Friday, March 29, 2019

Galant Foods

I often review snack foods (most Fridays in fact ...), but this one is a bit different.  Piroshki.  Do they count as snacks?

Galant Foods started as a little piroshki shop in San Francisco’s Richmond District in 1956.  Since then, it has grown, considerably, now with several entirely different product lines: Paramount Piroshki (focusing on piroshki), Benny's Bagel Dogs (yup, bagel dogs), and Clara's Kitchen (burritos, calzones, and more).

Paramount Piroshki

The first product line from Galant that I tried was Paramount Piroshki.  They offer only piroshki.
"Since 1956, we have been delivering this Eastern European experience to cafes, delis, and institutional customers throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Handmade, our piroshki are stuffed with a variety of savory fillings and come either baked or fried. Perfect for appetizers, mini piroshki are also available upon request."
Individually Wrapped Piroshki.
They make a variety of flavors: Beef, Beef & Cheese, Chicken, Rice & Cheese, Spinach & Cheese, Pizza, and Potato, Beef & Mushroom.

I opted for the traditional beef & cheese, and the crazy sounding "pizza" varieties, both fried.  You can find these in many grocery stores around the Bay Area.
Beef & Cheese, Fried.
"Traditional pre-fried Piroshki. Ground beef, and cheddar cheese." -- GourmetXpress, Distributor

"Ground beef and cheddar cheese in an authentic Russian bread dough." -- Paramount Piroshki

I started with traditional beef and cheese, fried style.  It was fully cooked and fried, shipped frozen, but I allowed it to thaw.

It came individually wrapped, with clear instructions on how to heat up: 60-90 seconds in microwave (on paper towel) or 15-20 min in 350* oven (wrapped in foil).  I took the later approach, since I was worried the microwave would just make soggy.
Beef & Cheese, Fried: Inside, Unbaked.
Before I cooked it though, I cut off the end to look inside.  I wanted to see what I was in for!

The filling didn't look particularly generous, and I didn't see cheese, only some ground beef.  It looked like a lot of bread, particularly the end, the filling didn't extend very far through.

But I wrapped it up in foil, and waited 15 minutes.

When I unwrapped it however, it was just as soggy as I feared the microwave approach would make it.  I left it unwrapped to cook longer.
Beef & Cheese, Fried: Baked.
Once I baked it a bit longer unwrapped, the exterior got more crispy, which is what I wanted.

I still didn't see cheese oozing out though, which made me sad.  I expected a far more substantial cheese component.

I bit in.  The filling was ... ok.  Basically, just ground beef.  Not really seasoned, just a little salt and pepper.  The ingredients say there was a little onion too.  I didn't really taste it.  Fairly plain filling, and it made me want to dunk it in ketchup.  I might have detected a tiny bit of cheese, but certainly not much, and it tasted more like mozzarella than cheddar.

I can't say I was particularly drawn in by this filling.

The exterior though was fairly fascinating.  Fried dough.  Very fried dough.  Since it was reheated, it wasn't dripping in oil, but it was very clearly quite fried.  Greasy and fried.  In the way that fried dough is.  It made me think of state fair fried dough or a donut.  But, uh, with beef inside.  I kinda liked it.

Overall, this was a mixed success for me.  I think with the filling, I would have preferred a baked piroshki, not fried, and I would have liked it more if I took the time to get some ketchup to dunk it in.  Or, really, I would have liked it more if it had cheese and seasoning.  But I did like the fried dough, I just wanted it served differently, like, with whipped cream, powdered sugar, or other sweet toppings.
Pepperoni, Beef, & Sausage Pizza Deluxe, Fried.
"Traditional pre-fried Piroshki. Pepperoni, Italian sausage, Cheese, and tomato sauce."

Traditional beef out of the way, next I went for the ridiculous "Pizza Deluxe" version, featuring pepperoni, sausage, and pizza sauce, in addition to beef and mozzarella cheese this time.

I again baked it.
Pepperoni, Beef, & Sausage Pizza Deluxe, Fried.
The pizza flavor also didn't have nearly as much cheese as I wanted.  This time mozzarella rather than cheddar, but still, not much to be found, certainly not oozing out as I wanted.  Maybe I just want a Hot Pocket?

The pizza sauce was kinda nice, since I did somewhat want marinara or ketchup to dip the simple beef & cheese one in before.

The filling though ... eh.  Bits of pepperoni, bits of Italian sausage, bits of ground beef.  Nothing particularly flavorful nor well spiced.

Eh.  I did like the fried shell again.

Clara's Kitchen

Next, I tried Clara's Kitchen, a fairly random product line of wraps (breakfast style or Mexican or Thai), breakfast burritos, breakfast sandwiches on english muffins, and calzones.


"Mama Mia! Each one of our handmade calzones is double proofed, and stuffed with traditional and unique fillings. From Chicken Fajita, to Pesto-Mushroom. Individually labeled for retail sale and bulk packed for foodservice."
The calzone lineup includes both meat and veggie selections: Italian Brand Three Meat Combo , Chicken Fajita, Spinach-Feta, and Pesto Mushroom.

I tried the later.
Pesto Mushroom.
"Sauteed mushrooms, natural mozzarella and cheddar cheeses and pesto sauce in a scrumptious dough."

From the outside, this looked like a pretty standard calzone, the right shape, although it had a random sprinkle of sesame seeds on top, some green visible from within, and looked a little doughy.

Instructions are to microwave for 45 seconds, or wrap in foil and convection oven bake at low temperature (225*) for 15-20 minutes.  I had zero hope that the microwave would work well here, expecting it to make the dough tough, so I went for the convection oven, even though I found the temperature strangely low.

After 15 minutes I checked on it, and, although warm, the exterior was just soft and not quite what I wanted.  Much like the piroshki, I left it unwrapped for a few minutes, and cranked up the heat, and got better results, a nice crispy exterior.

The crust though ... eh.  "Scrumptious dough", they proclaimed, but I wasn't into it.  It tasted too "healthy", whole wheat, hearty, and just not pizza dough at all.
Pesto Mushroom: Inside.
But the insides were good.

The mozzarella cheese got melty, the mushrooms were soft and meaty, and the pesto quite flavorful.  Good onion and garlic flavors too.  The fillings were all in the right ratio to each other.

So, good filling, kinda poor crust.  I think it would be improved with some pesto on the side to dunk it in.

I wouldn't want this again.


Thursday, March 28, 2019

Saga Bakery / Andy Bowdy Cakes

Saga is a bakery located in Enmore, a bit further afield than my normal stomping ground in Sydney.

I haven't actually been there, but it has been on my radar for a while, for both the incredible pastries, but also, their signature cakes.  Now, cakes aren't normally something I go for, but these ... these are special.  More on that soon.

Saga is relatively new, opened only in 2017, by the pastry chef, Andy Bowden (Bowdy), and his partner, Maddison, after he left his famed post at Hartsyard, which is when I first heard of him.

As I said, I haven't actually visited Saga in person, but I was able to order from them, twice, for parties, including a signature cake.  I've also been able to try a few individual pastries.

Ordering large format items was extremely easy, with Maddison quite responsive over e-mail, friendly, and fun to work with.  They even accommodated my orders that were under the cut-off time, and recommended a local courier to use for delivery.  Payment was done through their online portal.  All really remarkably easy.

I highly, highly recommend, either for a casual visit to the bakery (they have breakfast and lunch items too!), or if you ever have need to arrange for a extremely memorable cake.

Individual Pastries

The range of treats for an individual runs from mini pies and cakes, to pastries like apple turnovers, paris brest, and croissant "snails", to cookies, savory biscuits, and focaccia.  As a lover of all baked goods, this lineup was quite appealing.

While my orders were mostly larger items for a big group, I also was able to try a few individual items, picking from their Instagram feed, and giving Maddison a list of things I was excited to try, and letting her pick based on availability, since not everything is available every day.

I found that I loved some of these, but also really didn't care much for others.  I was surprised by how varied my experiences were.  I think this was largely based on personal preference, as the items do seem well made.  I'd gladly try more (and, have my eyes on a few in particular ...).
Strawberry & Custard Tart. $8.50.
"Pie crust, strawberry jam, vanilla custard, hazelnut praline, sour cream, fresh strawberry."

Saga always has a seasonal (weekly?) tart, along with mini banana cream pie.  I was pretty excited when I saw the description of the brand new version: strawberry and custard!  And I loved the idea that they use pie crust instead of tart shells, as I never love tart shells, and find pie crust just so much more enjoyable.

I was so excited to try this, but I was pretty underwhelmed, to be honest.  It made me sad, as there was so much promise.

The toppings were slices of fresh strawberry, which were fine, ripe enough, and hazelnut praline, also fine, but just some mildly candied nuts.

But those were just the toppings, not where I'd expect it to shine anyway.
Strawberry & Custard Tart: Inside.
The part that made me the most disappointed was the crust.  It seemed ... burnt?  It was crisp, too hard, and too dark.  It didn't actually seem like pie crust.  I'm used to not liking tart shells, but this still made me sad as I expected something flakier.

Inside was the vanilla custard and the strawberry jam.  The custard was fine, not all that vanilla forward, but a good consistency, not runny.  The jam though was very very sweet.  The custard and nuts didn't help balance it out for me.  Just, too sweet for me.

So overall, I was not thrilled with this.  Custard, fruit, nuts were fine, the jam too sweet, and the crust pretty bad.
Choux Bun. $8.
"Choux Pastry, Pecan Pie Filling, Salted Caramel Chantilly."

Saga has long had a larger paris brest on the menu, but this is a smaller version, a new item.

That said, it isn't a mini treat by any means, certainly the largest choux puff I've ever seen.

You may recall that I don't actually like choux pastry generally, but I loved the sound of these fillings, so I tried it anyway.  Plus, I'm always willing to believe that I can learn to like something if I have a good version!

But ... I still just don't care for choux pastry ... the eggy nature isn't for me.  I can acknowledge that this was well made, crispy top, generously coated in powdered sugar, light yet custardy inside.

Speaking of inside, I was in this for the fillings.
Choux Bun: Side View.
Here you can see the side view.

Adjacent to the bottom bun was the "pecan pie filling", a thick, sweet layer.  It didn't have noticeable pecans in it, but it was really thick, and I'm still not sure what it was.  It might have had ground nuts in it?  It was very sweet.

Above that was a nicely piped salted caramel chantilly.  The chantilly was rich, thick, and certainly sweet as well, I tasted the caramel very strongly, but not much salt.  It was good chantilly, much like I had in the cakes and triffles (more on those soon).

And finally, both regular and candied pecans perched on top.  The candied pecans were tasty, but very candied, so very sweet, and I was glad to have a few that weren't candied to offset that.

These fillings, much like the namesake pecan pie, were, as you might expect, very sweet.  Every element was sweet.  The pecan pie filling layer was certainly the sweetest.

Overall, this wasn't the item for me, just because the choux pastry isn't something I like, and the filling was too sweet overall.  That said, I added some whipped cream to mellow it out, and enjoyed it as a caramel mousse with whipped cream and crunchy nuts.

I wouldn't get this again though.
Sticky Buns. $6.50.
"Brioche rolled with cinnamon bourbon butter and baked cheesecake, salted caramel and cream cheese icing."

I actually really wanted to try the "Sticky Fingers", described as "croissant dough, peanut butter cookie, banana custard, salted caramel, peanut butter crunch", but, alas, they weren't available the day I ordered from Saga.

I pouted a little internally, and selected my second choice, the sticky bun.  My frown quickly turned upside down as I took my first bite.


What a sticky bun this was.  Wowzer.  Seriously, a phenomenal sticky bun, unlike anything I've had before.  At first glace, it didn't even look that special, just a large, well glazed sticky bun, right?

But wow.  What a sticky bun.

The brioche dough was rich, moist, fluffy almost.  An amazing light yet rich bread, certainly not dense.  Wonderful brioche, really.  One of the best sticky bun bases I've ever had.

The icing too was fabulous, although it looked like something that had melted off and wasn't generous.  It was sweet, slightly cream cheese flavored, slightly caramel-y.  The caramel nature mirrored what you see in a traditional sticky bun with caramelized edges, the cream cheese was like that normally found on an icing topped cinnamon roll.  I love how it married the cinnamon roll and sticky bun toppings into a new creation, caramel cream cheese icing.  Really a wonderful glaze, and there actually was plenty of it.  It accented the brioche wonderfully.

The cinnamon aspect of the bun wasn't just some cinnamon/sugar filling between the layers, rather, the entire thing was infused with cinnamon bourbon butter.  There was more between the layers, but the top, sides, everywhere had fabulous cinnamon flavor ... and richness.  And yes, there was some bourbon aspect to it as well.

The cheesecake I wasn't sure about, when I read the description this sounded odd ... would there be ... chunks of cheesecake in here?  It confused me when I read it, and, as I dug in, it still confused me.  I never really found anything that was distinct cheesecake, although I tasted cream cheese, and just assumed that was the icing.

So, overall, this was a lovely sticky bun.  Large, decadent, and non-traditional.  I think it would be fantastic warm and alongside a coffee.  Large and easily shareable, particularly if you want to try another treat too.

Signature Cakes

The reason most people have heard of Andy Bowdy is for his signature cakes.  These cakes are, simply put, incredible works of art.  Available in 3 sizes (18 cm to feed ~20, 22 cm to feed ~35, and 26 cm to feed ~50), all layer cakes, many levels high, and filled with a huge variety of fillings, and then ... topped with torched meringue and a cascade of edible flowers.  They are stunning, the flavors are creative, and, well, they are delicious.

They come in 15 pre-designed flavors, all with given names, such as Jasper or Izzy or Karl, and are available as special order only, with a full week advance notice required.  Every "season", 4 are offered as mini 1-2 person cakes as well, which you can pick up at the bakery.  But really, you should come up with an excuse to get one of these full size.
Grace. 18cm. $200.
"Carrot cake, caramel mousse, baked cheesecake chunks, mandarin, walnut, ginger cookie base, salted caramel drizzle."

Um, wow.  Serious, wow.

This cake looked even more impressive in person than I expected.  I had seen online photos, but still, I wasn't really expecting that the garnish would be this elaborate.  Or, that it would survive transport so well!  Thank you, thank you courier for treating this with great care.

Yes, those are chunks of carrot cake perched deliberately alongside, there is salted caramel dripping  precisely down the sides, and there is a topping of crushed walnuts, mandarin segments, candied nuts, and I think some ginger cookie crumb.  Oh, and the meringue of course.  And, um, flowers.  Wowzer.

I cater many events, but I've never seen soooo many people react so strongly (positively!) to anything I've arranged like they did for this.  The number of people who lined up ... to take *photos* was impressive.  Everyone was blown away by the looks.

But looks are one thing.  We wanted it to taste good too.  One co-worker cautioned it might be a "stunt cake", made for Instagram, but not for consumption.  I too was skeptical.

The good news?  It was very, very good.  It turns out, that much insanity can be delicious too.
Grace: Layers!
It was, however, ridiculously hard to slice, particularly as the layers were not all the same, and so just giving someone a "top half" slice was very different from a "bottom half" slice.  I had no choice but to attempt to cut tall thin slices.  It also lost its structural integrity as we neared the final 30%.

But none of that matters.  It was worth the slicing difficulty.  Because it was delicious.  Every single component of it.  It turns out, every single element had its place, and was most welcome.  I was not expecting that, either.

Let me try to break it down.

The very base layer was a thicker, harder layer, I believe the ginger cookie.  I think it had coconut in it as well.  It was sweet, a good texture, and nice to have a more solid ingredient in the mix.  I'm not a cookie fan, but I liked this.  Now I'm curious to try their cookies (particularly the "Cookie S'mores", cookies stuffed with fillings and torched meringue.  ZOMG.  Available for catering only.).

Above that came layers of what looked like just carrot cake and caramel mousse from the outside, but actually had chunks of cheesecake, more salted caramel, crushed walnuts, and unexpected blood orange gel.  The blood orange added an intense hit of citrus, the combined really pleasantly with the salted caramel, and set your palette up for wanting the fresh mandarins on top.  What an unexpected, but totally successful, add-in.

The cake itself was good, moist enough, well spiced, pretty good carrot cake.  I'd be happy with it as a regular cake.

The cheesecake, which at first made me think, "What? Why cheesecake?" made complete sense when I encountered it in the mix, as it provided the elements of cream cheese frosting you normally find on carrot cake, just in a richer, honestly more fun, way.  Like the carrot cake, and the cookie base, it was a well executed version of cheesecake, rich, creamy, good consistency.  I'd be happy with it on its own too.

The nuts throughout I loved, as I am definitely the type who wants nuts in her carrot cake, and I loved the crunch they added.  There seemed to be regular small chunks of walnut within, but then on top was the candied walnuts, which of course I adored.  And of course perfectly caramelized, not too hard of a caramel, no hint of burnt.  I gladly took more than my share of the candied nuts.

Also on top were mandarins, which I wasn't particularly excited by when I saw them, as I don't tend to go for citrus, but they too had their place, providing a juicy freshness, and what I normally get from pineapple in my carrot cake.  A totally different approach to a similar concept, and it totally worked.

The caramel mousse was creamy, fluffy, sweet.  It was the one element I didn't necessarily want combined with the carrot cake, but it was still delicious fluffy pudding, and it was great with the nuts, with the cookie base, with the meringue.  It was fine with the cake, but I felt both were better without each other.

The salted caramel drizzle was sweet and I loved it with the cheesecake in particular.  It might have been the only component that didn't seem truly necessarily, but I still liked it and welcomed it.

And then, the rest of the topping.  The meringue was, simply put, meringue perfection.  I'm still impressed at how well it transported and stayed in place.  Sweet, airy, fluffy, delicious.  Many people specifically requested pieces with meringue, so as I sliced, I tried to give it out fairly ... while still saving plenty for myself of course!  It was awesome with basically anything else.  Or alone.  It was perhaps the best meringue I've ever had?

And finally, the element that took me the longest to figure out: the crumb on top.  It was softer than the ginger cookie base.  It wasn't spiced like the carrot cake, it seemed more buttery.  It didn't seem to be ground nuts.  "Cookie crumble" is what I kept thinking, but that didn't seem quite right.  So I asked the bakery.  The answer? Milk crumb (vanilla cookie and a shortbread hybrid).  Well, of course :)  I know milk crumbs well, introduced to them by Christina Tosi years years years before Milk Bar was an empire, long before she was on TV, long before they were commonplace.  She gave a really small talk in San Francisco way back, and she brought samples of all her different crumbs with her, just to share with us and introduce the concept.  I remember adoring them, and thinking that I didn't even need her cookies and cakes, I just wanted tins of those milk crumbs.  They were oh-so-snackable.  I have no idea if that was the inspiration for the milk crumbs here, or if Andy Bowdy independently came up with these, but they were a wonderful component, sweet, crumbly, and yes, just as addicting as those from Milk Bar.

My words don't really do this cake justice.  Every part of it was really nicely done, and I'd gladly get this cake, or any other variety, again.  I highly recommend.
Grace: Success.
It is safe to say that my group felt the same.

I assure you, not a single bite went to waste.  Yes I licked the serving utensils clean.


"Want a hassle free, easily transportable, super tasty and overly impressive on the eye dessert for your feasting table? Look no further. "
For catering, Saga makes large format trifles, definitely less show stopper, but far earlier to serve.

For my second event ordering from Saga, I opted for a trifle, just for ease.  However, trifles are only available in 4 flavors.  And sadly, they do not feature the torched meringue from the cakes.  But ... they serve 20+ people easily, and you get to keep the beautiful trifle bowl!
Nicely Boxed.
Just like the cake, I was impressed the moment I opened the box, both in the visual appeal, and in the fact that it was transported with no harm, elaborate as it was.  

Ok, I take it back, there was one element that went awry - a single brown sugar pecan, which I eagerly snatched up.
"Philly". $195.
"Vanilla Sponge / Maple Custard / Peach and Bourbon Jelly / Brown Sugar Pecans / Vanilla Chantilly / Anzac Crumb / Peach and Rosemary Compote / Fresh Peaches and Raspberries."

The topping of the trifle, while not as beautiful as the cake with its toasted meringue flowing off the edges and intricate edible flowers perched throughout, was no less elaborate.  Every single slice of fresh peach, every single raspberry, every brown sugar candied pecan, every torn chunk of vanilla sponge, every crumble of anzac biscuit, was placed in a deliberate fashion.

I bought this expecting it to be easier to serve than the cake, but, it proved pretty difficult as well.  Getting started without spilling toppings everywhere, and then actually getting scoops that had everything was a challenge.  The first few servings inevitably were just the cake, fruit, crumble, and a little chantilly.  The servings that came mostly from the base were crumble, chantilly and custard, and compotes, but no cake.

Still,we all enjoyed.  It disappeared very fast.
Philly: Toppings.
The fruit was all fresh, good quality berries and peaches, all of which were sliced nearly identically.  Since it was early autumn, the peaches weren't quite as juicy and ripe as I'd want for just eating as a fruit on its own, but in the trifle this was fine.

The vanilla sponge was fairly standard vanilla cake, moist, good crumb, not much interesting to say about it.  It added the non-cream substance to the trifle.

The anzac crumb on top impressed me, just how well placed it was, as at first it looked like just the edges of the cake.  It added a bit of texture, but not much more.

The brown sugar pecans were highly caramelized, I think in the pan a moment longer than ideal, as they were just on that edge of almost bitter and too far.  I still loved having candied nuts for crunch though, and when mixed with the sweeter compotes this slight burnt flavor almost helped balance it.  There was also a salty element I loved in here somewhere, and I think it might have been on the nuts? I'm not sure.
Philly: Layers.
Now, diving in to the layers.

The base was more anzac crumb, then a layer of the peach and rosemary compote and more fresh fruit, then maple custard and vanilla chantilly.  Next came a cake layer, above which was more compote and fruit, more chantilly and custard ... oh, and peach and bourbon jelly cubes in there too.

The peach and rosemary compote I was slightly skeptical of, as I wasn't so sure about the rosemary, but it actually was wonderful.  Not a compote with broken down fruit really, rather, huge chunks of stewed fruit, really juicy and flavorful, and the rosemary, even though in sizeable big pieces, gave it a savory touch I appreciated.  I really liked the compote.  It ... might have been my favorite element?

The vanilla chantilly was just good rich fluffy whipped cream, much needed to complement all the sweeter flavors and break them up a bit.  I failed to really get any distinct bites of the maple custard, which made me a bit sad, as I love custard and maple.  I should have given myself a more ideal portion!

The peach and bourbon jelly cubes were very noticeable when you found one.  There weren't many, but they were a fairly large size, and, quite different from everything else, rather firm cubes of jelly, slightly boozy.  I'm not sure if I liked them or not.  I think I did, but wasn't crazy about them inside the trifle.

And finally, the anzac crumb base, which I expected to just be kinda throwaway (I'm not much into anzac biscuits), but I ended up really liking the crunch and buttery quality to it.

Overall, this was quite enjoyable.  There were some bites I really, really enjoyed, composed of a big chunk of the peach with rosemary compote, some creamy chantilly, crunchy biscuit and candied nuts ... truly great.

I'd definitely get another trifle, although I'd like to try another flavor, and yes, it was moderately easier to serve than the cake, but, only slightly.
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