And to tell the truth, it was a little less than all that.
All told, we visited eight bakeries. Left Highland Park at 10 am; back by 2:45. Didn’t try Bluebird; it’s closed on Saturday. Dolce Forno is open, but may as well be closed; there was almost nothing in the case. Most items were sampled after we got back to the house.
The rules of engagement: All were bakeries less than a year old. We selected sweet items that were:
1) visually appealing
2) and/or recommended by staff
3) and not a cupcake.
The bad news first:
Sophie's Bakery & Café. Hard to find (in Bel Air, about a half mile off of Mulholland); not worth the search.
• Apple tart had a thick, tough crust and oversweet apple-raisin filling
• Mini key lime cheesecake: artificial color and flavoring
• Éclair was fine
• Tough, squishy napoleon that tasted a little of the refrigerator
• Also depressing: the shop/cafe smells more like cleaning solution than a bakery
Hotcakes Bakes. (I feel badly about this; the women working there seem really earnest and sincere.)
Two good things:
• The cannelle (better than Surfas)
• A blueberry muffin (berries sank to the bottom, but there was lemon zest in the batter. Still, needed a browner top and more moistness.)
Everything else we tried was just short of terrible.
• A muffin-like thing, described as topped with crème fraiche and sugar: Dry and nothing-flavored. Not a nice thing to do to someone.
• Greasy filling in a tiny cream puff.
• A cinnamon roll that had almost no cinnamon or roll – pulled apart, it looked like a dry and oversized biscuit with frosting.
• A chocolate-chip cookie had a margarine aftertaste. (Would a bakery like this use margarine?)
• And the chocolate cookie that a friend described as “one of those cookies you made as Christmas ornaments – after spending five years on the tree.”
Surfas Bakery. Squarely in the “eh” category. (I know many sing praises of the lavender lemon bars; they were out.)
• Cookies were fine but not great; a little dry and heavy. They’re made from the prefab dough you can buy in their freezer case – great if you’re a kid. (If you can vote, you’ll want something else.)
• A plain cannele was fine; the banana canelle was made with artificial flavoring that reminded me of the banana chewy candy I liked (again) as a kid.
• Other baked goods came from LaBrea.
• I liked the cinnamon roll; filled with a sort of cinnamon paste, nicely browned.
• An oversized chocolate chip cookie was very good
• Eclairs were enormous – five inches around and almost all cream filling
• The cream puff was not for me, with a bittersweet (but fluffy) chocolate mousse filling.
• The “Scottish oat” scone was as dry as breadcrumbs.
• Love the butterscotch pudding
• Don’t love the chocolate pudding; strange aftertaste
• Whoopie pies are cute, but inedible for anyone not actively pursuing adult-onset diabetes. (Even if you were, there are tastier ways to do it. Those cookies were thick and tough.)
• Iced molasses cookies were nothing special.
The best for last:
• Caramelized French toast caramelized French toast caramelized French toast They sell it at room temp in the pastry case; when they run out, you can order it a la carte (and it’s hot. But why serve it with maple syrup? Talk about gilding the lily.). Hot, cold, room temperature – it’s my green eggs and ham.
• An excellent oatmeal-chocolate cookie
• And a shout-out for the pretzel croissant; it was a red herring in this horse race (mixed metaphors! My favorite!), but based on reputation, I had to try it. I don’t really taste pretzel, but there is enough salt to cut the sweetness you usually get in butter croissants. And damn, that’s a flaky croissant.
• More than a morsel of the melted chocolate chip cookie seems like overkill – can anyone actually eat one?
• I really liked the baker’s muffin last time; today, it seemed bland and a little doughy.
• The scone was the size of a tablecloth and approximated a dry muffin (what is it with scones?)
• A blueberry cornmeal muffin was dense and... not very nice.
• A coconut-blueberry tart was mostly the former and too sweet.
• Apricot tart with custard and almond-chocolate croissant: Winners both.
• Didn’t care for “Wall Streets” – small rounds of chocolate or vanilla cake, made moist with nut paste. They’d be nice next to a cup of coffee to end a meal, but nothing I’d crave.
• A blueberry-custard danish teetered between good and sweet overkill
• Pain au chocolat was fine (but I’m hard pressed to get overexcited by pain au chocolat)
Maison du Pain: The day’s most pleasant surprise.
• Excellent pain aux raisin, made with golden raisins.
• A square of just-sweet puff pastry, crisp on top, moist in the center and topped with pear.
• A chocolate chip cookie was fair, as was a bite-sized éclair.
• The big disappointment: a napoleon that tasted as if someone forgot to add sugar.
What I learned:
a. City Bakery for caramelized French toast and an oatmeal cookie fix.
b. Breadbar for apricot tart and almond croissants.
c. Maison du pain for pain aux raisin.
d. Even with so many new bakeries in L.A., there is still room for more – and a really great one will clean up.
Finally, while I tried to be fair and thorough in this process, I know it falls short. Bakeries may have been out of items that, had I tried, I would have loved. I may have overlooked as something that I should have bought. And, of course, I am one big fat personal opinion covered in skin, but what the hell: It was my pastry trek.