Mid-Week Tangent: Cinnamon Bun Woes

Oh friends, you know that expression “fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me”? Well, shame on me this week. After my National Donut Day fail, I gave our local coffee shop another chance with it’s Sticky Bun Saturdays and I’m here to tell you that I am officially throwing in the towel on Ratio Coffee‘s pastries. It is a sad moment for me, partly because I was duped not once but twice, but also because I so badly wanted to have a local pastry hotspot. Alas, I will keep looking. In the meantime, join me in my cinnamon bun woes.

Okay it’s a terrible picture, I know, but it doesn’t even look promising.

Where: Ratio Coffee, Vernon BC

Price: about $4.50 for one “sticky” bun (i.e. pretty pricey)

The Low Down:  Okay, here’s the thing: the cardinal rule of a sticky bun is that if you want to call it a sticky bun, then it absolutely must be sticky. This is non-negotiable.  If you have a tiny ribbon of non-sticky cinnamon running through incredibly thick layers of dough, then call it a cinnamon ribbon bun and call it a day.  This is a cinnamon ribbon bun at best.

I know I sound critical, but cinnamon buns and sticky buns are a personal fave, and what makes them delicious is all that sticky goodness. My dream cinnamon bun is ultra moist, with thin layers of dough that are basically just a vehicle for masses of buttery cinnamon-sugar filling that oozes out both the top and bottom. And if you’re going to call something a sticky bun, that oozing-out-the-bottom factor is absolutely paramount.  Paramount.

This “sticky bun” only leaves up to half it’s name: bun. Oh there is dough, friends. There is so very much dough. To be honest, the dough is perfectly fine. It’s brioche like and quite tasty.  But no one, and I mean no one, buys a sticky bun for the dough. You buy it for the sticky filling. In this bun, there was none (rhyme unintended but delightful nonetheless). I wish I had taken a picture of the barely-there ribbon of cinnamon that ran through this bun. I mean, it was less visible than the streusel ribbon in a coffee cake. Unacceptable.

The saving grace for this bun was the frosting, which my partner loved with all his heart. I had a more measured reaction. It was good in that it was frosting, but it was by no means incredible frosting, and there was certainly not enough of it. That said, it was absolutely critical to balance out the sheer volume of dough in this bun. Without the frosting, I probably wouldn’t have eaten my half of the bun at all. That, in itself, is a sad testament to just how disappointing this bun was.

Here’s the long and short of it: I absolutely do not recommend this sticky bun, but if you choose not to heed my warning, at the very least make sure you pay for the frosting.

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Mid-Week Tangent: national donut day fail

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last year, it’s that there is a day for every damn thing on this planet.For those of you who didn’t know, last Friday was national donut day. National Donut Day is apparently so worthy of celebration that it gets two days. That’s right. When this past donut day rolled around, I thought to myself ‘I’m fairly sure we’ve already had one of these this year.’ Sure enough, Google revealed that June and November feature National Donut Days (if you’re curious as to why, check out this article).

That’s all a bit of an aside, though. I had no idea it was actually national donut day when we opted to check out the donuts at a local coffee shop. Every Friday is donut day at this coffee shop, and we just happened to remember that as we were driving home from our Friday morning hike (balance, y’all).  When I found out later that it was National Donut Day, I convinced myself that our buying donuts by pure chance might somehow mean that we’d  stumbled upon a mecca for amazing donuts. You see, ever since leaving Vancouver, I have missed my beloved apple fritters from Breka so very much.  And the dulce de leche donuts from Breka. And the occasional glazed old fashioned from Lucky’s Donuts. The Okanagan is wonderful in many ways, but so far it is not so wonderful when it comes to bakeries.

Alas, despite our high hopes, unfortunately, we were wrong. We had not stumbled upon a donut mecca.

Looks so promising doesn’t it?

Where: Ratio Coffee

What we Had: lemon thyme for me, cinnamon sugar for my partner in crime

The Verdict:  I didn’t try the cinnamon sugar because, to me, a donut without some form of glaze isn’t even worth eating. According to my better half it wasn’t that great.

My lemon thyme donut was a big disappointment in the actual donut department. The dough was tough. If I’m going to eat a yeast donut (my preference is always cake donuts), I want it to be light as air, fluffy, ultra pillowy soft, but with a slight crunch to the outer edges. This donut was all chew. It had an odd stretch to it when I tried to tear it apart, as though the dough had been overworked, and the outer edges had no delightful deep fried crust. It was the kind of donut that made me regret wasting calories on it (i.e. the worst kind of donut).

The one saving grace for this donut was the glaze, which was quite heavenly. It was supremely tart from the lemon and had the essence of thyme without being overwhelming. I’m usually not one to go with herbs in my baked goods because if they are overdone it’s just a big old mess, but this glaze got it right. I am not going to lie: I basically ripped the bottom of the donut off this bad boy and ate a thin layer of the donut with the glaze. Had this been my entire donut experience, I would have been a happy camper. But alas, it was not.

And so our national donut day chance experiment with Ratio Coffee donuts was a big old fail. I’m not tempted to try their donuts again, but I am willing to give them a chance on their sticky bun Saturdays because, well, sticky buns are life.  But as far as winning donuts in the Okanagan go, I’m still on the hunt.

Mid-Week Tangent: my love for ice cream DOES have limits

When we told people we were going to Portland a couple weeks ago, almost everyone told us that we absolutely had to go to Salt and Straw. As a passionate lover of ice cream, I gladly accepted a recommendation. I’ve heard of Salt and Straw before and figured it couldn’t hurt to try it.

After 2.5 days of wandering, eating and drinking our way through PDX, it was time to give Salt & Straw a try. And so, on our last day in town, which wasn’t even a full day in that would had to leave for the airport mid-afternoon, I dragged my poor better all the way to Nob Hill (i.e. up a giant hill from our downtown hotel…in 30+ degree heat) for the sole purpose of checking out Salt & Straw.

We got there around 12:30 and headed straight inside where there appeared to be a small line (I couldn’t actually tell if the people hovering were in line and just not paying attention to the fact that the line had moved up, or just  milling about).  I figured we should strike while the ice cream iron was hot (i.e. while the line was short), but my partner reminded me that we hadn’t eaten lunch yet and should probably do that first. Personally, I don’t subscribe to only eating dessert after a proper meal, but I’d also eaten no actual, healthy food in three days so I conceded for once.

That was where I made my mistake. Had I gone for my usual footloose and fancy free “eat dessert whenever the hell you feel like it” approach, I would be writing about their ice cream, rather than rambling on about the limits to my love for ice cream. Instead, we ate a sensible lunch (salad, no less!) and returned almost two hours later to find that the line for ice cream had extended to outside the shop, snaking itself around the corner and doubling over itself into two rows.

I still stand by my initial thought which was ‘Good God, all this for ice cream?!?! It cannot be that good.’ I was eyeing up the ice cream of those sitting outside, those who hadn’t foolishly arrived at 2:30pm on a hot, sunny Sunday, which also happened to be Mother’s Day. It looked, dare I say, like any other ice cream. People were oohing and ahhhing over it, but wouldn’t you do the same if you’d just waited in line for the better part of an hour? I know I would, if only just to prove it hadn’t been a total waste of my time.

Alas, we got in line anyway, and I was doing the mental math on how long it would take to serve the scores of people ahead of us, most of whom I imagined greedily sampling every flavour under the sun before hemming and hawing over their final choice as if an ice cream choice ever has any real consequence (and I say this as an ice cream obsessive). My mental math, and the fact that we hadn’t advanced at all in five minutes, was telling me that this was easily an hour-long line up.

It was at this point that I was faced with a dilemma: do I suck it up and waste my last hours in Portland waiting in line for ice cream that, quite likely, is overhyped and merely good, or do I walk away never knowing if this was the one ice cream shop whose ice cream isn’t highly overrated?  You can tell the title of this post that my choice was to walk away. Because even though I love ice cream probably more than any other confection, and even though a good ice cream is such a magically wondrous delight, and even though I live to write posts about any ice cream experience good or bad, apparently there is a limit to my love for ice cream.

That limit is a one hour line.

Mid-Week Tangent: the gelato bar of my dreams

I have written about QB Gelato not once but twice. It is that good. Seriously, if you live in the Okanagan or are passing through the Okanagan at any point this summer, you must go.  We stop any time we are passing through town and I never regret shelling out inordinate amounts of money (full disclosure, a pint is $18) for a little bit of gelato joy.

On my last visit, I decided to branch out from my usual two flavour cup to test out their gelato bars. These are small-batch house made logs of heaven. Yikes, I’m sorry, using the term “logs” doesn’t make these sound appealing in the slightest…but to me they look more like a log than a bar.  Semantics aside, they are the best gelato bar/logs that you will ever eat in your entire life, bar none (come on, that was a good pun).

Anatomy of a Life-Changing Gelato Bar

Like most of my food photos, this picture just does not do justice to the bar itself. For one, it makes it seem like the smallest bar ever. I also fear it looks ultra boring. Let me spare you those concerns: this gelato bar is sizeable and spectacular. Now let me tell you why:

1. Life Changing Ultra Thick Chocolate Coating: In my opinion, most ice cream bars have woefully thin chocolate coatings. Even worse, many don’t use actual chocolate. Ever notice products that say “chocolatey coating”?That’s your sign that it’s not even real chocolate. Not so for this bar. This bar is drenched in Valrhona milk chocolate. Like drenched. It provides a satisfying snap to the bar, and provides the ultimate balance to the gelato center and salted peanut caramel. Trust me when I say the first and last bites (where you’ll get the maximum chocolate coating) will be your best.

2. Life changing vanilla gelato centre: Vanilla gelato would never be my first flavour choice. Ever. This is actually fior di latte gelato, which is even more neutral than something like a vanilla bean gelato. Lest you think this makes the centre boring, let me assure you it does not. With the richness of the chocolate and the boldness of the salted peanut caramel, this simple yet perfectly smooth and creamy gelato is exactly the centrepiece this bar needs to shine. This gelato bar doesn’t need a fancy flavoured centre. It’s rocking a plain centre and pulling it off flawlessly.

3. Life changing salted peanut caramel: I don’t even like peanuts. In fact, I consider them a waste of a nut. Normally I’d say give me a pecan or cashew or almond, or virtually any other nut.  However, somehow here the peanut is perfection. Their crunch holds up even when bathed in a sea of the most well-balanced salted caramel you can imagine. To be fair, I am always a fan of any salted caramel, even mediocre salted caramel, but I am extra appreciative of a caramel that retains its gooeyness in a frozen treat without becoming the kind of caramel that threatens to extract your teeth. And, while it looks as though there’s barely any caramel at the base of this bar, it is actually far thicker than the picture suggests. It is the perfect ratio of caramel and peanut to gelato. There is no other word for it: perfect. Did you catch that? Perfect.

If you aren’t already Google mapping just how far QB Gelato is from your house, you are already behind the eight ball. Get on it. It might be a $6-8 bar (honestly, I didn’t even look at the price), but it is worth each and every hard-earned dollar. My only regret was not buying a half dozen to squirrel away in my freezer for future indulgences.

Perfect.

 

 

Mid-Week Tangent: epic cinnamon bun fail

I don’t talk about cinnamon buns often, but a well-crafted cinnamon bun, heavily laden with cream cheese frosting, is one of life’s great pleasures as far as I’m concerned. I rarely eat them these days. Over the years, I’ve developed a fairly discerning eye when it comes to cinnamon buns and I can usually spot a crappy or mediocre cinnamon bun a mile away. I don’t even bother. If it’s not going to be great, it’s not happening. As a result, I almost never eat them. It’s sad, isn’t it?

This weekend, as we were making our way through an impromptu self-guided wine tour around Kelowna and West Kelowna, we stopped in at Bliss Bakery, a bakery we’ve visited before and at which we’ve enjoyed a trail bar and a midnight mint brownie in the past. This time around, I spotted a treat that had eluded me at our last visit (i.e. they had run out): the “cinny bun” (their name, not my affectionate abbreviation, I assure you).

The Cinny Bun is a beast to behold, a positively enormous cinnamon bun (I’m talking 5 inches by 5 inches), with a heavy layer of frosting, and a truly impressive weight for a yeasted baked good (sadly, I didn’t think to weigh it on my kitchen scale until it was too late). The second I saw it, I knew I had to have it.

Or so I thought…

Onward we went with our day, visiting winery after winery, all the while I was dreaming of getting home and digging into that cinnamon bun. I even turned down appetizers and dessert at dinner because I wanted to leave room to devour that glorious combination of soft dough, swirls of cinnamon and globs of frosting (okay, globs was perhaps not the most appetizing word to have used there…). I’m not joking. This cinny bun occupied a lot of my thoughts throughout the afternoon and early evening.

And then, later that night, finally at home and settled on the couch, I brought out the Cinny Bun. As I went to tear off a piece, I experienced my first early warning signals: the dough felt dry. Very dry. Crumbly actually. I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, though.  I mean, I have so rarely been fooled by a cinnamon bun’s appearance.  Perhaps it was just the outer edge that was dry. After all, it had sat in the trunk all day (though in a sealed take out container). I took another bite. Ugh. Still DRY. I decided to dig deeper into the middle, but no matter how far into the center I got, it was still dry, dry, dry. And I’m talking bordering on baked-several-days-ago-stale dry.  Even where there was cinnamon swirl. Cinnamon swirl is a moist-maker! How could it still be dry?!?

The only, and I mean only, redeeming quality of the cinny bun was its frosting, which wasn’t even the best frosting, but at least provided a semblance of moisture to the very top of the bun. In fact, the frosting and cinny bun dough in direct contact with the frosting, was all that I ate. The rest of the cinnny bun went exactly where it belonged, in the trash, a sad reminder of five bucks wasted and the fact that looks can be deceiving, size doesn’t always matter, and even a solid layer of frosting can’t save a bad baked good.

Sorry, cinny bun, but you were not good. I’m reminded of that old expression: fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. This was a big shame on me. I know better than this. I know that a truly fantastic cinnamon bun is few and far between. Next time I will be wiser.

Mid-Week Tangent: new digs + new scones

As you saw from Monday’s post, we are officially Vernon-ites (Vernonians?)…whatever, we’ve officially settled in Vernon.   The last five days have been a whirlwind of unpacking and settling in, but what I’m most excited about is exploring all that our new area has to offer in terms of wine, baking and food.  Does this surprise anyone? My world largely revolves around eating and drinking.

While we haven’t done any serious exploring yet (see earlier comment re: unpacking and settling in), we have stumbled upon some truly delicious scones. Like really, really amazingly fantastic scones. Thankfully, it’s a 2.4 km walk to get to the coffee shop that sells them, which should, in theory, keep me from eating one daily.  I mean, sometimes the 1 km walk to my beloved Breka donuts seemed like too much of a hassle, and I really, really, really loved those donuts.

Back to the scones. These scones are amazing, and I say this as someone who bakes some pretty decent scones herself.  First, they are giant, which is a must when it comes to scones. Dainty scones have no place in my life. If I’m going to eat butter and flour, I’m going to make it worthwhile.  Second, they are that perfect mix of crunchy exterior and tender, flakey interior.  This is also a must. No one has time for the crunchy exterior + dry interior combo or the tender, flakey interior + sad spongey exterior combo.  Third, the flavour combo is odd but perfectly complimentary: cheddar, apple and poppyseed. It doesn’t have to seem like a good fit, because it just is.

But easily the best thing about these scones is that, with every scone you buy, you are given a hefty-sized mini tub of butter. I’m intentional about calling it a tub of butter because it is seriously a lot of butter for one scone, like even more butter than I can use, which is saying a lot because I am pretty much a butter-a-holic.  This place knows that those tiny little single-serve butter packets that most places provide you with are woefully insufficient for a scone of this size.  Other bakeries make a laughing stock out of me when they give me one butter packet, forcing me to ask for a second packet, and then visibly judging me as though that extra teaspoon of butter is somehow an excessive amount. They look at me with eyes that say “I can eat a giant scone with a scant layer of butter. Why can’t you?”  Triumph Coffee understands that I require enough butter to liberally coat each and every bite, and they do not make me feel like a butter monster. They ante up and give me more butter than even I can use.

I have already decided that these scones will be my weekly Saturday morning ritual, lovingly holding the space that the Breka apple fritter once filled, though never truly replacing it because heavily glazed donuts > scones no matter how good the scone is. But, if you’re in the Okanagan and looking for a killer scone, you now have your destination.

Happy sconing.

 

Mid-Week Tangent: ode to my favourite apple fritter

Well, we are really down to the wire on my time in this town, and it’s got me all sentimental about all sorts of things. Some are meaningful, while others are trite. Today’s post is about something trite, but also something incredibly delicious and something that, trite as it may be, I will miss immensely: the Breka bakery apple fritter.

I know. You’re like, it’s a donut, how great can it be?  Everyone’s got their favourite donut at their favourite donut place and nothing can be all that special about this donut. This is where you are wrong.

The Breka apple fritter is a revelation of donuterie, and worthy of inventing the word “donuterie”.

First and foremost, this fritter is the size of your face.

Evidence: my face is behind that fritter.

This donut is at least the size of two donuts, if not more, and I am always happy when I can consume 2-3 desserts masquerading as one dessert (a la brownie sundaes, ice cream cookie sandwiches, etc.). There is shame in saying you ate donuts, but there is no shame in saying you ate a donut.

Next up, we have the glaze.  Too many donuts these days go light on the glaze, as if people don’t want their donuts to be sugar bombs. If such a person exists, might I suggest that person simply refrain from eating donuts and stick with, let’s say, carrot sticks. I, on the other hand, want an excessive amount of glaze, and this donut delivers. Its glaze solidly coats each and every nook and cranny, settling into all the little cracks in delightfully blissful sugar pools.

I will be honest. You are lucky if you encounter 2 chunks of apple as you make your way through this fritter. I will also say that if you are eating an apple fritter for a high proportion of apple, you are doing it all wrong. A donut is not a vehicle for fruit consumption. It is a vehicle for glaze consumption, pure and simple. There is, however, an abundance of cinnamon, which I find indicative enough of a standard apple fritter to let go of any need for actual fruit.

I have saved the best for last, though, friends.  I realize what I’m about to describe for you may be an entirely personal preference, and largely due to my usual dislike for the yeasted donut. You see, I am typically a fan of cake donuts because they have both density and a slight crunch to their exterior that I find infinitely more satisfying than a yeasted donut’s uniform sponginess.  But this fritter, this fritter has delivered on exterior crunch in a way I never thought possible in a yeasted donut.

Let me tell you about the bottom of this donut. It is sublime.  The bottom of this fritter, where it has  rested on a wire rack to cool after its float in the oily hot tub we call the deep fryer, develops a cross-hatched base so crisp that you can knock on it and have it sound faintly like a hollow box.  The cross-hatching provides a perfect opportunity for pooling glaze.  The satisfying and unexpected crunch, when combined with the glaze, is worth at least twice the price of admission (a very reasonable $2.75 by the way). In fact, I have been known the horizontally slice my fritter, much like a bagel, to preserve the glazed, crunchy bottom half for last. It is that good.

If you live in this town and are lucky enough to have not one, but four (!!!) locations at your disposal, visit one now. Get yourself this apple fritter. And if you are so bold as to think you can eat two donuts in a day, trust me when I say the dulce de leche donut is a worthy second place.

Goodbye, Breka apple fritter. I will miss you so and dream of you often.