Gingerbread men from Noe Valley Bakery
According to The Journal of Antiques, Gingerbread has been around for centuries, first appearing when the Medieval Crusaders returned from the Middle East bringing back spices, sugar, and citrus fruits. Then, Catholic monks started adapting the ingredients into themed cakes and carved cookie boards. Today, the ingredients and method are much the same, although the shape and presentation obviously differ. For this post, I visited many of my favorite local bakeries to check in and see how they'll be adapting the seasonal favorite this year. From the standard to the standout, here are a few treats that I'm pretty sure will warm your spirits in the weeks to come.
Noe Valley Bakery: A Simple Man
If you're looking for a good, standard gingerbread man, Noe Valley Bakery has you covered. Since 1995, they've been supplying Noe Valley and environs with holiday treats including housemade pies, profiteroles and their unbelievable stollen. And of course, those gingerbread cookies. What I love about their gingerbread men is the flavor and size. They don't shy away from the spice: the clove and molasses flavors shine through immediately and they're a mere couple of inches--perfect for a cup of tea in the afternoon. The men are simply decorated with a few white buttons and a smiley face--and even better, they're affordable at $1.50/each.
Welcoming storefront of Noe Valley Bakery
Noe Valley Bakery
4073 24th Street
San Francisco, CA 94114
Hours: Weekdays 7am-7pm, Weekends 7am-6pm
Citizen Cake: The Maverick Men
Elizabeth Falkner and team don't disappoint when it comes to less-than-traditional desserts. And the holiday season is no exception. They're offering Bikini Gingerbread Joes and Janes (they were sold out of Joe's both times I went, so I settled on a tasty Jane) handpainted in festive bikini attire. The guys and gals are larger in size than others I sampled and they're certainly pricier at $4/each. But they're nice in that they feel light--often gingerbread cookies can seem more like dressed up bricks rather than edible delights. So Citizen Cake offers a fun, refreshing take on a holiday classic. If that's your thing, go grab a few (they go fast).
Gingerbread Jane from Citizen Cake
Citizen Cake Patisserie
399 Grove Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
Hours: Tues.-Fri. 8am-10pm, Sat. 10am-10pm, Sun. 10am-6pm.
Tartine: Old World Tiles
Glazed gingerbread tiles ($3.50) are a favorite at this much-beloved Mission bakery. The tiles are a bit more cake than cookie, rolled out with a decorative rolling pin, and lightly iced. Aesthetically, there's something very traditional and old-fashioned about them until you take a bite: that's when you're hit with notes of cocoa and even black pepper. The tiles are beautiful, substantial, and have an interesting taste composition making them one of my new favorite holiday treats. I do recommend having them warm if you can--this allows the crumb to relax a bit and the flavors to really come through. If you don't have time to enjoy your gingerbread tile inside the bustling café, take a few home. They travel incredibly well (and freeze nicely, too).
Tartine Frosted Gingerbread Tile
600 Guerrero Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
Cafe Hours: Mon. 8am-7pm, Tues.-Wed. 7:30am-7pm, Thurs.-Fri. 7:30am-8pm, Sat. 8am-8pm, Sun. 9am-8pm
Sweet Things: The Traditional Cake
Bikini-clad men and tiles aside, gingerbread really originated in cake form and no one's doing a nicer one this year than Sweet Things Bakery in Tiburon (they also have a location inside Cal-Mart at 3585 California St. in San Francisco). The cake to ask for is the seasonal Gingerbread Star Cake. It's a dense bundt ginger cake made with the usual suspects: ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and molasses. It's topped with a modest glaze and then sprinkled with crystallized ginger. I've long been a fan of the cakes at Sweet Things (have you tried their lemon cake?!), and this is a truly authentic representation of a holiday favorite. You can pick up a whole cake or just a slice ($2.75)
Spiced Gingerbread Star Cake at Sweet Things
1 Blackfield Drive
Tiburon, CA 94920
Hours: Mon.-Fri. 7:30am-6pm, Sat. 8:30am-6pm, Sun. 9:30am-5pm
Miette: An Update...with Frosting
If you haven't yet heard, Miette is closing two of their retail locations at the end of this month. The utterly delightful, original candy shop in Hayes Valley will soon be no more. I always loved how the confections seemed like delicate jewels on display--like objects worthy of spending a little extra money on and savoring. Thankfully, the shop in the Ferry Building and their new space in Oakland will remain open. Once I heard the news, I decided I must visit the Octavia St. location often, while I still could. Good excuse, right? So I've had three of their gingerbread cupcakes this past week. In my humble opinion, it's one of the more perfect cupcakes I've had in a very long time. They're incredibly light and moist while still relaying that dark molasses flavor balanced with the subtle sweetness of the cream cheese icing: genuine gingerbread with a modern twist.
Hayes Valley's Miette sweetshop & the lovely Gingerbread Cupcake
449 Octavia Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
Hours: Mon.-Sun. 11am-7pm