March 9, 2015 § Leave a comment
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines indulgence as “the behavior or attitude of people who allow themselves to do what they want or who allow other people to do what they want.” That pretty much sums up how I’m approaching Birthday Week (oh yeah, we’ve moved beyond “birthday” and “birthday weekend” to full-on Birthday Week).
Now, that doesn’t mean that I’m having cake and champagne for breakfast every day. But I am giving myself permission to enjoy whatever strikes, whether that’s taking an extra swipe at the snooze button in the AM or savoring a pre-dinner glass of wine on my porch while the sun sets. And when it comes to food and drink, I’m keeping my indulgences local — whether homemade with local ingredients or revisiting some of my favorite spots on the Peninsula.
Yesterday’s indulgence was homemade on-the-fly Crab and Sweet Potato soup that I threw together using a rich crab stock I’d made and frozen in January. With our crab season on the wane, it seem liked a good idea to enjoy one of my favorite foods while I could. (Sorry, no food porn for that one, but take my word for it, the soup turned out really well: stew-like and so flavorful.) Indulgence doesn’t have to be about big, sweet, fatty, or boozy. It can be any or all of those things, but sometimes a healthful homemade meal can be an indulgence — especially if you’re constantly on the go and skimping on homemade goodness.
Today’s indulgence, however, is all about sweet. This morning I had my heart set on cannelés from Alexander’s Patisserie in Mountain View. These wonderful little French pastries — also known as canelés and cannelés de Bordeaux — have a thick, crunchy, sweet (caramelized) exterior and a soft, custard-like center. They’re small and not too filling or sweet, which makes them perfect for breakfast or afternoon caffeine break. The ingredient list for cannelés is simple — similar to that for any cake — but the skill is in the technique. And Alexander’s is the only place I know of on the Peninsula that makes them. At first, cannelés don’t look like much — they’re about an inch high and the shape of a skinny, fluted mold with dark, caramelized exterior.
But, ooooh, when you bite into a cannelé, be prepared for a soft, luscious, custardy interior.
If you have the willpower to eat just one canelé, then you’ll have room to try some of the other classic French pastries Alexander’s produces. Two to try: the kouign-amann and the hazelnut roll.
The kouign-amann was a lovely surprise! It has the rich, buttery, “breadiness” of a croissant, but the light layers of a sweet puff pastry. The skill here is making sure that the layers are light and flaky, not gummy and dense, and Alexander’s pulls it off.
The hazelnut roll is a yeasted pastry: danish dough filled with cinnamon, sugar, and candied hazelnuts. It’s what’s also known as a “snail” pastry (or “escargot,” in French) because the dough is rolled around itself, in a shape much like a snail shell. The hazelnut roll is finished with a pretty powdered-sugar fleur de lis.
If it’s chocolate you MUST have, then try one of Alexander’s petits gateaux. L’Orange is a dome-shaped dessert with a candied orange slice on top and crispy dark-chocolate pearls around the base. Inside the dark-chocolate-glazed dome is a flourless chocolate cake layer topped with Grand Marnier ganache.
I loved the Chocolate Pillow, a small but decadent chocolate experience. Inside the 85% cacao chocolate glaze is a layer of chocolate mousse, a thin layer of chocolate cake, another layer of chocolate mousse, and a crispy hazelnut praline feuilletine layer. The “pillow” sits on a grown-up chocolate rice crispy layer. Definitely a birthday-worthy indulgence!
An elegant, ambitious shop, Alexander’s Patisserie is part of the Alexander’s Group of dining establishments that includes The Sea in Palo Alto and the Michelin-starred Alexander’s Steakhouse in Cupertino. If you’re looking for well-made, French-style baked goods and confections in an elegant setting, this is it! All items are available to eat in or take away. The shop also serves coffee drinks, loose-leaf teas, and hot chocolate (again, to enjoy at one of the cafe’s marble tables or take to go).
What: Alexander’s Patisserie
Where: 209 Castro Street, Mountain View, CA 94041
Hours: Mon–Fri 6am–10pm; Sat 8am–10pm; Sun 8am–8pm
Parking: Street or lot