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.

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Mid-Week Tangent: where is all the cake?

I have been in Vernon for a grand total of 10.5 days and, in that time, I have extensively Googled local bakery options, and I have visited two different bakeries and one fancy coffee shop. After all of these efforts, I am left only with one question: where is all the cake???

I can only assume that living in Vancouver has ruined me for smaller town cake life.  Vancouver is home of the hipster bakery, full of artisinal goods (as though all baking isn’t artisinal?) and trendy flavour combinations. I have no desire to eat cake flavoured like matcha or london fog but, in Vancouver, those options are readily at my fingertips. Vancouver’s bakeries feature baked goods and cakes that look like a million bucks, even if they don’t taste it. Appearance is everything. Cakes are all clean lines, impeccably smoothed out frostings, with maybe the occasional naked cake trending its way into the mix.

I didn’t think that I had succumbed to the pomp and circumstance of trendy urban bakeries…but I have. Despite ultimately wanting something that tastes good, my eyes cannot help themselves. They gravitate towards the aesthetic, the beautiful, the hopelessly modern. Here, in my new hometown, there is no modern bakery. There is only the classic mom and pop bakery, the kind that features humble looking cookies, and carrot cakes whose tops are adorned with unpretentious frosting carrots.  It is a town that still has black forest cakes en masse, and not the kind featuring playful adaptations (i.e. roasting cherries, switching out kirsch for bourbon, other such nonsense, etc.) that make a mockery of black forest cake tradition. No. These black forest cakes are purists: chocolate cake, cherry filling, whipped topping, shaved chocolate and maraschino cherries to garnish. In Vernon, it appears, you do not mess with a classic.

There is nothing wrong with this. It is, in fact, refreshing to see this commitment to simple, pure baking. And yet I can’t help wondering, where is the salted caramel buttercream? Where are the chocolate ganache glazes, artfully dripping down the sides of the cake? Where are the impossibly tall cakes? I’m talking about those six-layered cakes, stacked tall, sandwiched with layer upon layer of thick frosting, perhaps even a tart curd or pastry cream?  Where are the trendy flavours that I don’t want to eat, but that I want to look at solely to wonder ‘who eats that flavour of cake?!?’

They are not here. Maybe they are in our neighbouring town of Kelowna, where trend and pretentiousness have been on the rise for years. But they are not here. I’m sure in time I will adjust. I’m sure one day I’ll buy a cake and realize it’s the cake I’ve actually been searching for, perfect in its simplicity. But for now I’m in a bit of a cake culture shock, so indulge me this question: really, where is all the cake????

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.

Mid-Week Tangent: Cake-ploration returns!

If you’re not familiar with cakeploration, it’s been my journey over the last or so to seek out the best cakes. It actually started as a quest for the perfect chocolate cake, but I’ve since abandoned that goal (truth: it doesn’t exist here) and broadened my search to all cakes. Inclusion is important to me when it comes to cake.  You can check out past cakeploration posts here, and here,  and again here, and also here.  The moral of the story is I eat a lot of cake and then write about it.

So here we are again testing out a new cake, determined to take full advantage of my last two weeks in this city.  This week’s adventures took me back to Trafiq, a local bakery that features the highly disappointing chocolate decadence cake and the not-at-all disappointing salted caramel vanilla cake.  Having had two experiences on the opposite ends of the cakeploration spectrum, I figured my third endeavour would be a total crap shoot. Is the suspense killing you? Then let’s get started.

What we ordered: Carrot Cake

Why we ordered it: I’ll speak for myself here as my better half is simply a die-hard carrot cake fan. I, on the other hand, was committed to ordering something I hadn’t yet tried at Trafiq.  A partially sliced carrot cake was prominently displayed and kicked my cream cheese frosting cravings into high gear. I was done for the second I saw it.

I mean, come on.

The Scoop:
This cake fell somewhere between the overwhelmingly disappointing chocolate decadence cake and the sublime vanilla salted caramel. The cake itself was incredibly moist and delicious, though less rustic than many carrot cakes, I assume because the carrots are quite finely grated.  All that you need to know is that the carrot cake itself was one of my faves, and perhaps even second to the Magnolia Bakery carrot cake I sampled in New York last year.

That was the good news.

The bad news was the frosting. Cream cheese frosting is sacred. It should include only the following: cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, vanilla. I am willing to accept the addition of chocolate on occasion (clearly not for carrot cake, but for other more suitable cakes). Nothing else belongs in my cream cheese frosting.

Trafiq, you had the audacity to add orange citrus to my cream cheese frosting. Imagine my glee as I lifted a forkful of frosting towards my face, expecting that characteristic sweet-tart combination of a classic cream cheese frosting. Now imagine that forkful hitting my tongue and my tastebuds being bombarded by a flavour that should be foreign to a cream cheese frosting: orange. Blech. Look, I’m not anti-citrus in general. It’s not the first recipe I’ve seen nor tried that mixes carrot cakey bases with citrus toppings. However, there were two key problems here: I don’t want that combination on my carrot cake and my expectations weren’t managed. A simple addition to the cake description to let me know this is a ‘citrus cream cheese  frosting’ would have lessened my shock and disappointment. In other words, don’t mess with my mother f’ing cream cheese frosting.

Cakeploration Score: 5/10
I firmly believe that even mediocre cake is better than no cake, so I’ll still say this cake is worth eating, particularly is you are a fan of carrot cake + citrus combinations. Truthfully, the carrot cake itself is top notch.  Who knows, perhaps now that I’ve managed your expectations for the frosting, you can be at peace with the combination and actually enjoy it. Maybe you are even one of those incomprehensible people who do not care about frosting. If that is you, although I don’t understand you in the slightest, you will love this cake.

As for me, I will keep on keeping on seeking out the boldest and best cakes out there…and the best frostings, of course. Mmmm, frosting…

Mid-Week Tangent: in which we visit the roadside fudgery

North American highways are a treasure trove of the random and wonderful.  Washington State, for instance, is the land of the roadside, drive-thru coffee stand. Maybe this is something all of America has latched on to, but I can safely say it’s not something that Canadians have adopted and, therefore, it feels wonderfully odd to me.

But the oddities don’t stop at coffee kiosks, not even the one that’s a mini replica of a windmill.  On our most recent trip to Leavenworth we also encountered the reptile zoo, which boasts not only an albino alligator but a two-headed turtle (!!!) and “the most extensive collection of reptiles in the pacific northwest.” I’d like to say we checked it out,  but I scoffed at the entrance fee so I cannot confirm if it is, in fact, a gold mine of reptilian life forms.

Then there was the knife sharpening shop mid-way between Monroe, Washington and Leavenworth, tucked cozily into a brief break in the rock faces lining Highway 2.  I wonder who its patrons are, who might desperately need to sharpen a knife as they are barreling down the highway towards or away from a Bavarian mountain village. There is no other civilization around this shop and it occurs to me the proprietor may have just thought “I sharpen knives and I suppose this is as good a place  as any to do it.”

But clearly the biggest treasure we found on our highway journey, the reason for this very post, was the roadside fudgery.  Similar to the knife sharpener, this little fudgery’s location defies the norms of society, which would imply that one is not likely to go for a drive down the highway nor to pull off the highway just for fudge.  It is tucked into a highway pullout far enough outside of Leavenworth that its faint Bavarian stylings don’t quite make sense unless you’re familiar with the area. Its exterior and locale, however, are not the only perplexing elements of this roadside stop.

Inside, one discovers that fudge is just one of this shop’s offerings. There is a surprisingly robust assortment of hot sauces, horseradishes and mustards, many of which you can sample, because who doesn’t want to try before they buy when it comes to condiments?  Never mind that the mix of products is overwhelming and illogical. Hot sauce and mustard, chocolate, taffy, dressings, sauces, salsas, and, yes, even my beloved fudge. This is the joy of the roadside fudge stand. It doesn’t have to make sense. You pull over expecting fudge and you get so much more.

And let’s talk fudge, because that is obviously the reason for my pulling over.  I have no time for hot sauces and horseradish, although my boyfriend and my friend’s husband were excited enough to purchase some. I wanted the good stuff. I was promised fudge and there would be fudge. I was impressed with the selection of fudges, the number of which rivaled those  found in my number one favourite fudgery in Banff.  With so many to choose from, naturally it took me a solid five minutes to make my choices (butterfinger and vanilla praline chew*, if you must know).

And here is where my love for this little roadside fudgery grows even stronger. Because in making my selections and attempting to order, I encountered classic roadside point of interest service: a carefully crafted mix of indifference, mild disdain or perhaps merely an utter disinterest in those stopping by. The two clerks carried on their own conversation for a full two minutes before pausing to serve me fudge, the kind of conversation that has deep undertones of annoyance and bitterness about whomever they were discussing. Clearly someone had done them wrong.

Regardless of their backstory, I stood there unsupported and desperately wanting my fudge. It occurred to me that this is what the roadside fudgery, or any roadside attraction for that matter, is all about. These clerks know that we are a solid 15 minutes of driving from any other form of fudge. They have us. They also know that someone who stops on the highway for fudge is probably so deeply passionate about fudge that she is the type of person who cannot wait another 15 minutes even if it means putting up with shitty service (and, in my case, they are right).

They are successful because there will always be travelers lured in by the lone roadside attraction that is both strangely out of place yet perfectly positioned all at the same time. They know that within a certain percentage of the population there are some who desperately crave those places that defy all logic, that fulfill our need to find a hidden gem, that satisfy our desire to experience a little bit of the bizarre as we cruise down the highway. Thank you The Alps Candy, for filling that void on a lonely stretch of Highway 2.

 

*For those actually curious about the fudge itself, is was pretty good.  The vanilla praline chew was the clear winner of the two I tried, but both were fairly tasty, though not quite up to par with my Banff fudgery. I also purchased a small bag of assorted taffy which I wouldn’t recommend unless you are looking to extract some of your molars.

 

 

 

Mid-Week Tangent: ode to a Bavarian-themed town

Last weekend, we made our third annual trek to the town of Leavenworth. It would be more impressive if I could tell you it’s the only town where you can be served schnitzel by someone dressed in lederhosen while being serenaded by the sweet sounds of an accordion, but there are actually a surprising number of these towns scattered across North America.  Regardless, today I share my ode to Leavenworth, a town that holds a special place in my heart.

What makes it so special? Leavenworth may be the only Bavarian-themed town where you can buy a supposedly authentic stein in one shop, then walk next door to buy your toddler a trendy scarf printed with hot pink unicorns. Leavenworth may be the only Bavarian-themed town with a surprising number of pizza and Mexican restaurants which, I can only presume, is because someone falsely assumed that you can only eat so much schnitzel.  Leavenworth may also be the only Bavarian-themed village in which you can do something called “Hot Laps” which sounds dirty but is apparently some form of whitewater rafting. Leavenworth, as you can see, has a lot going for it.

What I love about Leavenworth is its unabashed kitsch and how it’s just a little worn around the edges.  Everything, including the big corporate machines like Starbucks, Subway and McDonald’s, has just a touch of Bavarian flair to make it fit into the townsite. There are twinkling icicles hanging from eavesdrops year-round.  There are more nutcracker and stein shops than you can count on two hands, even though every shop carries basically the same things.  There are two outdoor sausage haus’s directly across the street from each other, each vying for your attention with grilled meats, chilled beers and more saurkraut than you could possibly consume in an entire lifetime. Oh, and the pretzels, don’t forget the heavenly salted, oily pretzels. There are at least half a dozen places featuring schnitzel and spaetzle although, if you ask me, Andreas Keller is the only way to go (sadly they were closed this year, and I cannot express my deep dissatisfaction with our second-string choice without getting emotional).  Some even play live accordion music.  There is a gazebo in the centre of town through which peppy polka music is blasted at all hours, lending itself to craft-beer induced, spontaneous, moonlit dance breaks.

It sounds magical doesn’t it? But if you look a little more closely, you can see that all is not so magical.  The jolly Bavarian window shutters on the hotels could use a paint refresh, a sure signal that the interior is even more tired from resting on its Bavarian-kitsch laurels for decades.  The checkered tablecloths in the schnitzel haus’s are somewhat faded. The main street shops are letting the odd green mermaid into their offerings, which I assume does not fit the standard of traditional Bavarian decor (though I could be wrong as I’ve never researched Bavarian folklore). The hipsters have even landed with their sparsely-filled stores standing in stark contrast to the overstuffed traditional shops, and their brick-walled craft brewery/pizzeria that pays no homage whatsoever to Bavarian tradition within its walls, not even with a clever Bavarian pun to name one of its beers.  Most telling, perhaps, is that the tourists idling slowly down its streets do so without a twinkle in their eyes, as though they too can see the veneer of Bavarian magic is wearing thin.

It occurred to me this weekend that my love for Leavenworth is due in part to this undertone of sadness, of a town that was once lively and proudly Bavarian-themed but now gives off the impression of a couple who’s grown a little too comfortable in their relationship. No one’s trying all that hard anymore to keep things new and interesting. That probably sounds depressing, but this is the makings of nostalgia, of knowing that you can go back year after year and all your favourite haunts will still be there waiting for you. You know you can have a great grilled sausage and pretzel at the Sausage Haus and that, even though you’re not really hungry for dinner, you’ll make room for schnitzel at Andreas Keller. You’ll be sure to fit in a dinner at Los Camperos for the best prawn enchilada you’ve ever had. You’ll cram into the tiny tasting room at Dog Haus brewery and the same brewmaster will be there to greet you and dole out overly salted peanuts to fuel your drinking.  You’ll even run into the couple that you met last year on your trip to Leavenworth, the couple who also travels down year after year to partake in the same traditions, and you will warmly say hello like you are old friends, because you understand each other and your love for this Bavarian-themed town.