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Baked with love

Family celebrates Italian-American tradition with food

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Posted: Friday, August 31, 2012 11:18 am | Updated: 11:25 am, Fri Aug 31, 2012.

Silver pearls punctuate a white blanket of frosting on a tiered wedding cake. Perched on top are two baby figurines wearing a gown and suit, representing a bride and groom. The pair could represent any couple, but for the Cicornio clan, they hold special significance.

“They were on my grandparents’ wedding cake,” explained Annalisa Miranda as she flipped through her wedding album. “They were just naked Kewpie dolls before.”

Her father, Ron Cicornio, with whom she owns Half Moon Bay pasta shop Tortellini Originali, baked the cake.

But he also whips together chocolate eclairs, flaky Napoleans, colorful fruit tarts, cream puffs with different fillings, rich cake slices, and succulent strawberry rolls. He especially prides himself on a dense almond torte with a delicate layer of jam tucked away in the bottom — a family recipe.

“We were known for the St. Honore cake,” said Cicornio. He recalls its elegant knot of whipped cream and puff pastry glazed with caramelized sugar, as well as the standard, but popular, coffee crunch and lemon crunch cakes.

For Cicornio, good food was always a key ingredient to the recipe for success.

“As a kid, I grew up with it,” he said. His father opened a pastry shop in San Francisco in 1935.

Cicornio started work at 8 years of age alongside many other Italian-Americans who made their homes and shared their culinary art in North Beach.

Scrubbing pots and pans on Columbus Avenue, he gradually got his hands into the business of pasta and pastry.

Miranda’s Kewpie-crowned wedding cake is one of many that Cicornio has crafted since then.

His claim to fame, however, is the two-tiered, rum cream-filled beauty that he delivered to an A-list couple on Jan. 14, 1954.

Baseball legend Joe DiMaggio wed starlet Marilyn Monroe at San Francisco’s City Hall that day. Although Cicornio didn’t stick around for the reception in the Marina District house that DiMaggio purchased for his parents, he recalls a low-key event, “maybe 30 to 35 people,” Cicornio said. It was a family affair.

“(The DiMaggios) were customers before they even got famous. As a matter of fact, one of the sales girls, Eva, she used to go with Joe DiMiaggio before he was a baseball star,” said Cicornio. “They were boyfriend and girlfriend … He was playing sandlot baseball.”

Not one to be star-struck (Cicornio also served Sen. Dianne Feinstein, when she was mayor of San Francisco) he remembers grabbing drinks with DiMaggio, who grew up in North Beach, how DiMaggio’s father was a crab fisherman and that the DiMaggio family opened their own restaurant.

Cicornio was just 19 when DiMaggio and Monroe married.

“But a mature 19,” Miranda was quick to add. “Nonno and Nanna left you for four months while they went to Italy and you took care of the shop.”

Two years later, Cicornio made yet another cake – this time for his own wedding. He celebrated his marriage to a woman named Rosanna, who was introduced to Cicornio by a baker who worked for his dad.

Despite being from Lucca, Italy, Rosanna didn’t learn how to make tortellini and ravioli until she married Cicornio.

Now 56 years later, the couple makes 800 to 1,000 pounds of pasta and countless cakes every week, side-by-side.

Their mutual appreciation for food is evident, even in casual banter.

“I love pasta — that’s for sure,” said Rosanna.

“She’s a big sweet-eater, too,” said Cicornio.

“I have to watch what I eat,” said Rosanna.

“Otherwise she’d eat me out of house and home,” Cicornio laughed.

The couple wouldn’t be confused with those Kewpie dolls, but through the bitter and the sweet, the Cicornios continue to celebrate their love of food, and love of each other.

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