Leaning tower! TV baker’s giglio cake fell, now he’s back in Williamsburg

Leaning tower! TV baker’s giglio cake fell, now he’s back in Williamsburg
Photo by Heather Swanson

Joe Glaser has been through a lot as a contestant on TLC’s “Cake Boss: The Next Top Baker” — from being threatened with a knife and being called a quitter to winning best dessert.

Just don’t ask him about the Giglio tower cake.

The 47-year-old Williamsburg baker and former reality show wannabe had a rough run on the show. He won best dessert for his rosemary, olive oil and blood orange cakes, but also suffered a huge defeat when a cake he made in the shape of the neighborhood’s famous Giglio tower toppled on the first episode. Then, on this week’s show, contestant Corina Elghart threatened him.

“It’s taking everything in me not to come at you with a serrated knife,” she said while they worked as partners on a Monopoly-themed cake. “You think you’re tough in Brooklyn? I will come find you in Brooklyn if I go home today.”

Yet Glaser was the one who fell on his own knife at the end of the episode, taking himself out of contention when host Buddy Valastro gave him the ultimatum: Either Elghart goes, or you do.

Glaser opted to leave, inciting rage in the fiery New Jersey “Cake Boss,” who called him a quitter and mocked him as he walked off set: “Go, go! Disgrace! To the box truck, baby!”

But TV’s loss is Williamsburg’s gain. Glaser, a former plumber, now returns to his new pastry shop, La Bella Torte, in the shuttered Uncle Louie G space on Graham Avenue at Metropolitan Avenue. The newcomer is building a reputation for quality that could undermine the venerable Fortunato Brothers Cafe and Pasticceria, which has cornered the market on Italian desserts for 35 years around the corner on Manhattan Avenue.

“I’ve got a good little following,” he said. “It took about two to three weeks to build some steam and get known — me standing outside shaking hands and being a politician.”

Meanwhile, Fortunato’s remains a landmark of Italian Williamsburg. And owner Biagio Fortunato says that won’t change anytime soon.

“We’ve been here 35 years, man. We’re not going nowhere,” he said.

Fortunato said he wasn’t concerned by the new competition encroaching on his turf. Because he’s been in business so long, he can afford higher-quality, more-expensive ingredients, he said.

“If he bought the product that I use, he’d go out of business,” said Fortunato.

But Glaser says he’s not trying to compete; there’s plenty of room on the block for good pastry, he said.

“The Fortunato brothers have amazing pastry; they’ve been there for close to 40 years. Before I was a pastry chef, I used to get my birthday cakes there,” he said. “I’m not hurting them, there’s no way I could put them out of business,” he said.

Now that the show is over and his lease is set to expire, Glaser plans to take the shop on the road and start a mobile food truck and sell pastry on the go.

But it’s unclear whether he can get a permit. He said he’s on a waiting list that could take 10 years. According to the Health Department, the city gives out 3,100 two-year permits, 1,000 seasonal permits and 1,000 permits for Green Carts. Waiting list times vary, a spokeswoman said.

Glaser said he hopes to capitalize on his new-found fame to expedite the process.

Meanwhile, he probably won’t be trying the Giglio cake anytime soon.

The cake was modeled after a three-story tall statue of the Saint Paulinus of Italy — a major cultural symbol in Italian Williamsburg that is part of the feast of the Giglio at Our Lady of Mount Carmel twice a year.

“I had to call Monseigneur [Joseph] Calise from Our Lady of Mount Carmel, because I wanted to make sure I got into heaven [after] I messed up the Giglio,” he laughed.

Calise would neither confirm nor deny whether Glaser has a shot at Paradise.

The Fortunato Brothers’ cannolis have been the gold standard in Williamsburg for 35 years. But newcomer Joe Glaser, who runs La Bella Torta around the corner, is gaining a reputation for his own pastry.
Photo by Dan MacLeod

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