I’ve finally found a brand of macarons worth the hype
My oldest daughter loves macarons – which really the only reason I ever buy them, or eat them. I’ve tried a few here and there: frozen and fresh ones from the supermarket or specialty stores, gourmet ones from French bakeries, both in the US and in Paris, and I’ve even made them myself – but I never have really gotten the point of them. They usually consist of a too-dry-cookie with an underwhelming filling. I’ve never been impressed, until now.
I’m pleased to say that Pasquier makes the best macarons that I’ve ever had and that they are easily available and not too expensive (as far as macarons go, these are very expensive pastries to begin with). The cookies are moist while still having a bit of crunch, and the flavors of both the cookie and the filling are explosive. They are just delicious.
The macarons come in six flavors: vanilla, pistachio, caramel, raspberry, lemon and chocolate, and I can’t say I have a favorite (OK, maybe pistachio, but maybe lemon). They all hit the right spot, albeit with a tiny bit too much sweetness. They are tiny, I’d say the size of a silver dollar if I remembered just how big those were. But if you can resist not emptying the box, you do get a lot of flavor for your buck. They are made in France, they are refrigerated and you must consume them within 2 days of opening the box. I don’t think you’ll have trouble.
Since 85°C Bakery Cafe opened in San Leandro Plaza, I’ve been a devotee. This Taiwanese bakery chain has over a thousand locations worldwide, with 75 of them in California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Texas. I’m sure they’ll continue expanding. They offer Chinese inspired pastries with global flavors. The pastries tend to be light and airy with cream fillings, and they usually range from good to delicious. This will be an ongoing review, where I add new pastries as I try them, for my own future reference of what I liked a lot and what I liked less. As we shouldn’t be eating too many carbs, we only get pastries from 85°C Bakery for special occasions – but that makes it even more important that we choose the right ones.
85°C also serves drinks, from flavored coffee and tea drinks to smoothies, slushies and boba (if you always wanted to try a boba latter, this is the place to have one), but I have yet to have one there. Next time. They do have tables to eat inside (but no outdoor sitting), but due to the pandemic we’re avoiding all indoor dining.
Our last visit to 85°C Bakery was on the fourth day of my Birthday Week Extravaganza (TM). I had told my daughter how I preferred the pastries from 85°C Bakery to those we’d had the day from As Kneaded Bakery, and she wanted to try them. I sent Mike to get them – but I had mistakenly texted the list of what we wanted to a friend – so Mike got to chose what he brought home.
85°C Bakery has a huge variety of pastries, cakes and other desserts. Many are serve yourself, but more delicate ones – or ones needing refrigeration – are behind the counter. Pastries are individually wrapped, which is not environmentally friendly but it’s safer from a food handling perspective. While they concentrate on sweet pastries, they also offer some savory ones.
Aussie Meat Pie (vegetarian)
This is a light bun with impossible ground “beef” sautéed with peppers.
Ham & Cheese
This is a light bun filled with ham and American cheese. It’s quite tasty, and I liked it as much as the ham & cheese croissants I get at Main Street Bagel.
White Chocolate Strawberry
This bun is filled with a very light white chocolate and strawberry custard. It’s a tad too sweet for my taste, and maybe not one of my favorites, but it’s quite good.
Mango Custard Bun
This bun is filled with a creamy mango custard. It’s quite tasty and light.
85°C Bakery Cafe
San Leandro Plaza
1299 Washington Ave. C-1
San Leandro, California
M-Th 7 AM - 7 PM, F-Sa 7 AM - 7:30 PM, Su 8 AM - 7 PM
I had long heard great things about the As Kneaded Bakeryin San Leandro. Located on Victoria Court, in a space where many restaurants tried their luck unsuccessfully, it has gotten a buzz both on the press and on social media. I had long wanted to try it and my Birthday Week Extravaganza (TM) seemed like a perfect time to do so. So I sent Mike one Saturday morning to get some stuff so we could see what all the fuzz was about. And boy did he do it! He brought a wide variety of the noshes they had available so we got a good idea of what As Kneaded can do.
It is very clear that As Kneaded puts a lot of effort and high quality ingredients on their pastries, which they call “noshes”. Most are very substantial (and yet we managed to eat them all over a couple of days) and well made. However, all in all, we weren’t a huge fan of them and I wouldn’t go back to As Kneaded for pastries. I did like the loaf of bread we got, and I’m curious about trying others – so I probably will in the future.
The first pastry we tried was the large round thing. It’s not listed on their website right now, but based on what is listed, it seems to be some sort of danish. It had a custardy filling and slices of some red fruit (I couldn’t tell what) and we all really enjoyed it, it wasn’t too heavy and we love the filling. Unfortunately, it went down hell from there.
Our second try was the cardamom twist (“a brioche twist containing a cardamom poppy filling and topped with sugar pearls”). This was light enough and I appreciated the poppy seed/cardamon filling, but those are flavors that I like. They are less popular in my household so I’m the one who finished this one of.
The chocolate chip brioche (top left) competed with the banana tahini muffin (top right) for the biggest waste of calories and carbs. They were both dry and had very little flavor. The latter is vegan, but that really is no excuse. The former is directed to toddlers, so perhaps the point is not trying to please adult palates. In either case, we would not bother eating these again.
Finally, the chocolate croissant (top middle) was unremarkable. The chocolate was good quality, but the croissant itself lacked the flakiness and buttery taste of the best exponents. I fell in love with chocolate croissants during college, where I’d treat myself with one from Le Petit Boulangerie, a now defunct bakery chain, and this one was inferior to those.
The saving grace for both the blueberry maple walnut bostock and the raspberry bostock were the crumble topping. These were both thick pieces of challah , one topped with sugar, apricot jam, walnuts, butter, blueberries and maple syrup and the other dipped in simple syrup and then topped with raspberry jam, almond cream and sliced almonds. They were both very heavy (literally) and dense, a little bit dry but otherwise quite tasty. But neither were worth what are likely to be an astronomical number of calories and carbs. They tasted far healthier than the ingredient list suggested they are. Again, I wouldn’t turn my nose away from them, but I wouldn’t seek them out.
Finally, the ham & cheese danish was also a disappointment. It was tasty enough, don’t get me wrong, and the ham and gruyere were obviously good quality – but the flavor was diluted by a completely unnecessary bechamel sauce. In all, this pastry did not compare favorably to the ham & cheese croissants I get at Main Street Bagels, which no one would accuse of being high brow
In addition to the pastries, Mike brought home a loaf of sesa miche, a whole wheat rye sourdough bread baked with sesame seeds. This was a very dense, heavy bread but it was also quite tasty. I wasn’t completely blown away by it, but I liked it and I’d have it again if I was a big bread eater. As it is, none of us are, and the loaf went hard in a couple of days (my fault, as I didn’t refrigerate it or tried to preserve it.
Now, I don’t really want to throw shade on As Kneaded Bakery. Lots of people love it and more power to them. At this point, I’m writing my food blog more to remind myself of what I thought of a place in case I’m thinking of going back than for anyone else. What As Kneaded offers is basically rustic breads and pastries, and I have to admit that we are just not big fond of this style of baked goods. But you might be. So give it a try.
As Kneaded Bakery
585 Victoria Court
San Leandro, CA
W-Su 10 AM - 3 PM
I have never been to a Sprouts in person, but I’ve become quite fond of the supermarket since I subscribed to Instacart during the pandemic. Still, I hadn’t ordered from there in long enough that I’d forgotten what things they had that I liked and disliked. Thus this post – to remind me of what to get again, and what to avoid. I’ll be adding items to this review as we consume them. Note that the prices are Instacart prices.
Sprouts Pastrami on Multigrain Bread Grab & Go Sandwich ($5 for an 8 oz sandwich)
I got this for my husband to replace a chicken salad croissant sandwich that wasn’t available. He thought it was “ehh,” the sort of pre-packaged sandwich he’d expect to get at a convenience store. He felt it was dry, probably as it doesn’t seem to come with condiments. He wouldn’t order it again.
Black Garlic Chicken And Mushroom Saute ($6/lb, tray was 1 3/4lb)
I bought this thinking it was a ready-to-heat meal, as others I’ve gotten at Sprouts. Instead, it’s a ready-to-saute meal which requires you to dump the ingredients on a saute pan and cook for about 10-15 minutes. The chicken is raw, so don’t be tempted to use your microwave.
While it was very simple, it was surprisingly tasty and served two people adequately. I’d get it again.
Chocolate Custard Twists ($4 for 6 small twists)
This has to be my favorite item from Sprouts. When we spent a month in Paris, a lifetime ago, my husband would go to the bakery every morning and get us a very similar pastry. These are just as delicious – which is amazing, giving how badly even the best American bakeries do at imitating French pastries. At 70-cents each for the pretty small pastries, this is not a cheap treat, but mostly because it’s just impossible to eat just one. Still, they are great so get them!
Lakewood Organic Pure Orange Fresh-Pressed Juice Not From Concentrate ($6.5 for a 32 oz bottle, on sale for $5)
I’m always in the quest for the best commercial orange juice – something that tastes as close as possible to fresh squeezed but that I can buy already squeezed. Unfortunately, fresh squeezed OJ is not available at any of my local supermarkets, though they do have it at the Saturday’s farmer market. Alas, we don’t always make it.
So far, my favorite commercial orange juice is Costco’s Kirkland Signature Organic Orange Juice. However, the last two times I’ve gotten it, it tasted like it was already going bad – I’m sure you know what rotten oranges taste like, and this was half way there. So I’ve been looking for an alternative – I’ll give Kirkland another try in winter, but it’s obvious the OJ can’t handle the summer heat.
Unfortunately, Lakewood Organic Pure Orange Juice suffers from the exact same problem. The lid may say the juice doesn’t expire until 2023, but it already has the tell-telling bitterness of OJ going bad. It is also extremely sweet. I don’t know if this is a consequence of it being almost rotten, or if it’s made this way to hide the rotting flavor. Either way, it’s initial taste is disgustingly sweet, and its finish rottenly bitter. I would not buy it again and I have half a mind of writing to Lakewood and asking for a refund.
Clara’s Kitchen Chile Verde Breakfast Burrito ($5 for 10 oz burrito)
I had ordered the Clara’s Kitchen Cheese & Bean burrito but this is what Instacart brought me instead. My husband ended up eating it and he was quite disappointed. He felt it had very little flavor. He wouldn’t have it again.
Reds Organic Cheese Quesadilla Burrito ($3.3 for 5 oz burrito, on sale for $2.5)
I got this and other Reds burritos for my cheese-and-bean-burrito loving teen daughter and it was a bust. She liked the tortilla well enough, but didn’t like the filling, it just tasted wrong for her. Won’t get it again.
Sprouts Cheese Puffs and Cheese Curls ($2.3 for 6 oz package, on sale for $1 each)
Sprouts versions of cheetos are not bad. They seem to have less of an intense flavor than the brand name, and less annoying orange powder to get all over your hands, but they are tasty enough. The puffs are, IMHO, better than the curls. I’d order the puffs again, particularly at the sale price.
Roast Beef ($13/lb)
This was pretty generic deli roast beef, which means it was perfectly acceptable without being remarkable good. I’d buy it again.
Canelés are a specialty of the Bordeaux region of France. These small pastries are made from eggs, milk, flour, butter, sugar and rum in special molds that make them look like a tall mini bundt cake (but they don’t have a hole in the middle). I first came across them almost two decades ago when I started researching Bordelaise cuisine. For years, I considered making them until finally giving up on the idea – buying a mold for something I’d only make once seemed too wasteful. Still, my curiosity about them stayed.
Then a week ago, I found that Costco was selling these “Made in France” canelés. They were quite expensive, almost $10 for a package of 16 (each weighing a bit over 1 oz), but I had to see what they were like. Unfortunately, they weren’t very good.
The pastries are pretty dense, though I liked their airy, somewhat chewy consistency. They didn’t have much flavor, however. The rum masked whatever else was there, without really adding that much. And while I enjoyed the consistency, they were a bit too dry. All in all, I wouldn’t get them again. Now, if I ever find myself in Bordeaux, I might give a bakery-baked one a try.
I really wanted to get a treat today, but Grocery Outlet didn’t have much to choose from. I’d seen Sister Schubert’s Cinnamon Rolls before, but for some reason they hadn’t really drawn me. Still, with no other real choices I got them. Lord, I’m glad I did.
I don’t tend to like refrigerated cinnamon rolls (at least the Pillsbury kind) because they have a weird metallic flavor (I imagine it’s the preservatives). They are just not that good. These rolls, however, were delicious. They were moist, not too sweet, with lots of cinnamon flavor and came covered with sugar frosting. They may not be as good as homemade cinnamon rolls or the rolls you get at Cinnabon, but for being a frozen product they are very good.
You can cook the cinnamon rolls directly from the freezer, it takes 25 to 30 minutes in a preheated oven, or thaw them first and cook them for 15 minutes or so. I did the former.
I think they sell in regular stores for $3.50 or so (but I don’t know who carries them), but they’re current on sale at the San Leandro Grocery Outlet for $2. Tomorrow I’m going to go and get a few packages – they are frozen, so I can keep them in the freezer until I need them.
I made this very simple hors d’oeuvre/appetizer for my 2010 Xmas Eve dinner and I think it was my favorite dish of the evening. It couldn’t be simpler: just some caramelized onions and blue cheese on puff pastry – but boy, is it delicious. I plan to make it as often as I can
The original recipe called for making your own bready dough, but I was running late with all Christmas dinner preparations and decided to use up the extra puff pastry I had around instead. It worked out perfectly, though I had to increase the cooking time from that of the original recipe for the pastry to be fully cooked. If you roll the pastry thinner, it’ll cook quicker, however. These squares are pretty messy, so make sure to serve them with napkins.
The puff pastry I used is the one that Trader Joe’s sells under its own name, which comes in two thick flat sheets. It’s pretty good and I think only $4 for a $1 package. The blue cheese was Rosenborg Danish Blue, which I got for $4 lb!!!! @ Grocery Outlet. It’s a delicious cheese @ an incredible price.
Blue Cheese and Caramelized-Onion Squares
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 large onions, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 lb. puff pastry, defrosted.
6 oz crumbled blue cheese
Melt butter with oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until they start to brown and become soft, about 10 minutes. Stir frequently. Stir in the rosemary, sugar and salt. Reduce heat to medium and cook until the onions are soft and dark brown, about 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Let cool.
Preheat oven to 425F
Grease a large baking sheet.
Roll puff pastry sheets on a flour surface until they have the thickness you desire. Transfer to baking sheet and cover with caramelized onions. Sprinkle crumbled blue cheese on top.
Bake in oven until crust is golden and the cheese is bubbling – 20 to 30 minutes. Cut into squares and serve.