Is there any better way to say "I love you" than with 23 layers of crepe and custard or a chocolate cake in the shape of full, red-hot lips? Doubtful.
If you live anywhere near Palo Alto, forget that sad heart-shaped box of chocolates you were thinking about buying a loved one (that includes yourself) for Valentine's Day and head straight to Tout Sweet Patisserie at Town & Country Village to step up your sweets game.
Don't let the size of the second outpost of Yigit Pura's high-end bake shop fool you: Its small glass cases are filled with some of the most tantalizing desserts in the area.
Originally from Ankara, Turkey, Pura began his formal culinary training at the age of 20 in San Francisco restaurants (and his informal training at the age of 4 helping his mother make dark caramel). He next moved to New York, where he worked at famed Le Cirque 2000 and the Four Seasons Hotel before landing a coveted position as pastry chef at Daniel, French chef and restaurateur Daniel Boulud's first restaurant.
After winning Bravo's "Top Chef: Just Desserts" in 2010, Pura returned to the Bay Area, opening his first patisserie in Macy's Union Square in San Francisco in 2012 and his 500-square-foot Palo Alto shop in late December of last year.
Pura, who reportedly has the molecular formula for sugar tattooed on the back of his neck, said both the name and philosophy of the shop are inspired by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's 1943 book, "The Little Prince." It's about appreciating "the little beauties of life," he said.
Just in time for Valentine's Day, check out the top treats to snag from Tout Sweet, in no particular order.
Mille crepe cake ($6.75 for a slice; $65 for a 10-inch cake)
The mille crepe cake is a classic French masterpiece made of 20 or so layers (not quite the thousand that "mille" translates to) of perfectly concentric crepes, each separated by swaths of custard. Tout Sweet's light, creamy custard is made with vanilla bean plus Pura's special touch: orange flower water. The hint of citrus adds a "northern Mediterranean flair" to the traditional French dessert, Pura said. If you want a dessert to eat in the shop rather than take home, this is one of your best bets: Employees cut a generous slice, then dust it with powdered sugar and caramelize it with a hand torch before serving. Voilà.
Tout Sweet ($6.50)
This small rectangle of layered chocolate cake won Pura the Top Chef desserts title, so you know it's good. The confection is actually flourless (gluten-free-friendly, as are several other Tout Sweet items), with layers of dark chocolate cake, Guittard Chocolate Company dark and milk chocolate mousse and house-made candied milk jam: the French take on dulce de leche. "We cook four different kinds of milk over a 12-hour process," Pura explained. "It's really rich, chewy, creamy milk candy." Small chocolate pearls are embedded in the dessert for a delightful crunch in between bites of the pillowy cake. The Tout Sweet might sound decadent, but it's not overwhelmingly sweet. As Pura likes to say: "We're called Tout Sweet, but nothing should ever be too sweet."
Individual slices are available in the shop; if you want a full cake, place an order by 1 p.m. at least one day before.
Hot Lips ($7)
A Valentine's must for both aesthetics and taste. This dark milk chocolate cake, spiced with Vietnamese cinnamon, comes in the shape of full, hot-red lips. The decadent dessert gets its color from red velvet. Valentine's Day has always been a difficult holiday for Pura to embrace, but he created this dessert with a goal of simply having fun and being playful.
"It's really great to remember to play out of the box whenever possible," he said.
Naughty peanut cookie ($2.25)
A sticky delight for nut lovers. Roasted peanuts and Tout Sweet marshmallows (which are also for sale separately in a range of flavors, if that's your thing) form the base of this cookie, which is then rolled in corn flakes and topped with sea salt. Reminiscent of your mother's old-school cornflake crunchers.
Salted caramel and lemon-yuzu macarons ($1.85 each)
Patrons of the Palo Alto store are first greeted by rows and towers of macarons from the traditional chocolate, vanilla bean and hazelnut to peanut butter and jelly to sour cherry and bourbon. With the wealth of options, purchase to your palate's preferences, but the salted caramel and lemon-yuzu were far and above this writer's favorites. Both were firm yet pliant and chewy in the way the best macarons are. The salted caramel is as rich as the lemon is light. (Pro tip: Watch out when you bite into the salted caramel. The buttercream has a habit of slipping out the back -- though admittedly it's so good, you're likely to lick it up from wherever it falls.)
If you're making dinner at home for Valentine's Day, take advantage of Tout Sweet to cut some corners. Grab any of the frozen cookie doughs to make the naughty peanut cookie, chocolate chunk with sea salt or fudgy cherry mudslides at home ($8 for a pint of dough, which makes approximately 10-12 cookies, or $14 for a quart, which makes about 20-25). There are also several frozen shortbread flavors -- cocoa nib and sweet pasilla (dried chilaca pepper), vanilla lavender, salty walnut or Tahitian vanilla -- for $12 a pop (makes about 30-35 cookies).
Planning a romantic brunch instead of dinner? Grab some frozen scone dough ($12 for six pieces) and impress your date with bacon cheddar, cherry vanilla bean or Turkish apricot and candied ginger.
For ice cream lovers, consider a stop at the nearby Tin Pot Creamery for some pints of your choice, then indulge with Tout Sweet toppings. There are several flavors of brittle ($8), Guittard dark chocolate fudge ($9), burnt caramel sauce with fleur de sel ($9) and Tory Farms nectarine and bourbon jam made with Bulleit bourbon ($12), to name a few.
Tout Sweet Patisserie
855 El Camino Real, #160, Palo Alto
Monday-Saturday: 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
Sunday: 11 a.m.-5 p.m.