Essential Excess

Tea cakes among the whole-grain loaves at Fremont's favorite bakery.

IF YOU THINK hearty organic breads, sandwiches, and soups when you think of the Essential Baking Company Cafe, it's time to expand your ideas to include decadent desserts. Along with later hours and an offering of several draft beers and a slew of wines, Essential has introduced an expanded dessert menu with an emphasis on French excess. Last week Seattle Weekly's crack tasting team gathered to appraise a representative sampling of the more than 20 item dessert menu created by Essential's pastry chef, William Leaman. After the confectioners' sugar settled and belt buckles were loosened, a winner was crowned: the opera cake, composed of chocolate and coffee-soaked almond sponge. No single flavor or texture overpowers the others, leaving your palate engulfed in richness and lusting for more. Leaman's tartlets were deemed to be nearly as grand: Fresh fruit toppingswhether seasonal berries or apple or pearfabulous custard, and a sugary pastry crust are what make a perfect tart, but pure fluid chocolate and lemon curd are not to be sneezed at. A white-chocolate cheesecake was hotly disputed. Some fans of heavy New York-style cheesecake found its lightness and airiness a betrayal of all that cheesecake ought to be; others felt its foamy texture was the pastry's main asset. Another point of contention was the chocolate mousse pyramid; some felt it was too rich, others just right, and still others compared it to Jell-O pudding. But all agreed that thick sheets of gluey marzipan have no business in a mousse pyramid. Before becoming the chef de pâtisserie at Essential, Leaman trained at the famed Lenôtre and worked under one of the highest-ranked French pastry chefs at the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas. His pastries, while a little pricey (they run $4.25 to $4.75 each), reflect his amazing creativity and skill and are as authentic as you're likely to find in Seattle. So stop by after dinner and see for your self what a Francophile can do with fresh ingredients and a whole lot of butter.

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