In early April, Food and Wine announced its picks for the Best New Pastry Chefs and six of the 16 candidates are from the Bay Area. To show off just what nominee Laura Cronin could do, Perbacco invited The Bold Italic to have a taste of their pasty chef's creative inventions. I was the lucky one here who got to go.
It was easy to see why Laura made it to the top of this list: Her desserts conceptually highlight unusual flavors, and each are executed with a deft hand.
The first course was a toasted chamomile panna cotta served with a rhubarb reduction, candied kumquats, kumquat sorbetto, and a toffee-almond crunch. The panna cotta was deliciously creamy and the toasted chamomile lent such an interesting flavor. The kumquats, which were candied with thyme and bay leaf, added a bright acidity, a slight bitter complement, and a much needed textural contrast.
The second course was one of my favorites: a torn ricotta cake with caramelized strawberries, strawberry sauce, pistachio cream, and a whey gelato. The ricotta is made in house, and Laura utilizes both components of the cheese: The curds are used to create a sweet, moist cake, while the whey that separates during the cheese making process is used in the gelato, which had a very interesting flavor. The Dirty Girl Farm strawberries were first of the season. The pistachio cream was an interesting textural component but did not lend much flavor.
Next was a strawberry-rose sorbetto, served with a citrus amaretti cookie. Traditionally, amaretti cookies start with stone fruit pits, which are roasted and then cracked to release the "almond" in the center. That is then ground and included in the flour for the cookie. Laura went a different direction by using marcona almonds as well as citrus marmalade and zest from Meyer lemons, kumquats, and yuzu to create a scrumptious chewy cookie. The sorbetto was refreshing, but I was hoping for a stronger rose flavor.
The next course was a strawberry-lavender swirled mascarpone gelato with a brown butter shortbread. Laura started with a mascarpone gelato and folded in a strawberry and Eat Well Farms lavender jam. It is easy to be too heavy handed with lavender to create an unappetizing soapy flavor but I was really searching for more the floral component associated with the lavender. Also, the texture of the gelato was very grainy, however, it was a nice break in the course of the tasting.
The candy cap donuts with green strawberry compote, Meyer lemon curd, and poached rhubarb was by far the most interesting course in the tasting. Candy cap mushrooms harvested in the winter are dried and used mostly as a flavor component, as they have an strong molasses flavor. Laura combined ground candy caps and brown sugar, and left to sit for a few months before using so the flavors had time to meld. She then made donuts using her grandmother's cake donut recipe, but coated them in the candy cap sugar. The green (unripe) strawberries have a slight kiwi flavor with a very vegetal quality. Laura poached them to bring out their sweetness and tossed them with vanilla poached rhubarb to create a delicious little salad to break up the richness of the doughnuts.
Here are some of the whole dried candy caps, before they've been ground to make the sugar coating.
The final course was a dark chocolate lavender bonet with salted caramel, puffed jasmine rice, caramel cream, and a cocoa nib florentine. Even after five other full courses, I could have eaten every bite of this dessert and then probably licked the plate. It was amazing. The bonet was made with Felchlin Arribe chocolate, which was perfectly rich with just enough lavender flavor. The cocoa nib florentine added the right crunch to the velvety texture of the bonet, but the star was the puffed jasmine rice. Laura should sell this by the bowl full. It is cooked with cinnamon and bay leaf, then dried and fried so that it puffs up into little air pockets of deliciousness.
If all those desserts weren't enough, we ended the meal with a tasting of six chocolates Laura uses throughout her desserts. It was nothing short of luxurious to taste very expensive cooking chocolates. Each had a very distinct flavor and texture.
All of these desserts are now available daily on Perbacco's menu. Try these lovely spring flavors while they last.