Pastry in Taipei – Boîte de Bijou

While in Taipei for Andy and Sugi’s wedding banquet, I visited a cute little patisserie called Boîte de Bijou (“Jewel Box”). Both visits were to their second location on AnHe Road in the Da’An district, just across the street from Far Eastern Plaza mall. The first visit was fantastic. The second visit was a disaster.

This location is not very large but has a stylish, modern decoration that mostly showcases the beautiful pastries they create. You can select many of your own items and fancier, more delicate items (cakes, for example), can be selected at the counter.

Indoor seating is limited to one communal table and a half-dozen seats at the counter at the coffee bar. With beautiful marble-lined walls and a great view of the barrista, who is preparing most of the dishes on the menu, the counter is a good place to be.

The pastries are fantastic. Beautiful, well-executed, and nicely presented. This blueberry tart featured beautiful ripe berries and inside the tart was a hidden pocket of jam.

This pistachio cake was beautiful to look at and had a delicate foamy texture with a cookie crumb base and a raspberry filling. 

A surprise find was kouign amann, a Brittany-style pastry that has been gaining popularity worldwide. It is made similar to croissant dough except that sugar is sprinkled on each layer as it is folded and rolled out, making for a sweeter, more caramelized treat. The kouign amann here was a little tough and not as special as the other desserts.

Andy, Sugi, and I had a very pleasant afternoon break while Tawn was back at the hotel, taking a nap. Sadly, when I returned with Tawn a few days later, eager to share this cute little find with him, we ended up with a bad taste in our mouth.

Most of the seating at Boîte de Bijou is in an outdoor patio. When we arrived the second time, all the tables were occupied except one. Tawn sat down and I went inside to order pastries. As those were being prepared, I went to the coffee bar to order some drinks. The (manager? supervisor? random employee?) asked me where I was sitting and when I said we were sitting outside, she said that there was no room outside. I assured her we already had a table and even walked outside with her to show that Tawn was already sitting at the table.

In the next sixty seconds, my pleasant feelings about this patisserie melted away like spun sugar in a warm mouth. 

“Oh, that table is reserved,” she said. When we asked why there was no sign or any other indication that the table was reserved, she simply repeated that the table was reserved. When I asked where we should sit instead, she replied that they were full. “But I’ve already ordered our food,” I explained. “We’re busy today,” was her response.

I understand that there was probably a bit of a language barrier. We didn’t speak Mandarin and English is probably not her first language. But for so classy a shop, there was absolutely no class to their service. No apology, no attempt to accommodate us, nothing. The ideal solution would have been something like, “I’m so sorry we forgot to put a sign on that table. Since you’ve ordered your food already, could we prepare it to go and I’d be happy to give you your drinks for free to make up for your inconvenience.” 

Instead, she seemed uninterested in helping us, so we decided to leave. No food, no payment, just walked out the door, abandoning our pastries.

So if you make it to Taipei, there’s a really cute patisserie down a small lane. But before you go, be aware that their customer service lags behind their baking skills.

 

Dining in SF: Craftsman and Wolves

Our trip to San Francisco included visits to a number of bakeries and pastry shops. This time, we stopped by a new place, the interestingly named Craftsman and Wolves. Located on Valencia Street, they describe themselves as a “contemporary patisserie”. 

Compared to the homier looks of Tartine and Thorough Bread, Craftsman and Wolves is distinctly modern. The interior feels very large and a little cold. Nonetheless, the staff is welcoming and a large communal table at the front, next to a picture window, makes for a comfortable place to run into people unexpectedly over a cup of coffee and a pastry.

The selection of baked goods (this picture is just a sample) is wide, ranging from your standards (croissant) to something called The Rebel Within, which is akin to a baked Scotch egg. Again, comparing to some of the other bakeries that we visited in San Francisco, the display of goods here looks less bountiful and more austere.

We shared a gougere (baked cheese puff) and a croissant, both of which were well made and delicious. The croissant isn’t cooked to as deep a brown as at Tartine, but some consider that very caramelized exterior to be an acquired taste. 

Curious, I also ordered one of their muffins. I don’t recall what variety it was but remember that I enjoyed it, although wasn’t particularly overwhelmed. It was a good muffin, but not earth-shattering in its goodness.

For something more substantial, we ordred the frittata. Filled with vegetables, this frittata was remarkably underseasoned. We had to ask for some salt and having no salt shakers handy, they filled a small pinch bowl with some salt for us.

Overall, Craftsman and Wolves is another nice place to add on the list of bakeries and pastry shops to visit in SF. I think the minimalist interior, which would work well for a chocolate shop or somewhere selling fancy cakes, isn’t as welcoming as I would enjoy. That said, the food is good and that’s ultimately what matters. 

 

Thorough Bread and Pastry – San Francisco

Our trip to Kansas City for my grandparents’ 70th anniversary lasted just three days. Bright and early Monday morning (after an 80-minute mechanical delay), we were on our way to San Francisco for a few additional days of rest and relaxation before returning to Bangkok. Arriving late in the morning, we headed around the corner from our friend Anita’s house (where we were staying) to a newer bakery we hadn’t yet tried, the cleverly named Thorough Bread and Pastry.

The bakery is housed in the space formerly used by Just Desserts. It has a lovely brick wall and an open ceiling (which you can’t see in this picture). Lots of light comes in from busy Church Street, making it an inviting and warm place to stop for a while.

The selection of baked goods is wide and all of them look tasty. We arrived late in the morning so some items were down to just a handful of remaining pieces.

In addition to pastries, Thorough Bread and Pastry lives up to the “bread” part of its name. The baguettes were beautiful and the olive and sourdough loaves had me want to go on a carbohydrate binge.

For snacks with our coffee, I selected a cinnamon roll. Upon request, the bakers will put you food into the oven for a few minutes to reheat it. Of course, that is a must with a cinnamon roll because you want the topping to be just a gooey and molten as possible.

Tawn opted for an almond croissant, which tasted plenty good even if it wasn’t the most beautiful croissant in the world. That reminds me, I’ve been meaning to try my hand at croissant making again, just as soon as this crazy hot season eases off a bit and I can actually cool my kitchen to a workable temperature.

Feeling the need for something passing as healthful, Anita oped for the quiche, which was also very nice. With lots of fresh vegetables, you could almost forget the loads of fat.

In the past several years, there has been an explosion of artisinal, small-shop bakeries and patisseries. From Tartine to Craftsman & Wolves to Thorough Bread, San Franciscans are spoiled with many fine choices for baked goods. It is something we miss about living in the City and I am glad there is yet another place to visit when we are next in town.

 

Let Them Eat Cake

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Not only is “Let them eat cake” the phrase commonly misattributed to Marie Antoinette, it is also the name of a cute patisserie and dessert bar on Sukhumvit Soi 20 in Bangkok.

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Dessert shops are plentiful in the City of Angels but most western style desserts are rarely worth the calories they contain. Let Them Eat Cake proves to be a delicious exception.

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Located in one of the “community lifestyle malls” – smaller, open air shopping centers that have sprung up across Bangkok like mushrooms after the rain – Let Them Eat Cake is charmingly decorated but a little small. Waits can get long at key times so come early or be prepared to wait.

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I am sorry to say that I don’t remember the names of each of the desserts we tried. I do know that this is a chocolate St. Honoré, an elegant combination of puff pastry, creme filling, and caramel.

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A tart of some sort with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Don’t know if I ever tried this or just took a picture!

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A tarte au citron – lemon tarte. Was tasty but I found the crust a bit tough.

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I don’t remember what this pink, rose-shaped dessert was. A gelatine and with something inside, I think.

All in all, Let Them Eat Cake offered better, more authentic French style pastries than a lot of shops here in Bangkok. I look forward to my next visit and I promise to take more careful notes – and to sample a wider variety of desserts!

 

Cannelés in Bangkok at Le Beaulieu

Widely considered Bangkok’s finest French restaurant, Le Beaulieu serves dishes that would be at home in Paris. It also charges prices that are simply beyond my budget. But when I want un petit goût of that French sophistication without landing in the poorhouse, I stop by the Le Beaulieu cafe and purchase a few cannelés.

Cannelés, a pastry from Bordeaux with a dark, richly caramelized crust and a soft, almost custardy center, are painstaking to make. They require copper molds that are lined with beeswax and butter before being filled with a crêpe-like batter that has rested up to 48 hours. The two-step baking process begins with an extremely hot oven that is later lowered to a more reasonable temperature in order to produce the distinctive crust. Done right, the results are heavenly. Done wrong, they resemble either a burned brick or an eggy sponge.

The cannelés at Le Beaulieu have the ideal texture, the right amount of caramelization on the exterior that makes for a complex flavor without tasting burnt. Served with a tasty espresso drink from Malongo, a family-owned coffee firm from Nice, I can afford to have that French cafe experience without having to survive on crumbs alone.

Attempt to Bake Gougères

A few weeks ago, I tried my hand at making gougères, a French pastry that the ever-helpful 101cookbooks.com describes as “golden pom-poms of cheese-crusted magic.” They use a dough similar to the choux pastry dough used to make éclairs and cream puffs but are supposed to be easier to make. Here’s what the finished product looks like, according to 101cookbooks.com’s recipe

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Beautiful, right? So I decided to make some for a brunch I was hosting. The recipe wasn’t too hard to follow: bring a mixture of beer (or water, if you prefer), milk, butter, and salt just to a boil. Add a mixture of all-purpose and whole-wheat flours, stirring until smooth and slightly toasted. Cool slightly then mix in the eggs, one at a time. Finally, mix in grated cheddar cheese and portion onto a baking tray, cooking immediately.

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Following the recipe, I made my dough, measuring carefully and mixing in the eggs as indicated. The mixture seemed a little loose, though. Instead of following my instincts and trying to thicken it by adding more flour (which would have given it a taste of raw flour since it hadn’t been toasted along with the rest of the mixture), I proceeded with the dough as it was.

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Portioned onto the parchment-lined baking sheet, the dough confirmed my fears. It started spreading too much. Undaunted, I sprinkled a little more cheese and some anise seeds on top and put them into the oven.

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The end results were decidedly flatter than the ones in the recipe’s picture. The taste was okay, but they didn’t have the “poof” I was looking for. Unfortunately, I don’t know what I did wrong but I would like to try again.

 

Croissants in North County: Loïc

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The last night of our June trip to California was spent in Oceanside, a small beach town in northern San Diego County, visiting friends.  The following morning, I decided on a whim to search for a French patisserie, or pastry shop.  Perhaps I was in the mood for something like Tartine, a corner bakery in San Francisco’s Mission District that I make it a point to visit each time I’m there.  We ended up driving a quirky route through the hills until we wound up at Loïc, a bistro and patisserie in Rancho Santa Fe.

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The bistro and patisserie are adjacent buildings nestled in a small shopping complex at the foot of a large housing development.  The design is meant to evoke an Italian village, which it more or less succeeds in doing.

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Would an Italian village have a parking lot like this?  Probably not.  Just a small concession to Southern California’s car culture.

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The interior of the patisserie was a little stark but the smell and sight of freshly baked goods were every bit as welcoming as the lady working behind the counter. 

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As we ordered, the lady explained that the chef is French.  After several years working aboard cruise ships, he decided to settle in the Rancho Santa Fe area and open his own restaurant and patisserie.

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We sat in some comfy chairs, sipped our café au lait, and picked apart our croissants, smearing eat bite with jam and pretending we were back in Paris.  The croissants were very nice: light, flaky, and buttery – everything one wants in a croissant. 

Afterwards, we took a few more pictures then climbed back in the car for our drive back to Orange County, where we met another Xangan for lunch.