Monday, March 05, 2012

Baked Goods from La Boulange

Several years ago, I went to my first La Boulange in Pac Heights. It was my first time having Greek yogurt, and my first time having yogurt and granola, and I got hooked (it probably helps that their granola is insanely decadent, the Greek yogurt is amazingly creamy, and that it is served with tons of honey and fresh fruit). I have very fond memories of that place, and whenever I was in Pac Heights would always stop in for the yogurt and granola. There were only one or two other La Boulanges in the city at the time.

Times have changed! In the past month, two more have opened in my neighborhood. There are now 12 total, and they sell their cookie dough and pastry dough in grocery stores. I currently have 3 La Boulanges within a mile of my house and in a few weeks will have 2 more (they are opening one in the Westfield and one in the Metreon).

Anyway, I digress. As part of their new openings, they have been very, very sample heavy. Which has meant that anytime I've stopped in to get a single item, I've gotten to try out a few more too! And today I hosted an event at work and picked up a bunch of other new items to try out. Thus, I have a pretty comprensive list of items (mostly bakery ones) that I've tried recently. I've been dutifully taking notes, and today a friend asked what I thought of La Boulange. Little did he know he'd get this for a response :)

Summary: inconsistencies!

Cookies

Summary: Generally not very good, could be personal preference since I don’t like hard cookies.
    Almond Croquet Bordelais
    • Shortbreads
      • Orange Blossom: Tasting notes: Meh. Very crisp, not very flavorful or buttery like shortbread should be. 
      • Chocolate Chip: Tasting notes: Again, crisp, but this one was buttery, decent for that style cookie, but I prefer soft chocolate chip cookies.  [ Buttery, nice amount of chocolate chips, decent for this type of cookie.  Reminded me somewhat of biscotti, and went well dunked in froth of cappuccino ]
      • Double Chocolate: Tasting notes: Again, crisp. Chocolate shortbread base with small chocolate chips. Ok chocolate flavor, but not buttery like shortbread should be.  [ Kinda bitter, but I really liked the crunch from the chocolate chips ] [ Very intense chocolate flavor, not bad ] [ A bit buttery, a bit chocolatey.  Not something I'd seek out, but not bad. ]
      • Espresso: Tasting notes: Again crisp. This one was pretty bad. Not flavorful or buttery and had a real gritty texture from espresso grinds in it. 
      • Spicy Parmesan: This was a shortbread, but savory.  Almost like a cracker, but still a shortbread base.  It had a tiny bit of cheese flavor, and I have no idea what the "spicy" referred to, as I didn't detect any spice.  It was soggy.  And had a horrible mouthfeel.  Did not like, at all. [ Nice and cheesy, but a bit strange texture-wise, as it was like a shortbread cookie, but savory.  It also had chunks of something in it.  It wasn't spicy.  This was almost good, but not quite. ]
    • Nuage
      • Cocoa nib: A meringue cookie with cocoa nibs inside of it. Tasting notes: Light, airy, very sweet, tiny amount of chocolate. Tasting notes (updated): Strangely eggy.  [ Nice cocoa nibs, but just sweet cookie ]
      • Lemon: Lemon flavored meringue cookie. Tasting notes: Ridiculously sweet but very strong lemon flavor. Kinda eggy though. 
      • Rose: Tasting notes: Subtle rose flavor, mostly just sweet, very airy.  Meh.
    • Almond Croquet Bordelais: Sorta a cross between a cookie and a biscotti. Tasting notes: Nice almond flavor, decent sized chunks of almonds, caramelized like exterior. Pretty tasty and I’d enjoy this with a cappuccino.  [ Nice buttery, almondy cookie.  Crispy, but good flavors. ] [ These go great with coffee drinks.  Or red wine.  My favorite of their cookies, by far. ]  [ My favorite of their products.  Sweet.  Buttery.  Great crunch from the almonds.  Great with coffee. ]
    • Congolais. Basically a coconut macaroon. Tasting notes: Just a big pile of coconut, but also sorta buttery/oily.  [ Really tasty, nice coconut flavor, perfect level of sweetness ] [ Very moist, great coconut flavor, like! ]
    • Ground Hazelnut Cookie: sorta like a macaron but without the filling, just the cookie part. Tasting notes: Decent hazelnut flavor but not a good texture. [ Very strong hazelnut flavor, ground nuts make for interesting texture. ] [ very nutty, but meh ]
    • Palmier: Buttery, with big sugar crystals on it, but just crispy and pretty generic.  [ Kinda dried out, not much flavor, sugar not caramelized. ]

    Tarts/Pies: 


    Summary: Generally not very good, due to the fact that their default tart shell is just hard and flavorless.
    • Bunde Fruit Tart: Tart shell, almond custard-like filing, apricot and glaze on top.  Tasting notes: same old tart shell, custard filling not bad.
    • Chocolate Ganache Tart: chocolate crust with chocolate ganache topped with cocoa nibs. Tasting notes: The crust was boring and lacking depth of flavor, but better than their standard tart shell. The ganache was super melty and pretty nice, but not that intensely chocolaty. The nibs on top added a nice crunch. Definitely one of their better tarts. [ Chocolate crust is pretty flavorless. Ganache layer is very smooth and creamy, but lacking a lot of intense chocolate flavor. Nibs on top give great crunch. ]  [ Tart shell is just chocolate crust, but the ganache is so incredibly creamy and delicious.  Best thing I've had there! ] [ Love, love this chocolate ganache. Creamy, chocolatey, quite tasty.  Would eat it as a pudding if I could! ] [ Ganache rich and chocolatey, pretty delicious, like the crunch from nibs on top ]
    • Flan Tart: Tart shell with flan on top. Tasting notes: Flan nice and custardy, but the tart shell is again hard and flavorless. Would just prefer the flan!  [ Flan was creamy and eggy.  Tart shell soft and not bad.  One of the best tarts I've had there! ]  [ Flan was eggy but creamy and good.  Nice flavor.  Tart shell was soft and not bad.  I enjoyed this. ]
    • Gâteau Basque: I wasn't actually familiar with what a gâteau basque was, but they had this available as samples.  It is apparently an almond based cake, but I didn't taste almond.  It almost seemed more like a custard to me, kinda eggy, soggy.  There was also a thin layer of cherry.  I didn't care for this.
    • Goat Cheese and Pear Tart: Didn't really taste goat cheese, which was good for me since I don't like goat cheese.  The pear was ... purple, and I wouldn't have known it was pear if I hadn't read that.
    • Pecan Pie: Again, same old tart shell, topped with bitter pecans.  Not good at all.
    • Pumpkin Pie: Very creamy, nicely spiced, I think my favorite thing I've had from there in recent memory!
    • Red Fruit Tart: Tart shell, custard filling, topped with raspberries and strawberries.  Tasting notes:  Same old hard style start shell that is mediocre.  Custard filling creamy with a nice vanilla flavor. Fruit was just fresh fruit on top, not notable. [ Generic tart shell, pastry cream, meh fruit.  All meh. ]
    • Rustic Apple Tart: Tart shell with apple filling. Tasting notes: Apple filling was mushy, as if overcooked. Not very flavorful or spiced. Tart shell hard, flavorless, boring. 
    • Rice Pudding and Apricot Tart: Tart shell, with layer of apricot jam, with thicker layer of rice pudding. Tasting notes: Same tart shell that I’m not a fan of. Apricot not very flavorful. Rice pudding kinda mushy, no real flavors to it. 
    • Strawberry Rhubarb Tart: Tart shell, baked, sweetened chunks of rhubarb and strawberries, crumble topping.  Tasting notes: This was really quite good.  Sweet yet tart, fruit was cooked down to be soft. [ Again, pretty good.  Fruit was nice and soft, pretty sweet.  Tart crust was a lot better than other ones, seemed softer and leaning more towards being a pastry. ] [ Crust is sorta mix between pastry and tart shell, I like it more than their standard tart shell, but it was mushy.  Filling of strawberry and rhubarb very sweet and mushy.  Crumble topping had no flavor. ] [ Crust mushy, filling just sweet and mushy, crumble top completely lost.  I wish this was good, but it just isn't. ] [ Crust boring, filling somehow both too sweet and too tart, just mushy rhubarb.  I really didn't like this! ]
    • Stone Fruit Tart: Mushy not very good tart shell, mushy filling.  Do not like.
    • Tropezienne Tart: Brioche filled with whipped pastry cream, topped with big sugar crystals. Tasting notes: Pastry cream was kinda eggy. Would have liked some vanilla flavor or something more to it. Brioche was fairly flavorless as well.

    Croissants:

    • Almond Croissant: butter croissant filled with marzipan layer, topped with more marzipan and sliced almonds. Tasting notes: pastry was pretty mediocre. Marzipan was nicely sweetened. [ pastry dough just not very good, fairly dry.  Marzipan also didn't have much flavor.  Just not very good ] [ Dry croissant dough.  Marzipan filling inside was decent.  Flakes of almond on the outside were a good touch.  But did not like overall, croissant itself just not very good. ] [ Not remarkable croissant dough, almond paste wasn't really almond flavored, very dry even though fresh.  Meh. ]
    • Chocolate Croissant: Tasting notes: slight amount of chocolate swirled into a decent flaky pastry, not particularly notable. [ Dry, flavorless croissant. Decent dark chocolate inside. But not a good croissant at all. ] [ Dough not laminated, not buttery or flaky.  Chocolate ok. ]
    • Chocolate Hazelnut Croissant: butter croissant filled with chocolate and ground hazelnut. Tasting notes: decent flaky pastry, chocolate and hazelnut plentiful but not very strong flavors. 
    • Ham and Cheese Croissant: Tasting notes: croissant wasn't remarkable, ham wasn't crispy, all was just fairly meh.
    • Vegetable Croissant: butter croissant filled with mixed vegetables and cheese. Tasting notes: nice flaky buttery croissant dough, plentiful veggie and cheese filling. YUM

    Other Pastries:

    • Croissant Bread Pudding: Bread pudding made from croissant pieces. Tasting notes: not moist, not flavorful, meh. [ Incredibly moist, wet even, custardy, strong egg flavor. ] [ Very moist, had an eggy flavor, pretty good! ] [ Not very good at all.  Just a mushy flavorless base. ] [ Burnt, hard top, somewhat strange consistency body, not good ]. [ Too moist, soggy, no flavor.  How do they make croissant bread pudding not be awesome? ]  [ Just soggy and eggy, not good at all ] [ Soggy, mushy, perhaps the worst bread pudding I've ever had.  I really, really don't like this. ]
    • Apple Turnover: Tasting notes: enjoyable flaky buttery pastry dough, but like the apple tart, the apple filling inside is mushy and not very well spiced.  [ The apple filling was horrible.  Seems like canned stuff.  Not good. ]
    • Chocolate Eclair: Classic eclair filled with chocolate cream and topped with chocolate ganache. Tasting notes: The chocolate cream inside was chocolately and good. The choux pastry was fine, better than their tart or quiche shells. 
    • Raisin Custard Swirl: Tasting notes: Pretty decent croissant style dough. Big sugar crystals on top. But not much raisin or custard. Goes well with coffee. 
    • Orange Cinnamon Morning Bun: Tasting notes. Swirl of decent croissant style dough with good orange flavoring throughout. Didn’t taste a lot of cinnamon. Large chunks of sugar on top.
    • Sugar Brioche: Tasting notes: basically just a dry uninteresting bread with some sugar crystals on top.  Meh. [ Again, dry, totally uninteresting bread, slightly eggy.  Better once I slathered it with Nutella. ]

    Cakes:

    Bûche de Noël. $34.

    Summary: Nothing very interesting here.
    • Pound Cakes
      • Blueberry Vanilla Pound Cake: just like the plain pound cake, but loaded with blueberries. Tasting notes: generous on the blueberries, but still not very good. 
      • Caramelized Pistachio Pound Cake: Tasting notes: pistachios were kinda soggy and bad texture, but the cake was moist and nicely buttery. Tasting notes (updated): Nice pistachio flavor, nice and buttery. 
      • Peach Almond Pound Cake: Tasting notes: dry, didn't taste peaches or almonds at all.  Not good.
      • Vanilla Pound Cake: Tasting notes: completely flavorless, not interesting texture, meh. Tasting notes(updated): Strange eggy flavor. Not good. [ Not very flavorful, not interesting ] [ No flavor at all, not good, not moist. ] [ Moist, decent pound cake, but didn't have much flavor on its own.  Slathered with some of their hazelnut spread or jams from the condiment bar, it was much better! ] [ Very buttery, but no real other flavor, do not like. ]
    • Raspberry Financier: Tasting notes: cute little thing, nice fruit flavor in center from raspberry, but hard, not very fresh tasting. [ Nice raspberry flavor in center dot, but not enough of it. Moist, good texture from the nuts, but meh. ] 
    • Seasonal Specials:
      • Bûche de Noël: This was cute, but most of the toppings were not edible.  Cute little fondant embellishments are way more fun!  The end pieces were chocolate, but very mediocre chocolate.  The cake inside was basically like air.  Very fluffy, brown but not very chocolatey.  It was almost non-existent and sorta disintegrated away.  I guess this is normal, as bûche de noël is usually made of light sponge cake.  Of course, I never like cake very much anyway, so the part of these that I was excited about was the creamy filling, in this case, chocolate mousse.  It was ok, and I ate it, but there wasn't anything particularly notable about it.
      • Galette Des Rois: Puff pastry crust with Frangipane filling. Tasting notes: Decent pastry crust, but flavorless filling.  [ Dry, flavorless pastry crust, slightly almond flavored creamy filling.  Not very good. ]
    • Super Vanilla: Tasting notes: Moist, sweet, decent.
    • Chocolate Fondant: basically a super dense brownie, topped with powedered sugar. Tasting notes: Decent rich chocolate flavor. Would probably be really good warm with ice cream! [ Moist, super rich, very brownie-like. One of my favorite things they make. ]

    Macarons

    Summary: some good, some bad, totally depends on flavors.
    Violet Cassis Macaron.

    • Lemon: Tasting notes: cookie was not interesting flavor nor texture, filling was just kinda sweet lemon, not very good. 
    • Caramel: Tasting notes: caramel filling was just tons of sweet, cookie was not interesting flavor nor texture. 
    • Rum Raisin: Tasting notes: Filling was nice and boozy, pretty flavorful, decent. 
    • Cherry: Tasting notes: nice, flavorful, complex cherry flavor. 
    • Coconut: Topped with coconut flakes. Tasting notes: nice coconut flavor, yummy, flakes enhanced flavors. 
    • Chocolate: Tasting notes: nice soft cookie, delicious ganache inside. Tasted like a really great brownie. Paired amazingly with coffee.  [ Very rich chocolately filling, good soft cookie, quite good ] [ Definitely my favorite of their macarons, but not really classic macarons.  It was basically like a rich, fudgey brownie. ]
    • Coffee: Tasting notes: no flavor at all. Would have never identified this flavor. [ Coffee is in the cookie only, filling is just sweet.  Cookie nice and soft and well done, but sweet filling just doesn't work well. ]
    • Pistachio: Tasting notes: pretty good, soft cookie, good pistachio flavor. [ Sweet, not tons of pistachio flavor. ]
    • Raspberry: Tasting notes: really great raspberry flavor in both the nicely executed cookie and the sweet filling.
    • Violet Cassis: Tasting notes: Looked beautiful, but no flavor. [ Strangely gummy on the outside, moist inside, not at all like what a macaron should be! ]

    Quiche

    • Cauliflower Quiche: Their same uninteresting pastry crust, filling with, well, cauliflower.  Not particularly interesting.
    • Vegetable Quiche: Pastry crust filled with eggy custard, mushrooms, spinach, leeks, tomatoes. Tasting notes: Crust itself was forgettable, kinda oily and flavorless. Vegetables were inconsistently spread around in the quiche. Bites with tomato and leeks were particularly good.

    Sauce/Jam

    One of my favorite features of La Boulange is the condiments station.  It always includes their house-made spreads!
    • Caramel Sauce: Tasting notes: sweet, goeey, decent caramel flavor.  [ Decent sweet caramel, no reason to purchase it, but, good. ] 
    • Hazelnut Jam: Tasting notes: very very sweet but incredible hazelnut flavor. [ Intense hazelnut flavor ] [ Very nice flavor, quite tasty on bread ] [ Very good, I really enjoy this slathered on anything. ]
    • Raspberry Violet Jam: Tasting notes: sweet jam, decent raspberry flavor.  Not outstanding, but better than what you find at most cafes/diners/etc. [ Very sweet, too sweet, not very good jam. ]
    • Apricot Vanilla Jam: Tasting notes: sweet jam, decent apricot flavor.  

    Other - Packaged Goods

    • Granola: Tasting notes: so ridiculously tasty, particularly with honey. I love this stuff. Some of the best granola I’ve ever had.
    • House Seasoned Potato Chips: Tasting notes: These were very oily and greasy.  Thin style.  Covered in visible herbs and seasonings, but really didn't taste like much of anything.
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