Tartine’s Chad Robertson Worships Blue Bottle’s Brandy Cake

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"[It's] similar to the Gateau de Riz from Ganachaud in Paris, but with a much more grown-up flavor."
"[It's] similar to the Gateau de Riz from Ganachaud in Paris, but with a much more grown-up flavor." Photo: Clay McLachlan for Blue Bottle

Each week on the Food Chain, we ask a chef to describe a dish he or she recently enjoyed. The chef who prepared the dish responds and then picks his or her own memorable meal. On and on it goes. Last week, New Orleans chef Aaron Burgau discussed his love for a soppressata and fontina panini at San Francisco’s Tartine Bakery. Now we ask Tartine owner and master baker Chad Robertson what he’s loved eating lately.

Who: Chad Robertson, baker-owner at Tartine Bakery and Bar Tartine in San Francisco
What: Brandy cake with Arborio rice and almonds
Where: Blue Bottle Café in San Francisco

“This rice cake is super-moist and incredibly delicious. My wife Elizabeth and I could eat it every day for breakfast. It’s like baked porridge with a texture similar to the Gateau de Riz from Ganachaud in Paris, but with a much more grown-up flavor. In San Francisco, the cake is flavored with Germain-Robin (local brandy). The Brooklyn version is flavored with McKenzie Rye whiskey.”

Blue Bottle Coffee’s pastry chef, Caitlin Freeman, responds:

“This is a pretty traditional Bolognese Easter cake. It’s made by cooking down Arborio rice, sugar, and lemon zest in milk for about two hours. Once that is cool, you whip eggs until they’re tripled in size and sturdy and then mix in the rice pudding.The Italians love to poke holes in their cakes just out of the oven and douse them with booze (this one traditionally with rum), so I thought it would be a fun vessel to do something else with St. George Spirits (we already do biscotti with their absinthe in it). I was chatting with Lance [Winters] about it, and he invited us over to do a tasting of their barrel-aged brandies that, I believe, aren’t available to the public — just single barrels, each of a different brandy made from an odd ingredient and stored in a vintage barrel. I brought my husband, James (the coffee guy), and our good friend Paul Einbund (the wine guy) as my taste testers since — while I bake with alcohol more than anyone I know, I’ve never had alcohol to drink! So with my nose and James and Paul’s great palates, we decided on the Sauvignon Blanc grape brandy. And, as it happens, the cake is also gluten-free — which is such a nice benefit! (We were making it in Brooklyn, but it wasn’t very popular, so we pulled it in favor of a new olive oil cake.)

“I’ve been making this cake since I first started the pastry department for Blue Bottle, which was in February of 2009. I got to take a little three-month retirement after selling my old cake shop, Miette (which coincidentally happened on the day that James and I got married), and had planned to just start up a small pastry department for Blue Bottle and then move on to open a pie shop. This was one of the first pastries that I would make at our rental kitchen and deliver just two days a week. Somehow we’ve grown like crazy and now have three pastry kitchens and ten employees in our pastry department at Blue Bottle! And, somehow I never got around to opening my own thing. One business seems to be enough in our family at this point!”

Tartine’s Chad Robertson Worships Blue Bottle’s Brandy Cake