Top Pick Of The Week

July 15, 2008

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Hazelnut Crostini

The Hazelnut & Sultana Panforte Crostini is just one of the remarkable artisan products from greater San Francisco flatbread and cookie baker, Rustic Bakery. Photography by Saidi Granados.

WHAT IT IS: Artisan flatbreads and cookies: divine for guests, excellent for everyday.
WHY IT’S DIFFERENT: Imaginative recipes that are beautifully executed. Not just another variation on a theme, but new themes entirely. (O.K., there is a chocolate chip cookie and a pecan shortbread.) The products are made with organic ingredients.
WHY WE LOVE IT: You’ll just have to read the full review to experience each special bite. Needless to say, if we could buy products this good in our town, we wouldn’t be ordering these from the opposite side of the country!

Rustic Bakery:
Innovative & Enchanting

CAPSULE REPORT: More than 18 months ago, we were invited to a party in San Francisco to celebrate the anniversary of one of our favorite cheese makers, Cowgirl Creamery. Many great American cheese makers brought their best cheeses to the celebration. But what we remembered most following that assembly of fine fromage were the enchanting, irresistible flatbreads from Rustic Bakery, a small artisan enterprise which had started up only nine months earlier. It was by no means ready to set up an e-commerce operation, but we kept calling regularly with high hopes. We simply had to have a steady supply of such great flatbreads to accentuate cheese, soup, salad or as a great munchie with a glass of wine or beer.

Each time we called to find out when we could order online, the product line had expanded. One time it was panforte crostini, the next time, cookies. Finally, the e-commerce engine turned over, and now those of us not within driving distance of Larkspur, California (across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco) can experience these unleavened luxuries and their classy cookie cousins. While the company name, Rustic Bakery, honors a 50-year-old heritage, there’s nothing rustic about these sophisticated stunners.

Oh, how lucky the Larkspur locals are, to be able to have their morning java with these glories, or to take afternoon tea with a plate of such special cookies. The rest of us can order up a bunch, put some flowers on the table and imagine we’re on vacation at a spectacular inn. Each bite makes you proud to be part of the American artisan food movement. For surely, our role, to purchase and savor such fine products, is as important as the role of the artisan who crafts them. The products are made with organic ingredients. Read the full review below, as we describe each delicious bite.

THE NIBBLE does not sell the foods we review
or receive fees from manufacturers for recommending them.

Our recommendations are based purely on our opinion, after tasting thousands of products each year, that they represent the best in their respective categories.


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Rustic Bakery: Innovative & Enchanting




Rustic Bakery is what California artisan foods are all about: products made by hand using as many local ingredients as possible, many of them organic, and all of very high quality.

The company got its start when Cowgirl Creamery, the brilliant cheesemakers in Marin County, asked Carol LeValley and Josh Harris to make a line of flatbreads to complement their cheeses. This “signature line” gave rise to a bakery and café that opened in Larkspur, California in March 2006.

Thankfully, a website and mail-order business ultimately followed so that others can partake of the baked bounty. While you’ll have to travel to Larkspur to enjoy the perishable goods like croissants and Danish, the flatbreads and cookies that can be sent your way are irresistible.

Chocolate Chip CookiesChocolate Chip Cookies.

Rustic Bakery Flatbread

The flatbreads, made from unbleached flour, are low in fat and high in fiber. They may be flat, but they are thick, enormously crunchy and gratifying. All are wonderful:

  • With fresh and aged cheeses
  • With spreads
  • With salads and soups
  • With wine and beer
Olive Oil Flatbread
Thick, crunchy Olive Oil & Sel Gris Flatbread goes with everything.

Kalamata Olive Flatbread

Divina brand (one of our favorites) organic olives are minced and kneaded into the dough, creating an olive-lover’s delight. This flavor pairs well with fresh and aged chèvres and any cheeses that can be enjoyed with olives.

Olive Oil & Sel Gris Flatbread

The most basic flavor—if any of these wonders can be called basic—complements all cheeses and spreads and is a most elegant palate cleanser at a cheese tasting or wine tasting—the grey sea salt does not interfere. The neutral seasoning (no herbs or spices) also makes this flatbread the best complement to blue cheeses.

Pepper Polenta Flatbread

This mildly spicy flatbread marries Tellicherry peppercorns (see our Peppercorn Glossary) and organic polenta. A great selection for those who like things peppery, it pairs naturally with triple-crème cheeses like Brillat Savarin, Explorateur and St. André. It’s terrific with beer, too.

Rosemary & Olive Oil Sourdough Flatbread

The scent of fresh rosemary leaves wafts up from this Mediterranean-flavored flatbread. Pair it with any Italian cheese. We enjoyed it with everything from fresh ricotta and mozzarella to Asiago, feta and chèvre.

Sweet Onion & Crème Fraîche Flatbread

The company’s most popular flavor uses lots of roasted, sweet organic onions. Rustic Bakery makes its own crème fraîche, using organic cream from nearby Strauss Dairy (the oldest certified organic dairy in America). It’s hard to find foods you won’t want to eat with this flavor, but in the cheese category, pairings include: triple-crème cheeses, Gruyère, Emmental, Rochetta or Cowgirl Creamery’s delightful Mt. Tam.

Other flatbread flavors will be available from time to time.

Rosemary Olive Oil Flatbread
Rosemary & Olive Oil Sourdough Flatbread is delicious by itself, with soups and salads, and with Italian cheeses.

Rustic Bakery Panforte Crostini

Panforte, or “strong bread,” is a dense mixture of nuts, candied fruit and spices, served in thin slices (read more about panforte). Crostini are dry toasts in the manner of Melba toast. Thin slices of toasted bread (generally a ficelle), they are typically brushed with olive oil and toasted, to be served with spreads or pâté.

Rustic Bakery’s panforte crostini are a fusion of both concepts: crisp, thin toasts made with breads that are dense with nuts, dried fruits and seeds. The breads are made with 100% whole wheat flour, no added fat and a very slight sweet undertone from low-glycemic agave nectar. The abundance of dried fruits, nuts and seeds creates a high-fiber, high-protein flatbread. The whole wheat flour creates a dark canvas, to be studded with the “jewels” of ingredients (see the photo below). The density of the the nuts, seeds and dried fruits brings exciting flavors to the fore, and makes the panforte crostini even more wonderful with cheese than the flatbreads. (However, we say this as someone who far prefers a walnut currant bread or hazelnut bread with cheese than a plain baguette.)

These attractive and delicious panforte crostini are not only palate-pleasers, but perk up the plate visually. Serve them as:

  • Partners for a cheese plate or cheese spreads
  • Accompaniments for soups and salads
  • Standalone snacks.
Walnut & Seed Panforte Crostini
Walnut & Seed Panforte Crostini are embedded with flax seeds, sesame seeds and sunflower seeds.

Hazelnut & Sultana Panforte Crostini

Organic hazelnuts and plump golden raisins pair wonderfully with such popular cheeses as Brie, Camembert and Gruyère. (Photo at top of page.)

Pecan, Rosemary & Cranberry Panforte

The fresh rosemary leaps out at you, even though this thin, crisp toast has been oven-baked and then bagged for some time. The cranberry adds a layer of sweetness. We especially enjoyed this spread with fresh goat cheese, with fromage blanc, and for particular excess, mascarpone.

Tart Cherry, Cacao Nib & Almond Panforte

We didn’t taste this flavor, but can’t wait to order it next time around. The cacao nibs, combined with dried cherries and almonds and lightly sprinkled with crystal sugar, make it almost cookie-like, according to the bakers. They suggest creamy goat cheese; we keep thinking mascarpone. We can’t wait.

Walnut & Three Seed Panforte Crostini

We couldn’t stop eating these rich, nutty crostini. In addition to the great flavor, the walnut and seed combination made us think we were eating an indulgent health snack (walnuts and flax seeds have a significantly higher amount of heart-healthy alpha linolenic acid compared to other nuts and seeds). The flavor works with all cheeses and spreads, and especially complements hard cheeses like Gruyère and aged Gouda.

Rustic Bakery Cookies

These special cookies are European quality—“Old World” European quality, that is, not the Europe that embraces Starbucks, McDonalds and has Pizza Huts dotting the land that invented the Sacher Torte. From the excellent butter to the rest of the ingredients that shout their superiority, because cookies this good deserve to be served at the finest tea services in town (alas, from our experience pursuing fine tea services, they aren’t). Any of these cookies would:

  • Make a wonderful dessert: The quality of the cookies enables them to stand on their own as a fine dessert)
  • Garnish another dessert: ice cream, pudding, etc.
  • Elevate a simple beverage to an exalted experience: from a short espresso to hot tea to iced anything

Chocolate-Tinged Cookies

Almond Cacao Nib Sticks. Graceful, 6-inch by 3/4-inch cookies offer an arresting shape (photo at right) as well as taste: buttery cookie, nips of cacao nibs, seductive almond accent. They can perch dramatically across a bowl, cup or plate, stand up in a glass (like breadsticks) or be offered in a variety of tempting ways—like a baton in an ice cream sundae.

Chocolate Chip Cookies. Divine round butter cookies, 1-1/2 inches in diameter, with bits of chocolate. (See photo above.)

Chocolate Cacao Nib Shortbread. Don’t let the cute crimped edges of these chocolate finger cookies (1 inch by 5 inches, photo below) fool you. This is deep, serious chocolate, just slightly sweet and perfect for those who like 70% cacao chocolate bars.

Espresso Chocolate Shortbread. Coffee lovers will flip for these 4-1/2-inch long triangle- or fan-shaped cookies, redolent of fine butter and coffee, dotted with chocolate bits. They’re stunning.

Almond Cacao Nib Sticks
Six inches long, graceful Almond Cacao Nib Sticks are standalone stunners and add drama as well as great taste to other desserts.

Fruits, Nuts & Spices

We preferred the chocolate group of cookies: They were that much more unusual-to-find than this non-chocolate group. That’s not to say that these charming cookies aren’t guaranteed to please:

Key Lime Sugar Cookies
Key Lime Sugar Cookies.

Key Lime Sugar Cookies.  These butter cookies, accented with crystal sugar, have a touch of fresh key lime zest and juice that gives it a bit of something special. Flavor-forward fanatics that we are, we wish there were even more zest and juice; but we can appreciate the level of finesse that Rustic Bakery has chosen.

Meyer Lemon Sugar Cookies. Ditto on the Meyer Lemon Cookies, the same cookie as Key Lime, made with Meyer lemon zest and juice.

Pecan Shortbread Cookies. Unlike the sturdy chocolate and espresso shortbread cookies, these tender cookies are are reminiscent of the “pecan sandie” of our childhood. Topped with sanding sugar, they melt in your mouth.

Vanilla Shortbread Cookies. These are classic shortbread cookies. Lovely as they are, if you are looking for something simple, we’d go for the Key Lime Sugar Cookies. If you’re seeking a mixed selection, by all means, get one of everything!

With access to Rustic Bakery’s outstanding cookies, crostini and flatbreads, our cup, plate, platter and all other dishes runneth over.

— Karen Hochman

FORWARD THIS NIBBLE to anyone who appreciates really fine flatbreads and cookies.

Cookies, Flatbreads & Panforte Crostini

Made With Organic Ingredients

  • Cookies
    4-Ounce Bag
  • Flatbreads
    6-Ounce Bag
  • Panforte Crostini
    4-Ounce Bag

Purchase online* at

*Prices and product availability are verified at publication but are subject to change. THE NIBBLE does not sell products; these items are offered by a third party with whom we have no relationship. This link to purchase is provided as a reader convenience.

Chocolate Nib Shortbread
Serious chocolate cookies for lovers of 70% cacao chocolate.

Check Out These Other Top Pick Of The Week” Cookies:

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