I had a plan.
I would visit every bakery in town, ranking them from first to worst based on flavour, freshness, originality and possibly even (ugh) mouthfeel.
The plan failed.
You see, around the time I was getting ready to Justin McElroy the bakeries, I baked a cake. I mean, I tried to bake a cake. This is a picture of the cake.
Somehow it is overbaked and underbaked. It is falling apart. It is clinging together.
A San Andreas-like fault line splintered it, carving a border between the segment of the cake that wanted to leave the pan and the fringe group determined to stay at all costs.
As I write this there’s still one piece of my buttercream-topped culinary crime hiding in the recesses of my refrigerator. I don’t think anyone will eat it but, in the event that someone wants to play Clue, it might double as the blunt object murder weapon.
So, how dare I judge someone else’s baking?
I can’t. I won’t. Instead, we’ll use this section to celebrate what every bakery in town does best, starting at Henderson Place.
A mall is generally a horrible place to go. Sedate and somehow still stressful, a mall has a way of sapping your soul while emptying your wallet. However, sometimes they have BBQ pork buns.
On a grey, cold day in May I hopped off the SkyTrain at Lincoln Station and headed to Henderson Place mall.
On the main floor, right next to Jojo’s Candies, there’s a bakery that feels more like a record shop.
Maxim’s Bakery has a whole range of goods from savoury meat-buns (very tasty) to cream horns (best avoided) all wrapped in plastic in bins you can sort through. “This might be good.” “I preferred their early work.” All the while, however, you know the best stuff is at the counter. That’s where they keep the cake.
If the sun ever decides to make a comeback, Maxim’s Bakery might be my go-to spot for summer cake.
Boasting flawless layers, the Vanilla and Mango cakes are nice and light with gentle flavours.
Also, the BBQ pork bun was a much needed bit of warmth for a very reasonable price.
The best thing I tried, however, was the coffee cake.
It’s still a nice light cake, but with a lovely punch of coffee flavour offset by a good piece of kiwi. It’s the rare cake you can have with breakfast. (Not that you have to, but you could.)
Silver medal: The Coconut Cream Bun is fantastic. Sharp coconut paired with a ribbon of smooth cream. Delightful.
Olivier’s La Boulangerie
Here’s the bitter truth: Almonds are overrated.
In the nut Olympics, almonds are, at best, a bronze medalist behind walnuts and pecans.
At least, that’s what I thought until I took a trip down King Edward Street to the (perhaps massively expanding) Fraser Mills neighbourhood. That’s where I found Olivier’s La Boulangerie (also known as Olivier’s Breads), and a new perspective on nuts.
Olivier’s is a charming shop with friendly staff and a whole lot on offer.
The lemon cookies are bright and tart.
The inside of the Chocolatine vaguely resembles a network of caves with bits of delicious chocolate hidden throughout like lost treasure. You could probably eat the Chocolatine and then go play racquetball. (I wouldn’t. But you could.)
However, the best thing I tried, much to my surprise, was the almond croissant.
While the scent reminded me of the bitter fate of unrequited love* the flavour was a delight.
Filling but not overwhelming, the almond croissants are perfectly baked with just a bit of sweetness poking through the savoury flavour like a daffodil breaking through brick. The croissant is like a handheld cure for crankiness. (Don’t worry, effects are temporary.)
Well done, almond croissant. And congratulations on your gold medal.
*Editor’s note: That was Gabriel Garcia Marquez, not me. Apologies.
Casa del Pane Bakery and Deli
Newport Village has the desperate charm of a hotel concierge facing a performance review. It really wants to be liked.
Besides the uniform canopies and matching brick, there are delightful, only-in-Port Moody shops like Olive the Best, See More Optical, Unmediocre Store, and Fresh Slice Pizza.
At the centre of it all, sharing a building with Kin’s Farm Market, is Casa del Pane. It’s a pleasure just to walk in. Not only do you get to take a number (just like a real deli) you can stand at the counter and see into the kitchen where the bakers somehow get the Mocha Delights to the display case.
The Mocha Delight is a bit like most people these days: barely holding it together. One rough touch and it comes apart like the Canucks’ play-off hopes. Tasty and not overly sweet, the Mocha Delight is lovely with a cup of coffee.
However, the best thing I tried was the Cinnamon Sugar donut. It’s like those little donuts you get at the PNE but not the way they really are . . . the way you remember them. The Cinnamon Sugar is all warm and soft and so nicely spiced you can almost hear the roller coasters.
- The Raspberry Filled donut is more jelly than donut, which is exactly as it should be. This was almost the best thing I tried.
- The Sea Salt Caramel cookie is as salty as a whaling vessel with chocolate and caramel wrapped around perfect shortbread
- The Limoncello Bomboloni is tasty but not quite the face-puckering boozy lemon infusion I was hoping for. Maybe that says more about me than the bomboloni.
- The Apple Fritter looks like it’s come through an ice age coated with glacial frosting, but rather than succumbing to the cold, it’s been preserved by it, allowing you to crunch your way into the land of apples: Apple-achia. (Hmm, once again I think I’ve gone too far.)
Cakes n Sweets
Cakes n Sweets is a small shop wedged into the corner of Creekside Village next to the dialysis unit but my friends, this is the place for chocolate lovers.
As rich as a robber baron, the Mini Chocolate Ganache cake is packed with enough chocolate per square inch to confound an Oompa Loompa. It’s a mix of light and dark, of fudgy and chewy, of chocolate layers topped with crunchy chocolate baubles.
The Mini Vanilla Cheesecake is smooth and silky with a delicate, tasty crust that breaks with the slightest pressure.
However, the best thing I tried was the scone. Yes, the scone. (I know, I’m as surprised as you are.)
The plain buttermilk scone is unbelievably good. It looks fine but it’s so much better than it looks.
Like most any food you can hold with one hand, it’s better with coffee. However – and I may never say this again – the Cakes n Sweets scone doesn’t need coffee. It doesn’t need tea, jam or jelly. In fact, any adornment risks diminishment.
For years, the scone community has been split into Soft and Crunchy factions.
The Cakes n Sweets buttermilk scone is delicate and substantial with a thin, perfect crunch. This is the one baked good that could bring balance to the force and peace to Larry David and Mocha Joe.
The blueberry lemon scone was also really great.
Located on Clarke Street, Cascadia is an ideal stop for a quick snack or a walking breakfast.
The cream scone was like a stereotypical English Governess – harsh on the outside but with a surprisingly sweet interior. Perfect with a bit of marmalade and a cup of tea.
However, the best thing I tried was the rhubarb snail. An outstanding crunch with a generous amount of rhubarb, giving the snail a lovely, balanced sweet-tart taste. Highly recommended.
Gabi & Jules
Disclosure: Gabi & Jules have previously advertised with the Dispatch.
Yes, Gabi & Jules has pies.
And Serena Williams has a decent serve and Daniel Day Lewis is not so bad at acting.
But what else do they have to offer? Being the public-minded, investigative, sort, we decided to find out.
Crostata, Cake, and the case they couldn’t crack
The Strawberry-and-Cream Crostata and the Carrot Cake could star in a buddy cop movie
The carrot cake is soft and light. The crostata is hard and hefty.
The carrot cake is an open book: carrot on the outside and the inside.
The crostata has a tough crust that tries to keep you away from its delicate interior.
The carrot cake is meant to be shared. The crostata is a meal unto itself, it doesn’t need a partner, all it needs is for the chief to get off his back so he can solve the case . . .
Ahem. I feel I’ve carried the buddy cop idea to its breaking point and then some.
Anyway, they’re both very tasty. However, the best thing I tried (non-pie division), is, believe it or not, is the humble brownie.
It’s nothing fancy but it’s everything you could want in a brownie. Light and rich and packed with more chocolate than a pillow case on Halloween.
(Some of you may have noticed a cupcake in the photo. However, I believe someone in my family ate it and did not offer me a taste. All suspects have denied wrongdoing.)
Mundy Park Bakery
It’s the charming bakery nestled in an un-charming parking lot off Como Lake Avenue in Coquitlam. (It’s the only spot where you can get your taxes done, your spine adjusted, your hair cut, your dry cleaning dropped off and your natural pet food picked up. There is also a Starbucks.)
The place is piled high with sweet and savoury fare from fresh bread to cream puffs.
Utilizing Tardis-like engineering, the puff seems bigger on the inside, allowing for maximum cream. There are no real twists or surprises here. The cream puff looks like what it is, and it tastes exactly like it looks.
The dulce de leche éclair is a lovely arrangement with a snap of chocolate on top and a layer of sweet custard hiding under the cream filling. (There’s plenty of cream at this place.)
However, the best thing I tried was the lemon Danish.
The silent pastry:
As soft as an REO Speedwagon album and as tart as your favourite aunt after a glass of wine, the Danish offers a nice amount of filling under lines of sweet frosting. The pastry doesn’t make a sound when you bite into it. As quiet as falling snow, the Mundy Park Danish is the rare dessert that can be enjoyed by mimes and non-mimes alike.
You can tear into this one without violating the library’s whisper rule or waking up your spouse. (Editor’s note: The Dispatch does not advocate eating in libraries or in bed even while reading a good book.)
Lastly, if you’re having company, the raspberry coffee ring is a delightful pull-apart treat to share.