Entries from November 25th, 2014

{SF} Beard Papa Sweets Cafe

May 16th, 2006 · 12 Comments · San Francisco, Sweet Spots


Sam of Becks and Posh was already here on opening day to experience the San Francisco incarnation of this Japanese cream puff phenomenon. While she experienced 30-minute waits, on Sunday afternoon when I dropped by, there were no crowds – the dividers were still there, but sitting unused off the side. We were able to stroll right inside and take a look around. I guess all the sweets freaks had already come and gone?


The menu board shows many planned items, including various flavors of filling for the cream puffs, but currently they only have the regular puffs with vanilla filling.


Beard Papa’s claim to fame is that they have a "two-layer" crust for their cream puff shells that prevent them from getting soggy, and that they fill their puffs to order for ultimate freshness. Everything happens right in front of you so you can see the puffs baking in the oven and the workers putting the creations together.  Here’s the filling machine – what a handy device that is! – all you have to do is hold the puff up to the spout and it fills its up with the pastry cream.


Next to the filling machine another lucky worker gets to sift powdered sugar over the puffs. In case you are wondering by now, yes, these are very large cream puffs.  One of them easily fills the palm of my hand. One puff is $1.75, which is not too bad a deal.


We took another look at the "Beard Papa" as we left the store.  He really does look like the Gorton’s fisherman, doesn’t he?


It was an absolutely gorgeous day in San Francisco, when you realize it’s completely sunny, not just sort-of-not-foggy, you’re actually hot, and you wonder, are you really in the city by the bay? We took our puffs across the street to Yerba Buena Gardens, where dozens of people were sunbathing, playing Frisbee, and enjoying this rare weather, and settled down on a bench to inspect our loot closely.

First off, the puffs are large. I don’t know what possessed us to buy two of them – perhaps the hope that they would be as fabulous as their reputation promised and we wouldn’t be able to get enough of them? I took a bite. The shell is crispy and flaky, sweetened with the powdered sugar, and gives way to an alarming amount of filling (see top photo) that immediately had me calling for napkins.

I would say this cream puff doesn’t fully live up to the hype, unfortunately. All of the components are fine, yet they don’t come together to the over-the-top whole I was hoping for.  While yes, the shell stayed crisp and not soggy, it was rather plain and tasteless on its own. Perhaps also because Beard Papa says the outside layer is a piecrust instead of choux pastry, it didn’t really have the right "cream puff" texture to me. The pastry cream was creamy and inoffensive, with no distinct flavor. Perhaps some of the other flavors that Beard Papa is promising might be more interesting. Finally, the shells are nice and hollow – and they are completely filled with the pastry cream. It’s a lot of cream. I guess they are selling as a messy, indulgent experience – Americans love everything super-sized, right? but I really would have been more content with a smaller, more manageable puff.

Having not visited any other Beard Papa Cafes, I don’t know whether they are still working out the operations here. I think I’ll make a return visit when they some other items to offer, but for now I’ll keep looking for the ultimate cream puff.


Beard Papa Sweets Cafe

99 Yerba Buena Lane

San Francisco, CA 94103


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Ice Wine Ice Cream with Strawberry Rhubarb Compote

May 9th, 2006 · 12 Comments · Fruit, Ice Cream, Recipes


While buying strawberries at the farmer’s market, I also picked up vibrant-looking rhubarb, one of strawberry’s favorite companions. I had in mind a recipe from Emily Luchetti’s A Passion for Desserts(this particular cookbook has been getting quite a workout lately!) – Ice Wine Ice Cream with Strawberry Rhubarb Compote.  The recipe caught my eye because I knew I would be able to also pick up some wine at the excellent Ferry Plaza Wine Merchants in the Ferry Building.

Of course the most popular of ice wines, that ambrosia-like Inniskillin from Ontario, was prominently on display, but I hesitated to use a pricier wine in a recipe I hadn’t done before. (Besides, I think I’d rather just drink the Inniskillin whenever I got some!) With the aid of the helpful staff at the store, I settled on a 2004 Kiona Chenin Blanc Red Mountain Ice Wine. Added bonus: Kiona Vineyards is in Washington, which, while not exactly local, is closer than Canada!

The Kiona itself is no slouch as a wine, having picked up numerous accolades and awards. It is marvelously rich and full-textured, with strong honey, apple, and peach notes and a sweet, lingering finish without being cloying. I found the fullness of the wine balanced out the creaminess of the ice cream very well; since this is a Philadelphia-style ice cream recipe, there are no eggs to cook into custard first. The resulting ice cream is less rich but very creamy, and any flavors will stand out quite intensely.

It also is a perfect foil for the tart-tangy compote of strawberries and rhubarb, still slightly warm from the stove. The combination of cold and creamy with sweet and fresh makes a very simple and elegant dessert.


from Emily Luchetti’s A Passion for Desserts

Makes 6 servings

Ice Wine Ice Cream

1 cup sugar

4 1/2 cups heavy cream

Pinch of salt

3/4 cup ice wine

Strawberry Rhubarb Compote

10 ounces rhubarb, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

6 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons water

1 pint strawberries, hulled and quartered

Warm the sugar, cream, and salt in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally until bubbles form around the edges or until it reaches about 170 degrees. (Even though traditionally Philadelphia-style ice cream is meant to be uncooked as opposed to the French custard-style, I think heating the cream will result in a smoother ice cream, which is probably what Luchetti is doing here.)

Let the cream mixture cool for a bit and then add the ice wine. Cover the mixture and let chill overnight. Then freeze the mixture in an ice cream machine.

Cook the rhubarb with 5 tablespoons of sugar and the water over medium-low heat, stirring frequently until the rhubarb is soft. Transfer to a bowl and let cool to room temperature. Stir in the strawberries and remaining sugar. Serve the compote alongside the ice cream.


Strawberries – Yerena Farms, Watsonville

Rhubarb – Capay Farms, Capay

Cream – Clover Farms, Marin County

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Strawberry Shortcakes with Tarragon Cream

May 8th, 2006 · 12 Comments · Fruit, Recipes


Does anyone remember Strawberry Shortcake, that line of scented dolls all named after various fruits and berries that was so popular in the 80′s? (Yes, I grew up in the time of My Little Pony, Care Bears, and Transformers – at the risk of sounding old, I’m rather put out by the current craze for taking these beloved childhood toys and remaking them "hip" and "trendy" for the new generation – don’t they know they’re messing with sacred memories?) My favorite Strawberry Shortcake doll was , of course, Strawberry Shortcake herself, who lived in a strawberry-shaped house and baked treats all day.  Sounds ideal, no?

The dessert strawberry shortcake is, of course, just as timeless and enduring. However, just to show I’m not *completely* opposed to change, I chose to use a version from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course, which adds the interesting note of tarragon to the recipe. Not to mention that the accompanying photo in the book was just begging for me to make it.

Using fresh tarragon is a must, if only for the wonderful sensory experience of smelling licorice as you work with the leaves. It makes a sharp, clean contrast to the sweetness of the strawberries and cream. By macerating the berries with tarragon as well as using mixing the herb with cream, Fleming builds some complex layers of flavors and ties all the elements together nicely.

The recipe is fairly straightforward, although when I first made the tarragon syrup for the cream I was rather dubious- the syrup was of course a vibrant green, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about having green whipped cream in the final result. But the ratios were perfect: the cream turned out clean cloud-white with little green specks dotted throughout.  And I have to say the shortcake biscuits are exactly what they should be: light, fluffy, tender – literally melting in your mouth. I would recommend assembling the dessert as soon as possible after you bake the biscuits to capture as much of their perfection as possible – also because if you leave them around they’ll probably get scarfed up before you can do anything else with them!


from The Last Course by Claudia Fleming

Serves 8

Shortcake Biscuits

1 2/3 cups flour

3 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

2/3 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon turbinado sugar

Tarragon Cream

1/2 cup fresh tarragon leaves

1/3 cup light corn syrup

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar

Tarragon-Macerated Strawberries

6 sprigs fresh tarragon

2 pints strawberries, hulled and sliced

3 tablespoons sugar

To make the biscuits: In an electric mixer combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the butter and mix together until it resembles coarse meal. Add the cream and mix just until the dough comes together (it will be wet and soft). Turn the dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap and shape into a 6 inch square, about 1 inch high. Wrap up the square and chill for about an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the dough into 9 biscuits (you can simply cut into squares or use a round cutter – remember the biscuits will expand in the oven). Brush the tops of the biscuits lightly with cream and sprinkle the turbinado sugar over them.

Place the biscuits about 2 inches apart on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes or the biscuits are golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

To make the tarragon cream: Bring a pot of water to a boil. Prepare a second bowl full of ice water. Put the tarragon leaves into the boiling water for about 30 seconds, then drain and plunge into the ice water. Drain and dry off the leaves. Put the leaves and corn syrup into a food processor and puree. Set the syrup aside while you are doing the strawberries.

To prepare the strawberries: twist the leaves or chop them roughly. Combine the strawberries, leaves, and sugar in a bowl and let macerate for about 20 minutes.  You can taste the strawberries to make sure the tarragon flavor does not become too strong. Remove the tarragon and discard.

To finish: Strain the tarragon syrup through a sieve to get rid of any solids. Whip the cream with the confectioner’s sugar until it starts to thicken, then add the syrup and continue whipping until soft peaks form.

Split 8 of the shortcake biscuits in half and place the bottoms on plates. Put some of the strawberries on top and then cover with the cream.  Cover with the tops of the shortcakes and serve immediately.

Claudia Fleming also suggests serving these with some strawberry sorbet; however, I found the shortcakes on their own a completely adequate and satisfying dessert.


Strawberries – Yerena Farms, Watsonville

Cream, Butter – Clover Farms, Marin County

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Honey-Cream Strawberry Parfaits/Eat Local Challenge

May 5th, 2006 · 6 Comments · Fruit, Recipes


A little late to the party, but I’m sure most people have heard that May is Eat Local month, and I am happy to see that so many bloggers have taken up the challenge. I admit that the busyness in my life the last couple of weeks did not give me a lot of time to research how to take up this challenge in the most effective ways; but I do know that living in the Bay Area, especially in San Francisco, makes it near-impossible to not buy local if you try, unless you really make an effort and only get food from Walgreen’s.

Since my site is pastry-oriented, I thought I could have a much narrower focus on my efforts to buy local: after all, butter, flour, sugar, and eggs will always be needed in the sweet kitchen. And with all the fruit coming into season, using them in desserts is a given.  How lucky for us Bay Area residents to be living near so many small farms practicing sustainable agriculture, and so many organizations like Locavores and Local Harvest to help us find resources! Using local fruit as a focal point in my baking was my first goal. As for dairy products, we have both Straus Creamery and Clover Farms from Marin County providing butter, milk and cream. The other items like flour and sugar I am researching and will address in future posts.

I started my Eat Local efforts by going to that most famous of farmer’s markets in San Francisco, the one at the Ferry Building.  It was perfect spring blue sky and clear golden light falling on the restless bay in the way that makes up for the preponderance of grey days in the summer.  People were inspecting the produce, arms full of flowers and unnecessary jackets – everyone was in a happy mood.

I was happy to find some strawberries beckoning to me from their jewel-box containers. I share Bea’s sentiments, being a May baby myself – spring is strawberry time, and I had pored through all my recipe books last night and come up with a pile of desserts to try with the two bags of berries I was lugging home.

Tempting as it was to lie down in the sun and take a nap, I had to get all my produce back.  I settled for throwing all the windows open in the apartment and letting the light pour in, along with the sounds of a sun-drunk city to swirl about as accompaniment to the activities being undertaken in the kitchen.

For my first strawberry creation I chose the luscious-sounding Honey-Cream Strawberry Parfaits in Emily Luchetti’s A Passion for Desserts.  Simplicity itself: layers of fresh berries and cream sweetened with honey.  The cream is made very similar to a crème anglaise, but thickened with clover honey and white chocolate.  While the recipe calls for a parfait-style assembly, if the cream is simply poured over the berries the entire thing looks quite similar to a fruit sabayon.  I liked the honey overtones in the cream but I might have used less white chocolate or omitted it entirely – the flavor didn’t quite seem to mesh with the others.


However, it still makes a light and lovely chilled dessert to enjoy on the balcony while watching the sun set over the gleaming bay….and thinking of what to do with the rest of the strawberries…


Strawberries – Yerena Farms, Watsonville

Cream – Clover Farms, Marin County

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