From brioche to croissant and croffle, Gaby Lubaba’s baked goods are putting Danville on the map
Remember when the introduction of the cronut caused people to freak out? People lining up to get them made the evening news. Combining a croissant with a donut was novel at the time (2013!), but that once rarefied baked good has since gone extinct. On occasion, I have seen a cronut, or a relative of the cronut, in only one Bay Area donut shop—and nothing like it in bakeries.
Now, there’s the croffle, i.e., a croissant plus a waffle. This sweet and chewy pastry isn’t inspiring the same sense of awe as the cronut—no lines in sight when I’ve grabbed one—but it’s pretty darn good. After trying three of them at different bakeries, I still can’t detect much of a croissant’s essence in them. I taste 95%-waffle, which isn’t a bad thing.
Last weekend, I tried my third croffle at the East Bay Bakery. Based in Danville—a town seldom referred to as a culinary epicenter—claiming the name for an entire region sounds presumptuous. But after spending several years at Bay Area farmers’ markets, Gaby Lubaba has opened her first storefront there. Thanks to her breads and pastries, 2022 might be the year that she puts Danville on Michelin’s map.
In addition to the croffle, Lubaba’s brioche is worth the drive. She sells the pull-apart rolls in the shape of a crown or a loaf. On Saturday, the dough was also used as the base of a chocolate brioche and brioche tarts. The chocolate brioche was as light as a ball of cotton. Chocolate chips dotted the entire bun. Its airiness offered a refreshing counterpoint to bakeries that only carry croissants.
The strawberry brioche “tart” (it’s closer to a Danish) had an unexpected layer of bright pink strawberry jam. Although the color and consistency made me think it was a jelly. Whether jam or jelly, brioche is an ideal vessel to hold pastry cream and roasted strawberries too. The countertop also displayed a tart with tempting apricots that I must try before stone fruits go out of season.
Like the Bay Area bakeries Sweet Condesa, Sunday Bakeshop and Bake Sum, Lubaba introduces Asian flavors into European and American pastries and cakes. On a rotating basis, she makes, among many other items, a báhn mí Danish with meatballs, daikon, carrots and cilantro; a pandan chiffon cake; a Malaysian potato curry puff; and kue putu mayang, a steamed rice flour cake served with coconut and palm sugar.
Lubaba’s savory flavors are also excellent. The garlic cream cheese bun is both sweet and salty. Without knowing the exact ingredients, it tastes like parmesan is baked into the dough. Then the bun is filled with a delicately sweetened farmer’s cheese. I waited, expectantly, for a clash between the sweet and salty flavors, but Lubaba balances them out. She also makes a savory cheese croissant that isn’t a salt bomb.
Of the basket-sized array of treats I tried, only the berry scone seemed dutiful and staid. Nothing unpleasant about it, not too dry, but also lacking the same amount of vim as everything else I took home. East Bay Bakery is in a strip mall and doesn’t have tables inside or outside. Although, there is a nearby Starbucks with a patio. Most of the space is dedicated to the kitchen, including refrigerators, ovens and busy bakers mixing and slicing ingredients.
The mall itself is around the corner from miles and miles of suburban housing. Having only been open a couple of weeks, Lubaba has yet to paint or decorate the interior. The bakery still has the appearance of a commercial kitchen with a makeshift, elongated countertop demarcating the line between customers and staff.
The cashier who rang up the order was thrilled to have secured a summer job with Lubaba. When she interviewed for the position with her, she admitted to not having any professional baking experience—it was simply a hobby she was passionate about. The new trainee felt lucky to be learning from one of her fellow bakers who’d previously worked at a restaurant with a Michelin star.
When the transaction was over, I stepped outside to see that a line had since formed. One eager lady held the door open for us and sighed, “At last!” before brushing past me to get inside. I should have assuaged her fears; there were plenty of croffles left.
East Bay Bakery, open Wed–Sun, 9am-2pm. 9000 Crow Canyon Rd., Danville. theeastbaybakery.com