Every once in a while, after months of reviewing mediocre burgers, overpriced steaks, disappointing desserts, and all manner of clichéd preps, some new establishment suddenly appears and renews my belief that I’ve actually got the best gig in the world.
Such is FrenchiFornia Bakery, opened just seven months ago by, as they put it in their website “two French guys who fell in love with California.” Their online introduction continues by letting the reader know that Guillaume is “a graduate in French artisanal pastry and bakery” while Thomas “has talent in the cooking.”
FrenchiFornia’s been on my to-try list since last fall, but it moved up rapidly after friends who’ve lived or worked in France began emailing, urging me not to overlook it. An example from ma chère amie Cecilia:
“I have never entered a bakery which had such a glorious aroma of French Butter. … The quiche slice was so large we shared it, and it had fresh salmon and spinach — delicious. Several desserts — we shared a ‘financier’ — almond flour, butter, just a rectangular lovely flat individual cake. There are fresh fruit tarts, and the classic cookies and cakes I remember so well from the year 62 years ago, I lived in Agen, SW France, near Bordeaux and Toulouse. One of the two young Frenchmen who are the owners (one seems to be the chef, the other the front of house person). They are called Thomas (chef, I think) and
Guillaume. All my French comes back to me on such occasions, so it was fun, and pastries to die for, literally, I guess.”
I, too, have lived and worked in France (somewhat more recently than Cecilia) w hile I worked on an archeological dig in Provence, then slogged through a PhD thesis in 12th century architectural sculpture in the Rhone Valley and later researched “Roman de la Rose” manuscripts at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.
Cecilia’s description of Agen pâtisseries and the aroma of French butter brought remembrances (shades of Proust)of my own morning walks to bakeries filled with the heady perfumes of melted butter, freshly baked bread and slightly burnt sugar, raisins and chocolate to buy crusty baguettes or flaky croissants to savor with café au lait before setting off to whatever church, archive or library was that day’s destination.
I picked the time for my first visit to Frenchifornia carefully — 10:30 would guarantee that breakfasters were gone and lunchers, tea-takers and most carry-outers would not yet have arrived. Also that much of whatever had been baked that morning would still be there and the limited parking on Colorado Boulevard would not be fully occupied. And, sure enough, the small spare shop, the wonderful odors and the mostly full pastry trays were all mine, as was Guillaume’s attention.
I ordered a ham and cheese baguette ($7.20) with Comté (a French cheese reminiscent of Emmentaler or Gruyère)and a five-inch slab of salmon and spinach quiche ($7.20) about to bring home for breakfast for me and my husband. Then, as the sandwich was being made, I selected pastries for sampling, telling Guillaume that the 14 I chose were, of course, for a small soirée rather than a single gourmande unable to resist the sight and smell of such delights.
Within short order I had bid adieu and taken my treasures to the car, where they continued to taunt me with their buttery, yeasty, sugary fragrances until I got home. Alan had brewed a new carafe of (bien sûr French roast) coffee, and we sat down to enjoy our baguette (layered with near paper thin slices of delicate ham, nutty cheese and French semi-salted churned butter) and savory quiche before I had to run off to lead a Road Scholars tour at the Norton Simon Museum. Have I ever mentioned that, in addition to my duties at the Pasadena Weekly, I’m the “oldest” (since the early ’80s) living educator at NSM?
When I returned, we indulged in a diminutive canelé ($3.15), its exterior so heavily caramelized and inside so custardy that it was mildly reminiscent of a campfire-toasted marshmallow. And we laid into a huge chocolate chip brownie ($4.30) which I wasn’t going to buy (too American) until Guillaume said it was his French friend’s mother’s recipe. The barely sweet, dense bar was instantly addictive, almost as much so as the three platonic macarons (lemon, raspberry and passion fruit – each $2.75) that we also polished off.
After a late dinner, we attacked the lovely mille-feuille Napoleon ($6) in time to avoid having the pastry’s flakiness wilt by overexposure to the rich custard layers. And then we devoured the less flashy but equally delicious financier ($4.90) a modestly undecorated moist almond flour cake with a thin crisp crust and perhaps just a hint of orange zest.
Our next morning’s indulgences were equally satisfying; oven-heated almond chocolate croissant ($4.95), pain au chocolat ($4.35) and pain Suisse ($4.95), all croissant variants with dark chocolate (either batons or chips) dressed up with toasted almonds and/or pastry cream and/or pearl sugar combined with buttery dough. (How buttery, you ask? So much so that after 20 minutes in the oven, the cardboard box bottom was drenched through with butter that had leached out, with more than enough still in the pastries.
That left only two wedges of tarte amandine ($6.65 apiece) for the evening meal. Both (as generously portioned as the quiche) had a layer of almond pastry cream but one was topped with pear slices, the other with blueberries. Despite Cecilia’s friend’s addiction to the berried pie, we actually preferred the other. And a finale of three chouquettes ($2.55 for the trio), miniature unfilled cream puffs topped with pearl sugar.
After two days of such gross piggery, you’d think we’d be off pastries, French or otherwise. But our shameful excesses didn’t sate our desire, merely whetted it. After a single day of minor repentance for such gluttony, we were off to FrenchiFornia for another boxful of Thomas and Guillaume’s magnificent creations.