Friday, December 23, 2011

Lovely little cakes

Bien sur, the chocolates in Brussels were divine. But so were the cakes—at least the ones I had from Saint-Aulaye.

The very charming owner of this French patisserie in Ixelles, Jean-Louis Barré, was proud of his offerings. Not only the chocolates created in-house by Belgian Chocolate Master Ryan Stevenson, but the traditional tarts and gateaux as well.

With good reason.

He boasted that the bakery uses more butter in their croissants than any other bakery in Brussels. As I was there in the afternoon, I didn’t sample any veinnoiserie. But I took home (and shamelessly annihilated) a few cakes, including…

The Mikado: Chocolate mousse with roasted pecan nuts, on a thick chocolate brownie layer with Guérande rock salt.

And The Vegas: Dark chocolate mousse with caramel cream and roasted hazelnut biscuit.

I think the case for visiting Brussels is pretty clear, n'est-ce pas??

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cupcakes in San Francisco

Sure enough, cupcakeries have also taken over San Francisco.

SusieCakes was the most like Magnolia and Billy’s.

Uber sweet frosting, slathered on generously and dusted with sprinkles or other sugary bits.

American Cupcake had its own things going on, with a poppy sensibility, perfectly formed frosting toppers and fun flavors.

And then there’s darling Miette.

Cute and perfect.

When I'm back in the spring, I'm hitting up Cako Bakery and Kara's Cupcakes.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christopher Elbow

Unless you’re from Kansas City or a devout chocoholic, chances are you don’t know Christopher Elbow’s chocolates. Pity.

The young Midwesterner transitioned from pastry chef to full-time chocolatier when demand for his exquisite bonbons ballooned and he opened a flagship boutique in KC in 2007. A year later, he debuted in my old ‘hood, Hayes Valley, and I was all too happy to give him a try (after my scoop of Smitten ice cream, naturally).

Elbow is known for his well-balanced flavors, none of which are too standard. Whiskey walnut, brown butter and molasses, cinnamon and black tea... Even with the ridiculous amount of bonbons I’ve consumed these past few months, I haven’t seen such great flavors.

(So pretty, too.)

But ever a creature of habit, I chose a favorite standby: a creamy peanut butter patty.

Sure enough, it was creamy. Chocolaty. And deliciously dotted with sea salt.

Santa, don’t be afraid to stuff my stocking with more of these otherworldly samples…

Friday, December 09, 2011

Smitten with Smitten ice cream

On a beautiful day in San Francisco, filled with California sunshine, what else should one indulge in besides ice cream? Delicious, homemade, artisanal ice cream.

After hitting the streets with a Radio Flyer wagon, Smitten’s conceptrice, Robyn Sue Goldman, opened her ice cream haven in the hipper and hipper Hayes Valley (maybe I never would have left San Francisco if Smitten, Miette and Christopher Elbow were all in the ‘hood when I lived there…). A little red wagon is cute, but this outpost is plenty fun, too.

First, you order your flavor. Vanilla and chocolate (made with local, delicious Tcho chocolate) are always on the menu. Two other flavors—this week, quince and horchata—rotate. Naturally, I chose chocolate.

They start with all-natural ice cream base and add the flavor’s ingredients. No emulsifiers or unnecessary additives.

Pour them in the one-of-a-kind machines named “Kelvin” and—boom—the liquid nitrogen comes in…

… and the ice cream is created there, in about a minute, right in front of you.

Fun and gimmicky? Maybe.

But it doesn’t matter because the ice cream is brilliant.

The ice crystals are smaller with the liquid nitrogen so the ice cream’s texture is 10 times smoother.

Creamy, velvety.

I could have eaten a large bowl, but did myself a favor and ordered a kiddie size—because I knew Christopher Elbow is right around the corner…

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Around the world in San Francisco

Cocoa Bella is a wonderful chocolatier. In case you don’t have the time or funds to travel the world for your chocolates, you can get them all in Cow Hollow.

From Italy and Switzerland…

…to my beloved French Michel Cluizel and Belgian Mary.

Stateside, Cocoa Bella pulls some of the best artisanal chocolatiers you’ve never heard of.

Like Christopher Elbow from Kansas City, Missouri and Norman Love from Florida.

My trip around the world began, logically enough, back in Brussels. Cocoa Bella is the only U.S. carrier of Mary’s chocolates and the vanilla cream cookie bonbon was fantastique.

Michael Recchuiti’s sesame bonbon was lovely with an unexpected lightness, while Lillie Belle Farm’s blue cheese truffle, which I’ve wanted to try for years, just isn’t for me (but if you love blue cheese, the marriage with chocolate is as smooth as you could hope for).

Now that my 12 bonbons have been demolished (oops)...

...I might have to go back to score more chocolate loot.