Back in November I met a friend for lunch at San Francisco’s Craftsman and Wolves, a self-titled “contemporary pâtisserie” where you’re not likely to find your run-of-the-mill baked goods. In fact, part of the fun in going there stems from discovering the unique twist that Werner and his team put on the usual pastries. Rather than a plain old (delicious) chocolate croissant, you’ll find a stacked work of buttery art with a layer of chocolate so shiny on top that you can almost see your reflection in it; similarly, a muffin studded with sausage, chives and cheese may look like your average breakfast fare, but then you take a bite and immediately realize there’s soft-boiled egg inside (they call it “The Rebel Within,” which seems more than apt). Whenever I find myself in this shop, I always enjoy a lengthy perusal of the pastry case, but this time around I instead found myself gravitating towards the small selection of preserves in the back–the Passion Fruit-Olive Oil Curd, the Café Au Lait and the Matcha Milk Jam. Really, it was the vibrant green color of the Matcha Milk Jam that caught my eye; in the fall, I always become a little nostalgic for the year I spent in Japan and, since this jam seemed to promise to transport me back in time, I decided to buy some. I’ll also confess that I was feeling decadent enough to buy some of the Passion Fruit-Olive Oil Curd, too.
The next morning I immediately opened the Matcha Milk Jam and slathered it on my morning toast. It was silky, sweet and grassy in just the way matcha is supposed to be. I was so intrigued that I couldn’t help but wonder about Werner’s process: how does he choose these flavors? why focus on milk jams, a sweeter spread? As it turned out, I would get answers to my questions. After I took over this blog, I started thinking that it would be great to feature not only Werner and Craftsman and Wolves, but also some less common jams, spreads, and add-in ingredients; fortunately, Werner agreed to an interview, and he and I met last week at Craftsman to talk about his jam philosophy, the shop, expansion plans, etc. He was also kind enough to send me some lovely photos that he had taken, which I’ve used throughout this post.
For those of you unfamiliar with William Werner, before opening Craftsman and Wolves, he worked as a pastry chef at the Ritz-Carlton and at Quince in San Francisco’s Jackson Square. It was at the latter that Werner said he had first started experimenting with and making preserves. He explained that he had always been intrigued by the technical aspect of jam making–”the manipulation of fruit,” as well as by the more whimsical and creative side of the process–the idea of “preserving a moment in time.” Werner’s interest in both sides of this process eventually led to a pop-up shop, the Tell Tale Preserve Company, which focused heavily on jams.
Talking to Werner, I got the impression that his turn to milk jams was fairly inevitable. As a pastry chef, his mission seems to be to tweak classics, personalizing them in playful and thoughtful way. He said that he first encountered milk jam (or, as it’s more commonly known, dulce de leche) when he was living in France; watching the mother of a friend slowly boil down the milk that otherwise would have spoiled left a lasting impression on him. And as his work with jams and spreads evolved, he was convinced that milk jam offered him the unique opportunity to play with the “sweeter side” of jams and spreads. As he put it, you often have your fruit preserves and then your chocolate sauces and caramel; milk jam is really the space in between these two extremes.
When I asked Werner what inspired him, his answer was simple: he makes what he wants to eat himself. In terms of confitures, this may be Meyer Lemon Yuzu; in terms of candies, this may be a caramel made salty by the addition of a delicate white soy sauce. Werner and his team at Craftsman, it seems, are always coming up with new ideas and flavor combinations, as well as trying to work uncommon ingredients into the shop’s sweets. Interestingly, the confitures aren’t featured in Craftsman’s pastries; they do, however, make an appearance in the shop’s afternoon high tea service, which has become so popular that it’s going to get its own shop.
Until recently, you either had to be a Bay Area local or an online shopper at Heidi Swanson’s Quitokeeto to try Werner’s confitures, but the good news is that, as of tomorrow, an online shop is opening that will feature them, as well as other shipping-friendly Craftsman and Wolves creations (sadly, I don’t think The Rebel Within will be part of the online selection, but there’s a reason to visit San Francisco!). If you order anything from the shop, Werner will also be including recipe ideas for the confitures since a lot of people who have bought them have written to him to ask how they could use them; he says he likes them on a toasted baguette (I concur), but there are other ways you can use them, too. Milk jam goes well with ice cream, shortbread and cake; it’s just the thing for people with a sweet tooth.
If you do make it to San Francisco, here are the shop’s hours, which is worth stopping by if you’re in the area:
Monday through Thursday: 7am – 7pm
Friday: 7am – 8pm
Saturday: 8am – 8pm
Sunday: 8am – 7pm.
Even if milk jam doesn’t turn out to be your thing, I’m sure that something on the menu, which changes seasonally, will appeal to you.