanal Pastry. (Jamie Giambrone/08108)

Sometimes, you’re just out to impress. You’re headed to a party or maybe a night in with a significant other, and you want to bring something that looks like you picked it up from a quaint little Parisian patisserie. That’s when you swing by Dulce Artisanal Pastry (740A Haddon Ave.). 

Dulce’s storefront is the type of place that catches your eye before you ever step foot through the door. In fact, both times I visited the bakery, I politely skirted my way around onlookers whose faces were pressed up against the glass to take a closer look at the elegant pastries and breads on display.

From a young age, food was an important part of owner Josué Santiago Negrón’s childhood in Puerto Rico. His grandparents operated a pork roasting business out of the back of his house, and his father grew his own produce in their backyard. 

Negrón attended culinary school in Puerto Rico, and his pastry professor thought his detail-orientated nature made him a great fit for the world of pastry. At the age of 21, he moved from Puerto Rico to the United States to study pastry at Johnson & Wales University in Miami. 

While he was attending school, Negrón worked at the local Ritz Carlton in the pastry department. 

“That was my first pastry job; that’s when I [got] introduced to better pastry, not the regular store stuff,” Negrón said. 

He found himself working for hotels, restaurants and catering banquets, and he said each taught him a bit more about pastry. Eventually, he moved to Pittsburgh for a job, and it was there that he met his husband. The pair later relocated to Collingswood for his husband’s work in Philadelphia. 

Negrón also found work in the city in the kitchens of several Stephen Starr restaurants. He baked bread at Parc, helped open The Dandelion and worked for a time at Barclay Prime. Eventually, Negrón decided to strike out on his own. 

He said he wanted a place with pastries that customers wouldn’t find at their typical bakery. His focus was creating desserts you’re more likely to find at a restaurant or a hotel. 

“I respect food — just in general; I’m trying to make that same point of view with pastry,” Negrón said. “I’m not giving you a candy. I’m giving you something to eat. Those combinations, they’re very rich on your palette.” 

Dulce opened its doors in 2015. The name is a nod to Negrón’s hispanic heritage. He said dulce de leche is his favorite flavor, and so he chose the name in homage to his Puerto Rican roots.

His flavors change seasonally, but he said the chocolate chip cookies, baguettes and croissants are some of the more popular items. He makes everything from scratch and tries to fuse unexpected flavors into his creations. For instance, he recently made a rice pudding with Indian inspired flavors infusing rosewater, pistachio and turmeric into the dish. 

Looking ahead, Negrón plans to infuse floral flavors into his spring menu. He’s currently toying with the idea of a cream puff filled with rose and lavender that will be shaped to resemble a flower. He said his focus is on creating flavors that are rich on your palette, and some of his items are even so decadent that he recommends the portion for two. 

And it’s clear that aesthetics play a large part in the creation of any of Dulce’s sweet treats. The bakery’s namesake dish, a dulce chocolate tart, featured a perfect swirl of caramel drizzle and a chocolate coin on top with a ganache so shiny I could practically see my own reflection. The sweet treat was a darkly, delicious morsel, for sure, but after a few bites, the rich flavors proved too decadent for me to finish the tart in its entirety.

The tiramisu was equal parts sumptuous on my eyes and my taste buds, and the fluffy layers of cake and whip were bold in flavor. Even Negrón’s ginger molasses cookie didn’t pull any punches with a strong ginger flavor that would put any store-bought ginger snap to shame.

So, the next time you want to make someone say, “that looks almost too beautiful to eat,”  I say head to Dulce Artisanal Pastry.