When I was a 27-year-old, I prided myself on the fact that I was NOT a shortbread girl or a sugar cookie fan. Both represented to me all the things that were wrong with pastry. Who wants a plain white brick or disk of hard, crumbly, butter dough without the presence of chocolate or spice or adornment? Who wants sugar without some form of nut or chip or accompaniment to gussy it up? Clearly I hadn’t met a good version of either to make this case…that was until I met Big Dog Dave (BDD). BDD was a handsome and rocky-muscled sixty year old gay man who worked as a data entry clerk at an HIV/AIDS service organization I served as marketing director for in my early career mom days. He was a quirky fellow, thus my attraction, and loved dogs and baking more than anything in the world (well, perhaps not the gym). Every Christmas, he would whip up batches of his famous sugar cookies as gifts and throw a dozen or so in a tin for me. The first time I tried one, merely to be polite, I fell into a hopeless love affair with the very cookie I had avoided for life. It was like falling into a soft pillow covered with a swirl of pink buttery frosting delight. I hid this fact, along with the rapidly emptied tin, in a kitchen cupboard for a long time. Was it really okay to embrace a fondness for something made strictly from sugar, flour and butter into a life that otherwise considered itself healthy? Was it really okay to use my close proximity to BDD’s desk in the workplace to connive his leftover holiday cookie plates to take residence on my lap when he wasn’t looking?
And thus my affair with pastry began—quickly, sordidly, and shamefully. Although now, 20 yeas later, I am a full-blown salacious whore for the myriad confections formed on cold counters across the world, meticulously crafted to either failure or perfection by the flick of a discerning tongue and a toothy chomp down.
What makes a perfect pastry? Is it the messiness of the flake that alludes to a solid use of butter or the density of bite leading one on to believe a whole lot of sin is packed in one square inch of goodness. Should the bite be sweet or slightly salty? Should the dough be unadulterated or frosted? Should the dessert be traditional or contemporarily updated for modern taste buds and considerations of the waistlines? Should it be gluten free or full force old school? I don’t know the answers to any of these questions but am having a hell of a lot of fun trying to find them.
Current Top Ten Pastry Experiences (Aside from BDD’s Sugar Cookies):
- Oversized palmiers at Jean Phillipe’s Patisserie at Aria in Las Vegas
- Kouign Amann at Lincoln Bakery, Pasadena
- Cream puff at Eagle Rock Italian Bakery
- Praline Le Mervilleux at La Mervetty in Beverly Hills
- Almond croissant at Il Sogne in Palm Desert
- Guava and cheese pastry at Portos in Glendale
- Root vegetable tart at La Boulange in San Francisco
- Salted caramel bar at Huckleberry in Santa Monica
- Buttercup at Sycamore Kitchen in Los Angeles
- Chocolate ginger scone at Wild Flour Bread in Sebastopol