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Entries in san francisco (34)


Sweet Find: Homemade Baked Goods by Bluebottle Coffee, San Francisco

Bluebottle Coffee in San Francisco is one of the places for coffee snobs to go and be themselves among their people.

But I like them for a different reason: they make all their own baked goods!

That's right. Their creative array of baked goods is baked at one commercial kitchen and then delivered daily to each of their Bay Area locations.

Though the menu is frequently changing, you might find caramelized macaroons, individual brandy cakes, sweet and savory (!) shortbread, and, on the day of our visit, saffron snickerdoodles.

The overall opinion was that the saffron snickerdoodle was quite well executed, but there was some reservation about assigning it to the Snickerdoodle family. The saffron made it seem like a different cookie entirely, and biting into a snickerdoodle one usually would expect a rich cinnamon-sugar flavor, and with this one, it was definitely saffron-erriffic. Which is a very good thing, but snickerdoodle fans might not be getting what they bargained for, you know? Maybe re-branding it as a Saffrondoodle? On second thought, that is a terrible name.

Nonetheless, the point is, Bluebottle is to be commended for their creative and very nicely executed bakery case; if you're in San Francisco, be sure to check out what they have on the day of your visit. Or if you live there, don't hesitate to hit them up for treats as well as coffee.

Bluebottle Coffee, multiple locations; online here.

Blue Bottle Cafe on Urbanspoon


Sweet Chill: CakeSpy Visits Humphrey Slocombe, San Francisco

San Francisco has an almost obscene amount of delicious ice cream. And one that I finally got to visit this trip, on the urging of many, was Humphrey Slocombe. Their flavors are crazy! People would say.

When Bridget (SpySister) and I walked over, I was surprised by how not-crazy the décor seemed: for some reason I had it in my mind that this place was going to be like Voodoo Donuts or something. Well, it wasn't, but the flavors certainly were different (see a full listing of some of the flavor possibilities here); on the day of our visit, some highlights included: “Secret Breakfast” was cornflake and bourbon-infused, and other choices included vietnamese coffee, Fluffernutter, Pepper Mint (Pepper. Mint. Not "Peppermint") and "Jesus Juice" Sorbet--a mix of wine and Coca Cola.

We sampled the "Secret Breakfast" and the "Open Hand Fluffernutter", and each upgraded to a scoop of the sampled flavors.

So how does Slocombe stack up in SF's ice cream hierarchy? Well. The style of the ice cream seemed a little lighter and less rich than some of the other scoops in town, but it was still very creamy and flavorful; the flavors themselves, while unlikely in some cases, seemed well balanced and thoughtful—not just flavors dreamed up for shock value. This is what I would consider an ice cream for everyday eating--not so fancy or overly rich that it's a special-occasion type of treat.

The employees were all very friendly too, and there was no line when we went, and it was sunny and there was a table, so we filed ourselves under “Winning”.

Humphry Slocombe, 2790 Harrison Street, San Francisco; online at humphryslocombe.com.

Humphry Slocombe on Urbanspoon


CakeSpy Undercover: Cako Bakery, San Francisco

If you are a bakery, and you tell me to come visit, I probably will. 

So when I was in San Francisco recently and Cako Bakery said (via twitter, natch!) “you should visit our bakery” I was all “OK”.

I hit it up with friends Phil and Matt before we went to see Tales of The City, the musical (no, really). The bakery is in an unlikely spot, sort of downtown leaning into the Tenderloin, but there it is, with a pink neon sign and cupcakes in the window. (I later learned they have a second location, too, in Japantown)

When we visited, it was about 7.30 pm but they still had a prettily stocked display. There was a big tattoed fella behind the counter who seemed slightly incongruous with his cupcake setting, but when he asked what we'd like and I said “Well, tell me, what's the best flavor?” he didn't hesitate for a moment: “Strawberry cheesecake.” And he smiled while he said it, like he had been friends with that cupcake before.

Matt had the pleasure of devouring this beauty, which had a strawberry cream cheese frosting, vanilla cake and a cheesecake filling. Like, cheesecake inside! Like whoa. Bake it in a Cake would faint.

Matt is an expert (he is friends with me, after all) and reports that the cream cheese frosting is lighter than usual, which is kind of nice; it is more whipped. The cupcake itself is dense and flavorful, a nice contrast to the light frosting. His overall thoughts: “a different kind of cupcake. I like it”.

That's enough for me to add it to my next return trip!

Cako Bakery, 211 O'Farrell Street, San Francisco; online at cakobakery.com; follow them on Twitter here.

Cako on Urbanspoon


C'mon Get Happy: Happy Donuts, San Francisco

First things first. If you like boutique doughnuts, and you're in San Francisco, go elsewhere. Go to Pebbles or Dynamo, where they have a fine product and creative flavors with local ingredients and all of that business.

But if you're looking for a donut that simply gets the job done, and is deliciously greasy and cheap, go to Happy Donuts. They have several locations throughout the Bay Area; I went to the one on Haight Street.

This place was suggested by SpySister's Boyfriend, who saves the world professionally for a living, and who, unlike me, is unconcerned with the backstory of his baked goods, when I was asking around about the best baked goods, said something along the lines of “I like Happy Donuts because they are good.”

That was enough for me. And at 90 cents apiece, these doughnuts will do you right. I bought two chocolate frosted (with sprinkles) and immediately downed one, and found it a perfect low-brow, high-sweet treat; I left, and was solicited for money by a down on his luck fellow on the street. “Do you have a dollar?” he said. “No,” I replied, “But I do have an extra donut.” Well, as it turns out that's what the guy was going to use a dollar for, so he was pleased as punch to receive this round of dough. Dollars to donuts indeed!

Happy Donuts, Haight Street and elsewhere, San Francisco.


Stella! Cookies from Stella Pastry, North Beach, San Francisco

I love North Beach, in San Francisco. It's so touristy it's kitschy, and because of that, it kinda has soul. Kind of like an old Italian grandma who likes to wear rhinestones (spoken like a Spy who has a grandma who likes to wear rhinestones, no?).

And the bakeries are old-school, with the rows and rows of butter cookies that seem to be the hallmark of an Italian Bakery.

So when I visited Stella Pastry, I chose a sweet assortment of these sweet treats to sample: a rainbow sprinkled butter cookie, a pignoli cookie, and a russian teacake (I am not sure what they call them in Italian?).

Now, it's hard to say this without sounding like I'm making a jab, but let me try. These cookies are typically not the standout menu at Italian bakeries--for instance, at Stella, they seem proudest of their Sacripantina slice. Frequently, these cookies are somewhat dry (not to say they are stale, just drier in texture). It is that they are wonderful to look at, taste like sweet nostalgia, and always pair beautifully with milky coffee. Even if you don't have a glitzy Italian grandma, for a moment, you can pretend that she baked these for you.

And you'll get that sweet treat with a kick of nostalgia at Stella Pastry. So go visit!

Stella Pastry, 446 Columbus Ave, San Francisco. Online here.

Stella Pastry & Cafe on Urbanspoon


I'm Smitten: Smitten Ice Cream, San Francisco

Smitten Ice Cream should receive a badge for "Very Adorably Named Ice Cream Establishment".

But should they receive a badge for "Extremely Delicious Product"?

Yes, yes, yes. I had the pleasure of visiting this establishment, in Hayes Valley, San Francisco, yesterday, with my friends Phil and Matt. We had some time to kill before seeing Tales Of The City, the Musical (no, really) so we decided to spend it carb-o-loading. 

Smitten is a sort of semi-permanent pop-up establishment made, strangely but delightfully, out of a recycled shipping container, and they make your ice cream to order.

We chose the "always available" flavor entitled TCHO 60.5% Dark Chocolate. We declined the offers to "Make it “hot” chocolate?" by adding candied jalapeño or topping it with coconut brittle, although they were very enticing.

Now, you have to have a few minutes to spend here, because they basically make the ice cream to order. It's true:

In the pursuit of creating better ice cream, Robyn Sue Goldman spent two years developing a one-of-a-kind ice cream machine, now named “Kelvin.” Kelvin’s uniqueness stems from its ability to make the smoothest, tastiest ice cream from scratch in 60 seconds. How? Kelvin runs on liquid nitrogen.  

Kelvin the machine takes a few minutes, but ultimately you're rewarded: this chocolate ice cream was not so much ice cream as like eating a melted, creamy chocolate truffle. And I mean this in a good way. It was extremely thick and very flavorful, and tasted like it was the opposite of low-fat. That is to say, awesome.

Worth a visit, but be warned that if there is a line, you're in for a serious wait. Sweet tip: a local told us that the other pop-up establishment sharing the recycling container, Ritual Coffee Roasters, has a "killer caramelized macaroon".

Smitten Ice Cream, 432 Octavia Street, San Francisco. Online here.


Best Friands Forever: The Chocolate Friand at Tartine, San Francisco

Visiting Tartine is kind of like a Mandatory Activity for any lover of baked goods while visiting San Francisco. I'm not positive, but I'm pretty sure, that the Pastry Gods will smite you with thunderbolts of artificial sweetener if you don't.

Let me tell you. I've been there before. I've tried the Morning Buns. I've sampled the gougeres, the eclairs, the meringues. But on this visit, I went for some smaller treats: a coconut macaroon and the Friand.

I shared the macaroon (so giving!) but the Friand was all mine. And it was a good Friand to me.

A friand, in case you were wondering, is sort of like a Financier, the sponge cakey almond cookie that I think is slightly better than the madeleine.

But this one was especially special—it was served in a little candy cup not unlike peanut butter cups, and the cakey cookie was chocolate-flavored...and, like most of the good things in life, it was topped with a nice dollop of chocolate ganache.

Now. It is worth noting that a Friand is also someone who is "cultured, having good taste"...so clearly, this Friand was well matched with me.

Find your own Best Friand, or something else delicious, at Tartine, 600 Guerrero Street, San Francisco. Online here.


Sweetness by the Bay: Cake Gumshoe Charlotte's San Francisco Picks

CakeSpy Note: My readers are totally sweet. Case in point: Cake Gumshoe Charlotte, who recently took a holiday to San Francisco and was kind enough to report on some of her sweet finds!

Just returned from San Francisco, fully loaded with sweetness. Walgreen's had big bags of M&M's 2 for 4 dollars!

I also got to sample some totally sweet treats. During a rainy walk through Telegraph Hill and into North Beach I came across this Italian French Baking Company--that's what it was called. The Nonna working the counter was on two phones getting the low down on the previous night's events and there were two older gentlemen on stools in the window, this place had a very local feel. I was there in the afternoon, so a lot of their sweet treats were sold out. I was really hoping for an almond croissant but was informed that I was too late for those. Must be a hot item.

I picked up an Almond Lemon scone, which I had for breakfast the next day. Delicious, perfect balance of the two flavours.

The next morning I walked down Market Street to the Ferry Building. I had it on good authority that I would find stalls and vendors with 'artisanal baked goods'. And I did. There was a lot to choose from but when I saw Pebbles Donuts my mind was made up.

Super friendly service from the vendor, who was not one of the bakers. She told me there are two bakers, sounded secretive. I chose a Meyer Lemon for my man, and the cinnamon sugar because the vendor said it was her favorite. They were delicious. Soft and moist, not a bit greasy at all. Yum!

That afternoon I went to the SF MOMA and when it was time for a sit down break I headed to the 5th floor cafe and found Humphrey Slocombe! They didn't have a choice of flavours, but an art inspired desert based on a work by Tony Cragg. One scoop of blood orange, one scoop of malted milk and a sugar cone. The blood orange had a bit of a salty taste to it with subtle orange flavour and the malted milk was amazing!! Just like a Malteaser, (or a whopper in the U.S.). So yummy!

Sounds like a sweet adventure!

Places mentioned:

Italian French Baking Company

Pebbles Donuts

Humphrey Slocombe


Batter Chatter: Interview with Esa Yonn-Brown of Butter Love Bake Shop

Sometimes you discover great bakers in the most unexpected places. For instance: recently I got to talking to Liz, violinist in Mr. CakeSpy's band Exohxo, and she casually mentions that her childhood pen pal Esa Yonn-Brown not only makes the most amazing baked goods, but she owns a Butter Love Bakeshop (best name ever!), a pie-making business in San Francisco, featuring such alluring pies as the Pear Crisp Pie, "One Bite Wonder" mini pies, Irish Coffee Cream Pie, and a signature "Butter Pie". Well, I demanded an introduction on the spot, and thanks to the magic of Facebook, it happened soon after. Want to know more of Esa's story? Here you go:

CakeSpy: Tell me your first pie memory.

Esa Yonn-Brown: I don't recall the day that the photo was taken that appears on the front of my website (picture left) but as you can see I grew up around pie from the time I could wield a butter knife, so pie it's self is embedded in many of my memories. The most comforting memory I have that surrounds pie is that of my mom in the kitchen in the very early morning singing while I still lay in my bed before school. She would sing while she rolled out the butter studded dough and filled rounds with potatoes, meat and vegetables. I remember her telling me as I got on the school bus to hold my lunch bag opened on my lap until my empanadas cooled or they would steam up and get soggy. I also remember all the kids on the bus asking me what I had because that buttery smell filled the cabin of the stale smelling bus.

CS: What do you think are some contributing factors to the current "pie renaissance"?

EYB: I think people are looking for comfort these days and pie, to many people, is the essence of comfort. Pie evokes memories of moms in the kitchen, something homemade and simple, and is warm and full of love. It is not pretentious but can be elegant in it's core which is appealing in a time that is so full of unknowns.

CS: Please, tell me more about your signature "Butter Pie". What is it, where did it come from, why should we love it?

EYB: The Butter Pie is a take on the traditional Canadian Butter Tart. I was trying to think of a signature pie when I was getting started that was both unique, butter related, and addictivly good. This pie ended up fitting the bill. Plus I wanted the signature pie to be something I could make year round so it would not rely on seasonality.

CS: A lot of people are VERY scared of pie crust. Any tips or suggested tools to make it slightly less scary?

EYB: Practice and cold butter. There are all sort of tricks out there but really if you want to make a truly good all butter crust it is difficult and requires practice. Once you get it it is not hard to do at all, but it is a delicate balance between cold ingredients, not over working the dough, and making sure not to add too much water which will all result in a tough crust. People should not be scared to try to make an all butter crust, the flavor will be there no matter what and after a few tries they will figure out the balance involved.

CS: Also RE: pie crust--butter, shortening, lard, or a mixture?

EYB: Butter all the way! Shortening has no flavor at all, but is much easier to work with. I have not tried lard and would be interested to experiment but I love the flavor that butter provides. Butter also offers a tenderness that is not achievable with shortening, and if you master it can have the crisp flaky texture that shortening provides.

CS: What is your favorite type of holiday pie?

EYB: It may be boring to some but I really think a traditional apple pie still slightly warm with some vanilla ice cream or generous helping of just whipped above weeping cream, with a touch of vanilla and lightly sweetened couldn't be better for the holidays.

CS: New Year's Eve is over, but next time I'm celebrating, what kind of pie do you think would go well with champagne?

EYB: I personally love champagne and think pear pie would be lovely as well as a rich chocolate tart.

Discover Butter Love Bakeshop via Facebook, follow them on Twitter, or learn more at butterlovebakeshop.com.


Sweetness by the Bay: 50 Sweet Moments from a California Adventure

Well, well, well. Did you know that a couple weekends ago I went to a totally sweet and magical land called San Francisco? The adventures didn't take place solely within the city limits: I ventured out of the city to Oakland and Santa Cruz as well, and well, I would love to share some of the sweetest moments from my travels with you, because if they made me smile, surely they'll make you smile too.

Ready? Set? Let's go:

  1. First off: finding my artwork at Fireworks in Seatac on my way out! Way to start the journey feeling like a big deal.
  2. First stop after arriving in San Francisco? Oakland! I ventured over to visit CakeSpy customers (and buddies!) Jane and Rick, owners of Good Chemistry Baking, which specializes in baked goods which are devoid of gluten, but full of delicious.
  3. First item tried: chocolate cookie
  4. And a cupcake
  5. ...aaaand, a Lemon bar
  6. The reaction of Anya, who does follow a gluten-free diet, to said baked goods.
  7. Happiness: Dorie Greenspan was reading at Omnivore Books while I was there!
  8. BTW, I would like to mention that while this place (Hometown Donuts) may seem like it has it all--liquor, beer, Chinese food, and (though not visible in this pic) psychic readings--the fact is, when I walked in, they did not have any donuts.
  9. A sweet walk with coffee and an SF-themed Cuppie postcard.
  10. Dessert at Magnolia: chocolate chess pie a la mode. Ohhh yeeeah.
  11. The baked good case at Reverie, where we went for breakfast the next morning.
  12. OMG! NY Style crumb cake, at a hippie health food store on Haight Street!
  13. A visit to the always lovely Miette Patisserie.
  14. Sadly, Paulette was not open when we visited, but we did get to peek in the window.
  15. OMG! We drove by the Its-It Headquarters!
  16. Whale City Bakery!
  17. Chocolate covered potato chip, anyone? From Marinis on the Beach, Santa Cruz.
  18. ...no, clearly the choice is chocolate covered bacon! Also from Marinis. You can tell that Phil is taking his duties as Cake Gumshoe very seriously.
  19. A delicious cookie, from Cafe Delmarette.
  20. This cupcake, also from Cafe Delmarette.
  21. What is it? Not a cannoli. From Hoffman's, Santa Cruz.
  22. A Russian Teacake from Original Sin Desserts, Santa Cruz.
  23. Spied in Santa Cruz: my artwork, at Bookshop Santa Cruz!
  24. A chocolate mint cookie from Pacific Cookie Co, with vibrant green chips.
  25. Pies made from beads, outside of a bead store.
  26. Discovering The Penny Ice Creamery, Santa Cruz.
  27. Bonbons from Penny Ice Creamery
  28. Philip got the fennel ice cream.
  29. Yam (!) ice cream, enjoyed by my incredibly good looking sister, Bridget
  30. Another Russian Teacake from The Buttery
  31. This cake, from The Buttery
  32. Finding my totally sweet buddy Erin in Santa Cruz! (Yes, she's really, really tall. AND I'm really short)
  33. Delicious beverages at 515, Santa Cruz.
  34. The "Goodfellow" from Kelly's French Bakery
  35. This little tart (Olallieberry?) from Kelly's French Bakery
  36. Anjalena roll, Kelly's French Bakery
  37. Pinching deer from a distance in Santa Cruz
  38. From Gayle's Bakery in Capitola: the Christopher Bun.
  39. From Gayle's in Capitola: Potato Chip Cookies
  40. This sign brought me joy.
  41. Finally, I met my Maker.
  42. Cool street art!
  43. California Suncakes! Made for hippies, but enjoyed by CakeSpy.
  44. At the Ferry building, savory macarons (with mushrooms!)
  45. Discovering the California Coffee Cake Company.
  46. Um...getting to visit the Twitter offices!
  47. Cuppie came too.
  48. This sign, which I suspect was put in place when they saw me coming.
  49. Bathroom Cake Graffiti!
  50. General observation: the houses in San Francisco kind of resemble petits fours. Yay!

 For more pictures of pastry adventures past and present in San Francisco, visit my Flickr page!

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