So. After three days of obscene pastry indulgence, my San Francisco Pastry Crawl was finally over… or so I thought.
I met up with a friend at the SF Ferry Building Marketplace a few days later to browse the fabulous Farmers’ Market, with zero intention of buying, eating, or frankly looking at pastries. But alas, they seem to find me even when I’m not looking for them! (I’ll get to that in a moment…) I now regret that I didn’t take any photos of the gorgeous, colorful produce at the outside market booths– If you live in the Bay Area or plan to visit soon, do yourself a favor and head to the Saturday Farmers’ Market– it is a special treat for the senses with its culinary colors, aromas, and sounds all around you.
After browsing the market, we went inside the Ferry Building for lunch, which presents a whole new set of sensory stimuli! There’s a perfectly good reason that it’s always packed with people– the concentration of amazing food vendors is a little mind-blowing. A full list can be found here, but these are some of my favorites:
- Cowgirl Creamery for exquisite local, organic cheeses (and the adjacent Cowgirl Creamery Sidekick for cheese-friendly lunch– YUM)
- Scharffen Berger and Recchiuti Confections to satiate all your chocolate needs
- Frog Hollow Farm for fresh fruit and fruit-related baked goods
- Boccalone Salumeria for an impressive selection of cured meats (though their slogan “Tasty Salted Pig Parts” is not particularly a draw for me personally, but I may be in the minority on that…)
- Acme Bread Company for some of the Bay Area’s best artisanal breads
- Ciao Bella Gelato for creamy, luscious gelato and sorbet– but I understand this is soon to be replaced by a second Humphry Slocombe location
Cowgirl Creamery Mac & Cheese with Wagon Wheel and Red Hawk cheeses + Old Fashioned Tomato Soup with crème fraîche & toasted croutons = LUNCH
On this particular day, a new player came to my attention– I do believe I kinda stopped in my tracks. Set up in a corner across from Blue Bottle Coffee was Biscuit Bender, a charming kiosk-type enclosure specializing in BISCUITS. I’ve seen businesses focused on cupcakes, cookies, macarons, and pies; I’ve never seen a shop dedicated to biscuits! (Either I don’t get out much or this is a pretty novel concept, I’m not sure.) The shop was decorated like a country farm stand, with biscuits offered up in rustic baskets and decorative gardening implements strung up with twine. I especially loved the attention to detail, such as signs affixed with clothespins and the vintage flowerpots on display– these made the small space feel very homey, personal, and warm. A proper purveyor of homestyle biscuits!
Biscuit Bender makes both sweet and savory varieties, and all their products originate from biscuit dough. It was hard to choose, as all the biscuits looked fluffy, flaky, and hearty. The flavored butters and jams also looked delicious!
I took home the following selections:
- Classic Buttermilk: Fluffy, light, and tender with a wonderful tang of buttermilk!
- Cinnamon Roll: The best! This was truly a cross between a cinnamon roll and a biscuit in all the right ways. It had the perfect amount of sweetness, a great balance of cinnamon flavor, and that classic, gooey glaze… yet it was totally still a biscuit.
- Cheddar: It had a nice savory, cheese flavor, but also tasted a bit oniony (or something?) to me, which is not a positive attribute in my book…
- Mini Lemon Poppyseed: Yum! This little gem had wonderful lemon flavor and a great contrasting poppyseed crunch. The sweetness, citrus, and buttermilk tang were perfectly balanced, and I loved the delicious, sweet glaze– I wish I’d had a full-sized biscuit!
- Mexican Chocolate: I was so intrigued about this one, but unfortunately a little disappointed. It was way more savory than I expected– too much spice (cayenne/chipotle?), and although the chocolate was beautifully laced into the biscuit, the flavor and sweetness were drowned out by the spices. Boo.
- Strawberry Cobbler: I was really mixed on this one, but it’s definitely a good idea. I’m not a huge fruit dessert person, so I didn’t love the mushy, cooked fruit part, but the strawberry flavor and the “cobbler” part were fantastic! The exterior was crunchy and sweet with a dusting of powdered sugar, and yet… still true to its biscuit roots.
All in all, a nice revelation! I would like to go back and try some other varieties, as well as the flavored butters and jams.
Since this ended up being an additional pastry crawling day, I felt that I had no choice (NO CHOICE, I tell you!) but to stop by another of my favorite spots, Miette. Translating to ‘crumb’ in French, Miette makes among the most beautiful and delicious cakes in the city, in my opinion, in addition to super yummy shortbread, cookies, and a mouth-watering variety of heirloom confections.
However, it’s definitely the cakes that catch my eye– they’re sort of French, but with an American spirit. Some are unfrosted on the sides, showing off the pretty cake and filling layers, others are shaped into domes and wrapped with decorative ribbon; they are dainty and elegant with a whimsical touch. Miette cakes are 6 inches in diameter, so they are perfect for a small birthday or other intimate celebration– seriously, go get one. (If you don’t have a special occasion as an excuse, they are sized such that you could probably justify eating the whole thing yourself… I’m just sayin’.) I adore this bakery, and I feel that they make the world a better place with their cakes, cupcakes, tartlets, graham crackers, marshmallows, and caramels.
Rolling by on this day, I only picked up a couple of small treats, though I would have loved to bring home a Tomboy Cake or a Chocolate Pot de Crème…
- Peanut Butter Cookies: These were a sleeper hit for me– I’m not a huge peanut butter cookie person, but I bought them because they looked cute, and they were perfect. The cookies had just the right amount of peanut butter flavor (I sometimes find PB cookies cloying), and rather than the usual chewy texture, these tiny gems had a wonderful delicate crunch and crumble. They pay homage to their classic PB cousins with a playful take on the traditional crosshatch pattern on top. Can’t wait to pick up another bag of these!
- Lemon Shortbread: These little lemony squares were absolutely precious– they had the classic light, crisp bite of shortbread, melting on my tongue into a wonderful mess of buttery crumbs. They were hard to share… but I had to. *sigh* I guess that’s what I get for not snarfing them down before I got home.
I just couldn’t muster anything more after the week that I’d had, trolling all over the city for its best sugary treats! Alas, I always make sure to grab a sweet morsel at Miette when visiting the Ferry Building, and I highly recommend adopting this practice to anyone in the vicinity with a sweet tooth. They make it really easy, people– in addition to the beautiful items in the pastry display case, they sell a variety of cookies (like those above), biscuits, and artisanal candies, all packaged lovingly for you to take on your merry way.
So this really was the end of my San Francisco Pastry Crawl. It was a greater pleasure than I ever could have guessed to discover and rediscover the many corners of this city. If you are a pastry-lover, I urge you to consider such an excursion, as you are likely to encounter many delights on your journey. If you don’t live in the Bay Area, do a pastry tour in your own city– I’m sure you will find your own delicious treasures. (Though I won’t lie– I’m feeling a little cocky about how awesome my city is, and it’s hard to beat.) I had no idea how long this blog series would be, and I thank you for traveling along with me! Please take a peek at Days 1, 2, and 3 if you haven’t read them… and if your teeth don’t already hurt!
One of the reasons that I love to seek out such amazing places is that it really helps my own baking and food knowledge grow. I think of it as R&D– I never fail to be surprised by some incredible cake, flavor combination, pastry design, or innovative technique. Through visiting many, many bakeries over the past several years, particularly recently, I have truly witnessed my own personal culinary evolution. I fell in love hard with cupcakes in 2007, and I was obsessed with them for a good few years. While they hold a fond place in my heart, I realized that I’ve moved beyond them. The abundance of glossy pink-and-white cupcake shops feels very tired to me now; I used to think they were just adorable. I am now more interested in a greater variety of baked goods and styles, and I am utterly fascinated by the underlying science of baking. While I am always in search of the perfect cream cheese frosting or the obscenely moist chocolate cake, I’ve turned my interests more toward the complexity of pastry marvels such as kouign amann, and the exploration of ingredients and flavors. I long to understand these elements on an intimate level, and I plan to take the biggest step yet in my baking career in January 2014, by joining the new Pastry Arts program at San Francisco Cooking School! This city that I love so much has truly inspired me to see the endless possibilities of the pastry world, and I’m so excited to jump in!!
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2013.