“We came, we saw, we ate”: The Napa Valley Bakery Tour ((N. Cali trip part 3))
It all started with an idea, but ended up being one of the most fun things I have ever done. You are probably thinking “Napa Valley is for wine tours, not bakery tours!?” Well, I must admit, I am not a wine drinker. I love to cook with excellent wines – but I have not learned to appreciate the intricacies of wine. I do, however, love cake, pastries, cookies, muffins, cupcakes, doughnuts, pies and macaroons. So here in the heart of wine country, I toured bakeries. I picked 5 bakeries in the Napa Valley area and ate at four of them in under three hours. I was a difficult task – but I managed to pull it off! From this, I can confidently say – “I have tasted some the most delicious treats I may ever find for..the..rest..of..my..life!”
My dear friend Michelle ((who just moved from Norman to Berkley)) joined me for the sugar-palooza. What a treat it was to have a friend share in the excitement as we explored such a beautiful part of the world.
First, we went to Bouchon Bakery. Bouchon is in Yountville, just 10 minutes north of Napa. We walked in and both clapped with glee as we gazed at the macaroon counter. “These are gluten-free, right??” Michelle ((who has Celiac)) asked. As the man behind the counter confirmed yes indeed they were GF, we began the difficult task of choosing which flavors we would try.
These macaroons are about 2.5″ in diameter and filled with a thick rich layer of dense buttercream-like filling. Have you tried a macaroon before, not an American macaroon, but an authentic French macaroon?? First of all, unless you are eating a coconut flavored macaroon, there is not any coconut in these treats. The French style macaroon is a type of sandwich cookie made up of two wafers that have a very delicate and crisp outer shell but are very moist and dense interior. A rich dense, but creamy buttercream filling is sandwiched between the two cookies.
The Bouchon Bakery had a very nice array of flavors available: pistachio, raspberry, banana’s foster, chocolate, mocha, vanilla, peppermint, salted caramel & gingerbread. I worked hard to show restraint, knowing 4 more bakery visits were in my future. I settled on the gingerbread macaroon and Michelle picked the raspberry. Of course, we spilt them and dove into the raspberry first.
Here is where the English language falls short. Really short. Again, I could find very few words to express my thoughts. Here is an example: “These are SO good” as I slammed my hand down on the table. I continued eating away, only to pause briefly, in order to repeat the same words. We both laughed. Then to my surprise and delight, the center of the raspberry buttercream was filled with a very tangy dollop of raspberry preserves.
The sides of my jaw did that thing, you know – that pucker, when I bit into the center. Michelle and I had a moment with the raspberry, a delightful moment.
Then on to the gingerbread, we had places to be for goodness sake! As I halved the next macaroon, I found myself preparing to be disappointed “There is NO way this one will taste as good..”, my thoughts seemed to whisper tauntingly.
Then we took a bite. Our eyes widened and we both clapped with satisfaction. It was indeed SO good. The cookie portion of the macaroon had just the perfect amount and blend of spices with a slight peppery bite from the ginger but the bakers at Bouchon didn’t stop there with this seasonal treat! They lightly sprinkled each cookie with raw sugar crystals giving each bite and extra glorious crunch. The gingerbread buttercream was slightly spiced to complement that cookie – but this filling was no ordinary spiced buttercream. Instead it was a spiced CREAM CHEESE buttercream. It was a fantastic creation. I went bake to this bakery 3 more times just for the gingerbread macaroon. I feel no remorse, only tighter pants.
After our lovely time in Yountville, we headed back to Napa – to a little pink accented bakery called ButterCream. That place was hustling. There were all sorts of pastries ((donuts, seasonal cookies, cakes, pies & cookie bars)) and a cute little eat-in diner. I asked the woman behind the counter to give me 3 of their best sellers. She immediacy pointed me to the champagne buttercream cake slice. Her suggestions ended there – so I grabbed a few seasonal thumbprint cookies as well as the Danish wedding cookies.
The cake was gorgeous – but rather than being filled with a buttercream, it was filled with a champagne flavored custard. I am sorry to say I wasn’t a fan. The simple thumbprints and wedding cookies were delicious – they were very crisp and creamy all at the same time. I think the trick is using cream cheese in the batter, I will investigate and get back to you on that. I could have eaten them all in one short seating – but I stopped at one bite of each and let David finish them off. I grabbed 4 extras for the kiddos – I know the will love them!
On to the next sweet spot – the Oxbow Market. The market is a conglomeration of approximately 20 local restaurants, bakeries and specialty retail shops. We made a bee-line to Kara’s Cupcakes, a delicious chain bakery found mainly in Northern California. I have said it before, I am a vanilla-vanilla girl. Although that is my favorite, I stepped outside my comfort zone and tried a chocolate-chocolate and a chocolate-raspberry. That was a mistake. Once a vanilla girl – always a vanilla girl. The vanilla buttercream was light and fluffy & perfectly creamy. Oh my. I got the mini – and eating was like a magic trick, one minute it was in my hand, the next minute it was not.
The chocolate and raspberry were not susceptible to the same magical powers. Even David wouldn’t eat them ((and he eats everything)).
Then, we headed to a gluten-free bakery named Cate & Co. Every single pastry and bread was gluten-free! Michelle was so excited. We shared a chocolate iced cake donut that was heavenly ((Michelle kindly bought her hubby an apple fritter – and we did NOT lick all over it before presenting it to him, wink)) . Even I ((who doesn’t do GF)) was salavatingly pleased with this confection.
We got so distracted by how delicious the donut was, I forgot to take Michelle to Model Bakery. Luckily, I had another day in Napa and loaded up on their famous English muffins ((which were featured on the Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” show)). These muffins are like nothing I have ever seen before: they are over 2″ thick! I grabbed ½ dozen for mom and another ½ for myself ((to-go – have mercy! I can’t eat another thing!)).
I have not tried these small wonders yet – but will update as soon as I have the chance. What is great about this item, they last for 10 days bagged and several months in the freezer.
Update! I had one of the English muffins for breakfast. Oh, my. How can a simple, humble thing like this taste SO good. I toasted it lightly and topped each half with my favorite Irish salted butter. ((Aren’t Ireland & England friends?? Well, they sure were this morning!)) Fluffy and light, but when lightly toasted, the cornmeal-coated exterior becomes perfectly crisp. All the while, the inside stayed soft and airy with just a hint of sweetness. One more thing — I am not sure, but I think these babies must be deep-fried. As I was scarfing it down, my mind flashed to Indian fry bread. I could be wrong, but I have a long history with deep-fried pastries. Just sayin’.
The sign of a successful trip?? Tighter pants ((oh goody)). I am officially on a sugar hiatus — tight pants are one souvenir this girl will have to lose. sigh.
One more post to come “the day I learned to make pasta” & a recipe for homemade pasta….it is easier than you may think and amazing, so get ready.