Friday, June 23, 2017

belVita Breakfast Biscuits

I'm always on the lookout for tasty, easy, grab and go breakfasts.  Most days I get fabulous breakfasts at work, but when I'm travelling, or sometimes on weekends before heading to brunch, I just want something easy.

When I was in college I lived on Kellogg's Nutri-Grain bars, strawberry or apple cinnamon.  I think they are totally nasty now, I'm not sure why I was so into them then.  But I loved them.  I've also tried all sorts of other breakfast bars, many better than the Nutri-Grains, but none that I really want more of.  The "easy to grab breakfast bar that I like" slot has remained unfilled for a while.

I stumbled upon belVita while reading some reviews for something else.  Their products sounded intriguing: breakfast ... biscuits?  They proclaim to be "found in the cookie-cracker aisle".  Cookies, for breakfast?  Reviewers love them.  They are marketed as being a decent choice nutritionally, with a good amount of protein, whole grains, and not too much sugar.  Formulated to slowly release energy all morning long.  But, they are cookies (uh, biscuits), not bars made up of weird chemicals and soy protein isolate.  And they come in a variety of flavors: blueberry, apple cinnamon, cinnamon brown sugar, golden oat, and chocolate.

I had to seek these out, and I am quite glad I did.  They quickly turned into my favorite on-the-go breakfast item, and it seems I am not alone, as their product offerings expanded considerably since I first encountered them (and wrote this original post).

In the US, they now have four product lines, all featuring the breakfast biscuits, but in different styles: crunchy, soft, bite size, or even as sandwiches, with peanut butter or chocolate cream filling.  Yes, still considered healthy breakfast.

Internationally, they have also taken off, and I've found their products while traveling in the UK and in Australia.  Just like in the US, you can find them in nearly every convenience store, making for a very easy-to-grab breakfast on the go, precisely as marketed.

US Edition

Breakfast Biscuits / Crunch -> Crunchy

When belVita was introduced to the US, they had only one product line: breakfast biscuits. Now they have several, so the basic biscuits are now branded "belVita Crunch", and later "Crunchy" and they come in six flavors: golden oat, blueberry, apple cinnamon, cinnamon brown sugar, chocolate, and toasted coconut (er, in 2015 the apple cinnamon was replaced by cranberry orange). I never found the chocolate ones, but I tried the other varieties. All come 4 to a package.

I've tried many of these over the years, as they were the first product I was introduced to.
Blueberry Breakfast Biscuits.
"Our Blueberry crunchy Breakfast Biscuits are lightly sweet, crunchy biscuits made with high-quality and wholesome ingredients, like rolled oats and real blueberries."

For my first venture into belVita, I picked the blueberry flavor.  This somehow seemed the most breakfast-like.  I opened my package, not quite sure what to expect.  What was a breakfast biscuit, anyway?  The answer ... basically, a cookie.  But, in muffin flavors.  Thin, crispy-style.  Sorta a cross between a cookie and biscotti.  Normally, I really dislike crisp cookies and prefer soft ones, but in this case, it worked.

I've never had a blueberry cookie before though.  The blueberries made it "breakfast", but seemed strange in concept to have in a cookie.  The blueberries, while small dried bits, were incredibly flavorful.  I was shocked by the flavor.  They did indeed remind me a blueberry muffin!

Overall the  biscuits were sweet, but not too sweet.  And they went really well dunked in my cappuccino, just like a biscotti, since they were so thin and crispy.

Definitely an interesting product, and I'd have them again.

I gave Ojan a packet of these to try, since I know he likes blueberry muffins.  I had talked them up at this point, so I was worried I was over-selling.  He took a bite, and exclaimed, "That does taste like a blueberry muffin!"  He joyfully ate the whole package.  And then ordered another box.

Update: I've since had these plenty more times. I continue to love them. Seriously, cookie-biscotti-muffins!  The blueberry flavor is really incredible, and I stress, they go sooo perfectly dunked into a cappuccino   Love, love love these things.  And not just because I get to eat cookies for breakfast, although that is obviously a selling point!
Apple Cinnamon Breakfast Biscuits.
"Apple Cinnamon crunchy Breakfast Biscuits are baked with real cinnamon and the delicious taste of apples, making them the perfect way to start the morning right."

Given the success of the blueberry flavor, I finally decided to branch out and try another.  I wanted to try the cinnamon brown sugar, but I couldn't find them at any of my local stores.  So, I settled for my third choice, apple cinnamon.

Unlike the blueberry, there were not large chunks of fruit visible in the cookie. The aroma however, was clearly apple and cinnamon.  They smelt amazing!

The style was quite similar to the blueberry, a crispy cookie.  The flavor wasn't quite as intense as the blueberry, but there were little chunks of dried apple that added fun chew to a few bites, and the cinnamon was quite strong.  As a plain biscuit, I felt these were a bit lacking, but once I dunked them into my coffee, I again loved them.  Just like a biscotti, they soften up when dunked, and create such a great pairing.

I think they probably would be quite good covered in peanut butter as well, in the same way that I love apple slices covered in peanut butter.  I'll try that with my next package.

Overall, still a success, although I liked the blueberry more.

Update: I've continued to really enjoy these, dunked into coffee.  Or tea.  The apple cinnamon goes slightly better with a cup of tea than coffee.  The dunking is key, as it softens up the cookie a bit.  They are great for breakfast, but also perfect for afternoon snack.
Golden Oat.
"Golden Oat crunchy Breakfast Biscuits are simple, crunchy biscuits made from wholesome, fine ingredients like rolled oats."

I wanted to try even more flavors, but alas, the cinnamon brown sugar that I really want to try has remained elusive, and chocolate, while obviously something I like, just didn't sound that interesting.  So, I went for the very basic: golden oat.  It sounded the simplest, and least likely to succeed, but I wanted to give it a try anyway.

And, I'm glad I did.  Yes, they were simple, more like a plain graham cracker.  Well, a sweetened graham cracker.  Same crispy texture as the others.  Still not great if you just eat them plain, but magically transformed when dunked into coffee.

Since they were so plain, I also tried topping them with peanut butter and jelly, but that just masked their yummy flavor, and they weren't exactly dunkable like that.

Golden Oat was my least favorite flavor, but I still enjoyed them, and would gladly dunk some more.
Cranberry Orange.
"A little sweet, a little tangy, belVita Cranberry Orange Breakfast Biscuits are a delicious blend of cranberry and orange flavors that are sure to complement any balanced breakfast."

This is not a flavor I would have ever selected since I don't really like cranberry nor orange, but, a friend brought it to me so I could try more flavors (thanks!).

I was really shocked when I bit into the first one.  Yes, it was a regular crunchy, hearty, oaty belVita biscuit.  But it tasted exactly like Apple Jacks.  Or Fruit Loops?  One of those breakfast cereals I haven't had in years.  The flavor was uncanny.  The first bite in, I immediately was struck by, "uh, I know this!  It is sweet and fruity and tastes like it is covered in sugar".  It took a few more minutes, and bites, to narrow in on the taste, but, wow.  And no, it wasn't covered in sugar coating, so I have no idea where that was coming from.

If I tried hard I could distinguish cranberry and orange flavors, but really, this was just sweet fruity breakfast nostalgia.  Woah.

Soft Baked

Just when I thought I couldn't love belVita more, they introduced a new product line, in addition to the already existing biscuits: soft baked breakfast cookies!  The moment I heard about them, I eagerly sought them out.  Available in 4 regular flavors: cinnamon (discontinued), banana bread, oats & chocolate, banana peanut butter (discontinued, replaced with oats & peanut butter), and mixed berry with blueberries and raspberries and 2 higher protein flavors (blueberry almond and oats, honey & chocolate).
Soft Baked Oats & Chocolate.
"Our belVita Soft Baked Oats & Chocolate Breakfast Biscuits are not only a tasty morning treat, they’re also a nutritious way to start your day. Made with ingredients like rolled oats, rye and barley, we think we finally found a way to sneak chocolate into a wholesome breakfast!"

I brewed up a cup of coffee to pair with my treat, and excitedly opened my package.  I was expecting something sorta like a flat muffin perhaps, just based on the hard breakfast cookies, and the title soft baked.  I was a little disappointed when I opened the package.  It was soft compared to the regular breakfast biscuits yes, but it wasn't anything like a muffin.  And, as you can see, it had exactly three little bits of chocolate.  Upon closer examination, I saw that each of the three spots had 2-3 tiny chocolate chips.  But there weren't chips anywhere else in the bar.  Hmm.

Still, I knew the hard biscuits weren't much to look at either, so I still dug in.  I was pleasantly surprised.  It was basically a strangely shaped oatmeal cookie.  belVita did it again, serving me yet another cookie, and calling it breakfast.  If you like oatmeal cookies, you'll like this.  It also did taste sorta healthy.  Very hearty from all the oats and rye flakes.  They were sweetened, but in a way that didn't taste fake or too much, just a deep flavor from the molasses.  The bits of chocolate were a nice addition, and they were a quality semi-sweet chocolate, but honestly, just the oatmeal base would have been fine.

I'd really like to try these in just about any other flavor.  I think all of the flavors that they make the original breakfast biscuits in would work.  And that elusive mixed berry ... I must find it!

Highly recommend, for breakfast, or, even for a snack.  Pairs great with coffee.
Mixed Berry.
"Our belVita Soft Baked Mixed Berry Breakfast Biscuits are chewy and oh so delicious. Each wholesome biscuit is made with nutritious whole grains and tasty fruits like blueberries and raspberries."

When I first tried belVita Soft Bakes, I wasn't ever able to find the mixed berry flavor, and lamented about this on my blog.  A friend came to the rescue, showing up at my desk recently with several of the varieties I hadn't yet tried.

I'm glad he did.  I did make the mistake of throwing it my bag so it got a bit mushed, but it didn't matter.  It was really good.

It was soft, like the perfect soft baked oatmeal cookie.  It was sweet, such that I questioned if it was ok to have this for breakfast, when it seemed indulgent (in reality, 10 grams of sugar).  I loved the flavor bursts from the bits of dried berries (cranberries and blueberries).  It had a slightly gritty texture from the oats that I enjoyed.

I really enjoyed this, as a breakfast alongside my coffee, but it really reminded me of a fruit crisp, and I think I could be totally satisfied dunking it in whipped cream and pretending it was dessert.

Bites

Well, belVita has introduced another form factor for their breakfast biscuits: Bites!  Mini sized, crunchy like the originals.  Bites are available in only three varieties, mixed berry, chocolate, and cinnamon brown sugar.  These come packaged in individual bags.

These were the only product I wasn't quite able to figure out.
Chocolate.
"belVita Bites Chocolate Breakfast Biscuits offer a convenient way for you to get your four hours of nutritious, steady energy on the go."

I expected my bites to be mini compared to the full size regular biscuits, but, I wasn't expecting them to be this tiny!  They are about cereal sized, which is smaller than I expected, not really a "bite".  A handful created a "bite".  When I flipped the package over to see the serving size was 44 bites, well, that suddenly made sense.  

Once I got over my surprise at the size, it was time to dig in.  Crispy, crunchy, chocolate biscuits.  Slightly hearty healthy taste from the whole grains, nice tang, decent chocolate on the finish.  They almost reminded me of the cookie part of an Oreo.

They were good, but, I found myself wanting to do ... something with them.  So, thinking Oreo, I made tiny little cookie sandwiches with whipped cream in between two.  They were really too tiny for this, so then I just switched to dunking them in whipped cream, but I really wished I had frosting or icing (do you remember Dunkaroos?  Just like that!).

Then, thinking cereal, I put a few into a bowl of milk, let them soften a tiny bit, and ate them that way.  These methods were all fine, but still, it didn't feel right.  I could also imagine making a great crust out of them (a la graham crackers) or even something like rice crispy treats or ice cream toppings.  But just nibbling on them for breakfast wasn't quite right for me, even though I liked the flavor.

Nutritionally, these are exactly the same as a package of full size crunchy biscuits (230 calories, 8 grams fat, 4 grams protein, 19 grams whole grains, 4 grams fiber), so really, it just is a question of how you like to eat your biscuits.  Or maybe these are better for littler kids?  I might not be the target audience.

Sandwiches

In the US, belvita makes biscuit sandwiches in four tempting flavors: peanut butter, dark chocolate creme, strawberry yogurt cream, and vanilla yogurt cream.

Yes, they sound, and look, like cookies you should have for dessert, but are again, really are breakfast appropriate, in such a decadent, satisfying way.
Peanut Butter (Oops, I broke them).
"With a smooth creamy layer of peanut butter sandwiched between two wholesome breakfast biscuits, belVita Sandwich Peanut Butter Breakfast Biscuits offer a seriously delicious way to start your morning."

As a peanut butter lover, this was an easy pick.  What was not easy however, was protecting my biscuits in my bag.  Ooops.  Yes, this package was supposed to contain two sandwiches, aka, 4 biscuits stuffed with peanut butter, and instead contained a pile of rubble.  This is entirely my fault.  Don't just them.

Not that it mattered.  They were still delicious.  Same slightly sweet, slightly wholesome, crunchy biscuit-cookie on the outside, and a moderately thin layer of peanut butter inside.  The peanut butter wasn't as generous as I'd like, nor as creamy, but, for a healthy breakfast item, I can't really be upset that they didn't make them more indulgent.  These really can do double duty as a dessert, even like this.

The serving of 2 biscuit sandwiches is 230 calories and 4 grams of protein, just like a package of the original 4 biscuits, which seems a bit suspect to me.  4 biscuits plus some peanut butter should have different stats, shouldn't it?

UK & Australia Edition

Breakfast Biscuits

The UK and Australian product line also includes the hard style biscuits, but the flavors offered are different: chocolate, fruit & fibre (with figs), cranberry, honey & oat, crunchy oats, and milk & cereals.
Milk & Cereals.
"Biscuits made with wholegrain cereals, milk and added vitamins minerals."

It had been a while since I had belVita in the US when I had a package in London.  They also came 4 to a package, but I swear these were a different size, they seemed longer, and perhaps thinner?

I was intrigued by this flavor description.  How do you represent milk and cereal in a biscuit?  I figured they would be similar to the Golden Oat US variety, fairly plain.  The "cereals" used are wheat, oat, buckwheat, barley, rye, and spelt based, and there is both whole and skim milk powder as well.  And yes, indeed they add extra minerals, like magnesium and iron.

It is hard to describe what these tasted like.  They were slightly sweet.  Slightly buttery, although they don't include butter.  Again like a cookie, and crispy.  But there was a subtle nuttiness to them, which must have come from some combination of the grains in the cereal.

I anticipated that I'd want to slather them in peanut butter, but I found it unnecessary; the flavor was good enough on its own.  Like the american versions, they were also delicious when dunked into a foamy cappuccino.

I'm still a bit stumped by the entire concept of breakfast biscuits, but I love them every time!

Duo Crunch / Yogurt Crunch

The Duo Crunch / Yogurt Crunch line has not yet made it to the US, but in the UK and Australia, they make breakfast biscuits with a yogurt and fruit filling, almost like the sandwich cookies available in the US, but with healthier sounding fillings (the US breakfast sandwich cookies come with chocolate cream or peanut butter, not yogurt).

BelVita has long suggested pairing your breakfast cookies with yogurt and fruit, so, it only seems natural that they'd try to bake it all in to one easy to grab package.
 Strawberry & Live Yogurt.
"Biscuits Made with Wholegrain Cereals with a Live Yogurt Filling (13.5%) and a Strawberry Filling (13.5%) and Added Vitamins and Minerals."

Each package came with two sandwiches, so, 4 biscuits total.

The biscuits were the same standard BelVita biscuits, crunchy, slightly sweet, slightly healthy tasting, sorta like a graham cracker that doesn't crumble as easily.  A good base, but fairly plain.
Strawberry & Live Yogurt: Inside.
Inside was two lines of "live yogurt filling" and a line of strawberry filling.  Both were ... fine.  The yogurt was certainly sweetened and tasted a bit like the standard creme filling you'd find inside a sandwich cookie.  The strawberry was sweet goo, sorta identifiable as strawberry I guess.

Overall, these were perfectly fine, and went great dunked into a coffee, but they weren't nearly as exciting as I somehow thought they would be.  The fillings just didn't add much to the base product.
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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Cocktail Buns from Eastern Bakery


Eastern Bakery Visit.
Eastern Bakery is a Chinese bakery in Chinatown, that has been on my radar for a while.  I haven't actually explored much in Chinatown in San Francisco, but, whenever I visit Sydney, it is one of my favorite pastimes, specifically, for the baked goods.  I'm not sure why I never choose to do so in my own city.
Curb Appeal.
Eastern Bakery is located at the corner with an alleyway, marked by a big red sign advertising "Chinese & American Food".

The "American Food" part is particularly amusing to me, given that the american food selection seems to be limited to ice cream bars.
Store Front.
The front windows show an array of treats, and are covered in signs of all shapes, sizes, and colors.  You can tell that they were just added on one by one.  There are also some decorations, and, super randomly, a few water bottles?

Its kinda charming, actually.
Front Window Moon Cake Display.
One entire section in front is mostly moon cakes, split open to show you the different fillings they offer.
"The Only Bakery in USA Visited By President Clinton For its Mooncake!""The Best Quality Moon Cakes For The Least Of Your Money!"
They are clearly proud of these moon cakes, and they seem to be their signature item. Eastern Bakery offers 30 (!) different styles of moon cake, and ships them all across the US anytime.

However, I didn't try those.
Inside Display Cases.
"The best quality cake in town! Fresh whipped cream cakes and fresh fruit cakes."
Eastern Bakery also make a variety of cakes, about 20 kinds, all different flavors and fillings, round or sheet cakes, in multiple sizes.  But I haven't had those either.  Yelpers seem to love the coffee crunch cake.

There is also, kinda randomly, a freezer filled with ice cream novelties, like Nestlé DrumsticksIt's-Its, and Häagen-Daz, not Asian at all.

Their "other items" include cookies, sesame balls, egg custard tarts, puff pastry "cakes" filled with many different pastes (e.g. sweet lotus, sweet adzuki bean, winter melon, mung bean, etc), pies, dim sum items like steamed buns with filling (sweet and savory), and even Chinese tamales (sweet and savory).  And cocktail buns.
Classic Pink Box.
One day, I walked by the microkitchen at my office, to see a classic bakery pink box sitting out.  My pace increased.  Usually these boxes yield one thing: donuts.  When I reached the box though, I saw that it was not from a donut shop.  Instead, it was from Eastern Bakery.

Inside? Cocktail buns.
Cocktail Buns!
Cocktail buns were new to me.  I actually didn't know what they were, but, they are a Hong Kong creation, with a fun backstory.

Bear with me, this is interesting!  The story goes, that they were invented by a bakery as a way to use day old buns.  They would grind up day old buns, mix them with coconut and sugar, and then use those for a filling for fresh buns.  The "cocktail" name comes from it being like a bartender's mix of things.  Or, so they say.

Anyway.  This was my first cocktail bun.  And my second.  And my third,  They were fantastic.
Cocktail Bun: Side View.  $0.95 each or $10.10/12.
"Sweet coconut and cream filled bun. A customer favorite!"
"Delicious, sweet, rich-to-taste coconut cream filled bun."

I think whoever ordered these got a dozen, and they weren't fully separated. Here you can see the edge where it was baked on to its neighbor.  I separated one, and dug in, not really sure what I was eating, since I didn't have the description available.  They just kinda looked like strange shaped soft rolls.

The dough was soft and sweet, a pleasant surprise.  I love Chinese sweet bread, and was thrilled that this was indeed a dessert.
Cocktail Bun: Top View.
The top was lovely golden brown, shiny.  Not crispy, but slightly crusted.

Inside was the coconut filling.  I didn't know that this was even going to have a filling, much less what it would be made of, but I was happy it had something (although, I like Chinese sweet bread enough on its own that I probably would have been happy with it plain).

The filling I liked at first, but, actually decided was too much.  Maybe it was just the ratio of filling to bread?  Maybe it was because I had already had dessert and a lot of sugar that day?  The filling was sweetened shredded coconut, quite moist, basically like a really soft macaroon.  Or what almond croissant filling would be like if it were made from coconut instead of almonds.  This totally makes sense, right?

The description mentions cream, but I didn't notice any cream.

Overall, the filling was good, it complimented the sweet bread well, but I found myself actually wanting to just eat the sweet bread, and come back for the sweetened coconut filling later.  Which was perfectly fine with me.
Cocktail Bun: End Piece.
Since we had a big box full, we also had an end piece.  This one had the shinny crust all the way around the side, since it did not have one baked adjacent to it.

I really like the soft part of the dough, so I preferred the interior pieces.  This one however had less filling, so I liked that.

Eastern Bakery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Waffling Leftovers: Sticky Buns

Update Review, June 2017

By now, I know that waffling is a great way to "save" day (or more) old sticky buns, donuts, cinnamon sugar knots, or any other glazed sticky bread products. All staleness vanishes, and sticky glaze turns into excellent caramelization.
Sticky Bun Transformation.
So when I had another giant batch of sticky buns that really degraded quickly past their first day, I knew exactly what to do.
The Originals: Maple Pecan Sticky Buns.
The originals were fairly classic sticky buns, rolled with cinnamon sugar between the layers, a basic dough as the base, and sticky bottom side.

I had them at my office, and we had platters and platters of them. Suffice to say, there were tons leftover, and I grabbed some, thinking they'd hold up ok for another day, and I pondered making bread pudding from more.
The Original: Maple Pecan Sticky Buns (bottom).
Of course, sticky buns are all about their sticky side. The undersides of the buns were coated in a sweet, maple syrup based sticky sauce, with plenty of halves of pecans.
Day Old Leftover Sticky Bun.
After a day, they were dry and stale. These has zero shelf life. Even warmed up, they weren't good.

So I sliced one in half, and threw it, sticky side in, to my waffle iron at 350°.
Waffled Sticky Bun.
After about 5 minutes, the waffle transformation was complete.

The outside was crispy, the inside stayed moist, and the maple syrup coating turned into liquid that infused the whole thing, and then formed a slightly caramelized layer.

It extracted fairly easily from the iron, except that ... it split apart where the rolls were. I didn't really care though, and topped it with plenty of whipped cream. And dug in. I realized about halfway through that I forgot to take a photo of the completed "dish", but, I think you get the point.

These items are always a success, as long as you don't overcook. Highly recommended as a way to salvage 1-3 day old glazed bread products!

Original Review, September 2016

A few years ago, for Christmas brunch, my mom made incredible sticky buns, following a recipe from King Arthur Flour.  Since then, I request them literally every time I visit.  It is a given that I want them for Christmas brunch annually, but I'll also ask for them for a random breakfast when I visit in the summer, or for dessert even (because really, they *are* dessert!).  We've tweaked the recipe a few times over the years, trying different cinnamon fillings and ratios, and adjusting the cooking time slightly (I like them a bit under-baked, more soft and doughy inside, and the topping more gooey and sticky).  At this point, my mom has these sticky buns nailed, and they are a highlight of my visits.
Sticky Buns: Normal Version.
Anyway, I adore these sticky buns and they come out excellent nearly every time (there was one time when we baked them too long, and the topping turned into caramel brittle and the buns were kinda dried out ...).  Pictured above is how they normally look, with an amazing cinnamon sugar topping and tons of pecans bathed in the sticky topping.

A batch is fairly sizable, and not everyone in my family is as crazy about them as I am.  Which means, I generally end up responsible for eating ... 80% of the buns?  And, their shelf life isn't exactly long.

They are incredible hot and fresh out of the oven for a decadent breakfast.  They are pretty good later that day for a dessert, topped with whipped cream or ice cream.  They are acceptable the next morning, warmed, for breakfast again.  After the second afternoon though, I generally start to turn my nose up at them, and move on to whatever new baked good my mom's oven has produced (because, well, she knows I have a sweet tooth, and she keeps me very well fed!)
Sticky Buns: Not-risen.
So that is how things normally go.  Incredible sticky buns that I enjoy for about two days, and then move on.  But on my recent visit, things didn't quite go as expected.

My mom made up the dough in advance, knowing that is the time consuming part.  She stashed the dough in the freezer to pull out and easily make my sticky buns when I arrived.  On my first day there, she pulled it out and defrosted in the fridge.  She intended to surprise me the next morning with hot fresh sticky buns.  But ... she forgot.  And we had breakfast plans the day after that with my grandfather at 4 Aces Diner.  So, two days passed, and then she remembered the dough.  She pulled it out to make the buns on the third morning.  But ... they just didn't rise.  Was it from freezing?  Was it from being in the fridge for a few days?  We weren't sure.  But I still wanted my sticky buns, so, eventually, she put them in the oven, warning me that she could tell things weren't quite right.
Sad Sticky Bun: Not Risen, Way Too Much Topping.
And ... yeah, things weren't quite right.  The buns didn't rise, didn't get as fluffy and doughy as usual.  Instead they stayed fairly deflated.  The topping amount was too much, given the significantly reduced dough surface area.  So, what we had was kinda undercooked balls of dough, with way too much filling inside the folds and on top.  They looked horrible.

They tasted decent enough, but were crazy sweet, and totally not right for breakfast.  Warmed up later in the day with a huge scoop of ice cream to cut the sweetness, they made for a fantastic dessert (in my mind), but, no one else wanted to touch them.  They were going to throw them out.

I had another one after lunch the second day, warm with ice cream.  It was still pretty good.  I had one after dinner the second day, warm with ice cream.  Still a winner.  But, no one else wanted any.  I had an entire batch of sticky buns to eat myself (save for one that the others split the first day).

By day three, I decided to get creative.  Even a perfect version of the buns never holds up to day three.

I imagine you might know where this is headed.  What else would I do with a sad leftover that I desperately wanted to save?  Of course I waffled it, following my tradition of waffling all the things

So, Leftover Messed-Up-Sticky-Buns: Will It Waffle?  Yes!
Mid-Way Through Cooking.
I knew this idea had potential.  The cinnamon sugar coating would likely get crispy and actually caramelized when it came in contact with the hot irons.  The entire thing would hopefully cook a bit more and improve upon its under-baked state.

I threw the sticky bun in, unmodified, into a 350 degree waffle iron. (Of course, my mom has the same waffle iron I do, with adjustable temperatures, so, no modifications were needed to my technique).
Waffled Sticky Bun!
The result was certainly better than the original, but, I did accidentally leave it in a bit too long, as I was busy socializing with my family.  Rookie mistake!

The outside sugar and cinnamon did indeed turn more caramelized, into a crispy layer encasing the side of the bun.  It went a touch too dark though, so had a hint of burnt flavor to it.  The pecans on the outside sadly did burn, so I ended up scraping those off.

I think the dough did cook a bit more, but, really, it just mattered less because the whole thing was mushed down to be waffled, so the lack of rise wasn't as strange in this form.

I served the sticky bun with both whipped cream and ice cream, and preferred the whipped cream since I could dunk the crispy roll into it easier.

Overall, this was a success, and a great idea for what to do with future extra sticky buns, even ones that DO rise properly, after day two.
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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Thanon Khaosan Dessert Cart, Sydney

Update Review, Dec 2016

During my previous visit to Sydney, I found myself swinging by the thai dessert hawker out in front of Thanon Khaosan nearly every night.  It was the natural evolution of the previous year, where I stopped by Chat Thai nearly every night.  But on this more recent visit, I wasn't quite as ... crazy?  I visited Chat Thai for dessert only twice, Samosorn once, and Aqua S twice, all repeats from previous trips, along with a few new choices too.  So don't worry, I was going out to dessert, I just choose to have some variety this time around.

On my second to last night in Sydney, I realized I had failed to visit my hawker.  Partially because, well, it just wasn't ever that good, I just *wanted* to always love it.  I couldn't leave Sydney without trying it at least once though.  I just couldn't.

As on all my previous visits, I was overwhelmed by choice.  So many things.  Did I want a pudding?  I love puddings.  What about the crazy looking thing with corn?  Or the simple mango sticky rice, it was mango season after all ...

In the end, I impulsed shopped, and got another lackluster item.  Doh.
Taro ... Coconut ... Something.  $5.
I don't know what this was exactly.  I pointed at it, and asked if it was taro, guessing from the purple color.  The merchant said yes.  So I went for it.

I'm sure it was supposed to be "taro".  But the base, which I expected to be a real taro pudding, was just bright purple thick jello.  It didn't taste like taro.  It didn't taste like anything.  It wasn't sweet, it was just ... mush.  I do not think real taro was used here, which sorta makes sense, given the bright purple color.

On top was a thick layer of I think coconut custard/pudding/jello.  It was barely sweet, but was very salty.  Salty!  I know thai desserts often have salty components, but this was a surprise.

Overall, this was just not good.  I was in the mood for something sweet, which is why I wanted a thai dessert.  Many thai desserts are actually too sweet.  This, not sweet.  The salty component was nice, and I did scrape it off and eat it, but it was not what I was going for.  The flavorless purple jello mush however just wasn't good, and I couldn't finish it.

The $5 price seemed high, although it was a large slice.

Original Review, April 2016

As I've mentioned a few times now, Sydney has wonderful thai food.  We always make an effort to eat as much thai cuisine as possible when we are in town (like Sailor's Thai, Longrain, Muum Maam, Chat Thai, Home Thai, etc).  You may also recall that I'm a bit of a dessert fiend, and, in particular, I love trying new things.  Thai desserts, beyond the basic mango and sticky rice, are still totally fascinating to me.  A few Sydney trips back, I went to pick up a dessert from Chat Thai nearly every night.  That extreme novelty may have worn off, but, my desire to keep eating random thai desserts has not.

The Cart

Which led me to the dessert cart outside Thanon Khaosan.  Thanon Khaosan is a thai restaurant in Thai Town.  I haven't been to the restaurant, but, when wondering through Thai Town, it is pretty much impossible to not notice the dessert cart out front, piled high with just about every thai dessert imaginable.  As far as I understand, it isn't actually linked to the restaurant.
Hawker Cart.
I called it a cart, but, really, the display is built on a tuk tuk.  How cute!  The desserts are all laid out to grab, and are replenished quickly by the worker as soon as one is removed.

There is no seating, so this is a grab and go operation only.  My understanding is that even if you eat in the restaurant, you cannot grab a dessert to eat at your table.  Takeaway only.

It quickly became my place to swing by to grab a dessert on my way back to my hotel in the evening, like you do.
So. Many. Choices.
I'm not entirely sure how many different items are offered, but it must have been at least 20.  Treats abound, you just may have no idea what you are getting nor how much it will cost.  No items have prices, nothing is labeled.

Expect taro, pandan, sticky rice, tapioca, and lots of sweet coconut milk.  Maybe some mango, jackfruit, or durian too.  So many goodies.  All for <$5.

The Food

Taro, Glutinous Rice Balls, Coconut Milk Pudding. $5.
The first one I went for was a soupy pudding, with colorful balls inside.  I asked the shop keeper what it was, and she said "taro".  Clearly, there was more than taro here, but I love taro and I love puddings, so, this sounded great to me.

Ojan took the first bite and said, "Why is there a potato in here?"  Um, clearly he didn't know what to expect from taro?  There was no potato.

Anyway, inside our container was purple, yellow, and green glutinous rice balls.  They were soft and mushy, and, although pretty, I didn't really like them.  They had no flavor, and the texture just wasn't very great.  Why would I want those?

But there were also cubes of taro, also purple, but since I love taro, I really liked those. Nicely cooked, good starchy flavor, yum.

There were also a few shreds of fresh young coconut, which I really liked.

The broth was a sweet coconut milk, and it went really well with the taro.  But wow, it was sweet.  Sweetened condensed milk perhaps?

This was served at room temperature, or, I guess, street temperature, which was a bit unfortunate.  It would have been much better cold.

Overall, not a huge success, but, I still ate all the taro, slurped up all the coconut milk, and walked away with quite a sugar high, so, that was a success to me.  This dessert was similar to the desserts from Chat Thai.
Green Tapioca with Corn and Cream. $5.
Next came another pudding-ish concoction, again in a clear plastic container.  When asked what this was, the shop keeper said "tapioca".  Not so great with the descriptions.  Again, I like tapioca, so, sure.

The tapioca was green (pandan perhaps?), tiny little balls, all mushed together thick.  Not a pudding really, just, a fairly solid mass of green tapioca balls.  Hmmm.

Oh, and there were corn kernels in there too.  The first time I had corn in a dessert I thought it was strange, but, it wasn't too strange to me at this point.  The sweet corn was a nice texture contrast with the tapioca.

On top was a thick cream, I assume coconut although it didn't taste particularly coconuty.

Overall, this wasn't very sweet, and it wasn't creamy, so, not a winner for me.
Black Rice with Longan and Coconut Milk. $5.
Next I went for another one with lots of sweet milk on top.  This was ... pretty good.

The rice was nicely cooked, some a bit all dente, but none soggy.  There seemed to be a mix of two types of black rice (or maybe only some of it was hulled?)

Along with the rice were some pieces of longan, cut in half, and there were probably about 5 of them total.

On top was a sweet coconut milk, similar to the sweet milk from the first one, although it didn't seem quite as sweet to me this time.  Perhaps the rice helped balance it more though, since it had a heartiness to it that the glutinous balls did not?

Overall, I liked it.  The rice was good, the textures were good, I liked the creamy sweet milk on top.  It was quite comforting and tasty.  But, I did want something more mixed in to the rice.  Amusingly, I found myself wanting ... corn in it.  Or just something to add some variety.  That said, I had absolutely no problem finishing it, which was a bit ridiculous, as it was a full pint of sweetness.

A few days later though, I had the version from Chat Thai again, and realized just how much better it was.  I did like the rice in this one more, but, the Chat Thai version has taro cubes, corn, and other goodies in it to break up the consistency, and the sweetened condensed milk on top is also salty, which greatly adds to the depth of flavor.
Coconut Cake?
And finally,  one that was not a pudding.  This was picked by a co-worker of mine.

When asked what it was, she told us, "Custard Cake".  I think it was coconut?

This item was not sweet at all, and the texture somewhat reminded me of the persian chick pea cakes that Ojan's family sometimes has.

This was far too savory for me to even consider a dessert and I did not like it.
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Monday, June 19, 2017

Koi Palace Express, SFO

While I do a fair amount of airport dining, I don't usually dine at the San Francisco airport, particularly landside (not sure I've EVER done this actually), as it is my home base, and I usually just head home for food once I arrive.  But on a recent flight I was delayed taking off in Boston, and by the time I arrived in San Francisco, it was dinner time, and I didn't have anything waiting at home.  It seemed easier to just get a bite at the airport.

I was in the International Terminal, which has two landside food courts (North and South).  I actually almost went to Wendy's, as I haven't had Wendy's since I was in high school, and fondly remember my order of Biggie Fries, Small Chili with Cheese, and a Junior Vanilla Frosty (each from the $1 menu at the time).  But the International Terminal has been trying to bring in better options, and more local offerings, so I needed to check those out.

I headed to Koi Palace Express, an offshoot of the popular Koi Palace in Daly City.  They also have a second Express location airside in the International Terminal.

It ... was mediocre, generic food court food, and served at airport prices.  Not recommended.
Hot Wok Table, Dim Sum, Sushi.
The majority of the offerings were served from a steam table, as combo meals or individual entree, like any other generic Chinese food court offering, with items such as orange chicken, kung pao chicken, mapo tofu, etc, served with fried rice or lo mein.

They also had dim sum items available, again pre-made, on display in steamer baskets, including har gaw, pork bao, sui main, and sesame balls.  , They do make xia long bao to order.  The menu also listed other cook-to-order noodle dishes and rices, but they didn't have descriptions, and I never saw anyone order these.

The cold case had pre-made sushi rolls, seaweed salad, mango pudding, and drinks.

I'll admit, I was skeptical, as this looked like any food court asian offering, and really nothing like Koi Palace.  Do they even have sushi normally?
BBQ Pork Bao. $6.50.
After my long flight, what sounded good to me was simple, comforting, fluffy carbs.  So I got the BBQ Pork Bao, served 2 to an order for $6.50.  Ooph.  Not exactly dim sum prices.
Pork Bao: Inside.
The bun was good, soft, not dried out, not slimy, slightly sweet, very fluffy.  It tasted reasonably fresh.

But I didn't like the filling.  I was expecting BBQ pork, you know, little bits of pork in a strangely red sauce.  This was more like minced pork with onions?  The flavor just wasn't at all what I wanted.

Since I didn't care for the filling, I didn't really want these, even though I thought the dough was well done.  Would not get again.
Soy Sauce Chow Mein. $4.25.
My travel companion also sought simple comfort food, and for him, this was chow mein.  While most folks got this as the side to their combo meals, he went just for a side of the noodles.

The noodles were served from the steam tray, but were decent.  Basic noodles, not mushy, simple soy sauce flavoring, a few bits of green onion.  I thought this was really boring, but he seemed to enjoy, and they were good for what they were.
Mango Pudding. $6.50.
Finally, I wanted a sweet treat.

I was going to get the sesame balls or egg tarts, but, they really looked like they had been sitting there for far too long, so I opted for the mango pudding from the fridge instead.  Plus, I love pudding of all types.

It was thick and gelatinous, more like jello than what I think of as pudding.  It had some little bits of mango that I enjoyed, but was very, very sweet.

Overall, it was fine, but, I really wanted coconut milk, whipped cream, or something to compliment the otherwise boring pudding, so I brought it home, and added coconut whipped cream.  I enjoyed it much more this way.
Koi Palace Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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