Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Fantasia love

from the Fantasia cookbook
Like me, Valerie Gordon, author of the handsome new baking book Sweetgrew up in San Francisco. Like me, one of her first baking inspirations was a patisserie called Fantasia. After she revealed her Fantasisa love on page one of Sweet, I was putty in her hands.

I won’t bore you with a long description of Fantasia, which closed in 1989. I’ll just say it’s a type of neighborhood bakery that was much more common 30 years ago than it is today, specializing in old-fashioned European pastries -- napoleons, kringles, lace cookies, nut tortes, stollens  -- and staffed by older ladies dressed like nurses. When my mother was at the supermarket down the street, my sister and I used to run in to Fantasia and “steal” free samples that they put out on the counter. We’d each snatch a single free sample and rush out, hearts pounding, thinking we'd really gotten away with something. 

Here's Gordon on Fantasia: “The tables were occupied by beautifully coiffed ladies and the entire picture was one of unspeakable joy to my eight-year-old eyes. It was almost too much to take, such beauty and splendor in one room. . . .The image of the petits fours is seared in my mind to this day.” 

Mine too.


Sweet is a collection of greatest hits from Gordon's career as a baker and confectioner in Los Angeles. I don’t see Fantasia's influence on Gordon's desserts, aside from the coffee crunch cake, which was invented by Fantasia's owner. (More on that later.) What I see are a lot of attractive contemporary desserts made with extremely high quality ingredients. Gordon uses only Plugra butter and specifies Bazzini  peanuts in her blondies. I had to buy a jar of vanilla paste just to make her sugar cookies, but I don’t hold it against her, because: Fantasia.

Reviewers on amazon have found errors in some of the recipes, but there’s nothing wrong with the ones I’ve tried. Most recently, I made Gordon's Durango cookies -- huge milk chocolate chip cookies bulked up with roasted almonds and cacao nibs and sprinkled with smoked salt. They're great, great cookies, but I wanted them to taste smokier!  I love the Roxbury Road ice cream from Jeni's so much that I thought smoke and almonds would work similar magic on these cookies. In addition to dusting the cookies with smoked salt, I used smoked almonds instead of plain roasted almonds and yet no smokiness registered. Am I wrong to think that sounds delicious? 

28 comments:

  1. Kringles! Along departed pastry shop in my neighborhood made kringles, danishes, and so on. It disappeared in the '90's. I miss it so much!

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    Replies
    1. A dying breed, those bakeries. I bought a pretty great kringle this past December from Trader Joe's, but something was lost . . .

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    2. I grew up in Mountain View,several blocks away from Stig's Bakery. One of my earliest food memories was their frog cakes, filled with raspberry buttercream. Luckily, the owners of Copenhagen Bakery in Burlingame apprenticed there and took the frog recipe with them!

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    3. I loved Stigs frog cakes! I would always make myself I'll trying to finish one. So wonderful!

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    4. http://www.copenhagenbakery.com/product/Frog/

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  2. My copy of Sweet arrived today, and I have been poring over it for the last 90 minutes. I was feeling the need for inspiration, so I bought this book and Caramel, by Carole Bloom (impulse purchase) to whip some wind into my sails. So far I like Sweet, though of course haven't tried any recipes. One point: you can buy vanilla paste at Trader Joe's for not a lot, and also, you can substitute vanilla bean seeds if that's more convenient (not a one-to-one swap; 1 Tbs of paste is like one scraped vanilla bean's seeds.) And Trader Joe's sells Salted Blister Peanuts, an incredibly delicious product that I can't imagine Bazzini could beat. I used them today in a new dessert I'm calling Snix (Snickers + Twix), comprising brown butter shortbread, peanut butter nougat (without the wafer paper), salted caramel, and bittersweet chocolate ganache (because I couldn't be bothered to temper chocolate--so fussy.) The peanuts were ridiculous. They are crunchy like you wouldn't believe, and nicely roasted, and salty as hell. So good.

    Have you tried either of the two fruitcakes in Sweet? And what brand of ice cream maker do you use? I remember you saying it was a good one.

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    Replies
    1. Having tasted your nougat, I'm not sure what you can learn from Sweet about candy-making. SNIX??? That sounds devastating.
      I haven't tried either of the fruitcakes -- I just started using the cookbook last week because I was bored and wanted to make some brownies. I bought a Musso ice cream maker in 2005 -- not the super-expensive one, just the expensive one. (Less expensive in '05, but not substantially). Available on amazon. Something had happened to my canister machine and I wanted to make champagne sorbet for my mother's 65th birthday and I ended up spending a huge amount of money. I've used that thing into the ground and it's still going strong. My problems are that you can't remove the bowl to wash it and that it is really noisy. But after 9 years I have no regrets. I will look for vanilla paste and peanuts at TJ's.

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    2. Another great place to find vanilla paste is Marshall's (or Ross). I think Williams-Sonoma unloads on them. You can't beat half price! I made the sugar cookie recipe yesterday for T-Rex cut outs and didn't have any problems with spreading. They were a little sweet but that was okay bc I didn't decorate them. The book is beautiful and I feel the need for a little Grand Central Market this weekend. Yum.

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  3. Help me understand .. how do you clean the bowl if you can't remove it?

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    1. You put a little warm water and soap in the bowl and use a clean rag. Then you dry it with a towel. Easy, but it would be easier if you could lift the bowl out.

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  4. I am envious of those of you who grew up with a bakery nearby. What a lovely memory. I have a sweet tooth, so I am awaiting your reviews of Sweet. I loved the article by the man who was married to the recipe tester. Great work if you can get it; being married to the tester, I mean!

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    Replies
    1. Wasn't that a sweet story? Very non-internet in tone. So, there were no bakeries at all where you grew up?

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    2. Not close-by. Most of the bakeries were downtown, and I grew up outside of town. There was an old fashioned doughnut shop that was automated with a huge conveyor belt that was awe-inspiring. My dad took me there on Saturday mornings to get hot doughnuts. So I don't have any of those eye candy memories.

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  5. Your description of Fantasia, which I somehow missed, although I lived in Berkeley from the late 70's until 1991, reminds me of going to a konditorei outside of Tubingen with some friends who lived in Germany. Pink tablecloths, little bowls of schlag sahne to drop into the coffee, and the most elaborate cakes. We each had two pieces. I seriously thought I would die of happiness and cream.

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    Replies
    1. I think Fantasia was off-the-radar for people who lived in Berkeley. On the other hand, you've probably heard of Tassajara, which was the other bakery of Valerie's youth.
      I've only been to Germany once, for one day, but the cakes are one of my most vivid memories.

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  6. The big threat within this set of episodes, and the best of the fight sequences as well, is when Kenichi's little sister Honoka gets involved. Through an accident, Honoka makes friends with Natsu without knowing the history he has with her brother. Natsu's still intent on following his own path and isn't sure that Ragnarok is for him, but Loki starts working him over to set up a fight with Kenichi. When they both find out that Kenichi is Honoka's older brother, it sets the stage for a kidnapping and fight between them. It comes at an awkward time too as Kenichi had taken leave of Ryozanpaku for awhile because of the abuse he feels he suffers, but it does have a positive effect in that it again forces him to do things on his own.

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