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.