If heaven had a scent, it would probably smell a lot like Petee's Pies on the Lower East Side—buttery, cinnamon-y, carb-y. Set on bustling Delancey Street near the entrance to the Williamsburg Bridge, the exterior doesn't scream cozy, but once you step inside the tiny storefront, you're surrounded by both modern and vintage touches, with piled-up antique cookbooks, white tiled walls and potted plants on shelves.
And co-owner and chef Petra Paredez incorporates the old with the new in her pastries as well. Paredez and her husband, Robert, run the pint-size pie shop, serving classic and old-school varieties like nesselrode (a chestnut-and-cherry pie from the 1940s), mince and almond chess, along with the usual classics like apple, banana cream and key lime.
But their affinity for old-school recipes reaches peak glory in the julekake. A classic Norwegian Christmas bread, the loaf is kind of like stollen or king cake, but moved into the modern age. Reminiscent of a dense, doughy challah, the fresh bread has juicy raisins, cardamom and candied citron to make it fruity, spiced and very, very nice. Paredez tops the slices with a savory caramelized cheese (Gjetost) that's fudge-level thick and adds just the right amount of bite to balance to the sweet bread.
Paredez initially used the leftover crumbs and egg custard to create julekake bread pudding, but now the pudding overshadows the loaves in a number of orders; she says she sometimes bakes loaves just to create the bread pudding, which comes out in a square pan topped with slices of Gjetost cheese and home-made maple whipped cream, for a gooey and hearty savory-sweet concoction.
This is no rookie treat. Paredez grew up in the pie business, working in her parents' shop, Mom's Apple Pie, in Virginia. Her mother's family was largely based in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn (formerly Little Norway), and she proudly drilled her heritage into Paredez since childhood. Paredez baked her first julekake when she was in sixth grade for a school project.
After the 2015 closure of Nordic Delicacies in Bay Ridge, Paredez says she's not sure if there are any other homemade julekakes sold in NYC. When asked about the response from New Yorkers since she starting selling the julekake later that year, she said that even though not a ton of people know what it is, everyone has been super positive. "What I love about New Yorkers is that they're adventurous and willing to try things. They'll order it, and ask what it is after."