Thursday, December 18, 2008

Baking into the New Year with the Great American Bakery Hunt

Although my lack of posts might have you thinking the Great American Bakery Hunt has slowed to a crawl, please cast aside your doubts-- the adventure continues! I've been keeping busy with new culinary undertakings: I recently tried Tartine's fruit galette recipe and came to the realization that I have a lot more learning to do. Mark Bittman's gingersnaps dough is currently chilling in my freezer. And I've taken to the habit of purposely letting my bananas ripen too much so "Oops, I suppose I'm forced to make banana bread."

But most of all, I'm hoping that 2009 will be the year I can really experiment with mastering breads and pastries: yes, all the great stuff. I realize that most people resolve to reduce carb consumption as a part of their desired New Year's transformations, but there's no place for that at The Great American Bakery Hunt. These hands are aching to take command of a rolling pin, a pastry blender, to learn challah, croissants, galettes, oh my! Luckily, it looks like Culver City's the New School of Cooking is offering a springtime Yeast Breads class that has my name on it. 2009 is going to be a great year.

And just when you thought that my tiny studio apartment kitchen might stop me, Mark Bittman, New York Times food writer and author of "The Bitten Blog" inspires me to go on!

Serious fat

Attention all bakers: In this recent article from the New York Times, butter is serious business.

Monday, October 13, 2008

When life gives you a peach orchard, make peach pie

I was able to go peach picking recently, so my next move was obvious: it was time to make my first peach pie. My next door neighbors growing up, who also happened to be my grandparents, were my main inspiration. Their backyard has a peach tree, and my grandfather has been the longtime maker of many homemade peach pies. He is the kind of chef, baker, and jack of all trades with the confidence and natural curiosity to make, build, and create almost anything. For example, the same hands that have constructed entire homes during his career as a contractor, also compose the most delicious from-scratch spaghetti sauces and paint astonishingly beautiful oil paintings. I believe that much like many superheroes, my grandfather can do anything.

So when I was blessed with these fresh peaches, I knew now was the time to make him proud. I called upon Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything" recipes for fruit pies. I took care to make everything from scratch-- because a real pie is one where you mold the crust with your hands, where you sculpt the pie's foundation with great attention. I opted for the two crust pie, a top layer full of decadence-- and one that keeps the fruit tucked inside its protection. A bit of cinnamon and nutmeg and a little lemon juice tossed with the peaches-- my mouth was already watering.

As it turns out, my studio apartment features the perfect windowsill for cooling an out-of-the-oven pie, the stuff cartoon pie-stealing scenes are made of. (Thanks also, to my grandpa, whose pies I always treasure and who as a child, watched cartoons with me--thus allowing me to make such references.)

Luckily, there was no thievery on this night of baking, because I've been enjoying pie leftovers for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day since.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Saturday, September 27, 2008

One year anniversary of The Hunt in Santa Monica

This fall marks my one year anniversary as a resident of picturesque Santa Monica, which means I have started to become a creature of Santa Monica habit. I am a coffee shop regular at the place that makes the best cappuccinos. I feel shame when I forget to carry my re-usable grocery bags. I take pictures for tourists along my jogs on the bike path. When I notice couples, or parent and child duos, split up and awkwardly posing for one another-- I can't help but intervene.

"Can you get the sunset in?" they plea. "Sorry to interrupt your jog."

Power cyclists swerve around them (dangerously), as they review my photography. I delay my workout for one more moment as they confirm they have appropriately captured the memory of basking in the California sunlight. I tell them to have fun and am almost certain they will end up eating at someplace like Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. on the pier later that night. A moment of remorse makes me consider whether I should have devoted more time volunteering local suggestions about the farmer's markets or my favorite nearby taco shop-- but then reason that if I prolonged my stops endlessly, I might never break a sweat. If only they knew I paused a mile before to aid the couple from France, the family from Mexico.

Aside from my spontaneous ambassadorship, the truest joy of the Santa Monica local life is the bustling farmer's market culture we are able to enjoy. When I have a Sunday off from work, I always attend the Main Street Farmer's Market. Perhaps the sweetest treat, among all of the food vendors, is the chocolate and almond paste croissant from Culver City's Cafe Laurent. I know I have shouted out to Cafe Laurent before, but I thought it worth mentioning that they will start serving dinner on October 3rd as a part of "Cafe Laurent LaNuit." Word on the street is that entrees are half-priced for the big opening night, and there will be French music-- according to the folks at their farmer's market stand. Bubba Gump could imagine no finer a setting!

And if you're in the mood, there's a comic book store just a few minutes walk away on Overland (because nothing goes together like French food and graphic novels?). I suggest nibbling on your dessert while glancing at the pages of Craig Thompson's "Carnet de Voyage", a travelogue diary for all you wanderlusting types.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Boulangerie Mystery

Is it at all possible that the pages of both my Magnolia Bakery Cookbooks are scented?

I could swear that a sweet bakery-like scent is emanating from both the Magnolia Bakery Cookbook as well as the 'More From Magnolia' Cookbook.

I really need some reassurance on this one, as this isn't something that has happened since I read my last scratch n' sniff book at age 5.

p.s. thanks to the Rice Family, who recently gave these aromatic books to The Great American Bakery Hunt.

I'm going to get to the bottom of this!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Mani's bakery offers gluten-free diets some friendly options

After a visit to El Carmen and a stop for a ham and gruyere croissant at the Little Next Door, my friend and I (who recently moved to the Fairfax area) wandered down to Mani's bakery. To my pleasant surprise, this bakery has rare late night hours and even better, offers gluten free, sugar free, and other specialty products for people with special diets. Since I am friends with many individuals that are often searching for these options, I was thrilled to see that Mani's offers a warm, inviting bakery experience with the thoughtful touch of clearly listed ingredients and a variety of options. I have heard wind of or visited only a few bakeries on the West side that cater to special diets (including Jamaica's Cakes, which offers vegan products, among other things). What I liked about Mani's is that any person working there that night could tell us what their favorite product was and why-- they really seemed to take pride in what they were delivering to the bakery consumer. The bakery, at around 10:00 on a weekend night, was crowded and full of conversation and life-- bakery culture at its finest, if you ask me. I'm looking forward to another visit to this bakery and would definitely recommend it as a place to try in LA. On a sidenote, the ham and gruyere croissant from the Little Next Door was also delicious, and a good place to visit if you find charm in French accents.

In keeping with the spirit of specialty product discoveries, my friend April recently visited Bob's Red Mill during a family trip. Because the people of Milwaukie,Oregon-based Bob's Red Mill were kind enough to speak with her about gluten free products, I have included an excerpt below about her experience there when she just so happened to meet Bob himself:

"Bob’s Red Mill has been processing whole grains for 38 years and is proud to offer many gluten free products, a line they continue to develop each year. Recently they have also dedicated part of their warehouse where only gluten free products are milled. I was so excited when my family mentioned Bob’s Red Mill was based in Milwaukie, OR, just a few miles from my aunty and uncle’s house! We had to visit! As we were eating breakfast on Saturday morning, sitting right behind us was Bob Moore, founder of Bob’s Red Mill! Of course, I couldn’t let a good opportunity pass... He also introduced me to Lori Sobelson, Program Director of Bob’s Red Mill. Lori is their gluten free expert in many ways. She is very knowledgeable about all things gluten free, puts together recipes, does cooking classes, and is even presenting at the upcoming annual Gluten Free Culinary Summit! Lori took about 45 minutes to share gluten free knowledge, show me different products, tell me about leading gluten free authors, cookbooks and new GF research/discoveries. She has also offered her contact information to us if we have questions that she could answer or help us in other ways."
If anyone knows of other gluten free or specialty bakery products for other diets, please support the Great American Bakery Hunt and send me an email about your discoveries. I would love to pass these resources along to people I know!

Reflections on camp culture and a sincere thank you to our friend in the West Indies

When I'm not bakery hunting, I spend my time working at a camp for children with various medical conditions. While I work very hard at what I do, I also have the privilege to work in an environment where I do something I really believe in. And on top of all the inspiration, I also experience unpredictable, often humorous, and often charming situations in my professional setting that most people would never dream of.

For example, after recently being trained to wrangle rattlesnakes at our campsite, I caught my first rattler this Saturday. (Skill acquisition my professors never warned me about when I was earning my degree in child development.) I am sometimes called on walkie-talkie under the guise of talking to my boss, only to then be "sneak attacked" by ten children with silly string and confetti. And then there are the days of mustache and unibrow missions : camp culture often dictates that if a female staff member enters a younger boys' cabin, they are required (under the jurisdiction of the cabin contract) to receive Sharpee mustaches and/or unibrows without resistance. What makes this even funnier is the fact that it takes strong-willed scrubbing for this to wash off. What with the fast paced and busy nature of camp life, employees go from Sharpee attacks to conference room meetings and escape any sort of judgment that would haunt a person in the real world. It's a pleasure to be surrounded by people who have a sense of humor about themselves-- imagine, if you can, 60 member of our staff performing a choreographed dance to Abba's "Waterloo" on the beaches of Malibu. Stories like this, while perhaps bizarre to other people, are for me, surprisingly not few and far between.

The other thing that comes with the territory is the charm and positivity I am able to experience due to being surrounded by a plethora of creative, genuine, and thoughtful people. This summer, when I was experiencing seriously mouth-watering cravings for Dining Hall dessert alternatives, I received a heaven-sent cheesecake in the mail from Meera, a thoughtful bakery hunter who I befriended when she volunteered at camp. (In theory, this was heaven-sent, in practice, she sent it while studying in the West Indies.) The fact that someone would take the time and effort to send a cheesecake while investing their time in a undoubtedly busy and intense medical school semester abroad is unbelievable to me! It's just one more reminder that the Great American Bakery Hunt is lucky to be surrounded by people who are more 150% more thoughtful than the leading brand.

Thanks Meera, once again, for supporting the bakery hunt, from Cincinatti to the West Indies and wherever you are. While it's taken me awhile to post a thank-you, just know we've been thinking of you this summer as we were wrangling snakes, getting Sharpee mustaches, and greeting bus-fulls of children as they entered the gates of camp. Take care out there.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A meeting of the pastry and agricultural minds: Yard, Nathan and Pudwell stir our food passions

I recently attended a Farmer's Market lecture at the Santa Monica public library that featured pastry chefs Sherry Yard of Spago, Zoe Nathan of Rustic Canyon, and farmer's market vendor Py Pudwell of Pudwell Farms. It's difficult to put into words the amount of genuine energy and life that surrounded these people. Perhaps my perception had to do with the fact that two of my most favorite worlds, the farmer's market and the world of baked goods, were being celebrated in union-- a great meeting of the pastry and agricultural minds. But just as I was accusing myself of having overly romanticized notions about the entire event, Yard, Pudwell, and Nathan started to define for me, in their own words, how they wholeheartedly appreciate the intangible "magic" that is the farmer's market community. Between the panel of food lovers, they all described the genuine relationships built between farmer's and chefs. They talked about buying local from good people, people whose kids you see running around the market, people who can give you a vision of where the food you are buying originated--and then transforming ingredients from the market into a dish with real heart behind it.

Since working a stint at the Laguna Beach Farmer's Market, I had felt a sense of this farmer's market family, an idea of what goes on behind the scenes of a market and of the relationships that are built between local families, farmers, and chefs. It is something that seems both familiar and essential to me, but something I have never heard verbalized with such respect and reverence. Perhaps the most inspiring parts of the lecture surfaced when the three speakers reached harmonious agreement over the joys of their work: the satisfaction of making something with your hands, whether this meant growing nourishment in the soil you own, or taking the simplicity of a flour, sugar, and butter trio and transforming it into a complex and beautiful creation.

Perhaps the reason Pudwell, Yard, and Nathan were so engaging has to do with the fact that it is undeniably apparent they are in love with what they do-- they are busy, hard- working individuals, excited about the collaborations and creations of life and with good intentions for those around them. For example, one woman in the audience asked Yard how she would go about accommodating a dessert request for someone with a severe food allergy. Yard talked a lot about a la minute cooking, about the spontaneity and quick actions that are a part of her style-- and expressed a willingness to adapt her creations with this light-hearted response: "For the difficult, give me a second, for the impossible, give me a few minutes."

They all talked about how building relationships through the farmer's market has helped them at different times in their careers. It was inspiring to hear Pudwill talk about the success he has found as a farmer, starting out with a few acres of land and growing it into a thriving business supported by the Santa Monica community. In particular, he expressed his gratitude towards chefs such as Nathan and Yard that have continued to support his business and champion the farming community.

Yard, as down-to-earth as can be even with a few James Beard awards under her belt, reminisced humorously about her Brooklyn childhood during the lecture and stayed after to answer as many questions as possible, to the point that library officials ushered both her and adoring fans out the door-- including the book signature request fan, the very persistent pastry student seeking reassurance in her profession, and yes, even the bakery blogger that simply observed and took it all in while keeping her identity a secret!

While Yard had a magnetic draw, Nathan was equally as charming as she described her beginnings in the pastry world, her love for butchering in the early stages of her culinary career ("I loved butchering, and I was fast. If they could cut a chicken as fast as me, they got the job"), and her love for the market. According to Yard, Nathan's baked goods during Rustic Canyon's Saturday morning cafe style breakfast is a best kept secret in town. Fun, spunky, and passionate about food, it was fun to watch Nathan and imagine how it felt to sit on a panel with Sherry Yard, who it seems she admired from afar early on in her pastry days.

The only downside is that, for the good of the blog, I was so intrigued to observe the conversations happening around me that I missed the boat on most of the samples outside afterwards. I was hoping to try the cookies Yard mentioned but I should have known better, considering the audience at an event like this, that sampling ethics or niceties of any kind were out the window. I can't blame them for feasting...

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Food geekery and Sherry Yard

My jaw almost dropped to the ground when I saw the sign.  I was strolling along at the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmer's market, when I discovered a posting for a free pastry discussion at the Santa Monica Public Library.  Entitled "Sweet Treats-- the Passion of Pastry," and featuring Sherry Yard, among other pastry chefs, I knew that somehow, someway, against all odds, I had to find the time to go to this.  Stay tuned for more about this adventure-- will she be doomed to sit in traffic as she commutes from her faraway office?  Will she meet other like-minded pastry fiends? Will she know the glory that is this free public library discussion for food geeks?  Join us next time for the conclusion of this riveting tale!

Friday, August 01, 2008

late July culinary wanderings

After a few days off from work, I've ventured all over the map for some summer bakery hunting. A visit to my hometown brought me to Marukai, our local Japanese market. Though I was there to investigate baked goods, I had to resist the strong temptation to take advantage of Daikokuya's new Orange County location. If you have not yet sampled their food, know that they produce the ramen dreams are made of-- pure ramen magic if I've ever tasted it! For those of you wanderers who food hunt back and forth between San Diego, Orange County, and LA, their location in Little Tokyo is no longer your only option! Tucked into a strip mall off the 405 freeway, Marukai also offers a food court that includes Beard Papa's notoriously indulgent cream puffs. Beard Papa's is also attached to MamMoth bakery, which features a truly cavity-inducing honey bread among other treats. I could write more about their offerings, but blogger ChubbyPanda has already done so for me in his very thorough blog post.

During my visit home, I took advantage by utilizing the ample kitchen space of my parent's house for a baking opportunity! It's much more spacious than my little studio. After thumbing through my mom's arsenal of cookbooks, I went for an obvious, but classic choice-- recipes from New York's Magnolia Bakery.
While whipping up a batch of chocolate chip almond cookies, I listened to my brother talk about the ten year high school reunion he just attended the night before. The night was full of nostalgia coupled with the reality of ten years passing by-- i.e. classmates faced with a plethora of marriages, trouble with the law, good fortune, high paying salaries--the unpredictability and predictability of life all at once, the stuff of Romy and Michelle. As the stories continued, I thought to myself "This calls for another recipe." Ten years of marriages, jailtime, childbirthing, and career opportunities could not be captured with brevity. I eyed a molasses jar and decided to whip up some random molasses cookie recipe from the label on Grandma's molasses. These cookies were simply delicious and unsophisticated in all of the right ways. (Perhaps a nod to the three for $1 cookies my brother and I once enjoyed from our high school cafeteria. Often slightly undercooked, you could taste the sugar granules in those chocolate chip cookies, but there was something so perfect about them. Grabbing a few at the end of the day meant you were on your way to freedom. It was a little bit of decadence in our bland world of rigid dress codes-- a sweet break from the khaki, navy, collared shirt monotony.)

Walks down memory lane aside, I eventually headed back to my apartment. In efforts to check out a new bakery, I traveled towards Brentwood to give the Belwood bakery a try. Sometimes when I stray from Santa Monica towards Brentwood, I'm a little unsure of what I'm getting myself into. Such was the case that day, when I sat down with my pastries and listened to two stockbrokers arguing over their stance on cell phone etiquette, talking business, and complaining about the youth "with their long hair." Pigeons circled around our crumbs, also noticeably irritated by their loud argument. Can't us Santa Monicans enjoy our pastries in peace?

At least I had happy reading--As I was nibbling on some fluffy bread with chives, I caught an article about Paris bakeries in LA Times magazine, a literal ode to bakery hunting across Paris.
Oh, to be a sweetheart of the freelancing world! If only I could jet set to any pastry of my choice. If only!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Edible office spirit!

Imagine my surprise and delight when the fine folks at our Santa Monica office sent a plethora of cupcakes and edible office spirit up to our campsite. There are many things I start to miss about city life, and easy access to cupcakes is certainly one of them. Pictured, below, is my joyous reaction to the delivery.

rare days off in July lead TGABH to new frontiers!

That's right folks, on one recent day off, I made a plan to conquer unseen territories in the Hunt! After carpooling down to Santa Monica, I was left with only my wallet, my folding bike, and the strong desire to go on a quest for my next bakery discovery. With helmet on head and a plan to bungie cord my leftovers on the way home, I rode my Dahon, determined, down San Vicente Blvd. to none other than SusieCakes in Brentwood. This gem of a cupcake shop also sells cake by the slice, a true measure, in my opinion, of its "all American home-style bake shop" claims. Its cupcakes feature an ooey gooey extra shot of frosting in their cores, making for cupcakes as sweet, if not sweeter, than Yummy Cupcakes on Wilshire. The cake's moist factor was also solid. Among their other selections, they offer whoopie pies-- two chocolate cookies with a thick layer of frosting in the middle. Hard for anyone to resist-- and it seems that SusieCakes is being received well among fellow West side food bloggers.

For the sake of more material (and for the good of my readers!) the next day after my SusieCakes adventure I took a morning run along the beach, then cut up to Montana Ave. to reward myself with a pastry find. I found myself at Cafe Luxxe, and although not primarily a bakery discovery, it is a find I have to mention. If Cheers were a coffee shop (with a modern feel and a selection of pastries), Cafe Luxxe would be the place to grab an espresso where everyone knows your name. Perhaps my perception of this place just comes from my natural tendency to make friends randomly as I wander about the city-- but even still, it was such a friendly place to get a caffeine jolt. Very focused on quality, the fine folks at Cafe Luxxe gave me an encouraging nod when I inquired about the chocolate almond croissants (delicious and from LA's Breadbar). And when my excitement over great coffee led me to consider a 2nd drink, they knew just what I needed-- as if I had been a regular for years.

The best part of all was that it was a place I could sip my coffee, read travel journals for hours, and enjoy the decadence of a lazy day off. The funny thing about having weekdays off is that it's easy to feel that you're stealing moments of time from the world around you. It's an evil but satisfying feeling when you see people walking past in business attire, coming up for air during the lunch hour, and you have nothing else to do but to drink cappuccino and thumb through a newspaper. After several hours of a travel memoir, a pastry and two coffees later, I said goodbye to the fine coffee connoisseurs of Cafe Luxxe and took four Peruvian cookies to go (made, mysteriously, by a local Peruvian woman whose name I cannot confidently pronounce/write), and ran home. Some people run with Ipod's, or pets-- I prefer to run with baked goods in hand.

Later on that day, enjoying some Peruvian goodness on the way back to work...

Monday, June 30, 2008

Hello, old friend...

It's that time of the year when my studio apartment turns into a toaster oven, when the beaches overflow with umbrellas, sandcastles, and well-fed pigeons, and when you may think it not possible, Southern California goes even more casual. It's also the time when kids go away to summer camp, which means I go away to summer camp too-- in preparation for providing campers with the best week of their lives. Since while you're at camp, there is nothing more important than nurturing the success of these campers, this also leads to the annual hiatus of Great American Bakery Hunt.

Never fear bakery hunters, I may never write nor call during the summer, but I was able to hunt around a bit during a rare Sunday off. After many hours of sleep, I was able to catch the last ten minutes of the Main Street Farmer's market-- and just before the air horn signaled the end, I beelined it to the Cafe Laurent stand. Their sweet and savory croissants never let me down-- they taste even better, more decadent during a camp food furlough.

A stroll down Montana and a stop into the charming Hoot and Heart Flower shop gave me a new bakery lead: Christine Moore's Little Flower Candy Company. Hoot and Heart's ode to the decadent includes not only beautiful and unique arrangements, but gives flower lovers something sweet to consider by carrying Moore's mallows. After researching more about Moore, I learned she is also a pastry chef, so I'm definitely looking forward to visiting her storefront in Pasadena.

Farewell for now, old friend. My posts are sure to be few and far between in the next couple months, but I promise to return and continue my dedication to spreading the word of the best baked goods around!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

straight from the Nati the Great American Bakery Hunt receives some mouth-watering butter cookies

A Great American Bakery Hunt sincere thank you goes out to Meera, regional representative of The Great American Bakery Hunt, Cincinnati chapter. After a visit to California, Meera recently
sent us a package of The BonBonerie's finest selection of iced butter cookies. The cookies were truly irresistible, carefully packaged, and surprisingly intact (for such a delicate melt-in-your-mouth cookie). The colorful butter cookies were ready to be eaten and delightful, and they lasted no more than a few hours of my work day before I gobbled up every last bit (with the help of my fellow coworker, another lucky recipient of the BonBonerie's package). It was a great and very thoughtful surprise, as well as history making for The Great American Bakery Hunt, as it remains the first and only bakery discovered in the uncharted state of Cincinnati. Meera, you have helped T.G.A.B.H. reach unprecedented locations on the bakery map! Going back to those third grade history lessons, I can only imagine that this feeling is akin to the sentiments felt by early explorers as they discovered new and distant lands. Evils of colonization aside, it's always pretty darn exciting to explore! Grab your compass, Meera, and follow the scent of vanilla West-- you will always be welcome to explore with us when you're back in California! Kudos, also to the BonBonerie, I will surely visit you if ever I'm in the area-- your butter cookies left me wanting more indeed.

The City Bakery: more than meets the eye!

I recently discovered the City Bakery, a famous New York transplant, just a 10 minute drive from my apartment. Its LA location is nestled within the Brentwood Country Mart, a trendy shopping center around San Vicente and 26th.

Don't let it's upscale appearance fool you: While the City Bakery's cafeteria-style selections offer customers such choices as roasted endives, they also sell freshly made down home dishes like their Mac and Cheese by the pound. Granted, this is a $10 a pound purchase, but this piping hot M & C definitely looks better than your typical boxed macaroni.

There is something so inviting about this bakery-- friendly service compliments an enticing variety of baked goods, including a famous Pretzel Croissant that has a legendary following from its East Coast beginnings that has now reached the diaspora of baked good lovers across the country.

As a California native who only recently made my first trip to New York, I never knew until last year the abundance of bakeries I was missing out on in The Big Apple. It's nice to get a piece of that here on the West Coast.

Thus far, I have made two trips to The City Bakery. I've tried two of their apple creations, the apple sticky bun and the miso apple muffin (made with yogurt instead of butter). I found both to be a fresh and satisfying experience. Yet what I was most pleasantly surprised by was their chocolate chip cookie, a large, soft, and fresh find among the often too-crunchy or over-baked cookie landscape of Southern California.

The benefits of The City Bakery extend beyond the food-- it is also an oasis from the heavily wi-fi'd out coffee houses of Los Angeles. While I applaud free internet access and caffeine in one spot, it's refreshing to discover an opportunity to unplug and read a regular newspaper-- to sip your cappuccino, get newsprint on your hands, and enjoy some quality baked goods.

It's fitting that this bakery experience made me feel as if it was keeping me in touch with the surrounding world. After doing some more research, I discovered that The City Bakery is tied to another baking venture dedicated to environmental awareness. Birdbath, Neighborhood Green Bakery, bakes in their East Village location and transports goods by bicycle-driven cargo rickshaw to their West Village shop. Milk and cream served in the store comes from a family farm north of Manhattan. And, they offer a 25% discount if you arrive on skateboard or bike.

With my love for alternative transportation, baked goods, and dairy products combined this bakery sounds like my cup of tea!

I'm still waiting to try the legendary Pretzel Croissant-- it seems like a croissant of these legendary proportions warrants a special occasion, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Summer is just 'round the corner

Thanks to one lovely individual, I had the great fortune of trying DeLuscious Cookies this past Sunday. It's worth noting that DeLuscious delivers fresh cookies AND milk throughout the LA area.

The cookies made for the perfect conclusion of a busy weekend up at camp. With summer just around the corner and the weather warming up, these arrival of the cookies was destiny. Their unexpected presence begged for an ice cold glass of milk, a refreshing contrast to the sunny weather. And once the day's work was wrapping up late Sunday afternoon and I got my hands on some moo juice, I couldn't help thinking it was the perfect Sunday.

It's great to explore some new bakeries, and it's even more fun when it's by surprise. Random acts of cookie kindness are the best kind, in my opinion. (I've mentioned before my love for that famous cookie-giving scene from Man on the Moon). It's especially nice to stay in the know as the summer approaches, since the Great American Bakery Hunt will be taking it's annual camp hiatus come June. Eating these cookies from DeLuscious, fresh and scrumptious as they were, also inspired me to do a little of my own baking. With a recipe from my King Arthur Flour Cookbook, I created a milk chocolate chip, orange zest, & pistachio recipe, made with almond extract. It's been a great few days for The American Bakery Hunt!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Best breadbasket on the West Side

The best breadbasket on the West side might very well be at Le Pain Quotidien. The breadbasket comes with a variety of their freshly sliced breads & a selection of jams, and is a perfect breakfast to enjoy with a cup of morning tea. I'm also a fan of ordering their hummus on the side, a nice savory addition to the breads! Please write in with your vote for the best breadbasket on the West Side. As always, I am taking suggestions!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Hot Bread Cafe: an activist bakery

The Hot Bread Cafe in New York is a nonprofit bakery that provides social and financial opportunities to immigrant women and their families while preserving cultural baking traditions.

Read more about their mission and products on their website.

In addition to other places, you can buy Hot Bread Cafe's products at Blue Apron Fine Foods in Park Slope, Brooklyn-- a wonderful specialty foods shop I visited and fell in love with during my trip to New York last spring.

You can donate to Hot Bread Kitchen and support ESL classes for some of their bakers, or donate in support of a delivery vehicle-- these are the two fundraising priorities currently listed on the website.

Nonprofits and bakeries are two things that I hold dear and near to my heart, so the combination of the two is a union I love to hear about.

Sanctity of scones

The Seattlest makes a good point about the sanctity of scones, asserting that people who think they do not like scones actually do, indeed like them.

The blog explains that paperweight-like products in coffee shops often masquerade as scones, but are nothing like what scones are meant to taste like in their true form.

I couldn't agree more-- the scones featured at some large chain coffee shops and cafes are sometimes downright insulting.

Although one of the Seattlest local readers commented that we should not forget The Hi-Spot Cafe, a cafe in the Medrona neighborhood of Seattle whose menu boasts a 'Scone of the Day'.

Any other scone suggestions out there?

Monday, March 24, 2008

a rare day with little to do, coffee, sunshine

I've mentioned Pain du Monde's cookies before, but here is photographic evidence!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A wildly successful hunt at LA's Milk

If you take a look at the pictures above, you can see I went on a bakery hunting rampage at LA's Milk today. Milk is a bakery & cafe where things are made fresh every day, and it certainly comes through in taste. Now, before even going to Milk, they had already won me over with their name-- it's important to be able to order milk at a bakery (although people in France may tell you otherwise). I have to appreciate their nod to the wonders of dairy.

From what I observed and sampled today, there was a lot of consistency and quality in the freshness and overall quality of Milk's offerings. The blueberry turnover pictured above tasted so fresh, it tasted like what an actual turnover should taste like! (You may have seen impostor turnovers at other shops: the ones with the hard outer crust, with edges that seem practically welded together?) Not at Milk though! The turnovers here are light and airy on the outside, with the real substance limited to where it should be-- located in the fruity middle.

Everything I tasted was more than satisfying-- the cookies tasted homemade, with their perfectly soft center and slightly crispy edges. I sampled both the chocolate chip walnut cookies as well as the molasses cookies. Both were mouth watering creations, and I especially appreciated the thin lines of icing drizzled over the island of molasses dough.

I also tried a slice of the corn and raspberry loaf-- a hearty selection that should be enjoyed with a cup of tea or a glass of milk to balance things out-- but one that satisfies the corn lovers out there. The grasshopper ice cream sandwich was also quite delicious and with a refreshing minty flavor.

All in all, this Saturday hunt through Los Angeles was wildly successful. Milk's selections come highly recommended from various constituents of The Great American Bakery Hunt, and I was pleased to find such a wide variety of lovely bakery creations to choose from. And friendly service to boot! I'll be back Milk, I'll be back very soon.

*Hours: Sun-Thurs: 9 am to 10 pm
Fri & Sat: 9 am to 11 pm

Please note that their late hours make them even more rad than originally anticipated by TGABH.

7290 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036

those Portland bakery spies are at it again!

This article , written by a self-proclaimed dessert sleuth, will take you through 36 hours of frosting and cake in Portland. This one's for all my friends in the Northwest-- may you eat lots of great cake as a result of this read. You deserve a little cake after all that rain!

The wheat bushel blues!

Check out this Los Angeles Times article about the rising cost of wheat and how it could affect bread consumption. If you're like me and you're not crazy about low carb diets, you might want to read this...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

If the Beatles had written a song about Amandine, it would have been on Rubber Soul

Go to Amandine Patissiere on Wilshire. Do not stop at Vienna Pastries. Do not stop at Cafe Zella. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Alright, stop at N.Y.B.D New York Bagel and Deli if you must have a snack. But please, whatever you do, go to Amandine on Wilshire. The perfect place to linger over a pastry and a capaccino and get a bit of reading done. French accents and free parking? A wanderlusting California native's dream. It feels and smells like a good European style bakery should, and I love it. Bless you Amandine. They just don't make 'em like you anymore.

In fact, if The Beatles had written a song about Amandine, it would have been on Rubber Soul. It wouldn't be quite trendy enough to have a number one hit, but it would be darn good...and undeniably classic.

12225 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025

This just in: Epic journeys not just for Odysseus!

Whenever someone I know travels to any semi-distant city, I usually have a bakery to recommend to them that I've been admiring from afar. Typically, I will stalk bakeries via news articles, cookbooks, word of mouth recommendations, and the like for quite some time before I actually have the chance to travel there and taste for myself.

Such is the case with Extraordinary Desserts, located in downtown San Diego.

My friend Kim, a fellow bakery hunter that represents the GABH Pasadena chapter gave me the tip-off on this one quite awhile ago.

A very special thanks goes out to bakery hunter April (Hawaii GABH regional representative) for finally making my dreams of attaining Extraordinary Desserts come true. After working seven days straight, she had to drive up to San Diego for a work training. Running on turbo April fuel with not as much as a day off to rest, she orchestrated a dessert journey for me that involved the immediate transport of both a fresh berry cobbler and a linzer tart all the way from San Diego County to my coastal palace (read: studio) in Santa Monica. These desserts traveled to me on a 13o- mile plus epic journey.

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April, for your dedication in helping our cause here at The Great American Bakery Hunt, I salute you.

mouth watering soul satisfying Berry Cobbler
Linzer tart was linzer-licious, if you'll accept that as an adjective...

Both desserts were more than delicious: Folks, it turns out Extraordinary Desserts is not just a clever name!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

7:00 pm cookie coffee interlude (Pacific Standard Time)

There are days when you simply need a 7:00 PM cookie & coffee interlude (Pacific Standard Time, in my case). But no matter your time zone, this generally seems like a good idea.

Today being farmer's market Wednesday in Santa Monica, my buddy and I planned ahead for a nighttime treat with a lunchtime walk to the Rockenwagner booth. After first winning me over with their savory bacon-y cheesey poppy seed bread (unofficial name), I just recently began experimenting with their cookies.

At first, only white chocolate macademia nut cookies were available for purchase, but today the unthinkable happened! A miracle was unveiled, to my delight! Little did I know that they started selling one of my most favorite cookie varieties at the market: the chocolate chip walnut.

I couldn't eat it immediately-- for a Rockenwagner chocolate chip walnut is not a cookie you casually snack on during an evening work session. Now, this was only my first journey of consumption as far as Rockenwagner's C.C.W. was concerned. Even so, I could tell just by its beautiful texture that it was not merely a cookie to nibble on, your eyes glazing over as you squint at the harsh lines of your Microsoft Office calendar. No my dear readers, a Rockenwagner chocolate chip walnut is made to be savored.

A Rockenwagner C.C.W. is a cookie for a 7 pm cookie coffee interlude, an opportunity to enjoy its sweet, beautiful cookie respite and reflect on the day. Thus, prior to consumption, this warranted a well thought out pre-cookie stroll down 4th street over to Leonidas, the best coffee spot in town (heavenly Mochas with real melted chocolate inside and a 10% off discount if you work nearby...not to mention a free square of chocolate with every drink, and ridiculously friendly service.)

When it finally came time for my 7 pm PST cookie coffee interlude, everything fell exquisitely into place. As it turns out, the cookie had a Pain du Monde-like quality to it. If this analogy doesn't speak to you, seek out Pain du Monde's treats next time you're in Orange County-- they make one of my favorite cookies. They will earn your good faith with reliability and freshness. It's great to find a kindred spirit in Rockenwagner's Santa Monica offerings. If you don't have reliability in your neighborhood cookies, then what else do you have left?

Happy farmer's market Wednesday to all, and to all a good night.

Love in the time of cake

Today I joined my friend for a wedding cake tasting at Let Them Eat Cake in my hometown of Costa Mesa.

As I have always told her, the cake is (some might say arguably) the most important part of the wedding. A close second to the one that you love, the cake's importance is immeasurable.

A wedding is quite possibly the only time in an average person's life where you can justifiably spend a substantial amount of money on one decadent dessert. It is a decision that if taken seriously, if given enough weight, can provide one with an opportunity for dessert greatness.

There was a lot to consider at the cake tasting session today-- not only design and taste, but also moral quandaries that only Emily Post could solve! For example, if you have three hundred guests, should you purchase cake by the slice for all three hundred present, or should you take into account that some people will not eat cake, as much as you, Marie Antoinette, or the owners of this shop may implore them to do just that? (Personally, I cannot conceive of leaving a wedding before trying the cake.)

At Let Them Eat Cake, they make everything from scratch, a philosophy I have to appreciate. I learned today that "Nothing is dipped out of a bucket, squeezed out of a tube, etc." A lot of heart and soul goes into their uber-moist creations. They seem to take the cake for taking cake seriously. (Although this was my first official wedding cake tasting, so who knows how intense this can get?) Anyway, at times it gave me goosebumps to be around people who are so passionate about baked creations.

Today I tried flavors including chocolate, Banana's foster pecan cake, Lemon Framboise Cake, and Raspberry Frangelico Cake (the latter was my favorite among the selections). Their website describes it as "Layers of moist butter cake baked with fresh Raspberry and Roasted Hazelnut Chunks and filled with Hazelnut Cream, Raspberry Cream, and Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache." Yes, it was delicious.

One particularly interesting part of their creative process at Let Them Eat Cake is their request that the happy couple mail them a package of clues, with the idea that these clues will inspire the creation of a meaningful and personal cake with a careful attention to detail. These clues are snapshots into who they are, a representation of their desired cake design aesthetic via bridesmaid fabric swatches, portraits, text about where the couple first met, even wedding shower wrapping paper.

While I can appreciate their thoughtfulness, and their overall creative process, I don't know if I would be able to go through with this. Naturally, aesthetics are important at such a special event-- but I would have to place priority on elements that would make the cake taste the very best. Rather than painstakingly designing edible sequins that match my hypothetical dress, give me the most flavor for my money. Give me a cake that will make my taste buds fall in love. Isn't that what weddings are all about?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Best breadbasket on the East Side...

Dusty's Bistro in Silver Lake serves what is potentially the best, most delicious breadbasket on the East Side. I have yet to partake in any other East Side breadbaskets, but The Great American Bakery Hunt will be on the lookout!

Excuses, excuses...

Dear readers, I know you've probably had your fill of apologetic posts, but my absence is not without reason.

Scientists have found that 90% of my blog neglect can be attributed to my passion for working at a nonprofit organization. I keep myself quite busy, so while my hunting stomach is full, my bakery posts are piling up in some lobe or another of my brain-- the frontal lobe? the temporal? I can't be too sure, but these posts exist somewhere and they must be written!

While 90% of my blog neglect is work-related, scientists have found that 10% of blog neglect is due to other factors including but not limited to efforts to have a social life, family obligations, moving in and getting settled into a new apartment, a trip to Nashville, Netflix, and explorations in a new city (Santa Monica, in my case). The latter is thankfully, an activity that still nurtures The Great American Bakery Hunt, although it does not hasten posts.

When it comes down to it, I need to stop making excuses and start blogging more. Even with the hard facts of science behind me, the American public still needs a bakery hunter on their side.

I have not forgotten the hunt, so stay tuned.