Further evidence that the Bay Area is deep into a renaissance of pastry brilliance: four-month-old Starter Bakery, which is producing amazing scones,
Provencal Breton kouign amann, and the finest croissants SFoodie has had the pleasure to tear into. Seriously.
Jamie Hansen and Brian Wood launched their wholesale patisserie late last year, debuted at the semimonthly Pop-Up General Store in North Oakland, and moved into the former Blue Bottle roasting facility in Emeryville, in the shadow ― literally ― of the 24/580/980 interchange.
Hansen and Wood have been selling breakfast pastries to Pizzaiolo and Modern Coffee in Oakland, and to Barefoot Coffee in the South Bay. Tomorrow, they begin selling direct at the startup Albany farmers' market; in a few weeks, they'll set up a table at the Sunday Temescal market. In other words, Starter's thoroughly immersed in the East Bay, though baker Brian Wood was for years an instructor at the San Francisco Baking Institute, writing the enriched dough chapter and all of the pastry section for the 2008 textbook Advanced Bread and Pastry.
Wood's croissants are marvels of structure, dozens of delicate-walled air chambers that breathe butter, inside an exoskeleton of a crust that shatters at thumb pressure. Hard-to-find kouign amann ("kween am-ON") are denser, tight layers of dough enriched with salted butter, that seem bound together with sugar that bakes to a thin, crackly caramel. And the ginger scones are so tender you wonder how they hold together.
Part of Wood's secret (besides years of finely honed technique, gleaned partly from Seattle super-patissier William Leaman) is his equipment, including an Italian-made diving-arm mixer. It looks like two robotic arms with cupped hands, capable of mixing doughs more gently than a standard paddle or hook mixer. Wood scored a used one from a Vegas hotel. "I looked long and hard," says Wood, who describes his approach as process-driven. He and Hansen ― a software geek who hasn't entirely given up her day job ― have been trying to ease Starter into business deliberately, at the pace of toddler steps.
"If we put out stuff that we don't want to eat, there's no point," Wood says.