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Elena Bigio next to the Naunie's Confections Bakery Box outside of her home in Clinton. Rectangular Cake Board
Elena Bigio wanted to honor the traditions of her parents, "Naunie" and "Poppy," Marge and Bob Bigio with her Italian home bakery.
Elena Bigio prepares trays of butter balls for baking at her home in Clinton.
Elena Bigio places a tray of butter balls in the oven at her home in Clinton.
Trays of peanut butter bars made by Elena Bigio await cutting at her home in Clinton.
CLINTON — You might expect the owner of Naunie’s Confections in Clinton to be a noni herself.
But Elena Bigio doesn’t look part, even though she became a grandmother in July with the birth of her grandson, Connor.
With shiny chestnut hair, wearing a plaid flannel shirt and faded jeans, her youthful air at 50-something is far from the popular image of the gray-haired, aproned Italian grandma.
Through her cottage bakery business run out of her home, Bigio actually is channeling her mom, the real “naunie,” she said, who passed away early in 2020 before the pandemic.
“I really am just trying to keep my family’s tradition alive,” Bigio said with a big smile.
When Bigio was a little girl, her mother would bake anginettes, pignoli cookies and other authentic Italian treats.
And Naunie’s Confections has stayed true to Bigio’s roots: “These are our family’s recipes,” she said. “It’s a combination of my mom’s side of the family and my dad’s side of the family” who both came from the Amalfi coast of Italy.
“Every Christmas my mom would make the cookies on that are on the menu,” Bigio recalled.
“My favorite cookie to eat was anginettes and obviously chocolate chips, but my mom never baked a lot of the chocolate chips,” she remembered.
So for her kids, Bigio baked all the treats the other moms did, while her mother “would bake all the Italian stuff.”
“Then I would bake all the other stuff like magic cookie bars and chocolate chip cookies and thumbprint cookies,” she said.
“So we’d have trays and trays of cookies,” she said, laughing. Now her two children, a daughter and son, are grown: Brittany Nadeau, 31, and PaulMichael Mullally, 27.
Her mother, Marge Bigio, spelled “noni” [the Italian diminutive for Nonna] her own way: naunie. And that’s what Bigio named her business after.
“She was my kids’ ‘naunie.’ It’s kind of a running joke — it’s how we spell it,” she said with a laugh.
“When my mom wrote out cards to the kids,” she added, “whatever my mother’s mood was that day … she would sign it differently every time.”
While Bigio’s grandmother on her father’s side died when she was fairly young, she remembered, "She’d always have something special — a special treat baked.”
Now Bigio is keeping up the Italian traditions of both sides of the family and word has spread about her special baked treats, which customers can order online.
Bigio’s pignoli cookies, which she calls “the king of Italian cookies,” and the ever-popular anginette and butter balls are just a few of the in-demand confections on her Facebook page.
Bigio also bakes cannoli cookies that are just like the Italian pastry with ricotta cheese, pistachios and chocolate chips — but in cookie form.
While Bigio’s business is just coming up on two years in 2023, she made a recent addition to her home bakery earlier this month.
She and her husband built a “Bakery Box,” a shed the size of an old phone booth, that she fills with treats starting 9 a.m. on Saturday and open on Sunday if there are any baked goods left.
The Bakery Box is done on the honor system; customers can pay cash or through Venmo. On the first day it was open, it was cleaned out by 2 p.m.
“It was a big hit,” she said.
But, if you’re looking for pignoli cookies you won’t find them there. The Bakery Box only features special items. “On Saturdays I’m going to fill it with things not on the menu,” she said.
“Last week I did a colossal chocolate chip cookie and it was like a 5-ounce cookie; it was huge — huge,” she said. She also baked snickerdoodles and berry bars.
“People are asking about the chocolate chip cookies again and the snickerdoodles,” she added with a smile.
Another project Bigio has going this month is raising money to fight breast cancer with cookie sales.
Bigio’s mother died of breast cancer and in tribute to her mom, she bakes pink-frosted anginettes she sells during October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. She plans to donate all of the proceeds of the anginette sales to the Smilow Cancer Hospital Breast Cancer Program Fund.
Last year Bigio donated $1,125; this year she hopes to double that.
While anginettes are super popular, not everyone knows what they are.
“It’s just like a really soft, kind of moist cookie and it’s the frosting that gives it the sweetness,” she described. “The frosting is confectioner’s sugar.”
For her, baking anginettes is “kind of like walking into an Italian bakery and you just get all those smells just coming at you,” she said.
Bigio does her baking in her mother’s gleaming white kitchen located off Bigio’s mud room; her mom lived in an apartment in an annex to the main house.
The Bakery Box is a new concept for Bigio; it’s self-serve and shoppers can come up to the end of her driveway to get their cookie fix. But for preorders, Bigio likes to meet her customers and hand them their packed orders.
“I like to put a name to a face so I always meet them in the driveway,” she said, adding that she sees many repeat customers.
“And people who’ve picked up anginettes for October told me their stories,” she said. “There are so many people who know somebody with breast cancer or had breast cancer.
“And I love seeing people coming down our driveway and they’re excited about their cookies and they’ll tell me … their grandma used to make these cookies or their aunt used to make this cookie,” she added.
Bigio has come a long way from her start during the pandemic.
She got the idea for her own bakery after going through a hard time at the beginning of the pandemic. Her mother had died that March.
“It was just a tough year ... a tough year all around with her passing and COVID.”
I thought, 'hmm … I just really want to do something that might make people smile and just maybe pass on some of the wonderful treats I had growing up and maybe carry on my family’s traditions.'”
She suggested getting her cottage license to operate a bakery out of her home and, to her surprise, her husband, Ed Mokoski, agreed.
Then she methodically went through the steps to get the license: getting a water test at her home, completing a food safety training program and providing written proof that her application complied with local zoning regulations.
She remembered thinking, “If I get through all these steps, it was meant to happen," she said.
When she got her license from the state, “I said to my husband — ‘looks like we’re going to do a cottage bakery.’”
After her first full year in business, last Christmas her holiday baking took off: she estimates that she baked 900 cookies.
“I never expected where it was going to go,” she said.
The new Bakery Box is the proverbial icing on top and she is pleased with the warm reception it’s garnered on social media.
“People have really embraced it. ... They have commented on Facebook about it,” she said. “People that have purchased stuff from the Bakery Box have taken pictures of it and have said, ‘Hey this is delicious can’t wait for next time.’ So it’s been wonderful.”
Customer Danielle Graham of Clinton stumbled across Naunie’s Confections online when she saw a photo of her favorite treat.
“I was just mindlessly scrolling one day through Facebook and I saw Naunie’s Confections and I kind of went by it and something pulled me back,” she recalled.
“Something’s telling me I’ve got to order something from this lady,” she said. “So that’s when I reached out and saw the pignoli nuts and then I’m like, 'Oh she’s my girl.’”
“I’m all about the pignoli nuts. But then I tried her almond and that’s my favorite,” Graham said.
She described her new cookie craving, “This is an almond cookie with like a glazed chocolate on the top and a sprinkle of coconut.”
Now she’s a regular. Graham laughed, “because I’m always telling my husband ‘I want to eat where the nonis cook.’
Bakery Box With Handle Naunie’s Confections is on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/nauniesconfections.