We all need things to look forward to these days, and in my world, that is very often dessert.
Here are six local sweets I've enjoyed of late, from Indian-inspired ice cream to the chocolate chip toffee cookie dough that's taken up residency in my fridge, and the stories of the people making them. Check out the list below to support these local businesses ... and satisfy your sweet tooth while doing so.
KoolFi Creamery, multiple locations
KoolFi Creamery founder Priti Narayanan left a career in civil engineering to devote herself to ice cream full time. Her flavors pay homage to the desserts she ate growing up in South India. The name of the business is a riff on kulfi, an Indian milk-based frozen dessert.
"As I love American ice cream and it's creaminess and richness and the tradition of American ice cream, I did not find the flavors that we enjoyed growing up and I didn't find a lot of dessert from South India that my mother makes. I said, 'Can we try the interesting, innovative combination of American ice cream with Indian flavors?" said Narayanan, whose job title is now appropriately "chief ice cream engineer."
While KoolFi is based in the east bay, you can pick up pints at The Market at Edgewood in Palo Alto.
KoolFi's ice creams are made from organic Straus Family Creamery milk or organic coconut milk for vegan versions. All the flavors are worth trying — from the classic kulfi to banana jaggery — but the salted caramel with ghee fudge, or mysore pak, might be my favorite.
The creamy salted caramel ice cream, which walks that delicious line between salty and sweet, is laced with small chunks of mysore pak, a fudge crumble made from ghee, sugar and garbanzo bean flour. The chickpea fudge was invented in the Royal Court of Mysore in India in 1935, the educational label on the back of the pint tells me, and "requires precision of heat, timing and technique" to make properly.
For more information: koolficreamery.com
1,000 Layer Bakery, Sunnyvale
1,000 Layer Bakery's namesake dessert is an architectural feat: as many as 20 pieces of delicate, 2-millimeter tall layers of cake stacked on one another like a mini-dessert skyscraper on your plate.
The cake, called lapis legit or spekkoek, is a fusion of Indonesian and Dutch sensibilities, owner Jennifer Huang said. "Truly a labor of love," she bakes one layer at a time, each made from eggs, butter, flour, condensed milk, clove, nutmeg and an Indonesian cinnamon. The result is a not-overly-sweet cake that would be just as good for breakfast with a cup of coffee as it would be for dessert.
Huang, who was born and raised in Indonesia and lives in Sunnyvale, started her baking business after working at corporate cafes at tech companies, including Google and DropBox. She mostly offered corporate catering, business that has completely dried up with offices closed during the pandemic.
Earlier this year, Huang was accepted into San Francisco nonprofit La Cocina's food incubator program, which helps women, immigrants and people of color start and grow food businesses.
Huang makes a rotating selection of Indonesian desserts and snacks, including nastar, bite-sized buns filled with spiced pineapple jam, and kue lapis, a steamed, layered cake made from rice and tapioca flour and infused with grassy pandan and coconut. (Many of her desserts are made from rice flour so are naturally gluten free and vegan.) She sometimes makes savory items as well, like rolls of sweet rice filled with shredded chicken.
Huang has a weekly menu available for preorder by Wednesday and pickup on Sundays in Sunnyvale or Saturdays at the Ferry Building Farmers Market in San Francisco. She also offers delivery within 60 miles from downtown Sunnyvale with a minimum order of $99.
For more information: 1000layer.square.site
Shampa's Pie Shop, Pacifica
The best thing about Shampa's Pies might be their mini pies, which means you can create your own pie sampler without feeling like a total glutton.
I indulged recently in three mini pies ($7 each): lemon chess, pecan and chocolate cream. The super-tart lemon chess and sticky, dense pecan were my favorites. (I'm definitely getting the pecan for Thanksgiving this year, and yes, it's August and I'm already thinking about my Thanksgiving menu.)
Owner Haruwn Wesley makes his pie crusts without lard or hydrogenated oils and the fillings from seasonal, local ingredients. You can preorder and pick up pies at the bakery at 1625 Palmetto Ave., Pacifica, by calling 415-412-3592 or ordering online. Wesley also has stands at the Daly City Farmers Market on Thursdays and the Burlingame Farmers' Market on Sundays, where you'll find him wearing a mask decorated with pies.
For more information: shampaspies.com
Basuku Cheesecakes, Palo Alto
Charles Chen, a restaurant consultant with Maum in Palo Alto, started baking Japanese-inspired Basque cheesecakes in his home kitchen in Oakland during the shutdown. They've become a hot commodity in the Bay Area, spreading like wildfire on Instagram and often selling out within minutes.
The Basque cheesecakes started as a quarantine baking project for Chen, alongside bread and other desserts. But he kept coming back to the cheesecake and eventually turned to a friend in Japan who made a Basque cheesecake with what looked like a perfect texture. She attributed this to the quality of dairy and eggs she used.
"That's a flavor I've been trying to achieve in America but it's extremely difficult to get that quality of dairy around here," he said.
But he eventually found it in Alexandre Family Farm, a regenerative organic dairy farm in Crescent City, whose cream he describes as the "soul" of the cheesecake. He picks it up the same day it's bottled, and it goes into the cakes with pasture-raised organic eggs from Vital Farms, sugar and cream cheese. Chen has honed his recipe, tinkering with ratios and taking the additional step of pouring the batter through a sieve to ensure a smooth, homogenous texture that falls somewhere in between a jiggly Japanese souffle pancake and a firm cheesecake.
What was once a home baking project unexpectedly snowballed into a full-on side hustle that he's now working on expanding.
"All I'm going to do is I'm going to make this one cake, there's going to be one flavor, doing one thing and I'm going to use the best ingredients I can find," he said.
Maum is the only pickup location on the Peninsula for Basuku Cheesecakes. They're available for pickup at 322 University Ave. via Tock (exploretock.com/maum); preorders open Mondays at noon.
For more information: @basukucheesecakes on Instagram
Borrone MarketBar, Menlo Park
Borrone MarketBar, Cafe Borrone's long-closed sister restaurant, quietly reopened for takeout in late July. Located around the corner from the main cafe, MarketBar is making some of its own specialty grab-and-go items and baked goods, including fresh pasta, sauces and double-baked biscotti, plus a selection of natural wines.
MarketBar's fresh bombolini also have made a triumphant return. If you can pass by the large, cream-filled Italian doughnuts on the counter and not leave with one, I commend your willpower. Here's hoping MarketBar's seriously excellent focaccia makes a comeback, too.
Borrone MarketBar at 1010 El Camino Real Suite 140, Menlo Park, is open for takeout Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
For more information: cafeborrone.com
Love for Butter, Palo Alto
I recently ran out of John Shelsta's toffee chocolate chip cookie dough and had a minor panic attack.
Chocolate chip cookies seem to be on almost every restaurant takeout menu these days, so I've been sampling them for months as part of a very unofficial research project that was sanctioned by no one except me. Shelsta's remain the best, in my opinion. They're made with large hunks of Valrhona chocolate and toffee and have that ideal chewy bite (don't @ me if you're a crispy chocolate chip cookie person). He bakes them into delightfully enormous spheres, almost the size of a small dessert plate.
I prefer the cookies fresh when I can get them, but he also sells pints of dough, which means you can make them at home whenever the craving strikes.
Shelsta's baked goods are available for pickup at Zola at 565 Bryant St. in Palo Alto, usually on Sundays. Sign up for his newsletter at loveforbutter.com to get notified about bake sales. A small selection of pastries — often including those cookies — are available Wednesday-Sunday at the Tono Coffee Project pop-up at 369 Lytton Ave. in Palo Alto.
For more information: Loveforbutter.com