Where to find great pastry chefs and bakers outside the bakeries? Sonoma County has a plethora. Here are some of my favorites…
At John Ash & Co.(4330 Barnes Road, Santa Rosa, 527-7687), Pastry Chef Casey Stone is in charge of sweet treats. One of his signature dishes: A fromage blank cheesecake that he gussies up with different seasonal fruits. Currently it’s a butterscotch flavored cheesecake with bourbon caramel poached apples, apple gelees and a walnut florentine cookie. Another recent favorite: Roast peanut chocolate mousse cake make with dark chocolate ganache, bittersweet chocolate mousse and chocolate covered peanuts. To dress up the plate, he adds chili-spiked peanut butter and milk chocolate gelato with dark chocolate sauce. Just want to satisfy your sweet tooth? Stone’s desserts are available in the Frontroom Lounge a la carte.
At the luxe Madrona Manor (1001 Westside Road, Healdsburg, (800) 258-4003), pastry chef Robert Nieto takes his cue from the molecular gastronomy focus of the restaurant’s executive chef Jesse Mallgren. Along with the always popular tableside ice cream, made with cream and liquid nitrogen, Nieto has six of his own desserts on the menu currently. They include a deconstructed lemon meringue pie, with toast meringue, honey sponge candy, pomegranate gel, wild sorrel, and lavender ice cream; a Gianduja bombe with bittersweet soft ganache, candied cocoa nibs, orange marmalade gel, chocolate soil, chocolate tuile, and orange-rosemary ice cream and a sour dough financier tart with white chocolate mousse, bread tuile, olive oil-caramel, estate meyer lemon gel, and pinenut ice cream.
Applewood Inn’s Executive Chef Bruce Freiseke handles the pastry program at his Guerneville Restaurant personally. One of his favorite desserts may be one of the simplest, chocolate French macarons. “They just come out magical,” he said. More complex is a chocolate tuile (a thin, waferlike cookie) filled with Earl Grey ganache, stewed fruits and mascarpone cream or rich semifreddo, an ultra-rich soft frozen mousse scooped out like ice cream.
More great desserts…
Veteran pastry chef Scott Noll spent years at John Ash & Co. and Barndiva before landing at Jackson’s Bar & Oven where he does triple duty as pastry chef and pizza dough maker for the Railroad Square eatery as well as bread-baking for neighboring Syrah. His signature: Beignets with three sauces. The crispy twists of fried dough are the restaurant’s most popular dessert, with the sauces changing seasonally. Currently they’re salted, hazelnut and orange caramel. Noll’s pizza dough, which has evolved into some of the area’s best, is based on a starter he first made 20 years ago in Alaska, says executive chef Josh Silvers. 135 4th Street
Santa Rosa, (707) 545-6900.
Impressive too are Addie Forbes’ desserts at Hot Box Grill (18350 Hwy 12, Sonoma, 939-8383), which include both simple comfort desserts (s’more tart with homemade graham crackers, coconut cream pie) as well as more complicated dishes (Gingerbread financier, chocolate peanut butter mousse brownie with Captain Crunch creme anglaise).
Two of my favorite desserts, chocolate budino and meyer lemon tarts, have recently been on the menu at Peter Lowell’s in Sebastopol. New chef Daniel Kedan, a Yountville alum has already upped the ante of the restaurant’s local, seasonal menu. But Kedan’s wife is a also a local pastry chef (she was responsible for the Alinea-inspired candy cap mushroom ice cream at P/30), so there’s no doubt she may be whispering a few sweet ideas into his ear. With citrus in season, Meyer lemons figure in prominently to tarts and cheesecakes. The rich chocolate budino, a sort of ultra creamy Italian pudding, is served with caramel whipped cream and Verona chocolate pearls.
With baking in his blood, Alain Pisan comes by his pastry skills naturally. Trained by his father in Provence, he honed his skilled in St. Tropez and Paris, bringing to Sonoma County his unforgettable Napoleons, St. Tropez tarts, eclairs and croissant. Tucked away in the Landmark Executive Center where many of the Sutter Medical offices reside (3883 Airway Drive, Santa Rosa 528-3095), it makes a trip to the doctor something to look forward to.
Viola Pastry Boutique owner Jennifer McMurry has her hands in all of her restaurant’s daily fare — from sandwiches to evening specials — but her true passion lies in pastry. Having started her business at local farmers’ markets selling cupcakes, cookies and delish desserts, her Montgomery Village Bistro always has a case brimming with cakes, cookies, pastries and seasonal fruit tarts. 709 Village Court, Santa Rosa, 544-8830,
Catherine Burgett runs the pastry program for the Santa Rosa Junior College Culinary program, a foundation school for many local chefs. At the retail bakery and cafe (7th and B St., Santa Rosa, 576-0279, open 7:30am to 2pm Wednesday through Friday), top picks include creative morning pastries, hearty breads and cakes made daily. Overseen by staff, the confections are basically schoolwork for the students — resulting in a wide variety of flavors, ingredients and techniques that change up daily.