Last Friday, I had the fun privilege of being invited on a Scharffen Berger Bakery Crawl in San Francisco. A very fun event where 30+ unsuspecting members of the media (hey that's me!) hitched a ride on a trolly bus and drove to 4 lovely bake shops to sample wares that featured Scharffen Berger chocolates within them. The company is launching another, newer adaptation of their chocolate adventure contest; this year the idea is to elevate a classic recipe.
Meeting point was at the Scharffen Berger Ferry Building shop where we were picked up by the trolly bus. It was a gorgeous October afternoon, and none other than the beginning of Fleet week, so the Blue Angels were doing a couple practice fly overs when we started. *awesome*
Our first stop was Anthony's Cookies where we sampled a double chocolate chunk cookie with walnuts. It was pretty much a perfect cookie: gooey inside and chewy/crispy outside. The nuts were a great add in with the chocolate and the flavors were well balanced. It was at this moment though that I had my first experience of being a member of the foodie paparazzi. I think everyone around me was more interested in taking a picture of the product than tasting it (not to say that they didn't get devoured in the end). Also of note: the cookie was still fabulous 2 days later when I got around to eating the rest of the "take home" sample. Delicious.
After spending a little time chatting with Anthony himself and interrogating him about what his Twitter handle was, we packed back into the trolly and headed for Citizen Cake.
I had been there myself a couple years back, but it has since moved, expanded, and transformed into what feels like an old fashioned ice cream parlor. Very cute interior, and the desserts in the cases looked impeccable. But we were there to try a sundae, hand made especially by Elizabeth Falkner, owner and celebrity chef/baker herself. Running with the idea of elevating a classic, she created an egg free chocolate gelato that she froze on the spot with liquid nitrogen (that she keeps a tank of right by the cash register!) and was an epic crowd pleaser to watch her make (more food paparazzi on that one).
Apparently, liquid nitrogen was a Victorian era method for making ice cream, so while it sounds all spacey, scientific, and futuristic, she's actually harking back to ye old days when making this dessert. The final sundae was a dollop of gelato, a dollop of home made marshmallow cream (using xantham gum instead of gelatin - gotta remember that one), and fudge, nibs, and chocolate curls. It was very tasty. I enjoyed the marshmallow cream a lot, and while the chocolate gelato was good, I felt it could have been richer (it melted into a very low viscosity pool as I was eating my sample), which made me think it was unnecessarily low in fat. But the chocolate flavor was very good, and since this tour is all about chocolate, that is what I will take away from it.
Jumping back in the trolly we swung over into Ghirardelli Square to sample a special Kara's cupcake flavor. She designed a "candy bar" cupcake featuring a chocolate cupcake, a dollop of caramel in the center, peanut butter ganache frosting and a sprinkling of sea salt. Yeah, it was pretty good. Very rich, as peanut butter often does for dessert. Sadly, I don't think I ended up getting a good sample of the caramel in the half a cupcake I tasted, which was disappointing, as I was looking forward to it.
By this time, we were running a bit late, so we headed back to the Ferry building for another quick stop at Miette to try a triple chocolate cream cake, but had to get it to go to make it to our final engagement, a baking demo by Yigit Pura. I did sample the Miette cake the next day when my stomach was mostly recovered from the sugar overload of Friday night, and it was quite delectable. Very moist, rich, creamy and chocolatey, with a lovely ganache topping. No complaints.
Moving on quickly to the baking demo though, our host Yigit was very charming and filled in his baking tips with funny anecdotes such as making chocolate and cream get along (2 unlikely couples: fat and water) by adding a little invert sugar, kind of like giving you and your in-laws a few gin martinis to get everyone relaxed. Silly and memorable. He also said not to whisk ganache, which I am definitely guilty of doing, so glad I took home a few good pieces of advice in addition to all the chocolate desserts.
He created a dessert using his go-to chocolate cake with chai tea spices added in, filled with a dulce de leche filling, and topped with ganache and a little pretty gold leafing. Initially I thought the cake was dry, but after further inspection (yeah, I ate the whole thing), I feel like it was just really dense, and I was already really parched from eating so much chocolate already. The spices were pretty good, but it's not my favorite combo for a chocolate dessert. It was well done though, so if that's up your alley, you would enjoy it.
To culminate the evening, we did get more swag, like an apron (chocolate stains won't show on that!), a lovely (huge) whisk (you can never have too many whisks, right?), and of course, chocolate. This is on top of the take home samples, and tasting squares they fed us in between bakery stops, of course.
I may have made myself a little sick on chocolate desserts for dinner, but the whole experience was completely worth it. It was also very fun to meet with other foodies, bloggers, journalists, and chocoholics.
If their intention was to get me pumped about the contest, they definitely succeeded. I am looking forward to "elevating" a classic of my own, and left feeling inspired by what the other bakers had created.