Thursday, June 15, 2017

Batter Bakery

Batter Bakery is a local San Francisco bakery that I desperately want to like more than I do.   Batter Bakery makes a number of breakfast baked goods, including scones, muffins, quickbreads, coffee cake, and "morning bars".  They also make dessert items, such as cookies, brownies, shortbreads, and cupcakes.

They care about sourcing, with ingredients coming from local farmers, and selections varying with the seasons.  They try to take a slightly healthier focus on baked goods, with whole grain flours used in many items.  They sell at the Ferry Plaza farmer's market, and through Good Eggs, along with at their retail locations, including a cute little kiosk.

But ... I've been turned off by a few things.  The first is actually the service, at their now-closed Polk Street store.  I visited many times, and the staff were always very unfriendly.  This ranged from being visibly annoyed answering any questions, to barely offering up a "hi" when customers enter the store.  Second, the prices.  They seem higher than comparable places around town.  And third, the most important: the goods just aren't very ... good.  Everything seems dry and over cooked, and ingredients aren't well distributed inside.

Scones ($3.85)

"Think you don't like scones? Try one of these. Crisp on the outside, soft in the middle. Filled with flavor, these scones are a Batter favorite! " 
Scones come in 4 standard flavors, plus a rotating seasonal special fruit and savory variety.

The scones are all large size, very dense, crumbly style, square shaped.  I've tried many, and agree that they are crisp on the outside, although, they really generally seemed burnt to me.  I never liked any, and found the ingredient distributions were often off.
    Buckwheat Walnut Fig. 
The first time I tried the Buckwheat Walnut Fig scone, I did not like it.  My tasting notes were simple: "Not very good.  No real flavor in the scone body, dry."

Yet, I didn't consult my notes before visiting another time, and picking the same scone.  Whoops.  I think the nuts and figs just kept calling out to me. 

My notes the second time were much improved: "I enjoyed this.  It wasn't the best scone I'd ever had, but it was pretty good.  Good heartiness from the buckwheat, slight tang, well spiced.  I liked the sweetness and slight chew from the bits of fig, and the crunch from the nuts.  Worked well as a standalone scone, no jam required, and didn't need to be warmed up."
Weekly Savory: Mushroom, Ricotta, Pancetta.
This was the weekly seasonal savory special.  I stopped in at Batter Bakery around lunchtime, and thus, a savory scone jumped out at me, rather than my standard pick of sweets.

I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from such a savory scone, but I thought it might be like a biscuit?  It wasn't.  Sure, the scone base wasn't sweetened, but it was still very much a scone.  Like their others, very dry and crumbly.

The outside was very, very dry, and a bit burnt.  Inside was moist at least, but the outside was just way overdone.

The balance of ingredients was also totally off.  In my entire scone, I found one little glob of ricotta.  There was no cheesy aspect to the scone at all.  Also lacking? The pancetta.  There were just a few tiny little bits of pancetta.  The pancetta that was there was absolutely delicious, super crispy little nuggets of salty goodness.  But not nearly enough.  The mushrooms were earthy and actually were in the correct quantity for the scone, but unfortunately for me, I didn't actually like them much.

But where everything went wrong, well, besides being overcooked and not having the right balance of any of the tasty ingredients, was with the herbs.  I'm not sure what herbs were in here exactly, but there was way too much of them.  The herbs overwhelmed everything.  And what is worse, is that some came in giant sprigs.  So not only did they ruin the taste, but biting into little sticks inside your scone is not enjoyable.

For some reason, I kept trying with the scone, even once I realized I really didn't like it.  I bought it home and heated it up.  It was better that way actually, but still, I wouldn't ever get another one of these.
Weekly Seasonal Fruit: Plum Spice.
My scone came in a plastic bag.  I think the bag is partially responsible for the texture, as the top seemed a bit gummy.

Inside was moist, almost doughy, which I actually liked, but isn't really ideal for a scone.  The scone didn't really have any crumb to it as a result, although the bottom was dried out and almost burnt, and did crumble.  Inside was a layer that contained slices of plum, very moist, very tart, lots of them.

I'm not entirely sure what all of the spices were that made up the "spice" component of "plum spice", but there was at least nutmeg, as it had a vaguely soapy taste.  The spicing existed mostly on top.

Overall, I didn't really like this, mostly because I didn't care for the plum, or the bottom of the scone.
Weekly Seasonal Fruit: Apple, cinnamon, cheddar.  $3.
Ok, I need to learn to stop trying their scones.  They just really aren’t very good.

The scone base was very plain, no tang.  That is not to say that it was flavorless, as the cinnamon was very, very strong.  Too strong.  The texture was also not great, no crumb to it.  But it also wasn’t a moist cakey style scone.  It seemed rather overcooked, although not burnt, just dried out.

Inside were chunks of apple.  They were a perfect size, and well cooked, not too mushy, not too crisp.  Decently distributed throughout.  That part was done well.

I never found any cheddar.  I didn’t taste it, I didn’t find any melted anywhere.

I’d clearly never get this again.

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  • Meyer Lemon Currant: Very large, dense, crumbly scone.  It weighed a ton!  Pretty strong citrus flavors, a nice buttermilk sour component as well, but nothing really special.  Didn’t reheat very well.  Got a really heavy buttery mouthfeel.  Still worked well as a conduit for tasty jam though! [ Frozen and reheated: Did not work well, was very crumbly and just too buttery, with a strange mouthfeel. ]
  • Weekly Seasonal Fruit: Raspberry Ginger: Just dry, no real flavor, serious meh.
  • Weekly Seasonal Fruit: Strawberry Poppyseed Scone: Nice crunch from the poppyseeds, good flavor and moistness from the strawberry.  My favorite of their products.

Muffins ($3.45)

Muffins come in three varieties, I only tried one.

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Cherry Bran.

This was a little on the dry side.  It had a nice hearty flavor from the bran, but was not very flavorful, and was pretty boring tasting.  The cherries were inconsistently distributed throughout, some in big clumps, and other areas missing cherries completely.

It was not a bad muffin exactly, but certainly not worth going out of your way for it.  Didn’t reheat very well the next day.

Coffee Cake ($3.85/slice.)

Coffee cake comes in 2 varieties (sour cream rhubarb or pecan buttermilk), available by the slice or round.  Since I don't like rhubarb, I only tried one.
Pecan Buttermilk Coffee Cake.  $3.85.
I went in one morning, really in the mood for a muffin.  It was 9am, and the store opened at 8:30.  Yet, no muffins.  Could they really run out that fast?  They are a bakery!  I inquired, and was told that they didn't bake any muffins that day.  Boo.  The other breakfast offerings were quick breads and scones.

I love scones, but I haven't ever been impressed with Batter's scones, and I don't like quick breads very often, so that left one choice: coffee cake.

Coffee cake is also not something I ever normally order, but it looked a bit better than the quick breads.

Batter got the "cake" aspect of this right.  It was seriously sweet.  It was good cake, very moist, and, I think would be perfectly good as a cake.  But for breakfast?  It was a bit much, even for me, and I eat pie for breakfast.  I did like the topping, a crumble top with pecans, but it too was sweet, so it didn't help cut the overall sweetness.  Inside the coffee cake were a few pieces of fruit, I think apricot?  Peach?  They were just little slivers in the very center, and added additional moisture.

Overall, this was better than I expected, but really not what I had in mind for breakfast.  I'd recommend it as a mid-afternoon treat with a cup of coffee perhaps.  Or, if you like cake for breakfast, by all means, go for it.  $3.85 price for a large slice of coffee cake, like most of their other prices, seemed a bit high.

Bars ($3.75-$4.25)

Batter Bakery makes a lot of assorted bars, including several types of brownies, and even a gluten-free and a vegan option, plus a couple fascinating sounding "morning bars".

On one visit, I saw that they had these two types of morning bars, a standard nut and seed granola bar (crispy hard style, vegan, gluten-free) and one called a "breakfast bar".  It looked softer, more like a cookie, but in bar shape, and, given the name, it claimed to be acceptable for breakfast.  I grabbed one to eat the next day, even though I don't generally find granola bars to be all that interesting.  I've also tried several of the brownies.  I haven't liked any.
Breakfast Bar.   $3.75.
"A hearty, chewy snack bar filled with oats, oat bran, dried fruit & nuts."

The base was oats, with raisins, dried cranberries, and dried apricot bits.  It wasn't dry exactly, but it also wasn't very moist.  Basically, yes, just a soft granola bar.  I'm not sure why I expected it to be more than that.  It was nicely spiced, but besides that, why would I want this?

It would have been better with nuts for some crunch and some other dried fruit.  Oh, and chocolate chunks.  Or ... something.  Just too boring as it was.

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Carmelita. $3.95.
"An oat brown sugar crust filled with caramel, chocolate, and pecans. Decadent and delicious!" 

This was a many layer bar with nuts, chocolate, coconut, caramel ... basically everything.  It sounded great.  But, it wasn’t particularly interesting. 

I tried one again a few months later, as it sounded so good.  But, again, it just wasn't great.  I love all of the ingredients, not sure why it doesn’t come together for me.

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Devil’s Food Brownie. $3.95.

"Dense, fudgy and packing a serious chocolate punch, these brownies will make any chocolate lover drool." 

Meh.   It was very rich, very chocolatey, but just a brownie, and, like many of their items, a bit dry.

Cookies 

Batter makes an assortment of cookies, including gluten-free ones, and a large range of shortbreads.

I never seek out cookies, since they are my least favorite category of dessert (or, I argue, aren't *really* desserts), but cookies are what people bring in all the time to my office, so I have been able to try many from Batter that way, including their signature Sand Angel.  They are all hard style cookies, and I haven't really cared for them.
Decorated Shortbread Cookie.  $3.25.
I was really craving a sugar cookie with icing, which is funny, because cookies are very rarely the sort of treat I crave.  But I'd just depleted the supply from my freezer of iced sugar cookies from Suzie Cakes that I actually liked, and I just couldn't get the idea of iced cookies out of my head.

Batter Bakery didn't have sugar cookies, but they did have iced shortbreads, which seemed close enough.  Again, cookies are rarely the treat I choose, and of cookies, shortbreads are near the bottom of the list for me.  I love the butteriness, but, they are kinda boring.  This was certainly a strange pick for me.  But they had royal icing as decoration on top, so I hoped that they would meet my craving needs.

And, they did.  Was it a remarkable cookie?  Not really.  But it was exactly what I wanted.  The shortbread was buttery and sweet, a lot sweeter than I'm accustomed to for a shortbread actually, but since I wanted a sugar cookie, this was a good thing.  The icing was just basic royal icing, but again, it is what I wanted.

Buttery, sweet, fresh enough.  The price seemed crazy high at $3.25 for a single cookie however.  It wasn't particularly large.  I know the decorating takes extra effort, but if I wasn't really craving this, I would have never paid that much for a single cookie.

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Assorted Cookies.  $3.25.
Chocolate Hazelnut Shortbread
Not very buttery, good flavor from hazelnut, crispy shortbread, not really my thing.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup
"Chocolate cookie with peanut butter swirls and chunks of peanut butter cup".  

I love chocolate and peanut butter, but I didn’t love this cookie.  It was hard and crisp, and I prefer softer cookies.  The bites with chunks of peanut butter cup or peanut butter swirls were good, but these things were fairly sparse and inconsistent in the cookie, there just wasn't nearly enough peanut butter flavor to it.

Coconut Macaroon
Decently moist, decently sweet, but fairly generic.
Sand Angel
"Batter's signature, secret recipe cookie. A chewy, cinnamon-y cookie similar to a cross between a snickerdoodle & a molasses cookie. " 

Again, a huge hard crunchy cookie.  If it was softer, this could be a great cookie!  The cinnamon flavor was really strong, yet there was a great molasses undertone, with bright ginger backing it all.  Much better when heated up in the toaster oven to soften it up some.  If they just cooked it less, I would absolutely love this thing! 

Cupcakes ($3.25)

Batter's final offerings are cakes and cupcakes.  I've never had a full size cake, but I've tried several of the cupcakes.  I didn't really like them either.

Devil's Food
"Chocolate Cupcake with Chocolate Buttercream."
The chocolate cake was fairly moist, but again, like many of their products, not that intense of a chocolate flavor.  Chocolate buttercream was light and fluffy and a pretty good chocolate flavor.

German Chocolate 
"with Coconut Pecan Frosting."
Another dense chocolate cupcake that wasn’t very flavorful, but was nicely moist.  The frosting was a caramel base, but included mushy pecan and coconut flakes.  The frosting didn’t have any real flavor, not even a nice sweetness, and the mush level of the coconut and pecan were really unappealing.

Red Velvet
"with Cream Cheese Frosting"
My favorite of the cupcakes.  Cake itself was kinda flavorless but decently moist.  Frosting had a nice cream cheese flavor.

Vanilla Cupcake with Chocolate Buttercream 
The cake was very dry and plain tasting.  Frosting had a nice chocolate flavor and was light and fluffy.
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