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!


  1. I would suggest Craftman & Wolves, they're the BEST. The only dessert shop with decent tea.

    Also, I'm dying to try Baker & Banker.

    Have you ventured out to Hayes Valley? There's Smitten Ice Cream (where they make your ice cream as you watch), Chantel Guillion macarons (I guess you have one of those in Palo Alto now though)...

  2. Diane @ Vintage ZestFebruary 1, 2013 at 10:11 AM

    This is such a great idea! Last August when my boyfriend and I went to San Francisco, we had a mini dessert day. The thing is, he didn't know it until we got there! Dynamo donuts is still on my list for sure, and now I can add a few other ones.

    I love tasting, and this week I even did a blueberry doughnut experiment comparing three different stores around Orange County. It was really fun!

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. I love this! I'd be remiss if I didn't recommend the Sunset District classic, Polly Ann's:

  4. I am currently debating a move to San Francisco and you are not helping me make a "rational" decision here! Great post, so much good stuff.

  5. Call me when you plan this next time! I am drooling like a dog here :-)

  6. Oh my gosh I would SO love to do this! Can I join you on Part 2?! You have some of my favourites covered and SF is such a foodie paradise will be great to discover more to try :) I love the ice cream at Bi-rite and have yet to go to Smitten ( soon!) I found the Japanese desserts at Minamoto Kitchoan on Market street very intriguing, and I also have to add the quince filled alfajores from the Empanada man, Miette, Recchiuti and everything else at Ferry Building- one of my fav places to get my foodie fix!

  7. I love this idea! The maple bacon donut at Dynamo is definitely worth the hype. Next time you should visit Miette, they make the best macarons I have ever tasted- the rose geranium is so yummy!

  8. Wow, mission accomplished ;)

  9. I think Rob could be my new best friend.

  10. What a delightful glimpse into the riches of the Bay Area! Can't wait for future installments...

  11. Oh my goodness. first of all--impressive feat. something I always wanted to do in Chicago before I moved but then it never happened. second of all--I'm so happy you just posted this as my husband and I are heading to San Francisco next Friday for 4 days and now I have added more than just Tartine to my list :) yay!

  12. My god, this is amazing. I've actually been wanting to do something similar here in Portland, although my plan was to visit two a month, not a million in one day, haha! The two of you are much more hardcore than I...

    Can't wait to see more! Also, I'll be adding a few of these to my list of "musts" when I finally visit San Francisco...

  13. This is absolutely amazing, my friends and I have joked about doing a restaurant crawl (much more my kind of thing than your usual pub crawl!), but haven't yet had the stomach to seriously consider it. A whole afternoon of desserts? It sounds incredible, and I'm impressed with how many you visited! That's definitely one hell of a sugar buzz...

  14. Love this idea... although I can't imagine covering this many in one day! Great photos!

  15. So much deliciousness! Wish I'd known about Craftsman & Wolves when I was in SF - that place looks and sounds amazing.

  16. wow! I love this!

  17. Oh my gosh I was almost literally drooling reading this. Well done with the dessert crawl! I've been meaning to do one around Houston (my new home), but haven't been able to find the right partner and crime...

    As I was reading through your list, I was going to suggest Humphrey Slocombe and Tartine, but--of course, you already had them! I also went with the "vanilla" vietnamese coffee :) tastes of their malted chocolate flavor were delish! I was just back in the Bay Area for Christmas vacation and went on one of those eating tours...that's where I discovered Humphrey and they also let us sample some cupcakes from Mission Minis, which were pretty good! Have you been to Fenton's in Oakland? Not exactly ice cream at its most finessed state, but totally over-the-top-indulgent-delicious. And Bi-Rite. And YakniniQ in Japantown has an amazing sweet potato latte. And if you like mochi, there's a delicious spot that specializes in it right by the Japantown shopping center. Ugh dessert crawls--too much fun!

  18. I love how you operate. I need to dedicate a day to combing the city for desserts. This may mean a serious sugar crash later, but you have inspired me :)

  19. Dynamo Donuts. I want to go there. Now. Great post, thanks for the good spots!

  20. Here's my suggestion: you might need a third musketeer for that exploit. I am happy to put my name in the running.


I love hearing from you and reading your comments! Thanks so much for stopping by the blog. Happy feasting!