Julia Librone went to school to learn to bake and make pastries.
But when she set herself up in business selling her goods at the Margate Farmer's Market, she drew inspiration from a recipe that's been part of her life for years.
"I do brownies and little mini cakes and pumpkin and banana breads at the market, but I'm known for my scones and my biscotti," said Librone, 56, of Ventnor.
And the biscotti, which she also sells through her online mail-order business is based on a recipe her Aunt Grace Healy, of Oaklyn, Camden County, used to make when Librone was a little girl growing up in a large Italian family in south Philadelphia.
"For every occasion, my aunt would make this biscotti. I've loved them from the time I was a girl, everyone in my family loved them," she said.
Librone grew up in a house with five brothers and sisters. Her mother took care of the kids and her father worked as a tailor.
Librone remembers those days as being a lot of fun. The family might not have had a lot of money, but they shared a lot of love, she said. And her mom, Rita, made sure there was a good meal on the table for the family every evening.
"That was our time together. We would talk about what we did in school. My father would quiz us about what we learned in school that day," she recalled. "Food was, and still is, a very big thing with us."
Librone was 13 when her family moved to Ventnor, where her father, Gene, began a career selling insurance.
"My mother always wanted her children to grow up at the shore. She loved the beach. She loved the water," Librone said.
Librone grew up, and for the last two decades she has worked as a cocktail server in Atlantic City. She now works at Golden Nugget Atlantic City.
And while Librone enjoys her job, a few years ago she started planning on starting a second career.
"I have a sweet tooth, in fact, everyone in my family has a sweet tooth," she said. "I really enjoy baking and feeding people and turning people on to new things."
So much so, Librone enrolled in a 1,000-hour program on baking and pastry making in Mays Landing.
Going to classes meant Librone had to switch her schedule to the night shift. It was a sacrifice she was willing to make.
Once she completed the class, she began baking muffins that she sold to local businesses. Eventually, however, she found herself making more and more biscotti.
Librone began experimenting and creating her own biscotti recipes in a variety of flavors.
"I love it, you can do a lot with biscotti. You can play around with the flavors and combinations. You can be very creative," she said.
Her biscotti flavors include chocolate hazelnut, coconut, almond, lavender and cherry vanilla.
Agnes Preston, Grace Healy's daughter, particularly likes her cousin's coconut chocolate chip and orange pistachio biscotti.
"She's gone above and beyond, trying all different kinds of recipes," Preston said.
Librone has been selling her biscotti at the farmer's market for the past four years. During that time, she's gotten to know her customers and the flavors they prefer.
"If I don't have what people like, oh boy," she said.
While the farmer's market closes down for the winter, Librone keeps busy in the winter filling orders customers place at her website, biscottiandmore.com.
While her stand at the farmer's market includes a variety of baked goods, she tends to focus on biscotti online because they will stay fresh for about three weeks.
"Everything is made to order. For me, freshness is upmost," she said. "Some people say you can keep them for about two months, but I feel they start to lose their flavor after about three weeks. I baby my product. I'm very careful."
Librone said she'd like to eventually give up her casino job and focus on baking full-time, but admits it's hard since so much of her business at this point is seasonal.
And while customers each have their favorite type of biscotti, the decision is not so easy for the woman who spends her time at the oven preparing these treats.
"For me, my favorite is whichever one I am eating at the time," she said. "I always find myself saying, 'That is really good.'"
Contact Steven V. Cronin:
Aunt Grace's Biscotti
Ingredients:•4 extra large eggs, room temperature (Do not leave the eggs out for more than one hour.)
•1 1/2 cups sugar
•1 tablespoon pure vanilla
•4 cups flour
•2 tablespoons anise seeds
•2 teaspoons baking powder
•1/2 teaspoon salt
•2 cups chopped
Mix all ingredients together well, chill dough at least 4 hours then shape into two logs on a parchment-lined cookie sheet or silpat mat. Use wet hands, as dough is sticky. Bake 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, then check for firmness. Continue to bake until done; the top will feel soft but firm. Cool to room temperature, on a cooling rack for several hours. Slice on a cutting board about 1/4-inch slices and place flat on an unlined baking sheet. Bake again at 340 degrees for 15 minutes on the top shelf then place sheet on the bottom shelf of the oven and bake another 10 minutes. Cool and store in a cookie tin.