Los Angeles may be paradise when it comes to the weather, but is it a haven for dessert lovers? In a large city with a slew of celebrities to please, there’s bound to be at least one place that does dessert well. However, L.A.’s size is also its downfall: at 465 square miles (L.A. County is more than 4,000 square miles), you’ll spend much of the day driving and parking when exploring the area. When tackling L.A., stick to one of the various neighborhoods at a time and plan accordingly.
On the Westside of L.A. is Amandine Patisserie, a French-style bakery that serves croissants, tarts and sandwiches. I tried their pumpkin “pie” during Christmas, and it was delicious! The large pie is about one foot wide, but it’s very easy to eat two slices. The filling is stringy enough so you know it has fresh pumpkin but not so stringy that it gets stuck in your teeth. It’s completely covered with stiffly whipped cream and a generous dusting of cinnamon. I normally don’t like whipped cream because it often wheaps or tastes like whipped nothing. However, this whipped cream is as close to room-temperature ice cream as you can get. The pie already has a la mode built in! For even more decadence, the pie would also be delicious with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.
Adding to the untraditional nature of the pie is its cookie-like crust. There are no crimped edges. Instead, the crust is formed in a deep cake pan. I prefer flakey pie crusts, but in this case the sum (fresh pumpkin filling, whipped cream, cookie crust) is greater than its parts.
A minor complaint that I have is that the filling tasted like it had too much cream. Fat carries flavor, but it can also coat the tongue and deaden flavors. That’s why gelato, made with milk instead of cream, is more flavorful than ice cream. Using less cream or lightening up on egg yolks would make the pumpkin flavor brighter. But now I’m nitpicking; most people probably wouldn’t notice the difference.
If you catch a movie at the Mann Village or Bruin theaters (where most L.A. premieres are) in Westwood, be sure to stop by Diddy Riese Cookies for a $1 ice cream sandwich. Yes, for the same amount of money it costs to call 1-800-COLLECT, you can get a scoop of Dreyer’s (known as Edy’s on the East Coast) sandwiched between two soft-baked cookies. You can mix and match between the usual drop cookies, like chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, snickerdoodle and sugar. Ssh, they are made with a mixture of butter and margarine. Tsk, tsk. I will fight to the end for butter-only baked goods.
Chain restaurants are infamous for serving cloned, commercial food. In New York, for example, the Au Bon Pain bakery cafes sound like they serve gourmet French fare, but in reality they’re a pain to dine at. I’ve witnessed a clerk mistake a jalapeno cheese bagel for a danish, and my co-workers have seen them use the same broom the brush the food shelves and floor.
On the flip side, the Corner Bakery in the L.A. area and various other states serves delicious, dependable food. They have brownies, cookies, bread and even muffin tops in the Calabassas Commons location! As Seinfeld can attest, the best part of muffins are the tops, with their extra crust and crumb coating. How does a chocolate muffin with fresh bananas sound? Delicious, right?
For breakfast, I opted for the healthier Swiss oatmeal. Rolled oats are naturally sweetened with fresh apples, banana chunks, dried currants, dried cranberries and bound together with yogurt. The whole thing is accompanied by a “sweet crisp.” The crisp, made from toasted raisin pecan bread and sprinkled with coarse sugar, is like bread in biscotti form. It’s excellent when dipped in the oatmeal or eaten plain as a sweet chip. Corner Bakery sells packaged crisps to go, as well.
Corner Bakery also has savory fare, such as sandwiches, panini and salad. The Uptown Turkey sandwich comes with hickory smoked turkey breast, avocado and bacon on whole grain bread. It’s expertly layered so the cool tomato goes up against the creamy mayo and hot, toasted bread. The sandwiches also come with homemade potato chips and a crisp pickle. They’re not artisan sandwiches like the ones at ‘Wichcraft in New York, but at $6.29 for a large plate, they’re a much better value.
I may pretend that I’m a sophisticated New Yorker, but I grew up closer to the San Fernando Valley. Like totally, I’m a valley girl. Love’s Cool pointed me to the homey Bea’s Bakery, known for its Jewish specialties such as babka and chocolate chip challah (which is only available on Fridays, according to Nic at The Baking Sheet).
The space is bustling with customers, but the nice ladies behind the counter move everyone quickly. Their goods are reasonably priced: $1-cupcakes and $4 per pound of chocolate chip, apple, cinnamon, cinnamon raisin or apple babkas. With other products such as Yum Yum Cake, it’s hard to choose what to get. Because of Love’s Cool’s recommendation, I chose the chocolate chip babka and added the pumperknickel raisin bread on an impulse buy.
The babka is slathered with wine-y chocolate icing (imagine what doughnut glaze would be like if it never hardened). Inside are beautiful swirls of tangy chocolate chips and brown sugar streusel. The bread portion is colored yellow from eggs and reminded me of an Entenmann’s danish. I thought the bread was on the dry side, but when toasted, the chocolate chips get melty and compensate.
The pumperknickel bread has plump raisins and a soft interior. My favorite part is the crust. It borders on overdone, but it’s all the more better to make it chewy. The bread can be eaten plain out of hand, but I think the crust develops more bite when toasted. The crumb could be more elastic and have more of a fermented flavor.
Pastries by Edie, also in the Valley, has elaborately decorated cakes. Gleaming behind the display cases are two sizes of mini-pastries. The smallest size is just enough for one person to sample, while the larger variety is big enough for two to share. At $1.50 each, the minis are a great value for all the handiwork involved.
Photo courtesy Pastries by Edie
The chocolate raspberry cake has layers of sponge cake, chocolate mousse and raspberry filling topped with a clean-tasting raspberry glaze. The decorations include gold-frosted chocolate, both on top and on the sides of the cake. While Pastries by Edie doesn’t skimp on the presentation, the pastry has a muted flavor. I would argue that if you closed your eyes, you wouldn’t know what you were eating. Raspberry and chocolate are a classic combination because of the fruit’s tanginess; there is no contrast between the raspberry and chocolate here. The chocolate garnishes have a nice texture though. It’s not too hard because of the coldness, nor is it greasy (bakers often add fat to refrigerated chocolate to combat the hardness). The flavor, however, is generic. It looks (err tastes) like someone skimped on the ingredients here.
Pastries by Edie also has homemade gelato. A sign in the shop informs customers that gelato has less overrun (whipped air) than ice cream and is made with milk so the flavors are brighter. The description promises authentic gelato, but the end product regretably resembles ice cream. The chocolate hazelnut gelato has a very strong hazelnut flavor, and the kiwi gelato is nice and tangy. It’s has too much dairy flavor to be called gelato though.
The biggest disappointment of the bakery, however, is its customer service. The woman who helped my mom and I gave us short answers when we inquired about the cake flavors and chided us when we asked if the cake had to be refrigerated. It’s a shame: the customer service could have redeemed the bakery for me.
That’s the L.A. dessert wrap-up for now. On future visits, I’d like to go to La Brea Bakery (must try their granola and chocolate cherry bread!), Mani’s Bakery (known for their fruit-sweetened pastries), Susina Bakery, Clementine, and L’Artiste Patisserie.
Amandine Patisserie 12225 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025-1105 (310) 979-3211
Diddy Riese Cookies 926 Broxton Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90024-2802 (310) 208-0448