Thursday, April 28, 2016

Semifreddi's Baked Goods

Semifreddi's is a local Bay Area bakery, specializing in assorted breads and pastries, established in 1984.  They have two cafes, one in Kensington and one in Berkeley, but, the majority of their business is wholesale.  Their products are carried at all the major grocery stores, including Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Safeway, and event Costco.  I have not visited one of their bakeshops, but I have purchased their products at Whole Foods many times, and have discovered them at several cafes around town as well.

My knowledge of Semifreddi's began with their cinnamon bread.  Back in the day, Ojan went through a cinnamon bread addiction.  Well, not just any cinnamon bread.  He was completely obsessed with Acme's cinnamon bread, available only at the Ferry Building, and only if you get there at the right time of day.  That cinnamon bread is rather amazing ... if you get it within 15 minutes of coming out of the oven.  I always felt like it had absolutely no shelf life.  I'd love it when super fresh, and then think it was totally unremarkable even just 2 hours later.  It is only available as full loves, so you have to eat the whole loaf right when you get it.  Which given its sticky, cinnamon-y, awesome nature, turns out to not be very hard.

But, that is Acme's cinnamon bread.  Enough about them.  This review is about Semifreddi's.  When I used to live next to a Whole Foods, and not next to Acme, I tried to get Ojan hooked on another cinnamon bread, since going to Acme was less than ideal.  I saw that Semifreddi's made a cinnamon swirl bread that always looked pretty good (although I was a bit put off by the fact that it comes in a plastic bag, so often has some condensation and slime inside of it).  It is nothing like the Acme one however - just a basic egg bread with a cinnamon swirl, and not ooey-gooey deliciousness like the Acme one, so he only begrudgingly accepted trying it.  He got it several times after that first try, but, certainly never loved it like the Acme bread.  I never liked it much either, as it was always far too dry for me (but I can imagine it making some excellent french toast!).

Speaking of bread for toast, Semifreddi's also makes a lot of sandwich breads and baguettes, which pop up in restaurants all over town.  I've also had their rosemary focaccia used to make pizza by Delessio's catering department, but it was soggy and disappointing then.  I blame the catering however, not Semifreddi's.

If you know me by now, you realize breads aren't really my thing though.  So why am I still talking about Semifreddi's?  Because they also make other baked goods, like morning pastries, including muffins, scones, croissants, and danishes.  They are ... ok, but, not really worth raving about.
Morning Bun.
"We sell these by the pastry box full. Great for Monday morning meetings and mid-day pick-me-ups. Definitely irresistible, and many say, highly addictive."

The first item I tried was a morning bun.  They always have these in the display at Whole Foods near the coffee register, and they are so hard to walk by.  They also make a cinnamon version, but it isn't offered at Whole Foods.

I don't really recall morning buns as a thing on the east coast when I was growing up, but they are certainly a thing in San Francisco.  I guess we just kept it simple with donuts and croissants back then?  Tartine of course probably has the most famous morning bun, which I've reviewed before, in all its delicious glory.

A morning bun is the solution to the question of: "Do I want a croissant, a sugar donut, or a cinnamon roll?"  It gives you a little  bit of each.  The dough is buttery croissant dough, but its rolled and layered like a cinnamon roll, and absolutely covered in sugar (and usually cinnamon).

The Semifreddi's version is just sugar coated, no cinnamon (although they also make a cinnamon one, my Whole Foods just doesn't have it).  It is bigger than the Tartine version, which is saying something, as those are big buns.

The top looked crusty and flaky, but when I took my first bite, I was pretty disappointed.  It was really dry.  Sigh.  The same problem I have with their cinnamon swirl bread!  Since I always get their products at Whole Foods, maybe it just isn't fair to evaluate products that aren't uber fresh.  Maybe they would be better at the bakehouse.  But still.  I was sad.  The sugar coating was nice, but it wasn't that great, as it was just sugar.  In the Tartine version, large sugar crystals are used, and it is clearly rolled in the sugar while hot, so the sugar partially melts and forms a sugarly delicious glazed layer over it.

But then, I started unraveling the bun.  The inside layers of the roll that weren't exposed to the air were moist and deliciously buttery.  All the greatness of the inside of a croissant.  I got a bit happier.

And then, I had a bite from the bottom.  OMG.  The bottom is where the magic happened.  The sugar had sorta caramelized down there.  It was crazy moist, and just absolutely soaked in butter.  Butter and sugar.  Lots of butter and sugar.  Sooo good.  I didn't care about the lackluster top any longer, I saw that just as a wrapper for the rest of the deliciousness.

Taken as a whole package, this was good.  Not quite as good as the Tartine one because it didn't have the crispy caramelized top, but it was tasty.  I'd love to try one fresher sometime.

It reminded me somewhat of a kouign amann, except that I'd pick a kouign amann over a morning bun, any day.  The caramelized crispy top just does it for me!

Interestingly, I had a second one the next day, a day old (when I grabbed the first one from the case, my hand brushed a second one, and being a good person, I took it too).  Since the top was already kinda dry and stale tasting on the fresh one, I wasn't expecting much from it, and indeed the whole thing seemed, well, day old.  The top was stale and the bottom that I'd loved so much before was kinda strangely moist.  So I warmed it in the toaster oven, hoping for magic.  And, some magic did indeed happen.  The bottom stayed kinda gummy and weird, but the top actually got tasty.  The sugar melted, forming the crispy caramelized layer I'd wanted from the start, and it all got crispier, which worked with the staleness.  Hmm.  So, yeah, protip, warm these things up.  And perhaps if you manage not to devour one in a single sitting, eat the bottom fresh, and warm the top!
Semifreddi's Almond Croissant.

"Dusted with powdered sugar, topped with slivers of California Almonds and filled with a decadent almond paste."

Next, I went for the second most decadent looking item, the almond croissant.  The also make plain and chocolate croissants.  It was indeed dusted with powdered sugar, and topped with slivers of almonds.  But the almond paste?  Not decadent as advertised.

I was really in the mood for an almond croissant after having the great one from Prima Cafe.  This looked good, particularly as it was coated in powdered sugar and almond slices.

But ... it was kinda dried out.  Chewy in a strange way.  It just didn't taste fresh at all.  It wasn't flaky nor buttery.  There was almond paste inside, but not much, and it was not well distributed.  I struggled to like this, as I really wanted to, but alas, it did not ever grow on me.

It was a very disappointing croissant, which made me quite sad, as I've enjoyed other Semifreddi's goods in the past.
Semifreddi's Blueberry Muffin.
"Cake-like and filled with wild blueberries, our muffin is packed with anti-oxidants and tastes so good that you won’t even realize it’s good for you."

Next, I went for a muffin, since I didn't like the croissant.  My choices were lemon-poppyseed, bran, or blueberry.  I wasn't feeling the others, so I went for blueberry, and knew that if I didn't like it, blueberry is Ojan's favorite, so he might like it.

I really didn't like it.  It didn't have any real redeeming quality.  It wasn't crispy on top.  It wasn't moist inside.  Not that it was dry, but it was just homogenous, in a really boring way.  It was very sweet, and, well, cake-like, as they said.  If I had read the description before picking it up, I would have chosen something else.  I like cake, but not in my muffin.  The blueberries were just little bits throughout.

I brought it to Ojan, who commented, "that really isn't a good muffin".  Clearly, not a winner.
Semifreddi's Lemon Poppyseed Muffin..
"These moist and delicious muffins are a perfect way to brighten up your morning! A burst of lemon, rich buttermilk and a little crunch from the poppy seeds...what a muffin!"

After my disappointment with the blueberry muffin, and the croissant, you'd think I'd stop trying.  But I know Semifreddi's makes really good morning buns, and cinnamon bread, so I wanted to give them another chance.

One of my complaints with the blueberry muffin was the lack of flavor, so I hoped that the buttermilk would add a desired tang.  And that the lemon would give it a zing.  But ... it didn't.  There was no real flavor to the base, again.  I barely tasted lemon.  It was loaded up with poppyseeds, which were nice and crunchy, but ... not very good.

The other issue was the texture.  Just like the blueberry, it was all completely the same, not exactly moist nor dry.  I love a nice moist interior and a crispy top, and this was all just the same.

Plain and boring, just like the blueberry.  I tried to share this with colleagues, and no one wanted a second bite.  It made me crave the Costco almond poppyseed muffin!
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