TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 2009
Boston’s great bakery escape
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY ANDREA FINEMAN/the Justice
DANISH DELIGHTS: An employee stands at the counter of Danish Pastry House in Medford, which offers an array of desserts and breakfast foods ranging from a traditional chocolate cake to the bizarre “Jim’s Potato.”
The Hub offers many opportunities to sample pastries of other cultures By MATT LAWRENCE and BEN SERBY JUSTICE STAFF WRITERS
ver the weekend, we undertook an expedition along with three friends into the world of exotic desserts. Our itinerary led us to international bakeries all around the metro area, where our palates were transported across the globe: Denmark across Europe to Turkey, all the way to China, then back to Eastern Europe and, finally, ending in Russia. What follows are our evaluations of the many tasty treasures we discovered along the way.
Danish: Danish Pastry House 330 Boston Ave., Medford, Mass. Our first stop was the uncreativelynamed Danish Pastry House at the edge of Tufts University. Airy and well lit, the café manages to be both spacious and cozy at the same time. Through vigilance and fierce jostling, our intrepid quintet was able to push together two tables and dig in. I had been here before and was lucky enough to have sampled their decadent Sacher Torte, based on the famous Viennese concoction. To my disappointment, they were out of that when I visited, so instead I picked the Danish chocolate cake, rationalizing that names were not this place’s strong suit, but that perhaps authenticity lurked behind the unimpressive nomenclature. This was easily the worst thing our group tried. This socalled cake, in actuality a very large brownie covered with shaved coconut, was certainly more than edible, but it was uninspired and hardly worth the almost-$4 price tag. The ham and cheese quiche was better, if no more original—a regular, satisfying quiche with a crust of perhaps above-average construction: crumbly and crispy enough to frame the gooey insides and not overwhelm the rich savory taste. The blueberry square was much better. This pastry, essentially a traditional crisp/crumble dessert rendered in bar form, was excellently crafted. The crumbly bits managed to be just crunchy enough, while complimenting the excellently moist fruity portion— too often, treats of this kind can be excessively dry. The blueberry, however, was an unfortunate choice; the flavor was too sweet and mellow and did not cut across the rest of the rich flour. I bit in hoping for cranberries, apples, or even blackberries, but the blueberries kept this very good dessert from being truly excellent. Jim’s Potato was easily
the most confounding and divisive selection but was still fairly delicious. A dark, oval concoction (which did bear a slight resemblance to the tuber), this pastry was made of cream cheese, marzipan and strawberry. The flavor was not unlike cheesecake but was somehow much mellower while also lighter and fluffier. I personally found this a most unusual treat but one for which the deliciousness was not at all overwhelmed by the novelty. Some felt it was the other way around and that this was just too bizarre to enjoy fully. The Kringle slice was the consensus favorite: a delicate, fluffy slice of almondy goodness. The Danish Pastry House also serves sandwiches, soups, coffee, gelato, cakes and an assortment of brightly colored sugary creations—but with pastries like these, I’m not sure why anyone would bother. When you visit the House, take my advice: Pick whichever dessert has either the funniest name or the most marzipan. Turkish: Sofra Bakery and Café 1 Belmont St., Cambridge, Mass. Among bakeries in the Boston area, Sofra Bakery and Café, run by chef Ana Sortun of Oleana, is an obvious standout, right down to the external appearance of the building. Drivers on Route 16 between Waltham and Cambridge are no doubt often distracted by the unusual retro design of the small green structure, situated on a corner lot across from Mt. Auburn Cemetery. Walk into the place on a Saturday afternoon and you’re bound to end up in the midst of a crowd of hungry customers waiting for their chance to sample the tempting fare. A glance at the menu dispels the sense that this is a standard gourmet sandwich and coffee shop: On the contrary, the offerings are primarily Turkish recipes. If one so desired, it would be possible (and certainly advisable) to order a “real meal” here, as the café serves a wide variety of salads, sandwiches and specialties. But to ignore the sweets would be to miss the fun. If you just want a beverage and a light treat, the sesame scones are a good choice. Essentially consisting of a sweet, fluffy bread of even consistency, coated in a crisp outer layer of sesame seeds, these scones are not too dry, nor are they lacking in flavor. But perhaps you’re in more of a dairy mood, in which case you won’t want to leave without tasting the kunefe. This is a Turkish dessert that has a filling of smooth haloumi cheese bounded by
two layers of sweet, crisp shredded pastry and spiced syrup with a sprinkling of various nuts. Be that as it may, the true jewel of the menu is the chocolate hazelnut baklava, a decadent twist on the traditional Middle Eastern pastry. The construction is impeccably balanced and harmonious: moist without dripping, cohesive without it affecting the taste and flavorful without any one particular element overwhelming the others. Hours after having eaten one, I was still remembering it, and yes, my mouth was watering.
ANDREA FINEMAN/the Justice
TASTY TRAYS: Eldo Cake House arranges its tasty, colorful treats in a display case.
Chinese: Eldo Cake House 36 Harrison Ave., Boston Chinatown’s Eldo Cake House provided a relief to our wallets, if not our waistlines. Straying slightly from our sugarcoated path, we tried one of Eldo’s many savory pastries, the beef curry turnover. As a full-blooded American, I’m still slightly skeptical of this whole meats-baked-in-pastries thing, but if anything were to convert me, it would be this. Excellently flavored beef curry, neatly chopped, baked into a pastry that’s both crispy and flaky, is an excellent argument for embracing the unfamiliar, particularly when the unfamiliar is so delicious. The sponge cake is also very interesting; it tastes like the impossibly fluffy center of a croissant or even a popover, but sweeter and stickier. The egg tart is not exactly my style—a creamy and definitively eggy goo baked into a familiar crust. If you’re into that, this is the place to go. The pineapple bun, however, is still my favorite—some may call it bland, but to me it’s just infinitely subtle. The bun is essentially a classic brioche roll, lightly flavored with pineapple. It’s rather addicting, and also functions as a palate-cleansing pastry, something to keep in mind should you ever find yourself visiting five different bakeries in one day. The best part about Eldo Cake House? All of that cost about three bucks, less than any one item at most of the other bakeries. Jewish: Cheryl Ann’s of Brookline 1010 West Roxbury Parkway, Chestnut Hill, Mass. A suburban shopping center is not a place where one would expect to stumble across a quality sampling of traditional Jewish baking. But regardless of its unassuming and perhaps uninspired location, Cheryl Ann’s of Brookline provides every bit of what its reputation promises. Brandeis students
ANDREA FINEMAN/the Justice
PURIM PASTRIES: Cheryl Ann’s of Brookline offers poppy seed hamantaschen. have probably heard about or even purchased the legendary, shiny glazed challah from here. Here is the truth about their challah: It is that good. But if you go to Cheryl Ann’s, please don’t stop at the braided bread. The bakery also offers a selection of wonderful sweet treats that run the gamut from hamentaschen to babka. Fans of rugelach will enjoy their cinnamonapple-raisin and apricot flavors but should avoid chocolate (somewhat dry and bland) and raspberry (overwhelmingly sweet). Also noteworthy are the apple hamantaschen, which are huge. The doughy crust on these is well crisped and not too thick, while the sweet flavor of apple filling, mixed with a hefty dose of cinnamon, provides the perfect complement to a skillfully balanced texture. Suffice it to say that these are worth coming back for. Russian: Baza World Market 30 Tower Road, Newton Upper Falls, Mass. Toward the back of this Russian supermarket, which is hidden in a back alley in Newton, lies the bakery section. If, like me, you are not familiar with Russian cuisine, you might have a hard
time figuring out what to order. The woman behind the counter made a valiant effort to assist me, but as she spoke English with difficulty, her foodrelated vocabulary was limited, and of course included no non-Russian dishes with which to draw comparisons. In the end, I decided to take a shot at a few desserts that caught my eye. The appleand cherry-filled piroshki (stuffed buns) certainly turned out to be worth trying. The bread was delicious—very sweet and fluffy—though overall the ratio of bread to filling was higher than I had hoped. Next up came a strangelooking pastry called a margarita, essentially a creamy, sugary glob coated in a crumbly layer of light cookie crust. Lastly, I purchased a slice of a mixed fruit and nut cake called muraveynik. This was too dry and therefore less enjoyable than the previous two items, but still recommendable for its subtle tastes. As I learned, anyone who is making their first foray into the world of Russian desserts should embrace the mystery and not worry too much about what is in something as long as they try whatever looks appealing. Clearly Baza is a good place for such an immersion, given its large selection and diverse array of exclusively Russian items.