Friday, July 19, 2013

The Best Under-Appreciated Pastries of the East Bay

By Cynthia Salaysay
Fri, Jul 19, 2013 at 2:57 PM

The Pastry of the Moment is the cronut. Invented in New York, the croissant-doughnut hybrid, filled with cream and glazed on top, has inspired a Beatle-mania-like craze: The lines are so long, and people are charging $80 on Craigslist to get one for you. Unfortunately, they’re not available in the Bay Area (yet).

But the East Bay has seen its share of popular pastries: In 2009 there was a frenzy for Pizzaiolo’s doughnuts, which sold out regularly by 10 a.m. A little more than a year ago, Starter Bakery’s kouign amann made a much-hyped debut, and for a while it seemed to be everywhere a good cup of coffee could be found.

But there are a good number of local pastries that are more quietly appreciated. Here’s a rundown of some of our favorites:

1) Turnovers from Pizzaiolo: Sometimes they’re filled with walnut paste, other times with a couple spoonfuls of homemade jam (rarely with apple). But the crusty pastry outside is always the same: well sweetened and flaky, the butter seeping onto your fingers. In some places it achieves a dense, crunchy, sugar-crystal bite. Sometimes I tear it down the middle to fetch out the fruit. Other times I go straight for the crust. There really isn’t a low point to a Pizzaiolo turnover. I’ve even seen people lick their fingers and press them onto their plate to pick up every last crumb.

2) Guava Jelly Tart from Cosecha: When Dominica Rice, the chef of Old Oakland’s Cosecha, first tasted guava jelly tarts in Brazil, she immediately knew she wanted to serve them every day when she opened her own restaurant. The tarts have a fine, tender, buttery crust (Rice uses the sweet-tart crust from Tartine’s cookbook), and the deep rosy-pink membrillo (fruit paste, in this case guava) filling is chewy, bright, and sweet with guava flavor. Rice orders the membrillo directly from the Dominican Republic or Brazil, which means that the probability of finding these little jewels anywhere else in the area is very low.

Guava Jelly Tart from Cosecha

3) Sour Cherry Cookie from Bartavelle: Tiny and not too sweet, these little morsels are just the right size for eating with a macchiato. Every ingredient is detectable on the tongue: Fresh ground almonds provide most of the cookie’s substance; egg white and sugar give it a meringue-y chew; and inside there’s a surprise: a single dried sour cherry in the middle. And, incidentally, they’re gluten-free.

4) Churros from Duende: Doughnut lesson time: Churros can be found on the streets of both Mexico and Spain, which explains why these are served, made-to-order, at Spanish restaurant Duende’s bodega in Oakland. Made with Central Milling flour and the restaurant’s hoji blanca (a mild, buttery olive oil), it’s got the gooey-inside-crunchy-outside thing going for it. Although Duende doesn’t advertise it as such, the treat is vegan. The accompanying spicy chocolate dip is also vegan — it’s made with Valrhona and TCHO chocolate, its sweetness perfectly balanced against the heat of chili flakes.

5) Coconut Pastel at Caña: They look rather humble in the pastry case: square and as flat as a handkerchief. But the Cuban turnover is delicately flaky, with a mellow, sweet coconut jam filling reminiscent of coconut tarts at dim sum restaurants. On Grand Lake farmers’ market days, when the coffee lines are unwaveringly and dishearteningly, go to Caña. Ask for the pastel to be reheated — they reheat well — while your coffee is being brewed.

6) Muffins from Grease Box: Baked goods that are made without dairy or wheat often seem well, lacking, but I’m into Grease Box’s muffins, which are often filled with fruit and dusted with sugar. Chef Lizzy Boelter uses a cake-like recipe from the classic cookbook Joy of Cooking, but swaps the wheat flour for her own gluten-free mix of millet, rice, and tapioca flour to create a moist, cornbread-like texture and flavor. When I tried one, a slice of peach was tucked into its middle, but Grease Box uses whatever fruit is in season.

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