Meet the Maker: Gilda's Biscotti

When Gilda Doganiero says biscotti, you want to ask her to repeat the word, because her voice already has you dreaming. Bite, and you’ll see why it isn’t bombastic to toss around reviews like “best cookies in the world” and “best biscotti this side of the Atlantic,” nor to marvel “it’s a wonder that anyone can keep them in stock.”

You’ll be captivated by every flavor, including Chocolate Espresso, Lemon Fig, Almond Anise, Cherry Pistachio, and Vanilla Bean.

Gilda's Biscotti flavor lineup

Amidst the mid-90s coffee boom, herself enjoying the buzzing excitement and proliferation of European-style coffee shops around Philadelphia, Gilda noticed the lack of authentic biscotti. (She was attuned to its dearth because her previous undertaking as a Vail hotel pastry chef had been to perfect an incredibly light, butterless biscotti that was used to accompany all coffee service.) In 1994, lured by the intoxicating coffee scent streaming from the storefront of Philly’s La Colombe Torrefazione, Gilda entered, met the owners, and departed on a mission to bake them a batch of her chocolate hazelnut biscotti. They were happily convinced, and La Colombe became her first client, bartering espresso for biscotti. As the biscotti’s popularity grew, Gilda knew it was time to leave her job as pastry chef at the Four Seasons and to begin making her artisan biscotti by hand, every day.

Gilda Doganiero of Gilda's Biscotti

Gilda Doganiero of Gilda's Biscotti

The burgeoning company quickly outgrew the 800 square foot Haddonfield, New Jersey, apartment in which Gilda’s Biscotti began. Recognizing that the city was also a challenging place to raise a family, Gilda and her husband began looking for an old farm that needed restoration, and 12 years later, the major work is done on the farmhouse in Salem, NJ, where Gilda lives with her husband and daughter.

Gilda jokes, “Have you seen the movie The Money Pit? That is our life! We were actually attracted by the renovations if you can believe that. We were much younger end had more energy!” But they enjoy living a quieter life on the farm, still proximate to the cities of Philadelphia (about 35 miles) and New York (a couple of hours away).

“This is so different from my city life. Nearly every day, I come home for lunch. I’m 2.5 miles away from the bakery. My daughter’s school is 10 miles away. Everything is very convenient. Most decisions are based on maintaining a balance of work and not work. I am always faced with how to grow and still maintain flexibility for my daughter and household.”

The family’s 5 acres are surrounded by 200 undeveloped acres, and their working farm is alive with sheep, chickens, and bees. You’ll find the farm-fresh eggs from her own flock of chickens in your biscotti, part of Gilda’s commitment to using the most wholesome, finest, and freshest ingredients possible to make her authentic biscotti.

Where did the passion for biscotti enter? “I am Italian-American and I grew up eating some pretty lousy biscotti. You know when you have that experience where you eat something, and you just know the moment you taste it that the rest of your life is going to be spent trying to match it? That’s how I felt eating biscotti in Italy. I understood that what we had in the US was a sorry substitute. Experiences like that calibrate, or re-calibrate, your taste. We go back to Italy once a year. I love getting into the small towns, meeting people, eating their foods, really getting down to the authentic things that make a place special.”

Gilda's Biscotti labels feature portrait images, based on family photographs

Gilda's Biscotti labels feature portrait images, based on family photographs

You’ll notice that Gilda’s Biscotti labels are made from black and white portrait images, which I discovered are based on vintage family photographs.  With the exception of Dad’s Midnight Stash, they depict a woman standing stoically, her right hand grasping her left elbow behind her back. “My father, Antonio Doganiero’s, mother was named Gilda. I was named after her. She was born in Teramo, Italy, in the mountainous Abruzzo region near the Adriatic. People may recognize the name from the recent terrible avalanche. Gilda’s marriage was arranged and my grandparents wound up in Camden, NJ.”

Her father, Antonio, appears on the Dad’s Midnight Stash tin. The tin’s contents are biscotti “ends,” and are a mix of all the flavors. Gilda reflected on the birth of the idea: “When we cut the cookies from the logs, we always have the end pieces. A couple of years into my business, I started saving the ends in little bins and giving them to my father. My dad is that guy who always wants the end of the bread, the end of the roast beef—the hard, crunchy, burnt parts of things. As I got busier and had more and more ends, this guy Mr. McNally who owns an Irish Pub in town said, ‘You should bag these up and I’ll sell them in the pub!’So I did. For the label, I found an old picture of my dad from when he was in the service in 1953.  Dad just turned 89 and is hilarious. He’s an attorney and always jokes with everyone about the cookies, saying ‘I am still waiting for my daughter to pay me royalties for the use of my image!’ Turns out, it’s our most popular product! You never know which flavor you’re going to get, which people find kind of fun.”

Gilda's Biscotti

Although Gilda’s has grown tremendously since she began baking her biscotti in her little Haddonfield apartment, she still operates most aspects of the business. “I did it on my own for twelve years and my mom handled the books. When I had my daughter, it forced my hand and I found a baker, Glen, who now does all of the baking. I come after I drop my daughter off at school and help with packaging, invoicing, social media, etc. There is always plenty to do!” Gilda’s has operated for a decade in its current bakery, which was an old 70s barbershop bought from the city’s economic redevelopment committee. Gilda’s enthusiasm leads her to many new ideas, and she is currently at work on making a bittersweet bark that incorporates biscotti crumbs—a combination of leftovers from her Chocolate Espresso Biscotti and the readily available post-baking crumbs.

Throughout our interview, I knew that Gilda had been out walking. As our phone call came to a close, she revealed that as we’d conversed, her dog had jumped in a pond and come out a muddy mess. Following a dirty cleanup, she was on her way to the bakery. I had no idea what had taken place, and she’d never let on or missed a beat. This do-it-all and do-it-all-well woman is just as authentic as her biscotti.


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Meet the Maker: Savor Cookies

Ready for tastes that are unconventional works of art for your mouth in the form of small, circular shortbread cookies? For André Kreft, every bite one takes should be a savored, artful celebration. 

André Kreft of Savor Fine Foods

André Kreft of Savor Fine Foods

Kreft’s family emigrated from France, and he grew up a part of a community of people with stories of moving to this country. “My parents valued going back to our roots, foraging for food, for example. I recall gathering mussels on the coast in the winter. We’d have picnics, eating the mussels in the snow on the beach, and my parents would reflect on their past lives, spiritually connecting to their friends and family that were still across the ocean. I grew up as part of a community of people who had moved to this country, all appreciating the joy of being together and being alive. When I lived in Nigeria, you could cross the lawn and a cobra could bite you and you’d be dead, so I learned personal experiences and from the loss of my mother, husband, and cousin that we shouldn’t waste time focusing on trivial matters, dwelling on the past, or awaiting an uncertain future—now is what we have.”

For Kreft, food is an essential part of celebrating the moment. When he and his mother traveled to France before her death, he recalls a four-day party just to celebrate being alive. It included a ten-hour meal, the point of which was to be with each other, appreciating the joy and the magic that happens around a table with family and friends. “People would get up, maybe go have a cigarette, stretch their legs, and then return for more. For the moment, those that were there were there together. To me, these lengthy meals were part of an acknowledgment that only the moment is a given.”

How did these existential experiences translate into Kreft’s launch of Savor Cookies? Losing his husband and his mother in short term led him to bake his way through grieving.


“Here I was having lost the most important people in my life, and everything was changed. I considered following through with my husband’s and my plan to move to Hawaii, but then I decided maybe what I needed was to stay at home. From there, I moved forward with the idea to begin Savor. Before moving back to my hometown, I lived I San Francisco where I was a visual artist. Back then, it was very important for my art to travel with me. In the food I desired to create for others, I also wanted something durable, light, transportable.”

Savor Coconut Ginger Cookies

Savor Coconut Ginger Cookies

That he did and does, daring to combine and create buttery bites like Moka Ginger Savory Shortbread with Smoked Black Pepper; Coconut Ginger; and Nicasia Rosemary, Lemon & Smoked Salt. Kreft’s never-too-sweet little rounds of delight combine tantalizing flavors inspired by place and by phenomenon.

Inquiring about the small size of Kreft’s cookies, I uncovered even more probing thought and inspiration.

Apparently, he used to make them bigger, but without being too heavy-handed, wanted to communicate how we can get along just fine with less. "In our country, we have this tendency to over buy and waste and I want to take the opportunity to suggest a revision to that dynamic. There is truly no paucity unless we create it—this fear that there’s not going to be enough that is followed by snatching up much more than we need. Living in California, I learned that there’s enough for everyone. So I want to suggest that people consider this by judging for themselves if the tiny jewel of a cookie and a bit of goodness might actually completely satisfy them. Maybe it isn’t necessary to have gobs. Perhaps a little bit of sugar and some butter combined with other unexpected ingredients can help others let things go with grace, knowing there’s more to come. I wanted to offer an affordable luxury—this is something everyone can have, perhaps not every day, but also perhaps every day is not necessary to feel satisfied.”

All this in a bite!? There’s more . . .

“I knew that the most important thing to me was choosing something through which I could share joy and happiness. Part of that for me includes bridging gaps. Selling cookies provides surprising cultural and social experiences.” Kreft shared that Scandinavians love cardamom, the French do not generally care for cinnamon, older generations of English and South Africans don’t like birch flavor (because it reminds them of a tonic once used for the body), and most Americans are hesitant about lavender because they associate it with soap.

Kreft enjoys being the junction at which people come together to experience the same delights, and values sending customers away smiling. Order a bag of these tiny treasures today, and the corners of your mouth can’t help but turn up, knowing that their tastes and their meaning stretches far beyond the coin of shortbread melting inside. 

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