Blue Bottle may be famous for its meticulously sourced and roasted coffee, but its pastry program — headed by Miette alum (and wife of owner James Freeman) Caitlin Freeman — is just as obsessed with detail and quality control. The team makes beautiful, art-inspired desserts at SFMOMA café and thoughtful, rustic cookies and cakes for its cafes and kiosks throughout the city. Blue Bottle invited us into its Oakland kitchen for the day to watch pastry manager Alyssa Meijer Drees make her newest concoction: Edith Heath Bars ($3.50).
It all started six months ago when Caitlin Freeman approached Drees about creating an approximation of a Heath bar, that toffee/chocolate candy, for the new cafe in Heath Ceramics Mission factory and showroom. Drees began her research, like we all do, on the Internet. She was surprised to discover almonds in the Heath bar ingredients listed on the Hershey's website (we didn't know that either).
So she set about thinking how to incorporate those flavors in a treat that wasn't a straight confection — candy-making isn't part of her training, nor part of the Blue Bottle pastry mission — and eventually hit on the idea to combine Heath bars with millionaire bars, a British cookie made with layers of shortbread, caramel, and chocolate.
The new bar, named for the Heath Ceramics founder Edith Heath, starts with a thin layer of shortbread, made with brown sugar instead of white for a nuttier, more nuanced flavor that plays off the other ingredients.
After that, Drees makes a simple caramel and folds in roughly chopped almonds — the different sizes of the nut pieces echo the tile mosaic in the Heath showroom, she explains.
The caramel/almond mixture is then layered onto the cooled shortbread, put back in the walk-in for a bit until it sets, and then covered with dark chocolate ganache made from Recchiuti chocolate (Drees tried milk chocolate, but the resulting bar was overwhelmingly sweet). Once it sets, she cuts the bars into slices — first scoring them with a nifty tool that creates evenly spaced lines — and packs them off to Heath.
And the final product? Incredibly delicious. The buttery, nutty, crumbly shortbread is a nice counterpoint to the rich smooth chocolate, and the chocolate's bitterness cuts through the sugar onslaught of the caramel. Almonds provide texture and another layer of flavor, and the whole thing has just the right amount of Maldon salt.
Of course the bars are rich. We won't even divulge how much sugar, butter, cream, et al went into the final product. But unlike candy bars like Heath and Twix, filled with chemicals and junk ingredients, we'd splurge on these without a second thought.