Archive for October 2007

San Francisco Cupcake Tasting Tour

October 30, 2007 | Chuck
Miette's Old Fashioned Chocolate Cupcake

After last month's NYC cupcake tour that put us in a cupcake coma, we decided to replicate the fun and go on a cupcake tasting tour in San Francisco. The cupcake scene in San Francisco is still in its infancy compared to NYC. There aren't many pure cupcakeries in the Bay Area, but the number of shops is slowly growing. After a little research, the cupcake shops on the tour were...

  1. Miette Patisserie
  2. Citizen Cupcake
  3. That Takes the Cake
  4. Kara's Cupcakes
  5. Chestnut Bakery

To burn off as many calories as possible between our cupcake eating, I made the event a walking tour and chose the shops and route accordingly. The plan was to start at the Ferry Building with Miette and work our way across the city to the Marina with a lunch stop in North Beach.

We met Jane at 9:30 am at the Ferry Building for breakfast. The thought of starting the day with a cupcake wasn't appetizing, so we needed to get something in our stomachs. Hungry Bear and I chose a tasty egg, bacon and cheese breakfast sandwich from the Golden Gate Meat Company, while Jane minimized her carb intake by getting sausage on a stick.

With breakfast out of the way, it was time to start sampling cupcakes. Jane's friends, Isaac and Liz, met us at 10:00 am at Miette Cakes. Hungry Bear handed out the scorecards for ratings/tasting notes and the cupcake tasting commenced. Similar to our NYC tour, the plan was to use the chocolate chocolate cupcake as the benchmark at each shop.

Miette Patisserie

Much to our surprise, there wasn't a double chocolate cupcake available. The closest one was chocolate with coffee buttercream frosting. In total, we sampled four cupcakes at Miette. The highlight of the four was the Old-Fashioned — a chocolate cupcake with Italian meringue topped with a candy coated peanut.

Everyone enjoyed this cupcake and thought it had a great chocolate flavor. Jane and Liz declared it the best overall cupcake on the tour. They both rated it highest in terms of appearance, cake/frosting texture and flavor. The other Miette cupcakes were good, but no comparison to the Old-Fashioned.

Miette's Old-Fashioned Cupcake

Citizen Cupcake

The next stop was the highly anticipated Citizen Cupcake, the sibling of Elizabeth Falkner's Citizen Cake, at the top of the Virgin Megastore in Union Square. From the moment we stepped into the cafe, it was a big disappointment. It should be renamed Citizen Cafe, because the emphasis is on being a cafe and bar, not a cupcake shop.

To make things worse, the cupcakes were sub par. Once again, there was no double chocolate cupcake. The buttercream frosting on the cupcakes we tasted were entirely too sweet. And the cake was dry and too crumbly.

During our visit, we learned that the cupcakes are made at Citizen Cake and sent to this location. I would recommend just going to Citizen Cake, where you can also select from other pastries and desserts. With the name Citizen Cupcake, I was expecting a place that celebrated the cupcake, but sadly there was no cupcake love.

Lunch Break

After two cupcake stops, we walked towards North Beach and grabbed a savory snack. Hungry Bear, Jane and I shared some Vietnamese banh bao — steamed buns filled with pork, vermicelli, hard-boiled egg and Chinese sausage — from Little Paris. Liz and Isaac grabbed sandwiches at Molinari Deli. It was a beautiful, sunny day and we enjoyed our lunch in Washington Square Park.

That Takes the Cake

After lunch, we strolled over to That Takes the Cake in Cow Hollow. The shop has only been open for three weeks. It's a tiny store with a nice layout and it was all about the cupcakes! The only downside is the lack of inside seating. However, it was a nice day, so we took advantage of their two tables outside, where our friend, Brennan, was gracious enough to finally join us.

That Takes the Cake currently has thirteen flavors and serves eight flavors daily. Unfortunately, they do not offer the Double Trouble — chocolate buttermilk cake topped with chocolate buttercream frosting — on Saturdays. We did get the following...

  • Gentlemen Prefer Reds - traditional southern red velvet cake topped with cream cheese frosting.
  • Funky Monkey - moist banana cake with chocolate and pecan pieces topped with cream cheese frosting.
  • Seasonal - strawberry cake with cream cheese frosting.
  • Bunny Bites - moist carrot cake with pecans and pineapple topped with cream cheese frosting.
  • Sleepless in SF - chocolate buttermilk cake topped with coffee buttercream.
Cupcakes from That Takes the Cake

The playful cupcake names are quite amusing. Isaac was thoroughly impressed with their cake/frosting combinations and relished each cupcake. We all agreed they did a good job with the flavor profiles and with the cake/frosting textures. I really liked the chunks of chocolate and pecans in the Funky Monkey and the pecans and pineapples bits in the Bunny Bites. The chunks added nice textures to the normal cupcake crumb.

Kara's Cupcakes

Next we took a short walk to Kara's Cupcakes in the Marina. The shop is very chic and sleek compared to the other stores. It was also the busiest cupcakery that we visited all day. Kara's finally had the chocolate chocolate cupcake we were hoping to taste. The cupcakes we had were...

  • Chocolate Velvet - chocolate cupcake with a velvety bittersweet chocolate buttercream.
  • Fleur De Sel - chocolate cupcake with caramel filling, ganache frosting and fleur de sel.
  • Coconut - vanilla cupcake with a coconut cream cheese frosting.
  • Kara's Karrot - moist carrot cupcake with a silky soft cream cheese frosting.
Cupcakes from Kara's Cupcakes

Hungry Bear and I were extremely happy to get our double chocolate fix and the Fleur De Sel cupcake blew us away. The ganache was rich with a strong chocolate taste. The caramel filling was an added bonus and didn't overpower the chocolate goodness. Finally, the salty crunch of the fleur de sel was a nice contrast to the sweet caramel. The other cupcakes also had moist textures and good flavors, but it was hard to compete with the Fleur De Sel cupcake.

Chestnut Bakery

The final stop on the tour, the Chestnut Bakery, was only a block away. At this point, we were on the cupcake edge and were ready to finish the tour. The cupcakes at Chestnut Bakery were a little odd. The cake had a super airy, spongy texture. The frosting also had a strange consistency. We barely touched the cupcakes and left unimpressed by them.

Ratings

After reviewing our tasting notes, and with much contemplation, I present the shop rankings from our 2007 San Francisco Cupcake Tasting Tour.

Cupcake Tour Rankings (1 = Best, 5 = Least Liked)

Cupcake Shop Isaac Liz Jane Hungry Bear Chuck
Miette Cakes 3 1 1 3 3
Citizen Cupcake 5 5 5 4 5
That Takes the Cake 1 2 (tie) 2 2 2
Kara's Cupcakes 2 2 (tie) 3 1 1
Chestnut Bakery 4 4 4 5 4

Similar to NYC, there wasn't a consensus winner. However, the clear losers on the tour were Citizen Cupcake and Chestnut Bakery, as they were rated in the bottom two by everyone. The cupcakes at both shops had major flaws and were quite disappointing. Neither shop is in the same league as the other three cupcakeries on the tour.

It is interesting to note that Liz and Jane rated Miette the best due to the Old-Fashioned cupcake. And Hungry Bear and I rated Kara's the highest in large part due to the Fleur De Sel cupcake. These two cupcakes were the highest regarded cupcakes by the group. Both cupcakes were unique and memorable.

I was completely torn between Kara's Cupcakes and That Takes the Cake, but ultimately my chocolate bias won out and I gave the nod to Kara's because of the Fleur De Sel. With that said, I think That Takes the Cake has the most original cupcakes in terms of flavor combinations and cake textures. I will have to go back another day and try the Double Trouble chocolate cupcake and see if it will change my ranking.

Red Velvet from That Takes the Cake

Summary

It was an epic day of cupcake tasting. We learned from our NYC experience and made our cupcake tour an all day activity (10:00 am to 4:30 pm). With the slower pace and planned savory lunch stop, it was a relaxing day of cupcake eating and exploration of the northeastern part of San Francisco.

We enjoyed many delicious cupcakes during our tour. After five shops and twenty-one shared cupcakes, we all said, "No mas!" As we were leaving the last shop, we were feeling a little lethargic, but grateful that we didn't completely over-indulge... no cupcake coma after this tour!

In the end, we had a very fun day hanging out with old and new friends. And we found three cupcake shops — Miette Cakes, That Takes the Cake and Kara's Cupcakes — that could easily satisfy a cupcake craving. More importantly, we discovered three places that understood and celebrated the beauty of the cupcake. We definitely felt the cupcake love at these shops!

Tour Participants: Brennan, Liz, Isaac, Jane, Hungry Bear, Chuck

[tags]cupcakes, chocolate, ganache, tour, cupcakery, red velvet, cream cheese, frosting[/tags]

Oysters and Bacon-Wrapped Hot Dogs

October 25, 2007 | Chuck
Oysters with Three Sauces

Oysters and hot dogs? What the hell? That was my first reaction when Jane invited us over for dinner last Saturday. I asked her what her inspiration was for this odd food pairing. She responded with "it's what I'm craving." Alrighty then! I have to admit, oysters and hot dogs is the most original surf and turf combination I've ever heard of.

The actual dinner dishes were...

  • Champagne and oysters with three different type of sauces cocktail sauce, red wine mignonette and champagne mignonette.
  • Grilled bacon-wrapped stuffed hot dogs
  • Stir-fried Chinese long beans and eggplant
  • Banana cream pie

Hungry Bear and I brought over the vegetables that we got from the Serramonte Farmers' Market and Garry's friends picked up a banana cream pie from Mission Pie. Not only did we have a really peculiar surf and turf, the rest of the meal was an eclectic pot luck.

Jane ordered eight dozen oysters form Royal Hawaiian Seafood...

  • Malpeque PEI
  • Kumamoto Point Reyes
  • Fanny Bay B.C.
  • Malaspina B.C.
  • Effingham Inlet B.C.
  • Kusshi Petite B.C.
  • Beau Soleil
  • One more type I didn't catch

We had the oysters raw with the three sauces, which Garry made from the Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home cookbook. I'm not a big champagne person, but it went really well with the brininess of the oysters. My favorite oyster was the Malpeque PEI with the cocktail sauce, however I'm not an oyster expert. After sucking down a few, they all tasted the same. Maybe Jane, our oyster connoisseur, can add more commentary on the oysters?

Grilled Bacon-Wrapped Stuffed Hot Dog

I thought the highlight of the meal was the bacon-wrapped hot dogs. Garry made the dogs using this grilled bacon-wrapped stuffed hot dogs recipe. The frankfurters were stuffed with mustard, ketchup, cheese, onions and sauerkraut, then wrapped with bacon! I usually don't like sauerkraut on my dogs, but I didn't mind it this time. Who's not going to like a bacon-wrapped hot dog on a toasted bun?!? I really liked the extra crunch the grilled bacon added to the stuffed dog. The wieners were accompanied by a side of stir-fried long beans and eggplant. We definitely needed some healthy veggies with the heart attack on a bun.

For dessert, we had banana cream pie from Mission Pie. The pie was good and was not overly sweet. The predominant flavor was banana and not sugar... a big thumbs up from me. We are going to have to try different pie types from Mission Pie.

Overall, dinner was fantastic. It was the strangest assortment of dishes I've had in a long time, maybe ever. Oysters, champagne, hot dogs, Chinese vegetables and a banana cream pie. Can anyone else top this meal in terms of goodness and quirkiness?

SNDsters: Garry, Karen, Eva, Yvonne, Keith, Jane, Mark, Hungry Bear, Chuck

[tags]oysters, hot dogs, champagne, bacon, banana cream, pie, long beans, eggplant, mission pie[/tags]

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake

October 21, 2007 | Chuck
Chocolate Cake

Hungry Bear and I love good old-fashioned chocolate cake. Nothing beats a moist, tender and airy piece of chocolate cake for dessert. The hard part is finding a recipe that has the right cake texture, chocolate flavor and sweetness level.

Last week, we were watching an episode of the Barefoot Contessa in which Ina Garten made a great looking chocolate cake. It looked so good, I had to give it a try. Hungry Bear's birthday was in a few days, so I decided to make it for her birthday.

The chocolate cake recipe produced a super moist cake due to all the liquids in the batter 1 cup buttermilk, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, 1 cup hot coffee. With all the liquids, the batter was the runniest cake batter I've ever made. The frosting was a simple chocolate buttercream. Since we like intense chocolate flavors, I substituted bittersweet chocolate for the semisweet called for in the recipe and added an extra ounce of chocolate. And of course, I used Scharffen Berger chocolate and cocoa powder.

Continue Reading and Get the Recipe »

Pork, Pasta and Strawberry Cream Cake

October 19, 2007 | Chuck
Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder

This past weekend my buddy, Chad, drove up from LA with his wife, Kristie, and their two young kids, Chelsea and Brooke, ages 2 years and 4 months, respectively. Chad was coming up for our annual Penn State Football weekend in San Francisco. It's just a get together with my two West Coast Penn State friends, Chad and Chuck, to hang out and watch a PSU game. I think we've held this event since 1998. Unfortunately, Chuck from Seattle couldn't make it this time.

After a weekend filled with Korean BBQ, Hawaiian, Chinese and Burmese food, I was wondering what to make for Sunday night dinner. Thankfully, Jane texted me Sunday morning stating that dinner was at her place. Her brother, Garry, was planning on making a slow-roasted pork shoulder and his wife, Karen, was making a strawberry cream cake. We were definitely looking forward to dinner.

Chad and I went on a 50 mile bike ride to Tiburon and afterwards, we were famished. I told Chad that we should snack on something before heading over for dinner, otherwise, everyone would think we were complete pigs if we devoured all the food ourselves. My reputation as a glutton has already been established, but I wanted to protect Chad's image.

Dinner started with a pasta dish that Garry threw together with hot Italian sausages, mushrooms, peas, onions and tomato sauce. As a side dish, we sautéed some Kale with garlic, olive oil, sea salt and a touch of butter. To make the kale more tender, we blanched it first. The pasta was excellent with spicy sausage and sweet peas. The kale was tender and tasty.

Strawberry Cream Cake

Next up was Karen's strawberry cream cake. Karen is a trained pastry chef, so we are always looking forward to eating her beautiful desserts. This time, she was trying out a strawberry cream cake recipe from America's Test Kitchen. The recipe is from the current season of America's Test Kitchen TV show, and it's free if you register for the site. The cake is like strawberry shortcake and consists of white cake, strawberry filling, whipped cream with cream cheese and fresh strawberries. The cake was amazing! It was surprisingly light and not too sweet.

While the strawberry cream cake was great, it was only a palate cleanser for the slow-roasted pork shoulder. Actually, Garry and Karen were tied up and couldn't get the pork in the oven early enough. Since it takes a few hours to roast, the pork wasn't ready until after dessert. And none of us were leaving without trying the pork!

Garry based the pork roast off of this slow-roasted pork shoulder with melted apples recipe. He omitted the apples and onions and cut the cooking time. Without the apples and onions, there was less braising and more roasting. Garry thought the pork shoulder was too dry, but everyone at dinner thoroughly enjoyed it. The pork had a crispy, caramelized crust and the meat was full of flavor. The two big carnivores of the group, Jane and I, couldn't stop grabbing more pieces of pork shoulder. I definitely want to make this dish again with the melted apples.

Dinner was very fun and scrumptious. It was also great sharing Sunday night dinner with Chad and his family. As we were all leaving with full bellies, two year old, Chelsea, yelled, "tanks for da cake!" 

SNDsters: Chad, Kristie, Chelsea, Brooke, Garry, Karen, Mark, Jane, Hungry Bear, Chuck

[tags]pork, shoulder, italian sausage, strawberries, pasta, cake, roast, kale[/tags]

More Spaghetti Bolognese

October 15, 2007 | Chuck
Spaghetti Bolognese

While in New York City last month, we upheld our Sunday Nite Dinner tradition at our friends', Jeff and Aimee's, place. After a long weekend of non-stop eating festivities and a Sunday morning bike ride to Piermont, I just wanted to curl up for a extended nap instead of dinner planning. We were cooking for several meat-and-potatoes people, so we tossed around making skirt steak or meat loaf. We settled on good old reliable spaghetti bolognese. The rest of the menu was...

Heirloom Tomato and Butter Leaf Lettuce Salad
with avocados, medium boiled eggs, bacon lardons and Dijon vinaigrette

~

Vietnamese Green Papaya Salad
with basil, beef jerky and nuoc cham

~

Spaghetti Bolognese
topped by basil and shaved Parmigiano Reggiano

~

Lemon Pound Cake
accompanied by fresh strawberries

Why the green papaya salad? Well, Jeff invited his cycling club friend, Maggie, who volunteered to make the papaya salad if it fit into the menu. At that point, the menu was "fluid" and we neglected to tell Maggie what we were making. That's how you end up with a tasty and refreshing green papaya salad with spaghetti bolognese. The salad was made with green papaya, basil, shredded beef jerky and topped with nuoc cham (Vietnamese dipping sauce).

Recently, Hungry Bear and I have had a penchant for making salads with avocados and medium boiled eggs. I lost track of the time when boiling the eggs, and as you'll see in the slideshow, they turned into hard boiled eggs. For extra flavor and to complement the creamy avocados, we fried up some bacon lardons. Coupled with heirloom tomatoes and lightly dressed greens, this salad rocks.

Jeff made the spaghetti bolognese and used this simple bolognese sauce recipe by Giada De Laurentiis. It's an easy recipe that requires minimal prep time and ingredients. Compared to Michael Chiarello's bolognese sauce that Hungry Bear made in August, Giada's recipe uses more tomatoes and produces a meaty marina sauce, whereas, Michael's recipe makes a meat sauce with a touch of tomatoes. Both sauces are simple to make and delicious.

Lemon Pound Cake

We ended dinner with a lemon pound cake and fresh strawberries. I used a classic pound cake recipe found in The New Best Recipe cookbook. The recipe can also be found on Kat on Thyme, a friend of a friend's blog. The cake was turned into a lemon pound cake by adding the zest of two lemons. The pound cake was light, buttery, moist and delightful.

Overall, dinner was a little eclectic and very enjoyable. It was quite a challenge for four people to prepare a meal in a small kitchen (a very nice, recently remodeled kitchen). In the end, we succeeded in making a great Sunday night meal to share with our New York City friends.

SNDsters: Craig, Nicole, Maggie, Ava, Aimee, Jeff, Hungry Bear, Chuck

[tags]new york city, nyc, spaghetti, bolognese, pound cake, heirloom tomatoes, lemon, pasta[/tags]