Saturday, January 16, 2010

Coffee talk at Huckleberry with The Great American Bakery Hunt

Recently, I've been missing out on quality time with one of my very favorite local bakeries, Huckleberry.  So after work one evening, I stopped by and did some studying while sipping on their refillable coffee to my heart's content.  And since going to Huckleberry and not getting a treat is like going to France and skipping the bistros, I was also obligated to taste the cake pictured above.  This was before I had eaten dinner, but I was guided by the law of the bakery.  Big, fluffy, and chocolaty, this slice of cake is old school.  It's much like the slice of cake I imagine kids returning to after school, particularly kids who grew up on farmland and who were served fresh from-the-oven slices coupled with a tall glass of milk straight from the cows.  

Coffee talk at Rockenwagner with The Great American Bakery Hunt

I've been a pretty busy nonprofit worker bee recently, so I splurged and treated myself to a little Rockenwagner coffee break.  This was a day worthy of a double shot and the delicious baked good of my choice.  And while usually my heart belongs to their freshly baked chocolate chip cookie, the hidden gem of Rockenwagner is the Linzer cookie.  Now, the instinct of the typical American bakery patron is to go for the chocolate chip cookie.  But try the Linzer one of these days!  Don't be afraid!  It's the more rare species of cookie, and while every bit as delicious, you're much less likely to whip up a batch of these at home on a whim.  And if you have one of those mysterious people in your life who does not like chocolate, it's a great treat to introduce to them.   Not to mention that it's the perfect mid-day sweet treat to keep any worker bee going. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Local LA bakeries tug at the heartstrings

The last time I went to La Brea to grab coffee and a pastry at the Little Next Door, street window displays teased me with promises of exciting new bakeries.  

In fact, promises of my favorite baked goods have been pulling on my heartstrings a lot recently.  Huckleberry has suddenly become so popular that I feel like a jilted significant other who eventually comes to the realization that their love interest is seeing other people: a lot of other people.  See, I try to be sly and go during times that I think will be "off times"-- times when I can quietly read the paper and chomp on a piece of savory flatbread.  But despite this strategy, every time seems to be more bustling than ever.  Huckleberry, deservedly (due to its high quality), has long lines and is in great demand with the people.  And then you see Arnold Schwarzenegger in line, and you know now it's serious.  Now you have to share bakery territory with the Governator, and it's only a matter of time before more of the masses follow.  Things may never be the same.   Even so Huckleberry, we only want to see you happy.  

Regional food envy cured after surprise package arrives at office! Announcing Part 3 in the "it's safe to say I work with the most awesome people" series

Back in September, I blogged about a wicked case of regional food envy (RFE) after I discovered the delicious tradition of West Virginia pepperoni rolls.  Completely foreign to my California upbringing, these rolls were just the hearty snack I never knew I always wanted.  The last time I got to enjoy one of these treats was during the summer-- and just when I thought I might never taste a genuine P-roll again, an entire box of them arrived from a colleague in West Virginia!  Hearing they were a "hot commodity" in California, he sent some along to us in Santa Monica.  In an unsolicited comment, April, coworker and long-time contributor of The Great American Bakery Hunt, wrote this enthusiastic early morning email:

From: April 
Sent: Tuesday, January 12, 2010 7:30 AM
To: Kristin

Subject: mmmmm...

"It’s so good, these pepperoni rolls for breakfast, I’m having another. I know, indulgent, but it’s a very rare occasion I can partake in such a morning treat! From West Virginia! Who else in California today can say they are having a breakfast from West Virginia?! Only us, only us!"


Notice that 7:30 am time stamp on April's email?  She couldn't wait to get to work in the morning to feast on another P-roll.  The Great American Bakery Hunt can't blame her.  Thanks to the folks in West Virginia who made our California day!

It's safe to say I work with the most awesome people, Part 2

In Part 2 of "It's safe to say I work with the most awesome people" series, The Great American Bakery Hunt pays homage to April, a long-time contributor to the hunt.  April recently stopped by Tartine (with fellow bakery hunting duo, the Spangler sisters) and brought back the brownies pictured below for some delicious snacks to enjoy in the office. Rich and nutty, these brownies were the perfect compliment to the mid-day cup of coffee.  It should be mentioned that April is quite the little baker herself-- she is constantly bringing in sweets for us to try.  So thank you April, whether it's our favorite San Francisco treat or straight out of your kitchen, we're always ready to eat what you bring to the table! Thanks to the Spanglers too!

It's safe to say I work with the most awesome people, Part 1

Today, The Great American Bakery Hunt presents Part 1 in the series
"It's safe to say that I work with the most awesome people."  

Scott, New Jersey native, visited Carlo's Bake Shop, over the holiday vacation and was generous enough to bring back this handsome coffee mug to benefit The Great American Bakery Hunt's daily caffeination needs.  Without caffeine, and great mugs to drink it out of, we might never get all this bakery-related writing done. 

As you may know, Carlo's Bakery has been in the New Jersey bakery business since 1910, and most recently, was popularized through the show Cake Boss on TLC.   And even though they've clearly hit it big time, you still feel connected to the heart of this small family business as they share the achievement of the American dream with TV viewers everywhere.

Here's to having thoughtful colleagues from New Jersey who make the specific trip to Carlo's, and thus, qualify for the "It's safe to say I work with the most awesome people" series.  Thanks Scott!  The Great American Bakery Hunt salutes you.


Saturday, January 09, 2010

the perfect breakfast sandwich, Hooligan cheese, and words to live by from Tina Fey

In honor of the LA Scandinavian film festival kickoff this weekend, I'd like to get everyone into the spirit with a tip about my favorite Danish breakfast.  It involves the following things: a freshly baked roll, like the one pictured above from Hygge Bakery, an aggressively strong cheese (try Grayson or preferably, Hooligan from Andrew's Cheese Shop or wherever you can get your hands on it!), and a sweet jam of some sort, perhaps a little Bonne Maman raspberry-- or swing by the Little Next Door and check out their lovely jam selection.  
       Now comes the important part: Spread a slab of cheese on the roll, add a layer of jam, and experience a hearty breakfast fit for a Copenhagen winter.  Sure, the cheese is stinky, but it's breakfast sandwich magic. While it wasn't Grayson or Hooligan I was eating in Denmark, these cheeses are similarly delicious compared with the unnamed, elusive block of strong Danish cheese that lived in my host family's refrigerator.  A few slices of this stinky mystery cheese, a couple pieces of my host mom's freshly baked bread, and some jam, were the essentials I grabbed and quickly threw into a sack before I ran out the door to catch the bus to school in Copenhagen. 
       It took me awhile of living back in the States to rekindle my love for aggressive, stinky cheese.  I didn't know if I'd ever taste that breakfast sandwich again, and I feared I would try to create the same sandwich and face inevitable dissapointment.  But then, unexpectedly, it happened:  I went to visit my brother in Brooklyn, and discovered Hooligan while strolling the Union Square green market.  I sampled it and immediately knew: I had to buy some and create the essential Danish breakfast at my brother's Park Slope apartment.
        Now, you must realize that this Danish breakfast endeavor took commitment.  My brother had slept in that day, being the night owl writer type.  But as a first time New York visitor I had a whole day of early morning exploration planned-- starting with the farmer's market.  (There was no time to waste in one of the greatest food cities in the world!) 
      I knew I had to buy the Hooligan, but I was planning to explore the city for many hours beyond the market.  I was determined.  I rigged up an elaborate cheese preservation plan involving a bag of ice which later left a few puddles on the subway floor.   For this unprepared traveler, it did just the temporary trick.  Hours later, I arrived in Park Slope, a woman on a serious mission.  My stinky cheese in tow, its odorous presence undoubtedly wafted through many Park Slope apartment windows, to the surprise (dismay?) of residents.  It was all for a good cause, though they didn't know it.  
     The next morning, the time had come for the sandwich reunion.  I ran to a neighborhood bakery that sold fresh, simple breakfast rolls, stopped at a gem of a specialty shop, Blue Apron Foods to buy some jam, and as planned, proceeded to fall in love with this magical Danish breakfast sandwich all over again.   Hooligan came very close to replicating the Danish breakfast sandwich experience for me, and I experienced the perfect culmination of food memories, travel, and culture in a city where anything is possible.  Don't ask me to describe the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty: on any given trip to New York, I'm likely to have better memories of a green market cheese sample than most things.

       While I'd love to go back to Denmark sometime soon, it looks like the perfect breakfast sandwich can be achieved in LA or New York, for now.  As the 30 Rock character Liz Lemon once said, "All of human kind has one thing in common: The Sandwich.  I believe that all anyone really wants in this life is to sit in peace and eat a sandwich."  Words to live by, if you ask me.

Friday, January 08, 2010

I'd like to say "Tak" to Hygge Bakery for delivering a little Denmark to downtown LA

I'd like to give Hygge Bakery a heartfelt "tak" (that's Danish for thanks") for bringing some real Danish culture to my Los Angeles life.  While the last time I was in Denmark was in 2005, I've definitely been obsessing about going back ever since.  To this day, carefully written English letters recieved from my host family continue to remind me of a culture I fell in love with, and a city of artfully executed pastry that will always lure me back for more.  With an actual Dane backing the Hygge Bakery business, it's the closest thing I've tasted to real Danish baked goods since the days of wandering the Copenhagen streets with glee as I made one pastry discovery after another.  The Danes I met, and who I now keep in touch with, remain a part of me, and Hygge is a great reminder of the food we shared. While I questioned whether their Danish pastries and coffee would warm the soul as much in the Southern California winter as in Copenhagen's, Hygge did not dissapoint.  Any Scandinavian culture enthusiasts out there?  The annual Scandinavian film festival runs this weekend, January 9-10, and next weekend, January 16-17 in Beverly Hills.  Best of all, the event is put on by the non-profit American Scandinavian Foundation of LA, making it that much cooler.