My San Francisco Favorites

People often ask me about the best bakeries and ice cream shops in San Francisco. Friends joke that I’m like a walking encyclopedia to San Francisco’s best desserts: name a neighborhood or dessert type, and I’m sure to have a tip. I’m always happy to help other people experience SF’s best. So after quite some time of planning to do this but not actually doing it… I finally built my own San Francisco Treat Map.

This handy map plots out my top picks for baked goods, ice cream and coffee. You’ll find a mix of celebrated gems and places that don’t seem to get much press–but should. You can find the full map at the bottom of this post or over on its dedicated page. Click on the map markers to see menu tips and other notes.

And just in case you don’t feel like clicking all over a map… here’s a quick guide to my San Francisco favorites:

Where to find the best…

Cookies: Nob Hill’s Batter Bakery is my go-to for delicious cookies with a great texture. I love the cherry ginger, and they’re directly responsible for getting me hooked on herbs in cookies (their lavender sea salt shortbread is incredible). They’re known for their “sand angel,” a sort of molasses/snickerdoodle hybrid. Bonus tip: they do a cookie happy hour every day from 3-6 PM.

Croissants: Neighbor Bakehouse is one of my favorite 20160327_105821bakeries in the city, and their croissants are incredible. Imagine layers of the perfect buttery croissant dough, complemented by flavorful fillings. My favorite is the pistachio, which also includes a layer of blackberry jam. Their savory tarts are incredible too. (Review here)

Scones: Arizmendi is a co-op with locations scattered around the Bay Area. I’m particularly partial to their scones: they have the best crusty top and fluffy interior. Their mixed berry scones are my #1 pick. Their menu rotates, so if you’re lucky enough to visit when they’re offering chocolate cherry sourdough, make sure to scoop it up!

IMG_1957.jpgSticky buns, morning buns, etc: Marla Bakery is one of my favorite spots in the city thanks to their delectable baked goods, laid-back atmosphere and stellar brunch. Start your brunch with a sticky bun, or whatever morning pastry is on offer that day. (Review here)

Cake: Alright, my answer here depends on what you’re looking for. Seeking slices of American cake-and-frosting classics? SusieCakes is your place, and you should get the Celebration Cake or red velvet. Looking for more of a Euro-style cake that pairs spongey cake with denser fillings (jam, pastry cream, etc.)? Go to Moscow & Tiblisi Bakery and pick up the Sunshine Cake. And for cupcakes, make your way to Sift Dessert Bar in Pacific Heights, where the almond cupcake makes me swoon.

10474609_10100721491442192_1525715483481751452_nIce cream: Swensen’s opened at the corner of Union and Hyde in 1948. They’ve since expanded into an international chain but this location is the classic, and way old-school. My favorite flavors are the Swiss Orange (chocolate orange) and the peppermint that appears during the holidays.

Gelato: Lush Gelato has a few locations around the Bay Area. Their gelato tastes very fresh and you can tell they use high quality ingredients. They offer a range of classic and edgier flavors. I especially like their cheese flavors: mascarpone, ricotta and the like.

Macarons: Chantal Guillon, without a doubt. They offer everything from chocolate to Persian rose to seasonal flavors like yuzu hazlenut. The shells have just the right amount of crisp, and all the fillings are balanced and delicious.

Bread: The Mill, which gets extra points because their lead baker’s name is actually Josey Baker. Mondays and Wednesdays are pizza nights, so you can grab tonight’s dinner and tomorrow’s bread in the same fell swoop.

IMG_3047.JPGCoffee: I spend a lot of time at coffee shops, and Contraband Coffee Bar is my favorite. I get the Black Market every single time–it’s a medium dark specialty drip. Friends go gaga for their espresso. Contraband also gets bonus points for being the first place I tried a Neighbor Bakehouse pastry!

Avocado toast: Avocado toast is a strangely contentious category in these parts, and my vote goes to Cafe St. Jorge near Bernal Heights. Wheat toast is topped with a generous helping of smashed avocado, chili and lemon. Mmmm.

Spin on s’mores: Yes this deserves its own category, and the honor goes to Dandelion Chocolate in the Mission. Their version includes a homemade graham cracker, marshmallow and chocolate ganache. They toast it to order, too!

Think I’m missing somewhere special? Drop me a line at culturecookies@gmail.com.

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Web-Hopping vol. 23

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From Hearth’s website

I’m going to start off this edition of Web-Hopping by mentioning the goodness that is Brie en Croûte. Imagine you have baked Brie, but it in a more individually sized portion, with a buttery, flaky exterior. That, dear readers, is the Brie en Croûte pastry that I sampled at San Francisco coffee shop Hearth this weekend. Delicious Cowgirl Creamery cheese, enveloped in buttery pastry and sprinkled with a topping of sea salt. I can’t claim it was the healthiest breakfast ever but it sure was satisfying.

File_000I also stopped by the Dandelion Chocolate Factory and Cafe for dessert this weekend. I picked a simple chocolate chip cookie – not my usual strategy, but I had a really strong craving for this classic treat. I may have also had an ulterior motive… but you’ll have to stay tuned to find out what that was! My boyfriend picked up their take on s’mores: house-made graham cracker, a layer of delectable chocolate and a generous portion of marshmallow. They make all the components right there at the cafe.

Alright, enough about what I ate in real life this weekend – and on to the links!

Carrot Tahini Muffins: I am so intrigued. There is just no other way to put it. I loved using tahini in cupcakes, and now I’d love to see how it impacts other kinds of baked goods, too.

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Fun idea from Betty Crocker

Teddy at the Beach Cupcakes: Let’s be real – I’ll probably never make these. But they were on my Pinterest feed and they’re adorable, so here you are.

Mini Lime Cheesecakes with a Chocolate Crust: I love the idea of lime cheesecake! These look nicely dainty with a layer of lime curd-enhanced whipped cream on the top.

Citrus Croissant French Toast: Immediately added this to my list for whenever I actually bother to make plated breakfasts. A.k.a. whenever I get a bigger apartment and can host company again…

Neighbor Bakehouse (San Francisco)

This is another story of my coffee addiction fueling a new bakery addiction. One of my favorite San Francisco coffee shops is this little place called Contraband. It’s in a cozy corner of Nob Hill, and it’s the type of place that just oozes a community vibe. It’s small, but always feels lively, and has huge windows bringing in some of the city atmosphere. My boyfriend and I spend quite a bit of time there- in fact, I’m nursing their delicious Black Market blend right now.

A year or so ago I tried one of their pastries and was so wowed by it, I immediately asked where it came from. It was this delicious savory tart, with the perfect blend of vegetables and cheese on top. They told me it came from a place called Neighbor Bakehouse in the Dogpatch neighborhood. I added Neighbor to my San Francisco “to do” list… but somehow never made it there. Fast forward to last year, when I moved closer to Contraband and started going there more. My boyfriend has gotten hooked on their ham and cheese morning bun, while I’m hooked on seasonal iterations of that delicious savory tart. And so last week we decided it was time to right a wrong, and finally made it to Neighbor.

We planned an entire Sunday Funday, with Neighbor slotted as the first stop. Between us, we got 5 different things: the Everything Croissant, the Twice-Baked Pistachio Blackberry Croissant, the Ginger Pull-Apart, the Mushroom Tart, and a croissant that had smoked trout/cream cheese inside. Yes, 5 pastries for 2 of us- we’re such diligent researchers!

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Inside the Pistachio Blackberry Croissant

We thought everything was wonderful, but we did have some favorites. My favorite was definitely the Pistachio Croissant. It had this great crunchy texture on the outside, but perfect buttery layers on the inside. Most nut croissants have pastry cream inside, so I expected a pistachio cream but was actually pleasantly surprised to find that the filling was more like a paste. The employee we spoke to explained that they mix the pistachio cream with a type of flour, so it creates a distinct texture. They then lather in blackberry jam, too. It is the perfect treat: a standout croissant plus this unique blend of nut flavor and fruit flavor. We couldn’t stop raving about it the whole day after we finished!

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The Mushroom Tart and Smoked Trout Croissant

My boyfriend’s favorite was his Mushroom Tart. Neighbor does base doughs so well. And while that may sound like a given to you, it isn’t- a lot of bakeries disguise mediocre base doughs with lots of add-ins or other flavors. You can taste the quality in these pastries, because every bite tastes outstanding. Whether you get a bite with Mushrooms or just the pastry base, it wows you. I realize this sounds very hyperbolic but trust me- you have to try their flaky doughs to see what I mean. I think I liked it more than Arcade in NYC, actually.

After finishing our pastries, we walked 5 miles wandering around San Francisco. Let’s just say that makes up for eating 5 pastries, ok?

If you’re ever in SF, I recommend checking out Neighbor. Make sure to plan ahead: they’re only open Wednesday-Sunday, and they close by noon. Their space is more bakery than cafe, so they only have benches outdoors rather than indoor seating. We enjoyed sitting there on a lovely SF morning, and found it very relaxing. Neighbor is actually really accessible by car and transit here, so if you’re visiting, you could definitely make it work. I suggest going there for an early breakfast, and then spending some time exploring the pleasant residential/commercial streets nearby. You can also walk all the way north on 3rd until you hit the ballpark; then take Embarcadero the rest the way up toward downtown. By the time you get to Market Street you’ll be ready for lunch- and then the goodies at the Ferry Building are perfectly positioned for your next meal!

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So much more to try…

We will definitely head back to Neighbor to try more of their great assortment of savory and sweet items. In the meantime, since we couldn’t make it there today… we got a morning bun and croissant at Contraband! The combo of Neighbor pastries and Contraband coffee is a marvelous way to start your day.

Info: Neighbor Bakehouse, 2343 3rd St. San Francisco, CA 94107

Hours: Wednesday-Sunday, 6:30 AM – 12 PM 

Fun facts: If you’re worried they will run out of something specific- order ahead. You can email orders of any size to pick up, as long as you give 72 hours notice. We didn’t end up doing this but I did consider it since I really wanted to try that Pistachio Croissant! 

Moscow & Tblisi Bakery, San Francisco

Sometimes, messing up directions can take you on a better path. This sounds like a big life lesson- but really I’m just talking about pastries.

little russiaA couple months ago I missed my bus stop and ended up a few blocks out of my way. No big deal, really. And it became even less of a deal when I smelled the most wonderful smell coming from one of the shops nearby. I was over in San Francisco’s Richmond District in a stretch known as “Little Russia,” which hosts a number of Russian bakeries and grocery stores. I’ve tried a number of the businesses in that area, but only now do I have an absolute favorite. Because on that day when I was so lost in my book I missed my stop, I bussed right up to the door of the Moscow and Tblisi Bakery.

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There was no way to resist this Sunshine cake. I did resist the adorable Creme Brulee, but only because I am not a fan of Creme Brulee! Now, if that’d been smiley cake….

I know I’ve walked into this bakery before, and think I might have tried a hamentaschen sometime a couple years ago. This time I decided to buy a treat  called the “Rose” that looked like a bun with meringue wrapped into a sweet outer layer. But then as I went to pay I noticed their cake. Oh, the cake! So many options of beautiful, layered cakes, in so many tempting flavors and intriguing combinatons. I decided to add a slice of Sunshine cake to my order because I just couldn’t resist its citrus-y orange base or the its delicious-looking pastry cream.

Boy am I glad I did that. The cake was wonderful, the perfect combination of light spongey cake, cream, and spots of zest throughout thanks to the jellied fruit layer and orange essence baked in there. My Rose was delicious too: rather had to describe, but a mix of a chewy sweet bun with a crunchy meringue layer, as well as meringue inside too.

So of course I went back. The next time I was in that area I purposely went a block too far to make sure I ended up back at the door of Moscow & Tblisi. That time I went in with advice from friends who grew up in the area. I picked up a Mushroom Piroshki, a cheese blintz and a piece of what’s called “Popyseed Cake.” I resisted the urge to also buy another cake but just barely- it was sure tempting! The blintz and piroshiki I ate on the spot as lunch. I loved the piroshki especially: a deliciously chewy outer dough and a nice, balanced filling. The piroshki is huge, and cheap- combined with the blintz, I felt full for a while.

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My most recent trip’s bounty

I managed to go back yet again a couple weeks ago, this time bringing my boyfriend with me and therefore getting to try more baked goods at once. Genius, right? We got 3 piroshki to split, as well as a cherry danish and a mini pistachio cake. We liked the potato piroshki the best out of all 3. By the time we got done with those, we barely had room for the cherry danish but like real bakery troopers, we persevered. I really loved the cherry filling- just the right balance of tart and sweet.

And finally, the piece de resistance: our pistachio cake. Like the Sunshine Cake I’d tried before, this cake had so many layers: cream, fruit jelly, cake, mousse. It’s incredibly well executed, so all those layers work together for a fantastic flavor combination. I think it’s really hard to find good cakes in the U.S., especially cakes with more intrigue to them than a simple cake/frosting pairing. So I certainly salute Moscow & Tblisi for their great cakes.

In fact, I salute them for everything. If you ever find yourself in San Francisco, I highly recommend venturing out to the Richmond to visit them. In fact- why don’t you do it on your way back from visiting Marla Bakery in the Outer Richmond? Now that’s my kind of tasty, tasty tourism.

Address: 5540 Geary Boulveard, San Francisco, CA, 94121

 

Marla Bakery, San Francisco

As an a frequent coffee shop lounger, I’ve conducted a rather thorough assessment of the food available at my local cafes. Most the time, the pastries fall somewhere in the range of underwhelming to depressing. Especially at the cheaper coffee places, you’re lucky if the baked goods taste like they were made with real ingredients vs. artificial replacements.

And then I went to Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters over in the Marina neighborhood of San Francisco. I went for their coffee, which was outstanding. We were also hungry, though, so we bought a scone. And in that moment, our San Francisco breakfast game changed forever. The scone we picked was savory, with the perfect blend of cheese and herbs. The scone “shell” had a nice bite to it, revealing a soft, flavorful crumb. My boyfriend and I gobbled it up. And then we went back later that week. And then again the following week. And then – we asked the barista where their baked goods come from.

DSCN2790Turned out they order baked goods from a place called Marla Bakery in the Outer Richmond of San Francisco. Wrecking Ball sells a small selection of Marla’s pastries everyday to go with their fantastic coffees. But after many trips to Wrecking Ball for coffee and a scone, we decided to seek out the source. On a beautiful San Francisco day, my boyfriend and I ventured out to Marla Bakery to see what else we could sink our teeth into.

What a wonderful experience! We were so glad Wrecking Ball tipped us off to this marvelous place. We ordered a slew of breakfast dishes, punctuated by starting and finishing pastries. Every bit of food was housemade, which meant really flavorful meats, great breads and inventive twists on simple vegetable preparations.

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Confit Garlic, Parmesan and Black Pepper Scone

We recently returned to Marla for Round 2 and were just as pleased. This time we started with a Confit Garlic, Parmesan & Black Pepper scone. Then we shared a plate of cured salmon with assorted pickles, housemade cheese and a delicious bagel. We also got a “baker’s breakfast” plate that included a mix of cheeses, vegetable condiments and breads. Everything was so fresh and flavorful. The menu may sound simple, but simplicity lets ingredient superiority shine through- Marla’s definitely offers food with superior flavor to other brunch spots in the city. The restaurant itself is beautiful, too. Tasteful decor inside, and then a nice patio and garden in the back. Our last trip there we lucked out with a sunny day and picked a table in the back.

If you’re in San Francisco, I highly recommend checking out Marla’s. I don’t think many tourists venture to the Outer Richmond, but you can make a really great day of it: breakfast at Marla’s then a stroll through Golden Gate Park makes for a beautiful SF day.Marla takes reservations, which makes it easy to slot it into a busy schedule. After breakfast you can wander east through the Richmond and you’ll hit a fun stretch of stores spanning everything from Russian groceries to Chinese bakeries.

And if you’re ever near the Marina, you have to check out Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters, too. The coffee is really high quality and the store is decorated with the cutest pineapple wallpaper you’ll ever see!

Update: Marla now has a kiosk at the Ferry Building downtown, too. It’s a much smaller selection than their Outer Richmond location but if you’re unable to make it to the full restaurant, at least check out their kiosk!

Web-Hopping Vol. 3

I got a promotional email this week declaring it “Baking Season.” I realize people say this about the fall-winter period because of all the holidays but personally I think every season is baking season. Still, the good thing about this whole seasonal marketing schtick is that it brings lots of coupons. Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas yield great deals on pumpkin, baking chips, spices and things like molasses. I look at my grocery chain’s digital coupons and also sometimes check for manufacturer’s coupons to throw on top of that. It’s like a pantry-loader’s dream!

And this, dear readers, has been your PSA to get deals on your baking ingredients. I’ll write more about that another time- now on to the weekly links!

Apple Cinnamon Blondies on Bakerita

Cardamom Butter CookiesI love cardamom in my baked goods and this Cardamom cookie recipe looks super easy. It’s from the Land of Lakes website and lacks reviews but I think I’ll still give it a shot.

Apple Cinnamon BlondiesThese Apple Cinnamon Blondies from Bakerita caught my eye on Pinterest this week. I’m one of the few people who does not go crazy for pie, but I love apples and cinnamon together so I absolutely need to try these.

Getting over a fear of baking: I really liked this article from The Kitchen aimed at easing would-be bakers into honing their baking chops. I have some more simple tips for bakers on this site, too.

A shot of the Campfire Love cookie from Cookie Love’s website

Newfound cookies in San FranciscoI stumbled upon a great cookie store in San Francisco over the weekend. Cookie Love sells a dazzling array of cookies, plus ice cream. My boyfriend and I split their take on S’Mores, called the “Campfire Love.” I’ve mentioned my love of all things S’Mores, and this cookie did not disappoint. The marshmallow was toasted just right on top of a great chocolate chip cookie base. We’ll be back!

In search of kitchen organization: I moved recently, and my new kitchen is much smaller than the old one so I’ve been on a hunt for the best kitchen storage and organizational tips. I liked this website a bunch, and have filed tons of ideas away. When I’m done organizing I’ll write a post about the best tricks I found- and I’m definitely open to your ideas!

Have a fantastic week!