Show of hands. How many of you have mentioned you were going to Boston and someone replied, completely unprompted, “you have to try a cannoli at Mike’s Pastry in the North End.” No one ever questions this. You simply say, “ok, I love cannolis.” Well, I want to know what is so good about Mike’s aside from their beautiful array of baked goods as you enter the shop? Is it the fact that they usually have a line out the door, or that their contact email is @aol.com which is a testament to remaining consistent as the times change?

The “trip to Boston” conversation may casually continue as they describe the cannoli as, “worth the wait” and then someone else butts in, “Actually, you should try Modern. It’s where the locals go.” Now please excuse me as I think aloud (in writing). Why is it Mike’s vs. Modern? Probably the proximity to each other and the fact that life is too short to wait in line. Why do people compare only these two places? This is the North End. There are other bakeries and other cannolis.

As I may have previously mentioned (uh, if not, I’m doing it now), I am/was an engineer. And like a good, scienc-y person, I was going to conduct an experiment. Get your safety goggles and Bunsen burners ready guys (and probably an apron. They sprinkle powdered sugar all over those bad boys). It is going down! This may be the most exciting lab report you’ll ever read.

Introduction

There is an ongoing debate in the world of Boston Italian pastries as to whether Mike’s or Modern produces the best cannoli. I refuse to believe there are only two options and decided to broaden the scope of this experiment by sampling the plain cannoli from five different North End bakeries. Since everyone has different tastes and preferences, I thought it would be prudent to enlist some helpers to anonymously taste and provide feedback for each cannoli.

Methods and Materials

  • Participant 1: Me
  • Participant 2: My sister, also local to the area
  • Participant 3: Future brother in-law, from the midwest
  • Participant 4: My dad, older generation (he’ll deny this claim)
  • Participant 5: My roommate, new to the Boston area, previously resided in Colorado
  • Two cannolis from
    • Mike’s Pastry
    • Modern Pastry
    • Maria’s Pastry Shop
    • Bova Bakery
    • Parziale’s Bakery
  • Paper plates
  • Pencil

 

cannolis in their packaging
Each uniquely packaged set of cannolis, some more iconic than others (plus some lemon squares because 10 cannolis may not have been enough)

For this experiment to have full value, the source of the cannolis needed to remain anonymous. They each came in their own unique packaging, but look fairly similar once dissociated from their wrappers. I flipped a paper plate upside down and wrote the name of the bakery on the bottom, flipped the plate back over and placed the corresponding cannolis on top. I repeated this process until I had five plates of nameless cannolis. Then I shuffled the cannolis, split them into 5 pieces (two cannolis into five pieces…you do the math on that one), and assigned each plate a number. Each participant had a sheet of paper to record their observations. Each participant also had their own sampling methodology which ranged from scarfing the whole piece in one bite (…dad…) to taking small nibbles of each and revisiting them later.

all the cannolis on display
Who is who?

 

cut up cannolis
Pro tip: cutting cannolis is a challege, but I didn’t know if I could stomach 5 cannolis in one sitting (I probably could but…)

 

cannoli tasting
Possibly the least flattering photo of me on the internet (but not in existence)

 

cannoli tasting photo
Tasting in action

 

cannoli tasting
One more

Results

Each participant was asked to rank the cannolis in order of their most favorite (1=1st place) to least favorite (5=last place). I have compiled the results in the table below and averaged the results. These are golf rules with the lowest score having performed the best.

Bakery Participant 1 Participant 2 Participant 3 Participant 4 Participant 5 Average Ranking
Maria’s 1 5 4 1 3 2.8
Bova 4 3 1 3 5 3.2
Mike’s 2 4 3 4 4 3.4
Modern 5 2 2 2 2 2.6
Parziale 3 1 5 5 1 3

Discussion

The art (and science) of cannoli tasting is very refined. I associate it with the likes of wine tasting. “Mmm, red with a hint of grapes.” Each individual is unique and has unique preferences, but based on numbers alone, Modern performed the best and sadly Mike’s performed the worst. This was something all participants agreed on except for Participant 1. Who the heck is this outlier? Uh, it’s me. I am throwing off my own data and it pains me deeply.

All participants agreed that the Modern cannoli had a less sweet, more cheesy flavor which they found appealing. For me, I like them sweeter which shows our differing opinions. I also didn’t find the filling to be particularly smooth. It felt grainy in my mouth which was quite off-putting but did not deter any of the others for ranking it as their second favorite cannoli in the bunch. The most seasoned cannoli taster (simply because he has had the most time on this Earth to eat cannolis) left me with this gem of a quote regarding Modern Pastry’s cannoli, “My initial reaction? I think I went ‘mmmm.'”

All of the cannolis looked similar in presentation, with the exception of one. The Bova cannoli was filled with a textured piping tip. Other feedback included the milky texture of the filling, the softer (soggy?) shell, and the pretty high ranking on the sweetness scale. Overall, it was not terribly popular among participants.

I am going to discuss Mike’s and Maria’s together as most participants found these cannolis to be quite similar, ranking them one apart in most cases. The shells were crisp and nearly identical. The filling was sweet, but not too sweet, with a custardy texture.

And lastly, Parziale’s had a nice smooth filling that one participant even described as doughy. One little problem we noticed was that the fill wasn’t great. They seemed to pipe filling on both ends, but not enough to fill the gap in the middle of the shell. What a tragedy. The shell was noticeably thicker which certainly appealed to some.

Conclusion

Oh this takes me back to seventh grade when I would write:

This was a good experiment!

as the entire conclusion section. But look at me now! This was a good experiment, delicious in fact!

So maybe you are here looking for a conclusive conclusion. I believe it is important to note that there were no bad cannolis. You cannot go wrong with these 5 bakeries.

As far as the numbers go, Modern ranked the highest and Mike’s was the lowest. There were a heck of a lot of personal preferences that went into assigning these rankings. Do you prefer thick shells or flaky shells? Sweet filling or more cheese-like flavor? How was the texture of the filling?

But at the end of the day, this is my blog filled with my opinions. You should go to Maria’s.

 

The Sources

Mike’s Pastry

300 Hanover St, Boston, MA

OR save yourself the line and visit their locations in Harvard Square and Assembly Row (or check out the North End location at 9am like in the picture below)

Mike's Pastry Store Front

Hours

Sun-Thurs: 8am-10pm

Fri and Sat: 8am-11pm

Price for a plain cannoli: $3.50

Modern Pastry

257 Hanover St, Boston, MA

Modern Pastry

They also have a location in Medford

Hours

Sun-Thurs: 8am-10pm

Fri: 8am-11pm

Sat: 8am-Midnight

Price for a plain cannoli: $3.50

Maria’s Pastry Shop

46 Cross Street, Boston, MA

Maria's Pastry Shop

Hours

Mon-Sat: 7am-7pm

Sun: 7am-5pm

Price for a plain cannoli: $3.00

Bova’s Bakery

134 Salem Street, Boston, MA

Bova's Bakery

Hours

24/7 (WHAT?!?!?!)

Price for a plain cannoli: $4.00

Parziale Italian Bakery

80 Prince Street, Boston, MA

Parziale's

Hours

Mon-Wed: 6am-6pm

Thurs: 6am-7pm

Fri and Sat: 6am-8pm

Sun: 6am-2pm

Price for a plain cannoli: $2.50 (that’s what I’m talkin’ about!)

 

Mike's vs. Modern pastry make up the great Boston cannoli debate. Which is better? Are there other cannoli options in the North End?

Have you tried any cannolis in Boston? I want to hear your favorites! Let’s keep the discussion going in the comments!

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