Alexander’s Patisserie

meter-good+Alexander’s Patisserie is a relatively new addition to the city of Mountain View. This high end bakery features all sorts of fancy things I can’t pronounce, and people are going nuts for it. Although plagued with a number of “inventory problems” early in its lifecycle, this bakery has made a splash and, now that it has stabilized, seems to be here to stay. It may not be for everybody though.

” It’s nice, but it doesn’t tug at my heartstrings “

The Alexander’s brand started with a not-so-humble steakhouse in Cupertino, and their reputation for absolute culinary excellence has grown from there. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Alexander’s was opening a bakery, but I remained skeptical. You see, I’m not a super duper fan of Alexander’s in general, mostly because overly-gourmet’d anything just kind of turns me off. I know, I know, blasphemy. Alexander’s makes plenty of tasty stuff that I love to eat, and I am always quite happy to enjoy a $180 steak at one of their outstanding restaurants, but they always seem to chef things up one step too far.

The problem with Alexander’s in general is that I don’t really trust them. I feel like if I don’t keep a close eye on what they are doing in the kitchen, they are going to get crazy and put horrible things in my food. No, thank you, I would not like gold-leafed pygmy kangaroo spleen on top of my steak. Please just give me the steak and stop screwing around.

I'm not sure if these are food or not... but they sure are pretty.

I’m not sure if these are food or not… but they sure are pretty.

Alexander’s Patisserie follows the same basic formula as the rest of the brand, and for the most part that is a good thing. This place is spotless. I’m talking surgical cleanliness here; I challenge even the most paranoid of germophobes to find fault in this place. I would have no problem eating off of the floor, and that’s the truth. The immaculate display cases are no exception to the hyper-neatness rule at Alexander’s, and the care put into arranging the displays is clear to see.

Speaking of the display cases, this bakery is truly a feast for the eyes. Never before have I seen such gorgeous baked goods in all my life; if nothing else, it’s worth coming here just to snap a few pictures. It’s impressive.

Colorful little disks of macaron excellence. And yeah, 'whisky' is really a flavor.

Colorful little disks of macaron excellence. And yeah, ‘whisky’ is really a flavor.

Over the course of several visits here, I’ve had an opportunity to sample a decent array of the bakery offerings, and for the most part they are all good. Not necessarily delicious or amazing or omg gimme that right now but just… good. As is their way, they seem to be in the business of taking extra steps in the kitchen to make things more fancy, but not necessarily to make things more delicious. Some people would argue that this is the very thing that makes Alexander’s special, but I’m just not that into it. It’s a still a great bakery though, no doubt. The quality is there, the presentation is there, the cleanliness is there, but one thing is missing: appeal.

You see, the trouble with Alexander’s Patisserie is that it’s so high end it lacks charm. Polish and perfection have come at the price of personality. Nothing feels like it was ever fresh-out-of-the-oven; it all seems like it was assembled in a cleanroom by robots. There is no bakery smell, no wafts of warm air from a nearby oven, no hustle and bustle of busy bakers half covered in flour. Everything is neat and cool and highly processed. It’s nice, but it doesn’t tug at my heartstrings.

The bread offerings are actually a bit disappointing. I hear the croissants are decent though.

The bread offerings are actually a bit disappointing. I hear the croissants are decent though.

So far I haven’t done much besides bash on this innocent bakery, but there’s a good reason for that. I wanted to get all the unpleasantness out of the way before I focus on the highlight of this review. Truth be told, I really enjoy visiting Alexander’s Patisserie. More specifically, I absolutely love two things they make: lattes and kouign amanns. Oh yes, the lattes at this place are absolutely superb – the baristas truly know what they are doing. They’d better for the prices they charge, but I don’t mind the cost. In my book there is no such thing as too high of a price for a truly excellent coffee beverage, and Alexander’s does not disappoint. Major yum factor going on here.

I'm a sucker for foam art. It automatically makes any latte 18.4% more delicious.

I’m a sucker for foam art. It automatically makes any latte 18.4% more delicious.

What else was it that I mentioned? A keegoine-o-what? It’s called a kouign amann, and it is heaven on a tiny little pastry plate. I have no idea how to pronounce it of course, but that should not surprise you. If you’ve never heard of a kouign amann before (I hadn’t), it’s basically a rustic, lightly sweet, layered croissant-like thing. Apparently all the charm in the entire bakery has been focused into this one item, and it shows. The buttery, crispy layers of the kouign amann have just the right texture and softness as you pull them apart, and they go perfectly with one of those fancy lattes I was just raving about.

'Kouign amann' is French for 'Finally, something with character'.

‘Kouign amann’ is French for ‘Finally, something with character’.

At the end of the day, Alexander’s Patisserie is a great way to spend 45 minutes on a Saturday afternoon. There are fancy expensive things you can take pictures of to impress your friends, and if you look closely you’ll find a few delicious morsels to eat too. If you’re a fan of macarons, there is a good variety of flavors (and colors) to choose from, and of course there’s something here for coffee lovers as well. I rate this place 43 out of 50 robotically crafted shiny food spheres – above average but not spectacular. Alexander’s is good enough for an entertaining visit, but I don’t think I could ever truly fall in love with it. I’ll visit anytime for a latte and a kouign amann though.

      Pros
 + Super duper ultra fancy
 – …but no personality
 + Unbelievably clean and neat
 + Prettiest display cases you’ll ever see
++ Kouign amanns and lattes to die for
      Cons
It doesn’t “feel” like a bakery
The bread is just kind of meh
Nothing is cheap here
Nothing is served warm either

Alexander’s Patisserie
209 Castro Street
Mountain View, CA 94041
(650) 864-9999
www.alexanderspatisserie.com

Alexander's Patisserie on Urbanspoon


Like I said, it's all fancy and stuff.

Like I said, it’s all fancy and stuff.


Bacon jam

Bacon is all the rage these days, and for good reason. For one, it’s freaking delicious. It’s also quite healthy and… No, wait. Not healthy. I meant delicious. So it’s delicious, delicious, and… Ok fine, you get the idea. One of the more unique ways I’ve found to enjoy this piggy delicacy is by means of bacon jam.

Skip to the short version

The bacon, it calls to you.

The bacon, it calls to you.

Yeah, bacon jam. Sounds weird, doesn’t it? Well get over it, because this stuff rules.

” Greatness is upon us “

If you want to be the talk of the next office potluck and/or the envy of your friends and neighbors, whip up a batch of bacon jam, stand back, and watch the magic happen. It’s very slightly sweet, intensely bacon-y, and marvelously satisfying. Bacon jam is good on crackers, toast, salads, eggs, pizza… The list is endless. It might even be good on ice cream, but I haven’t quite worked up the nerve to try that yet. This particular recipe is a slight variant of Chef John’s creation as posted on allrecipes.com.


Ingredients

  • 1.5 lbs raw bacon
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 or 3 large yellow onions
  • a pinch or two of salt
  • 1/4 cup sherry or wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1.5 tsp thyme leaves
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp olive oil


Other stuff you’ll need

  • a large pot or Dutch oven
  • paper towels
  • sufficient willpower not to eat all the bacon before making it into jam


Directions

Fry up the bacon in whatever way you are most comfortable with, being careful not to overcook it. Crispy bacon good, blackened bacon bad. Blot the cooked bacon with paper towels and set aside; reserve a couple teaspoons of bacon grease for later use.

Hmmm, what to do with a spare 1.5 lbs of home-cured bacon? Oh I know.

Hmmm, what to do with a spare 1.5 lbs of home-cured bacon? Oh I know.

Preheat your pot or Dutch oven on medium heat while you finely dice the onions. The “standard” recipe calls for 3 onions, but if you want your bacon jam to be extra super bacon-tastic use only 2 onions. Add the reserved bacon grease to the bottom of your pot along with the butter and saute the onions until translucent, about 8 to 10 minutes.

This is about what we're going for.

This is about what we’re going for.

While the onions cook, finely dice the bacon. You can use a food processor if you want, but I don’t like the bacon “paste” it creates in the process – I prefer to chop by hand.

Must... not... eat... bacon.... *convulses uncontrollably*

Must… not… eat… bacon…. *convulses uncontrollably*

When the onions are done, add the brown sugar, sherry/wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon of thyme (save 1/2 teaspoon for later), cayenne, black pepper, and mix well. Add the bacon and water and simmer uncovered for 10-15 minutes or until a jam-like consistency is achieved, stirring often.

Greatness is upon us.

Greatness is upon us.

Remove from heat and stir in balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and remaining half teaspoon of thyme. And that’s all there is to it. Serve the jam warm with whatever you have handy to eat it with, be it bread or crackers or just a spoon. You’re welcome.

Why bacon jam? Why in the heck not?

Why bacon jam? Why in the heck not?




tl;dr

Bacon jam

Ingredients

  • 1.5 lbs raw bacon
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 or 3 large yellow onions
  • a pinch or two of salt
  • 1/4 cup sherry or wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1.5 tsp thyme leaves
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp olive oil


Other stuff you’ll need

  • a large pot or Dutch oven
  • paper towels


Directions

Cook bacon, drain, and set aside. Saute finely diced onion in butter and 2 tsp bacon grease for 8-10 minutes or until translucent. Add brown sugar, sherry/wine vinegar, 1 tsp thyme (saving .5 tsp for later), cayenne, black pepper, finely diced bacon, and water, stir well. Cook over medium heat 10-15 minutes or until a jam-like consistency is achieved. Remove from heat, add balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and remaining thyme, stir until mixed through. Serve warm.



See also


Standard Recipe Disclaimer
I don’t come up with a lot of my own recipes (unless you count my own personal milk-to-Grape-Nuts ratio), and chances are the recipe posted above belongs to or was inspired by a person other than me. So if you’re wondering whether or not I ripped somebody off, I probably did. Don’t get out the pitchforks and torches just yet though! I want to make absolutely sure I give credit where it’s due, so if you think someone deserves recognition for something that I haven’t already called out FOR CRYING OUT LOUD LET ME KNOW. Thanks, I appreciate it. Here’s a cookie.


Best banana bread ever

Most banana bread recipes go something like this: Smash up some bananas with eggs and flour and bake for a while. That approach works well enough, I suppose, but that’s what everybody does. Don’t you want to be a different? Of course you do. The recipe I am posting here adds a few more steps, but those steps are very much worth it. Out of all the different banana bread recipes I’ve tried, this one produces the best results. There are easier recipes to make and ones that mess up fewer dishes in the process, but if you want truly amazing banana bread then look no further. There are many versions of this recipe posted around the interwebs, but the original recipe was apparently published in Cook’s Illustrated Magazine at some point in time I can’t be bothered to look up.

Skip to the short version

Spots = sweet = delicious.

Spots = sweet = delicious.

” Ten pounds of bananas stuffed into a five-pound sack “

Before we get into the details of the other ingredients, obviously you are going to need bananas. Good, ripe ones, maybe even over-ripe. Sometimes it can be a challenge to collect exactly the correct number of correct-ripeness bananas precisely when you want to make banana bread, so anytime you end up with an uneaten banana on its last legs, peel it and throw it into a bag in the freezer. A few iterations of this and before you know it you’ll have a half dozen nicely ripened bananas ready for bread making. If this strategy sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because I follow the same process with the ingredients for my chicken stock recipe, which you have undoubtedly already read. Right? *wink wink*


Ingredients

  • 6 large bananas (insert “large banana” jokes here)
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp table salt
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 to 3 tsp granulated sugar


Other stuff you’ll need

  • a large microwave-safe bowl
  • a saucepan
  • a mesh strainer
  • a loaf pan of some kind, 8 1/2″ will do
  • patience
  • trust (Some of the steps are odd, but I promise it’s worth it.)


Directions

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Take one of your six bananas – a decent-looking one that isn’t too mushy – and set it aside. Take the remaining five bananas, frozen or otherwise, and put them into a large microwaveable bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, poke a few holes for ventilation, and microwave for five minutes, six if some of the bananas are frozen. While you wait for the microwave, put your mesh strainer over your saucepan and get out some hotpads. When the microwave beeps, you will end up with a weird, discolored lump of banana goo floating in clear stuff the same temperature as the surface of the sun.

Fact: Bananas are lethal when microwaved for five minutes.

Fact: Bananas are lethal when microwaved for five minutes.

CAREFULLY remove the plastic wrap, doing your best not to sustain permanently disfiguring facial burns from the steam, and pour/dump the mess of superheated banana material into the mesh strainer perched atop your saucepan. Leave it there for 15 minutes.

I bet you didn't expect this step.

I bet you didn’t expect this step.

While the banana magma drains, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl and set aside. When the 15 minutes are up (yes, you really have to wait the whole 15 minutes), remove the microwaved bananas from the strainer, put them in a medium-sized bowl, and set aside. In the saucepan, you should have collected 1/2 to 3/4 cup of clear liquid. This is pure, unadulterated banana essence (sometimes also called “juice”), and we are going to turn it into banana syrup. Oh yes, we are.

It will thicken up a bit when it's done.

It will thicken up a bit when it’s done.

Simmer the banana juice over medium-high heat until it’s been reduced to 1/4 cup, about 5 minutes or so. When it’s done, pour it into the bowl with the bananas. I know this seems stupid, but what we’ve effectively done here is concentrate all that awesome banana flavor into a smaller, more intense package. It’ll be great, really it will.

It tastes better than it looks.

It tastes better than it looks.

Add the melted butter, brown sugar, and vanilla and stir well. Before you add the eggs, make sure the mixture isn’t too hot; nobody likes cooked egg bits in their banana bread. Stir in the eggs, then pour the whole mess into the flour mixture and fold everything together, being careful not to over-mix.

If you want to ruin everything, add chopped walnuts at this time. When you’re done with that, you might as well pull the wings off a few butterflies and then go kick a puppy. In case it’s not clear, I recommend against this step.

Walnuts are gross.

Walnuts are gross.

Lightly grease your loaf pan and pour the batter in. Take that last banana, slice it, and lay the slices on the top of the loaf along both sides. Leave a gap in the middle to allow the bread to rise as it bakes. Sprinkle the granulated sugar evenly over the top.

I know, I didn't sprinkle the sugar evenly. So sue me.

I know, I didn’t sprinkle the sugar evenly. So sue me.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 55 to 75 minutes. Insert a toothpick or wooden skewer into the center of the loaf; when it comes out clean, the bread is done.

This is ten pounds of bananas stuffed into a five pound sack.

This is ten pounds of bananas stuffed into a five pound sack.

Allow to cool for at least 7 or 8 seconds, cut some slices, and bask in delicious banana glory.



Yes, I do put butter on everything.

Yes, I do put butter on everything.



tl;dr

Best banana bread ever

Ingredients

  • 6 large bananas
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp table salt
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 to 3 tsp granulated sugar


Other stuff you’ll need

  • a large microwave-safe bowl
  • a saucepan
  • a mesh strainer
  • a loaf pan of some kind, 8 1/2″ will do


Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Take one banana, slice, and set aside. Microwave the remaining bananas for 5 minutes. Place in mesh strainer and allow to drain for 15 minutes. Pour resulting juice into a saucepan and reduce to 1/4 cup volume over medium heat, then recombine with microwaved bananas. Add melted butter, brown sugar, vanilla, and eggs. Whisk together dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Stir banana mixture into dry ingredients and mix well. Add walnuts if desired. Pour batter into lightly greased loaf pan, lay sliced banana on top and sprinkle with granulated sugar. Bake for 55 to 75 minutes, until inserted toothpick comes out clean.



See also


Standard Recipe Disclaimer
I don’t come up with a lot of my own recipes (unless you count my own personal milk-to-Grape-Nuts ratio), and chances are the recipe posted above belongs to or was inspired by a person other than me. So if you’re wondering whether or not I ripped somebody off, I probably did. Don’t get out the pitchforks and torches just yet though! I want to make absolutely sure I give credit where it’s due, so if you think someone deserves recognition for something that I haven’t already called out FOR CRYING OUT LOUD LET ME KNOW. Thanks, I appreciate it. Here’s a cookie.


No-knead Dutch oven bread

I love bread. There, I said it. Bread is one of those foods I just can’t get enough of, especially when it’s fresh out of the oven. For some reason, people like to pretend as though bread is no big deal, a behavior reinforced by phrases like “Man does not live by bread alone.” The truth of the matter is that all humans love the stuff way more than they’re willing to admit.

Skip to the short version

” Cut a slice of piping hot bread as fast as you possibly can “

Another strange thing about bread is that everyone thinks it’s hard to make. Yes of course it can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. This recipe in particular uses four ingredients, takes maybe 10 minutes of hands-on time, requires zero know how, and costs about a dollar. Believe it or not, bread is one of the very first things I learned how to cook as a kid, preceded only by grilled cheese and pasta. Don’t get me wrong, I am hardly a master baker, nor do I truly understand the science behind what happens when you mix things together and stick them in the oven. What I am good at is finding a recipe or two I like and making them over and over until they come out right. This particular recipe is an improvement over an old one I used to use. It’s sourced from The Merlin Menu, and it has never let me down.

Before we go any further, let’s get this Dutch oven thing out of the way. About half of you reading this post are still giggling just from seeing the title, while the other half of you don’t understand what’s so funny. The phrase “Dutch oven” has a double meaning, you see. The original, more traditional meaning refers to a versatile type of cooking pot. The more recent and far more hilarious definition involves flatulence, bed sheets, and often a very angry spouse. If you’re interested in the details, I’ll let you read about it for yourself. Trust me though, it is pretty funny.

The less amusing version of a Dutch oven.

The less amusing version of a Dutch oven.

Back on topic… One of the keys to making good bread is keeping the dough from drying out while it bakes. Professional baking ovens have steam injectors that help create wonderfully moist bread with why-doesn’t-it-turn-out-like-this-at-home crust. Since most of us don’t have professional baking ovens, we’re going to cheat. A Dutch oven (Go ahead, get your giggles out of the way. I’ll wait.) creates its own steam when you bake in it, resulting in amazing bread and humorous recipe write-ups alike. Any type of Dutch oven will do (except the funny kind), but make sure yours can handle temperatures of 450 degrees F. Some Dutch ovens have plastic knobs that will need to be replaced before you try this recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1 package dry yeast (preferably Fleischmann’s original)
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water (100-110 degrees F)
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour


Other stuff you’ll need

  • a Dutch oven
  • a mixer (or a mixing bowl and wooden spoon)
  • plastic wrap
  • parchment paper
  • opposable thumbs
  • consciousness


Directions

If you have a mixer, attach the dough hook and turn it to the lowest speed. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water (I prefer to mix the yeast with a spoon in a smaller, separate container to make sure it’s fully dissolved) and pour it into the mixer. Slowly add two cups of flour, then the salt, then the final cup of flour. When the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl, it’s done.

This dough is ready for greatness.

This dough is ready for greatness.

Tightly cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap and allow to rise at room temperature for six to eight hours. If you want to have this bread with dinner at 5pm, you’d better get the dough mixed by about 9am.

Don't go too much over eight hours or the dough will sometimes deflate a bit.

Don’t go too much over eight hours or the dough will sometimes deflate a bit.

After rising, the dough will be very loose and bubbly. It’ll be pretty darned sticky as well, but don’t worry about that. Lay down a sheet of parchment paper and dust it with one or two tablespoons of flour, then “pour” the dough into the center of the paper. Just turn the bowl upside-down and use a rubber scraper to separate the dough from the bowl along one side – it will pull itself out the rest of the way. Dust the top of the dough with more flour to keep your fingers from sticking to it and start pulling and tucking under the edges to form a rough ball.

Yep, it's a ball alright.

Yep, it’s a ball alright.

It doesn’t have to be perfect; none of us here are Martha Stewart. As you might have guessed from the subtle and cleverly written title of this recipe, you are not required to knead the dough at all. Once you have achieved something vaguely ball-like, cover it with a dish towel and allow it to rise for another hour.

Preheat your oven with the Dutch oven inside it to 450 degrees F. Once it’s fully preheated, remove the Dutch oven (carefully) and, using the parchment paper like a hammock, place the dough ball inside it, paper and all. Take a sharp knife and make three slits on the top of the dough – this either allows steam to escape or makes a fashion statement, I’m not sure which.

Dutch oven bread, apparently sponsored by Adidas.

Dutch oven bread, apparently sponsored by Adidas.

Put the lid back on the Dutch oven, put the whole thing back in the full size oven, and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the lid and bake for another 15 minutes, or until you have achieved a mouth-watering golden brown color.

It's ok to admit that this makes you hungry.

It’s ok to admit that this makes you hungry.

At this point, every other baking recipe I have ever seen says “allow to cool”. What a monumentally stupid suggestion that is. Why on Earth would I do that? That’s like saying “Allow your tires to go flat before driving your car.” I just don’t get it.

Because this is MY food blog, I’m going to tell you to cut a slice of piping hot bread as fast as you possibly can, slap a giant wad of butter on it, and send it down the hatch. Now cut another slice, add another wad of butter and this time a drizzle of honey as well, and send that one down the hatch after the first one. Dee-flippin-licious.

You are now officially allowed to proclaim that you a baker, and that you love bread. Enjoy.

Fresh bread, real butter, and lavender honey. Beat that.

Fresh bread, real butter, and lavender honey. Beat that.



tl;dr

No-knead Dutch oven bread

Ingredients

  • 1 package dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water (100-110 degrees F)
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour


Other stuff you’ll need

  • a Dutch oven
  • a mixer (or a mixing bowl and wooden spoon)
  • plastic wrap
  • parchment paper


Directions

Dissolve yeast in warm water. Slowly add 2 cups of flour, then the salt, then the final cup of flour. Continue mixing until dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 6 to 8 hours. Lay out a section of parchment paper and dust with flour. Scrape dough onto paper and form into a rough ball. Cover with a dishtowel and allow to rise another hour. Place empty Dutch oven and lid in conventional oven and preheat to 450 degrees F. Place dough ball and parchment paper in Dutch oven, cover, and bake for 20 minutes. Remove lid and bake an additional 15 minutes. Remove bread from oven, allow to cool slightly, slice and serve hot.