More 金磨坊 (La Patisserie) goodness.

Very light, heavenly cream puffs from La Patisserie. They’re tinier, but much better than Beard Papa’s. (I’m not an expert, but this is according to a certain cream puff afficionado). 
cream puffs

Fluffy, fluffy swiss roll. Hmm hmm. They used to sell green-tea flavored ones, years ago. They don’t make them anymore (it was so long ago even one lady working there claimed they never make them, until she was corrected by the owner that it was before she started working there!)

swiss roll

Their pineapple bun? Not so great. The topping/crust was moist and bleh. Even though La Patisserie is my favorite bakery, I must be objective here. (GO TO HAPPY DATE!)

pineapple bun

Related post: La Patisserie

“Egg Shatters” 蛋散 – Dimsum @ Kirin

Daan Saan

散 – which roughly translates into “egg shatters” – is a Cantonese dim sum dessert. It is made from a dough of eggs, flour, sugar, and lard (hmm!). The dough is rolled out flat, cut into strips, then twisted and deep fried. Malt syrup (or sometimes honey) is drizzled over the cooled finished product, which is sometimes also sprinkled with coconut flakes. Freshly made 蛋散 smells wonderful. When made well, it is light, slightly crunchy yet soft, sweet but with a very distinct and wonderful taste of the eggs which balances out the sweetness. But making good 蛋散 is an art – most places don’t make it well and it turns out soggy and heavy, or the dough is too thick, or it is often too sweet, either because too much syrup was drizzled on it, or the dough itself contain too much sugar, both of which I find overpowers the nice egginess of 蛋.

 

We had these for dessert when we came to Kirin Seafood Restaurant (@ City Square) for C’s farewell lunch earlier this week. This is one of my absolute favorite places for dim sum, although I must admit that I find the Richmond Kirin to be slightly better. Maybe I am just biased, but then I also think it is not easy to satisfy the picky palates of Richmonders.

dim sum

 As usual, much quality dim sum was ordered and enjoyed,  though (unfortunately) we didn’t order any internal organs, tripe, or feet (lest we scare H, who had never had dim sum before). Plus there was even enough dishes to keep all the vegetarians happy and stuffed! And – because for some reason it’s the typical rule for sharing food – there is always one of each thing left on the plate.

always one left

Lotsa Buns!

I know I have been lazy lately. It’s been busy. But I’ll try harder. In the mean time, let me post some pictures from a recent trip to one of my favorite Chinese bakeries in town, Happy Date.

Hmmm, could it be? A present for meeee?

A present!

Aaah, a box full of my favorite 菠蘿包 (pineapple buns), and 雞尾包 (cocktail/coconut buns)! Could I? Could I eat it all? Please?

Pineapple buns

Some raisin buns (left) and 豬仔包  – “piglet” buns (right) (the latter of which I briefly mentioned before here). Piglet buns are a Hong Kong style plain bun; often covered with white sesame seeds like these ones here. Happy Date makes both of these buns really, really soft and fluffy. And the raisin buns smell very sweet. In my family 豬仔包 is somewhat of a  comfort food– most often eaten when you are sick. I guess it’s because they are so soft, only very slightly salty, and have a soft but chewy crust. I always associate 豬仔包 with being sick… they really aren’t my favorite perhaps because I am not a big fan of the salty+soft combination. Now, sweet and soft buns filled with chewy raisins – that’s a different story.

“Piglet” and raisin buns

Happy Date Bakery and Restaurant

8135 Park Road, Richmond

雞蛋仔 (Mini-egg)

mini egg

雞蛋仔 (Gai Daan Jai,  “Mini-egg”)

Ah, 雞蛋仔 (Gai daan jai ), one of my all time favorite Hong Kong street foods and childhood snack. Gai daan jai originated in the 1950s, as a way for small grocers to make use of broken eggs they didn’t want to waste. Apparently, back then many were made with duck eggs, which imparted more flavor. Decades later, 小販 (street food hawkers) made and sold gai daan jai from their mobile road-side carts, and that was how I remember getting them as a young child. Today, Hong Kong street hawkers have moved into street-side stalls.

Gai daan jai is made from flour, sugar, eggs, and milk. They are like crunchy thin waffles. But instead of the small honeycomb-shaped waffle irons, they’re made in irons with rows of little ovals, resulting essentially in a large, round waffle made up of 30 little “eggs” all stuck together. The outside “shell” is thin and crunchy; nearly half of the inside is empty, while the other is filled with batter. When finished cooking, the entire waffle is laid out on a metal rack where it is briefly cooled by fanning, then served in a cheap paper bag. You then break each “egg” off from the waffle to eat it. This is a freshly done batch rolled off the waffle:

Mini egg iron

Nowadays, one of the best mini-egg stands in Hong Kong is a little shop on King’s Road in North Point (I have passed by often, and there is not a time in the day where you don’t see a long line up all the way down the street. Their mini egg are pretty good). In Vancouver, mini-eggs can be found at food courts of Asian malls. My favorite is the one at the Crystal Mall food court in Burnaby. I haven’t been there for a while though. The ones at Parker Place and Yaohan Centre are pretty bad: Both places are really inconsistent; their mini-eggs are either burnt, or soggy, or have too thick and icky a batter. These ones at Aberdeen Centre are quite good: crispy shell, eggy and chewy insides:

Mini Egg

Found! Pineapple bun 菠蘿包 nutrition and ingredients

Never in my pineapple bun-loving life have I ever eaten a 菠蘿包 (pineapple bun) that came with nutritional information or a list of ingredients. I have always been curious though. Of course, Chinese bakeries are not known for their attention to nutrition, and if you are eating a pineapple bun, you know you are definitely not doing something good for your heart. Now, I know pineapple buns are made with a lot of lard and sugar, that’s why they taste so damn good.

Being Asian, I pay my regular visits to TNT Supermarket . And while they aren’t a true bakery, like many giant supermarkets they do offer their own cakes, breads, and various other Chinese baked goods. I just noticed though, that they now post nutritional information for many of their bakery items. (It was quite an eye opener, this discovery. Let’s just say I couldn’t find anything that has less than 1 gram of trans fat. Still, good for TNT.) To come across the complete nutritional information and ingredients of a HK-style pineapple bun was quite a pleasant surprise:

HK Pineapple Bun

Ingredients:
Water, sugar, wheat flour, margarine, yeast, pure lard, skim milk and whey powder, egg, evaporated milk, egg yolks, salt, baking soda, vanilla concentrate.

No doubt, every bakery have their own secret pineapple bun recipe, but lard and sugar – almost always two musts.

Now, please consider some points of reference for comparison:

  1. TNT’s HK-style pineapple bun:
    340 calories, 16g of fat, 3.5g trans fat, 21g sugar.
  2. Tim Horton’s Butter Croissant:
    340 calories, 18g of fat, 4.5g trans fat, 7g sugar.
  3. Tim Horton’s Old Fashioned Glazed Donut:
    320 calories, 19g of fat, 0.1g trans fat, 22g sugar.
  4. McDonald’s Medium Fries:
    350 calories, 18g of fat, 2g trans fat, 0 sugar.

Doesn’t it seem like the pineapple bun’s got the worst of both worlds here? We’re talking about the double whammy here- I couldn’t find anything with a comparable caloric value that has similarly high levels of both trans fat and sugar as the pineapple bun. And considering the data, if you were gonna blow 300-odd calories, those fries are surely a “healthier” choice compared to any commercially baked good, no? Nevertheless, I may not eat McD’s fries, but you sure as hell can’t stop me from eating pineapple buns!

And a seemingly simple ingredients list doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any less evil: They also had a Taiwanese-style pineapple bun (looks nothing like a pineapple bun to me), that had 5g of trans fat, and it doesn’t even have lard in it! OH! Evil margarine!

Taiwan Pineapple Bun

Ingredients:
Water, margarine, wheat flour, sugar, icing sugar, yeast, egg, butter, skim milk and whey powder, salt.

The perfect Pineapple Bun

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The perfect 菠蘿包 “Bor Lor Bau” (Pineapple Bun)

10 Requirements for the perfect Bor Lor Bau.

(modeled after the Happy Date pineapple bun, which currently sits at #1)

1. Overall presentation: Expert craftmanship. Artisan, no two buns look the same. Large crust had a very natural look of being oven-baked with precision timing: a golden-yellow that isn’t too pale, or burnt. A mild but beckoning glaze with no oily sheen. Crust had good amount of visible crackling resembling a pineapple, and did not look artificial. No giant crevices in crust exposing bun underneath, no holes and imperfections where pieces of crust had fallen off. Appealing dome-shape with great height, no deflation, does not look like a rock. Smells sweet and fresh.

2. Bun texture: Delicate – very, very soft, airy and light, doesn’t feel like you are chewing on and on forever. Not at all doughy or oily.

3. Bun taste: Subtly sweet accompaniment – bun itself doesn’t overpower the crust, but is not flavorless.

4. Crust thickness: Just right – is not super thick, nor “skin-like” and peeling. Consistent throughout (with slight imperfections here and there, avoiding an artificial-feel).

5. Crust moistness: Perfect combination – Not soggy, or disgustingly cakey or powdery dry like a biscuit. Slightly crunchy on the exterior to create the tiniest of “impact” as you bite on it, with a tiny hint of sugary moistness underneath.

6. Crust adherence to bun: Excellent semi-adherence – ie. will only fall off naturally and in small bits where it is disturbed, but resistant to simple touching and lifting. Is not glued to the bun like skin, but also no giant chunks flying off every which way as you eat or hold it, leaving you with a plateful (or lapful) of crust, and a naked bun (big no-no).

7. Crust surface area: Extensive, over 90% – not just a layer of crust slapped on the top, but “dresses” the bun all the way down to the bottom. Minimal bun exposure when sat upright, very impressive. (There is still the tiniest bit of uncovered bun near a bottom ‘corner’ which I like to use to hold my bun as I eat it, perfect.)

8. Crust sweetness: Heavenly – not a mouthful of powdered sugar. Does not induce that overly-sweet headachey feeling. Makes you want to clean up the little crust-crumbs left on your plate.

9. “Bun bite reaction” (That all-important interplay between bun and bun-eater): Mirrored perfection that can’t be beat- After taking a bite, the bite “edges” of the bun immediately depresses to a shape reflecting the very pressure of your bite. The crust reacts similarly but maintains its overall adherence to the bun. This is important as bad buns will simply and too precisely capture the shape of your bite like a mold, while retaining their own internal infrastructure without reflecting the actual pressure of your bite. Below is the perfect bun bite reaction, note – the bun and crust are one:

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10. Freshness: Untouched by plastic trays  freshly baked and served warm. The perfect bun should not come in contact with any plastic or card board before being eaten. It should go directly from metal to ceramic. 

 

A final note: The bun-side experience

1) The Fork: Present, but not used. The way it should be. True pineapple bun experts will know to serve a pineapple bun with a lone fork. What is the purpose of this fork, you ask? Is it for the dainty to spear their buns so they do not have to use their hands (but then, should not a knife be present as well)? On that note, a good bun should always be enjoyed with your hands: If a fork needs to be used (and your hands are clean), that means you didn’t want to touch the bun, as something about it suggested that touching it will leave some kind of nasty, oily residue on your fingers, or will cause the crust to fall off. Neither of which should happen with a good bun. 

No. The real purpose of the fork is for mashing the entire pineapple bun down prior to eating it, such that the bun is manageable and the crust does not fly off as you eat it. (It is not a pretty sight, but it works.) In most cases, whether you employ this method is entirely up to you. (And I suppose a spoon would also do the trick.) However, in the case of the perfect bun, the fork should not be used because 1) as mentioned above, the crust already has excellent adherence, and 2) it would be too big of a heartache to cause such damage to a beautiful bun before eating it. But even if its purpose really is vestigial in the case of the perfect bun, the fork should still be served alongside, as it demonstrates that awareness of a higher-level, expert bun-eating.

 

2) Beverage:  Milk tea. The perfect bun-accompaniment is very smooth Hong Kong-style milk tea, made with condensed milk. Hong Kong-style lemon-tea or Yin Yang (tea-coffee) are also good choices. Do not use water, plain tea (green, black or otherwise), or pop.

生日菠蘿包 Birthday Pineapple Buns

Bor Lor Bau and a Tea

Birthday 菠蘿包 “Bor Lor Bau” (Pineapple bun) #1

Oh Pineapple Bun, just how much do I love thee?

There used to be a time when I had a pineapple bun every night as dessert. That’s a bun of sugar and lard a night, every night. (Did I know that back then? Nope. Would I have cared if i did? Surely not.) At the same time, many local bakeries were starting to be creative, constructing pineapple buns filled with sweet custard, red bean paste, barbeque pork… you name it. If there is some kind of bun with that pineapple-like crust on top, it has been made, and I have eaten it. A few years ago, a friend made a giant pineapple bun for me as my birthday “cake”. No one has seen anything so huge – it had a diameter larger than a typical super-large pizza. Pineapple bun – the ultimate pastry. The standard by which I judge all Chinese bakeries and 茶餐廳 (tea restaurants). The blood that courses through my made-in-Hong-Kong veins. The last meal I want when I am on my death bed.

Now that I can no longer recklessly live out those teenage/young adult days when it didn’t matter what I stuffed in my mouth (and now that I know how they are made), pineapple buns have become an occasional treat. 

For my birthday this year, I had three pineapple buns over 2 separate, unrelated events. The first bun I had at lunch, at Happy Date Bakery and Restaurant. This was a last minute decision, as I had made a lunch the night before and plan for a birthday lunch. Nevertheless, NF decided to take me out for lunch. I also didn’t want to go to Happy Date at first, because I remember their buns had too thick a crust and were never my favorite. (Although everybody, even Hong Kong natives, would claim that they make the best pineapple buns.) I went to Happy Date anyway because 1) although there are many 茶餐廳 in the city, there are very few with good baked-in-house pineapple buns (or an in-house bakery, period), and 2) although there are many Chinese bakeries making pineapple buns, there isn’t one where you can actually sit down and enjoy a meal 茶餐廳-style. (Ironic, isn’t it?) Fortunately, Happy Date is tea restaurant with a bona fide Chinese bakery (although the actual food here is only so-so), so you can have your tea and a pineapple bun served straight out of the oven, which was what I had. I was pleasantly surprised to find their pineapple buns have improved significantly from what I remembered. It now met all the requirements of the perfect pineapple bun, which I will divulge in a later post.

So the perfect pineapple bun came and went:

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I was going to have just one, but not quite through that first bun I decided to order a second one. Another piping hot bun came and this one had two horns and looked like … a cow? the devil? (Ah, the definition of artisan – no two buns will look the same.) Very soon there were only two empty plates with crumbs.

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A “bakery restaurant” is a double edged sword: It is not like buying a box of pastries and bringing them home. Here you can keep ordering as many pastries as you want and every one of them will be as fresh as they can possibly be. Very dangerous. So we had to leave. As we do, more pineapple buns out in the self-serve pastries area (selling at $0.80 a piece) taunted me by calling my name. They also seemed to be singing Happy Birthday. I could not free them from their plastic prison, as there was no more room in my stomach. And why have a cold bun when you could sit down for a hot one?

cimg2642.jpg

Anyway, the story could have ended nicely here. But a few hours later, there was a birthday celebration at work. I thought it might be the usual cake-fare. Turns out there was no cake but a box of pineapple buns (complete with candles) that CT got from St. Germain. Before I could even take a picture, half the box was gone. Anyway, here are the buns and a cross section:

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Oh, I could not resist. So I had my third. I found St. Germain’s buns to have a slightly thicker crust, and heavier dough. They weren’t bad, but they did not quite measure up to Happy Date’s buns – the fairest comparison couldn’t be made as they have been sitting in a box and were thus no longer warm. They definitely tasted more commercial, which is to be expected since St Germain is one of the bigger chain-bakeries in town. Still, I have found their pastries to be overall decent in the past. And how could I resist, especially since it’s my birthday? By the end of that last bun I could have eaten a fourth, but somehow I managed to stop myself.

All in all, a very … uh… bun-derful birthday!

 

Happy Date Bakery and Restaurant (8135 Park Road, Richmond).

Saint Germain Bakery (various branches in Greater Vancouver).