Thursday, October 23, 2014

Starter Bakery Baked Goods @ Philz Coffee

Those of you who follow the day-of-the-week theme format of my blog, may have noticed that Thursdays are supposed to be about bakeries or ice cream shops.  Yet, last week I reviewed Coffee Cultures, a coffee shop, not a bakery itself.  But you see, I did so to review the baked goods they serve, from Mr. Holmes Bakeshop.  I did the same the week before, reviewing Epicenter Cafe on a Thursday, covering the baked goods they serve from Sandbox Bakery, not the cafe experience itself.   I think this is legit usage of my "bakery" review day, so, I'm doing it again.

This time we head to Philz Coffee.  When I first moved to San Francisco, I hadn't yet turned into a coffee snob.  I was coming from the east coast, land of Dunkin' Donuts, aka, massive quantities of cream and sugar in my coffee.  The idea of having my coffee black was unheard of.  Coffee was about being sweet, creamy, and generally, flavored.  It should come as no surprise then that my coffee shop of choice turned out to be Philz, where coffee is served not just with cream, but with manufacturing cream (>40% fat content, not sold in regular grocery stores.  Contrast this to half and half, at 10-15%) and with a secret sweeter mixed in that is rumored to include brown sugar.  It was the closest thing I had to my precious Dunkin' Donuts.

Of course, besides the excessive amounts of cream and sugar, Philz isn't actually anything like Dunkin' Donuts.  Yes, it is a chain now, but cups of coffee are brewed cup at a time, not in giant vats hours in advance like Dunkin'.  The coffee used is blends that Philz has curated, which is obviously better than Dunks.  I stopped going to Philz somewhere along the way, removed the cream and sugar, and wound up a devote Blue Bottle fan.  I recently tried Philz again and was shocked at trying to drink it black ... even the lighter roasts are much darker than what I prefer these days.

Anyway, didn't I say this was a bakery review day?  It is!  To go with your coffee, most of the Philz locations in San Francisco also serve baked goods from Starter Bakery (plus vegan donuts from Pepples).  Starter Bakery is located in Oakland, but they also run a large wholesale business, so I'm sure there are plenty of other places around town you can get their treats, which, you should do!

Starter Bakery cares about the sourcing of their ingredients, as their website calls out all of the local producers they use, not only for the staples like butter and eggs, but also TCHO for chocolate, Blossom Bluff Orchards for fruit, etc.
Ham & Cheese Croissant.
I decided to get something that wasn't totally just decadent, and somewhat counted as a balanced meal, to go along with my crazy sugary coffee: a ham and cheese croissant.  (I've basically justified it to myself that I can have a ham & cheese croissant at any time of day, because they totally have protein from the ham and cheese, and thus I'm not being an irresponsible person just eating baked goods and sweets.  Right?  Totally reasonable, responsible choice!)

It was good standard execution of a savory ham and cheese croissant.

The outside had a nice crispness to it, and the exterior dough was flaky and made a bit of a mess ... in a good way.  The interior was deliciously buttery and moist.

Inside was a generous amount of good quality ham and cheese.  I heated it up in the toaster oven to make it even more delicious and slightly gooey.

Not extraordinary, but very good.
But if you've heard of Starter Bakery, you know that they are known for one thing in particular: their famed kouign-amann (aside: if you have never had a kouign-amann, drop everything, and go do that now.  I'll wait.  Remember, I told you this when I reviewed the kouign-amann dessert at Clio in Boston too, which you should totally go to if you are ever in Boston, one of my top meals of 2013!)

The description is a bit wordy, but I'll include it, since I'm sure some of you are unfamiliar with this thing of wonder: "Starter's award-winning specialty, Kouign-Amann, is an indulgent French pastry that is similar to a croissant—but so much more. The rich treat is made by rolling out and folding together layers upon layers of dough with salted butter and sugar, then baking it in a butter-and-sugar-lined pan, resulting in an incredibly rich, sweet-and-salty experience." 

There are exactly two key words in that description: "sugar" and "butter".  They pretty much define this delicious treat (in fact, kouign-amann actually means "butter cake").  The recipe for an average batch of kouign-amann includes at least 2 sticks of butter.  And you can taste it.  And boy, does it taste good.  So buttery.

Ok, so what is a kouign-amann?  It is pastry with butter and sugar folded between the many layers.  Hard to go wrong here.  And, baked in a butter and sugar lined tin, so that the outside gets super caramelized and crispy.  When a kouign-amann is well prepared, it is a thing of wonder.

This was one of the best baked goods I've ever had.  Crispy, sweet, caramelized sugary exterior.  Moist, buttery croissant-like interior.  It was really, really, really good.  I'd get another in a heartbeat.

Starter Bakery also makes variations that I'd love to try, with different fillings like chocolate, espresso custard, fig, frangipane & raspberry, hazelnut praline, TCHO crunch, and vanilla cream.  I think I've seen at least the chocolate filled ones at Philz before, but I started with the classic.  The only time I've had a filled kouign-amann before is from Cyrus, when they gave chocolate filled ones as take home treats (you should also go there, Cyrus was one of my top meals of 2012!).
See review on Urbanspoon
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