Pastries in the park
Freshly baked croissants and cheesecake set sail at Shoreline Park in Mountain View
A heavy wooden rolling pin wielded by Leah Jacobs landed squarely on what was, a few seconds prior, the smooth, matte surface of a stick of butter.
Now with a concave indentation, the butter was clearly on the losing end of Jacobs' assault. Soon the stick would become a broad, flat sheet, suitable for placing on top of a sheet of butter-less pastry dough to begin creating layers.
"This is the noisiest thing I do — and the most violent," Jacobs said on a recent Friday morning.
Some may find it ironic that the creation of delicately flaky edibles, such as the croissants currently taking shape, requires such brute force.
But then, some may also find it surprising that Jacobs is turning out her croissants, brioches, beignets, galettes and macarons not at a fancy downtown bakery but rather at Mountain View's Shoreline Park.
Known more for windsurfing lessons and families in paddle boats, Shoreline Park also is home to the Lakeside Cafe, where Jacobs works. Both the water-sport center and the restaurant are owned and operated by Menlo Park resident Christina Ferrari, president of Silicon Shores Corp. It was her idea to bring in Jacobs, a full-time pastry chef.
"Pastry is a personal passion of mine," said Ferrari, seated under a blue umbrella at a table overlooking the lake. "I spent the better part of last year living in Paris and working with the masters ... learning the authentic fabrication of viennoiserie: bread, bonbons and chocolate fabrication ... all of the cakes and the tarts and everything that is gastronomie over there.
"My aspirations for this place were to transform it into a respite in the valley," she said, noting that since 2000 when she took over, she's changed the menu and found new suppliers for ingredients. "Bringing in Chef Leah to work with me and to create this vision is important to me."
Jacobs, who was hired in April, hails from Boston, graduated from the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts and formerly worked at the organic-leaning Henrietta's Table in the Charles Hotel. She now lives in Palo Alto.
At the Lakeside Cafe, she's been able to spread her creative wings, she said. In addition to producing the daily "staples" — croissants (plain and chocolate), scones (cherry almond and chocolate orange), muffins (blueberry and pecan-sour-cream) and cinnamon buns — she follows her whim. Diners at the cafe might also find fresh strawberry cheesecake, delicate creme brulee, slices of apple pie or the decadent chocolate-croissant bread pudding in the cafe's glass cases.
She has her sights on introducing patrons to lamingtons, a bite-size Australian treat made of white cake coated in chocolate and coconut. "They're delicious," she said.
Her creativity extends to catering, which Ferrari said makes up more than a third of the cafe's business. In mid-August, Jacobs helped cater a 1,600-guest, carnival-themed Google event, turning out 500 candied apples and 500 cupcakes decorated in Google colors. To prepare for the assignment, she experimented over the weekend at her house, making batches of the apples to test the caramel coating, she said.
"You don't want it so hard that people can't bite through it. But you don't want it so soft that the caramel falls off," she said.
Then she and an assistant pulled an all-nighter, working from 7 p.m. till noon the next day to meet the deadline.
But those hours hardly faze her. Like Ferrari, pastries are a personal passion of Jacobs, who grew up baking chocolate cakes.
She started a career in high-tech, coordinating engineers and suppliers. But on weekends and weeknights, she would make wedding cakes and cupcakes for parties.
She soon admitted the split life wasn't for her. "Doing something just for the money is really not worth it in the long run," she said. "I felt like I was slowly dying."
So she took the plunge, enrolling in the Cambridge School and studying under a master French pastry chef Delphin Gomes and chef Sharon Donovan.
"I love being able to produce something that is beautiful. Even now when I make a perfect croissant, I'm still, like, 'Wow!' every single time," she said. "I just get excited by that."
Ferrari, who occasionally joins Jacobs in the kitchen, plans to overhaul the cafe's daily menus. She envisions creating dishes around seasonal ingredients. Plus, being an avid traveler who has visited more unusual destinations such as India and Mongolia as well as Europe, Ferrari said she's always looking to bring new ideas and dishes to share with Shoreline's diverse visitors.
Jacobs wants to add savory baked goods to the brunch menu, such as tartes fines, which are French puff pastries filled with ingredients — "mushrooms and onions and gruyere, something like that," she said.
So with all the changes afoot, what about the park-goer who just craves a hot dog?
Ferrari said the Lakeside Cafe caters to those taste buds as well.
"Even our hot dogs are delicious," she said. "We have sourced the childhood memory I've had ... if you're going to have a hot dog, it's going to be pretty darned tasty here, whether it's on a brioche bun or something else."
Palo Alto Weekly Editor Jocelyn Dong can be emailed at email@example.com.