At first glance, you might struggle to tell the difference between an Italian cornetto and a French croissant. Both cornetti and croissants are flaky pastries shaped like crescent moons, but that's basically where the similarities end. Sure, cornetti are best described to the uninitiated as Italian croissants, but cornetti are not croissants. And though cornetti may be unfamiliar to most Americans, these pastries couldn't be more popular or beloved in their native Italy—especially for breakfast. Cornetti are one-half of a classic Italian breakfast combo: cornetto e caffè, or a cornetto and a cappuccino or espresso. By some estimates, as many as ten million Italians visit a cafe to partake in this morning ritual every single day.
So what is a cornetto, exactly? Well, according to Alexandra Siwiec, owner of One Bedford in Greenpoint, Brooklyn—which has its own cornetti window where people can pick one up on their walk to the subway—a cornetti is sweeter than a French croissant. "It looks very similar, but it has that brioche-type of look to it, so a little more plump than croissants," she explains. And though cornetti are flaky, they are chewier than the average croissant. The texture is closer to that of brioche, though you still have to artfully avoid falling flakes of dough when you take a bite.
The biggest difference between a cornetto and a croissant, besides the geographic origin, is that cornetti are made with lard instead of butter. Lard also makes for a sweeter pastry than a croissant—as does the addition of egg and extra sugar. The layering of the the dough into the individual pastries also differs. "The croissant is more detailed in terms of layering. It’s a much more difficult, intensive process where the layers are literally layered one after the other," Siwiec says. "The cornetti is much more simple. Even though they look similar, it’s kind of that one layer."
And then there's the filling. Though you can get an empty cornetto, also known as cornetto vuoto, cornetti are commonly filled with jam, custard, or, as is the case at One Bedford, mascarpone.
Traditional cornetti flavors include lemon and chocolate (even Nutella), but at One Bedford, Siwiec and her team play around with different fillings and toppings depending on the season. Right now, they're offering a classic Amalfi lemon cornetto, filled with a citrusy vanilla mascarpone and topped with a citrus glaze and candied lemons, along with less traditional dulce de leche and raspberry orange blossom flavors.
So if you're feeling fatigue from the slew of stuffed croissants that have been taking over your Instagram, keep an eye out for cornetti. And once you take a bite, you'll probably be upset you didn't know about them sooner. Just be sure to pair it with a cup of coffee so you can call it breakfast.