Nicholas Ng, head pastry chef of Baker & Cook, shares more about his trip to the glittering city.
It’s not every day your boss willingly sends you halfway across the world to learn a particular skill. In this case, baking bread. So when Dean told me he wanted to send me to San Francisco for nine days to learn the art of bread-making at the renowned San Francisco Baking Institute, I jumped at the golden opportunity.
On days when I had some spare time, I enjoyed wandering around the Golden Gate Bridge, taking it slow and people-watching. As a first-time visitor to the city, I enjoyed feeling the wind on my face and soaking up the scenery. Dining out alone
also made me braver — I realised that in San Francisco, most Asians do not have the habit of dining in restaurants, preferring to take away their food instead. This meant I attracted a few strange stares being the lone Asian man having dinner on my own.
I also made sure to visit some of the popular bakeries to check out how they do their breads.
Here are three to visit when you’re in San Francisco:
CHECK OUT THE HYPE
My first stop: Boudin Sourdough Bakery. Located in the Fisherman’s Wharf area — one of my favourite places to go to for a bowl of clam chowder soup, and no, this area doesn’t smell shy in the least —this bakery is talked about by every avid bread-lover about to visit San Francisco.
My experience involved service staff who could work on toning down the attitude, though that hasn’t seemed to stop the crowds from pouring in. I’ll recommend planning to have breakfast here, and to come early in the morning, between 7.30 and 8am. The structure of their sourdough is more compact, and you can watch the bread- making process from the balcony overlooking the showcase kitchen, or buy a few loaves to bring home with you. There are a few varieties on offer here; I got myself the normal country bread sourdough.
BEST OF BOTH WORLDS
Next on my list: Tartine Bakery. Yet another famous bakery in San Francisco, although they do both pastries and bread very well. Like Boudin Sourdough Bakery, the country bread-style of sourdough is their signature, though I found Tartine’s to be more flavourful than the former. The country bread sourdough had a caramel-y crust, and the bread structure was more open with a moist crumb. This gave the loaf some nice, tangy and gassy flavours. Their pastries are also easy for Singaporeans to understand; popular favourites such as caneles and orange chocolate cake are desserts we’ll usually enjoy back home as well. Tartine croissants are also a dream come true: amazingly crisp and flaky, with that perfect honeycomb interior that gives the pastry a soft, pillow-y texture. Fun tip: Tartine Bakery goes through nearly 7,000 eggs a week.
A SPARK OF INSPIRATION
Owner of B Patisserie, Belinda Leong, is a good friend of our Baker & Cook global baker, Dean, so of course a visit to the patisserie was in order. I tried their baguettes, croissants and some of their small pastries, which were very well done. But it was the espresso cake that really stole the show for me. Layered with salted caramel that gives the cake a burnt bitter- sweet flavour, and spiked with espresso and dark chocolates, this cake is a similar version of French Opera cake. I liked it so much that I actually tried to recreate this espresso cake back in Singapore, and the sweet treat is now on our Baker & Cook menu.