spying on the CIA
Posted on August 3, 2011
The shortage of decent french bread in this town is what you might expect from South Texas, land of SOFT white bread, the kind you cant help but squeeze into a ball for fun.
Up until now, I basically didn’t bother with baguettes down here. I was momentarily excited by the prospect of Bistro Bakery, where the ambience included people in the kitchen arguing in french. But the baguette seemed a little pale, and too soft and without air bubbles inside.
The menu seems more focused on various puff pastry things filled with ham and cheese. I was a little surprised to find an almost empty round dessert case blocking the menu, filled with one tart tatin, and these frightening macarons that seem to be the offspring of crayons. I have eaten these cookies many places, and they are usually colored, but this was a little much! I was there about 10am on a saturday, so I am not sure why they were so low on baked goods.
Anyhow, I will go back for self-serve coffee in real cups (not so common here in SA) and the morning paper– this is a really cute place, and perhaps will improve.
But the good news is, the folks at the Culinary Institute of America campus in the Pearl Brewery are not fooling around when it comes to the classics. They have opened a little bakery cafe, and in addition to on the mark french bread, whole grain bread, and a few other loaves, they are selling European style pastries with a South American flair. (No, we do not support the CIA in Latin America, but we do support culinary raids such as these). Think Buenos Aires. Shortbread with creamy cajeta filling sandwiched in between, flaky empanadas with guava and cheese filling. The coffee is good and strong, mostly from Mexico and locally roasted.
We also refreshed ourselves with some of their crafty artisan agua frescas, which were perfect in that they were not too sweet like juice would be, and made with very fresh ingredients. The lemonade was definitely made of lemon juice, but had oranges floating in it to help ease the tartness. The peach ginger was a “tea” of peaches and ginger– they had soaked the fruit, but not included it in the final drink. So refreshing!
I don’t want something original when I get a baguette (unless I am in Paris and have many baguette from which to choose). I want the iconic baguette, and for me that begins with texture. The CIA baguettes are airy, with a nice crunchy crust, and chewy inside with good distinct yeasty french bread flavor. These loaves are made for tearing (although I did slice it below to make an open-faced sandwich). I think we can all benefit from the fact that culinary school– as overrated as it may be– is where people go to learn classical cooking with proven techniques.
Their whole grain bread is really flavorful too– not some penance you have to eat after a chocolate croissant breakfast. It is really soft, with a hint of the flavors of different seeds, but not crunchy or overly nutty. The ingredients are sunflower, sesame, and flax seeds, rolled oats, whole wheat flour, rye flour, semolina flour, rice flour, sea salt, honey, and dry yeast. It doesn’t taste anything like the cardboard that can pass as whole grain bread. It tastes like my new favorite sandwich bread.
Also, it comes tied up with a little orange ribbon.