Monday, February 18, 2013

Grapefruit Rosemary Olive Oil Cake

This is my belated Valentine's Day dessert entry (so shoot me, I'm a horrible blogger, always posting desserts after the actual occasion. :)). I got so tired this year of seeing the annual flood of horribly saccharine pink and white desserts unleashed on the internet around February 13. I'm not even quite sure what particularly prompted my annoyance this year, given that I usually relish this holiday (and, as evidence, this blog is full of wonderfully pink Valentine's Day desserts).... Let's chalk it up to to the Grumps that come with old age for now! ;)

Instead, I wanted to represent love in its complex glory, beyond whatever pink, fluffy, on-the-surface feel-goodness that we so often idealize it to be. Anyone who's ever loved someone else before--be it your family or friends or significant others (so this is basically everyone, I'd think)--can probably agree that love is at once sweet and savory and simple and complicated and bitter and tart and dense and light and fragrant all together. Love can simultaneously cause delirious joy and be cripplingly and forcibly painful (okay, not that this cake is painful, but you get my drift), and it goes down so much more easily in my experience with a nice, strong, delicate cup of hot tea (or a nice, strong bear hug, whichever one you can get at the time!). And, the oddest, most curious thing about love is that, despite all of its convoluted manifestations, it is the one emotion that somehow manages to provide enough hope to make life worth living. This is what I thought I should be celebrating on February 14.

So here it is, this year's Valentine's love cake: a grapefruit and rosemary olive oil cake. Thanks to the olive oil, the cake is just so in terms of balancing heft and moisture with airy-ness and fluff. The grapefruit provides a hint of citrus and some bite from the zest but also, at the same time, the grapefruit gives the cake a dash of bitterness--just like a strong marmalade--that you wouldn't normally find in an orange- or lemon-based cake. The bitterness is quite well offset by the light glaze of sugar syrup brushed on right after the cake comes hot out of the oven and by the copious amounts of powdered sugar topping that one should serve the cake with. Finally, the rosemary really rounds out the flavor, with just enough complexity to keep an otherwise simple and straightforward cake nicely interesting.

In other news, things have been quite busy at work, hence the sad, neglected state of my kitchen and studio lately. Sigh. It's come to that point in time in one's graduate school career when you don't really quite know what's going to happen next: it's a stressful way to live, and I'm terribly eager to figure it all out soon. I'm so thankful that I have this blog to escape to when I need it. Thank you, readers, and happy belated Valentine's! ❤.

(P.S. In the spirit of multi-tasking, which seems to be the story of my life these days, this cake is also partially inspired by Lunar New Year's, what with the citrus and all representing prosperity. :))
(P.P.S. This song seems like a fitting soundtrack for this post.)

Read on for recipe....

Friday, February 1, 2013

Dessert Day, part 1: San Francisco, CA

berry bread pudding at Sandbox Bakery

I have a friend, Rob, who constantly amazes me with his sheer amount of enthusiasm for desserts. It's awesome, and I love having a partner in all sorts of sugar-filled crime sprees.

At the end of last quarter, Rob and I hatched a plan (I now can't recall how this actually came about) to do a Dessert Day in San Francisco. The idea was to try the best of the best of San Francisco sweets, in search of the perfect desserts. We made a list of places to go, and it turns out that the list is so long (and encompasses several side lists for other parts of the Bay Area) that December's Dessert Day will be the first of many. In one afternoon, we managed to make it to eight places--a feat that I'm still quite impressed by. Originally, I thought we'd just go to each place and get a dessert to go, and I'd eat my stash over the course of the subsequent few days. But Rob insisted that we needed to actually sample the desserts on the spot (see what I mean about crazy love for desserts?!). I slowed down by our sixth stop; otherwise, I'm sure we could have made more than eight. :)

pictured above (top to bottom): cookies at Goody Goodie; the dessert case at Thorough Bread and Pastry; donuts from Dynamo Donuts

Here are the places we went on Dessert Day (part 1), in the order of our itinerary that day.

1. Sandbox Bakery, Bernal Heights

Sandbox is supposedly known for their Japanese-inspired bakery items, but sadly, we got there a bit late in the afternoon for any of those to be left. However! the bread pudding that we did try was so good. I'm usually not a fan of bread pudding because it's usually way too rich and egg-y for my tastes, but the version at Sandbox was much better--a perfect mix of bready and moist from the custard without being overbearing.

2. Goody Goodie Cream & Sugar, Mission

We put Goody Goodie on the list because I'd been there briefly for this year's Scharffenberger bakery tour and really liked the seasalt-basil-lemon chocolate wafer cookies they had designed for that tour, and so I was curious to try their usual cookie offerings. I have to say--finding that perfect chocolate chip cookie is hard! I liked the dough at Goody Goodie and the popcorn in their Circus Cookie was a smart (and appreciably salty) addition, but the search for the perfect chocolate chip cookie in the City continues for me.

3. Dynamo Donuts, Mission

I'd been to Dynamo before and was so disappointed that we got there too late on our Dessert Day to nab one of my favorite, favorite flavors: the passionfruit-milk chocolate. In my opinion, that combination is so right for a donut, with sweetness from the milk chocolate balanced by the tartness of the passionfruit. Out of the ones that we did try, I was surprised that my favorite was the bacon-topped donut, since I usually shy away from the fad of bacon-topped desserts. But maybe it's just that I was too disappointed by not getting the passionfruit milk chocolate to care. :( Also, I'm sorry, Dynamo, but Portland's Voodoo Donuts still wins for maximum fluffiness in my book. (Maybe I'm really bitter at not getting that passionfruit milk chocolate!)

above: cornbread jalapeño ice cream and Vietnamese coffee ice cream at Humphrey Slocombe; and Humphrey Slocombe's unmarked storefront in the Mission

4. Humphrey Slocombe, Mission

Ah, Humphrey Slocombe. The hipster-ist of hipstery San Francisco ice cream shops. So hipstery that it's unmarked outside. The crazy flavors were actually surprisingly tasty (e.g., cornbread and jalapeño jam?! insane-sounding but it actually really works), but maybe I was feeling too intimidated by the hipsterness of it all, and settled for a more "vanilla" Vietnamese coffee flavor. :)

5. Craftsman & Wolves, Mission

Speaking of hipster sweet shops, Craftsman & Wolves is one that I've been looking forward to trying ever since Anita made cookies with William Werner's fig sangria jam a few Christmases ago. We sampled quite the eclectic assortment of things from the recently-opened bakery: pâte de fruit, a passionfruit-sesame croissant, a cornnut-topped cake, and a savory kimchee poundcake. The pâte de fruits were a hit, bursting with massive amounts of flavor in such a little bite, but both Rob's and my knock-it-out-of-the-ballpark favorite was the savory kimchee cake, which sounds completely wacky but is so, so good in an odd way. (Okay, maybe at this point, we were getting a bit tired of the sweets!) I like imaginative baking that I wouldn't have thought of myself, and Craftsman & Wolves is definitely a place to go for that.

above: scenes from Craftsman & Wolves

6. Tartine Bakery, Mission

Tartine has always been one of my personal favorite San Francisco bakeries, and after sampling so many dessert shops in a row, I can honestly say that it's as good as all the hype (which isn't always the case with popular places!). I'm not wild about the bread pudding here, which Rob tried (too egg-y; cf. Sandbox Bakery's above), but I did pick up an entire box of one of my absolute, hands-down favorite items from Tartine (and one that I feel like doesn't get as much recognition as it deserves): the lemon almond poppyseed poundcake (pictured below). I could wax poetic about this poundcake for days on end--it's sort of the perfect specimen of a lemon poundcake, in my opinion. It's super moist and dense from the almond paste, perfectly pucker-y lemony, baked in a super chic Pullman pan for all-around brown edges, and the sides are coated with a crunchy sugar crust, which is kind of a stroke of genius. It's rare for me to find bakery items that I will return for over and over again, but Tartine's lemon poundcake is definitely one.

Also, I felt as though I hit the jackpot on our dessert tour, because Tartine's breads had just come fresh out of the oven when we made it there. And they had olive loaves! Which, if you haven't had one, is pretty darn close to what I imagine bread tastes like in heaven. I got one that was still hot, and hugging that loaf in the cold San Francisco evening air while the most amazing smell of olives wafted all around pretty much made me the happiest person ever at that moment.

7. Thorough Bread and Pastry, Castro

Thorough Bread is a bakery I hadn't heard of before but popped up during my research for our dessert day list, and it was a pleasant find in the middle of the Castro! The bakery reminded me of the type of neighborhood bakery one would find in small towns (or the types of bakeries I saw in Portland, incidentally)--the ones that do breads and cakes and cookies and all sorts of desserts, but does them all really well. We were getting so tired at this point that we just stood at the pastry case gawking at the beautifully made individual mousse cakes. I took a lemon blueberry one home, and it was a delicious treat the next day. Oh, and they had a huge Christmas tree in the corner that was entirely made out of bread and cookies! Now *that* was an impressive sight.

8. The Ice Cream Bar, Cole Valley

I've written about the Ice Cream Bar before, so I didn't include any photos here. I am consistently smitten with how retro this place is--so much so that it brings back memories for me of the '50s that I shouldn't have because I wasn't actually alive then! I had the orange creamsicle-inspired ice cream soda because I'm kind of a bit of a sucker for anything creamsicle-flavored. Sitting at the soda fountain bar with my short legs dangling, gossiping about work and life and friends, and sipping on fizzy citrus with a touch of creaminess (a huge relief after soooo many baked goods) was the perfect ending to an intensely sugar-filled afternoon. (...and yes, I was pretty hyper for a good few days afterwards.)

above: scenes from Tartine

Dessert Day, part 2 will hopefully happen soon. Have suggestions for me of your favorite dessert places in San Francisco or around the Bay that should make the list? Please leave them in a comment below!