Monday, November 23, 2015

Starbucks ... the Pastries!

Update Review, November 2015

Starbucks is known for many things, but quality pastries, even after the La Boulange integration, is not really it. Yet, as you may recall from my earlier review, I'm strangely fascinated by them. I know they aren't high quality. I know they arrive at Starbucks frozen. But ... I enjoy the scones, even though they leave me feeling totally gross.

So, I gambled, and tried another item. I moved out of the comfort zone of scones, past the quickbreads and cake pops I never liked, and zeroed in on the croissant style items. Regular croissants, chocolate croissants, morning buns, and cheese danishes were my options. And honestly, they all looked awful. Flat as pancakes, not flaky. But for some reason, I still went for it. And, just the scones, I'm glad I did. I don't get it.
Cheese Danish.
“A flaky pastry folded around reduced-fat cream cheese.”

It didn't remotely live up to the description of a “flaky pastry”, as the dough wasn’t remotely flaky nor laminated nor layered, but, it wasn’t awful. If you think of it more like a donut, it works. It had that slight cloying oiliness about a donut that makes your gut hurt a little just thinking about it, but it wasn’t too bad. And as long as you didn’t expect light, flaky croissant dough, it wasn’t offensive. Although, it was flat as a pancake.

The cheese filling was creamy, generous, and moist. Overall, truly not awful.

I got it to bring home, so at first I had it cold, so I can’t comment on how it transforms warmed up by their magic machine. Then I moved it to my own toaster oven, again, not a true reflection of how it would come served at Starbucks. My toasting wasn't a great move - the top got crispy, perhaps a bit flaky, but not really. The filling got creamier, which was nice, but, overall, it was the wrong move, and I actually liked it more cold.

Original Review, September 2014

I know Starbucks isn't novel to anyone.  I'm sure you've been there.  Most likely however, it has been for the drinks, which I've reviewed before.  Perhaps for a frappuccino, which I've also reviewed before.  Or, maybe for one of their famous seasonal offerings, which I've also reviewed.

But have you been to Starbucks for ... the food?  Yes, Starbucks isn't known for their food, but when they purchased La Boulange a while ago, they revamped all of the food offerings, trying to turn more into a "bakery".  Except, you know, a bakery where all the baked goods are mass produced in off-site baking centers and shipped to the stores.  When they first introduced the items to stores, they required that you have them warmed up.  You can read all about the reasons why ... but I don't recommend it if you ever want to eat any of these things.

Anyway, you know I've never really been impressed with the La Boulange bakeries themselves, nor their breakfast catering, so what chance did I have to like the even more mass produced items?  Little chance for sure, but you know me, curiosity finally got the best of me.  I can't resist baked goods.


Starbucks now carries only three scones, two are regular size creations from the new La Boulange line, but the tiny little vanilla scones still remain from their original lineup.  I have of course tried, and compared, all three.
Petit Vanilla Scone. $0.95.
"Our moist, fluffy petite scone is made with real vanilla beans and natural vanilla extract. It's a bite-sized treat that’s big on flavor."

Back when I commuted regularly, I rode a shuttle from the Civic Center Muni station.  On the very rare days that I wasn't frantically dashing to catch my bus, I'd hit up to Starbucks to grab a coffee, and sometimes, a treat.  I always went for the cute little petit vanilla scones.  I remember really liking them.

I recently ventured into Starbucks and wanted something sweet to accompany my drink.  I saw that even though most of the baked goods had been replaced by the La Boulange offerings, the petit vanilla scones remained untouched.  Yes!

Described as, "a moist, bite-sized scone flavored with natural vanilla extract and real vanilla beans."

The scone looked exactly the same as I remembered, and I see no indication online that the recipe has changed at all, but ... I didn't like it.  Maybe I changed.

First, it wasn't really a scone.  It was strangely soft and fluffy.  A scone shouldn't be a brick obviously, but it also shouldn't be a cake.  The flavor of the cake itself was completely boring.  It did have visible little black flecks, which I guess were vanilla bean, but I didn't taste vanilla.  At least it wasn't burnt?

On top was vanilla icing, very sweet.  Too sweet.

This scone offered nothing, other than its reasonable $0.95 price.  I sorta wish I hadn't tried it, and let it stay in my memory as the great treat it once was.
La Boulange Blueberry Scone.  $2.45.
"A traditional scone with blueberries, buttermilk and lemon."

After the disappointing vanilla scone, I decided to try one of the updated scones from La Boulange.  This was an interesting choice on my part, since I haven't really liked any baked goods from the real La Boulange bakeries, so why would I like the less fresh ones at Starbucks?

Answer: I really was craving a scone.

I also forgot that they heat up all of the La Boulange offerings, without asking.  I was planning to get it to go, and eat it later, but once it was warm, I had to try it right then.

I was amazed when I opened the bag, as the aroma coming out of it was pure blueberry.  It was incredible.

Because it was heated up, it was really moist, and not hard, like a scone normally is.  This threw me off a bit at first, it seemed far more like a cake or muffin than a scone really.  But once I tasted it, I stopped caring about the fact that it wasn't really a "scone".

While I didn't taste the lemon that was supposed to be there, the buttermilk was fantastic.  It had such a great tang to it.  The blueberries were fairly plump and moist, and added a lot of flavor, however, they weren't very well distributed throughout the scone, and many bites did not have any.  But the buttermilk really made it a winner.  I also appreciated the large sugar crystals on top for additional sweetness and crunch.  It was also well cooked, not burnt anywhere.

What would have made this really amazing would be some jam to spread on it.  One thing I always really appreciate at La Boulange is that they have housemade jams available at the condiment station to jazz up any of their offerings.  I can't imagine Starbucks incorporating this into their stores, but it really would work well with this scone.

$2.45 was a pretty standard price for a scone, and it was a large size.  I liked this far more than I ever expected to, and would actually get another.
La Boulange Cranberry Orange Scone. $2.45.
"A traditional scone with cranberries, orange zest and cranberry spread."

After the shocking success of the blueberry scone, on my next visit, I decided to branch out and try the other variety of La Boulange scone: cranberry orange.

In the case, it looked hard and not very appetizing, but, the blueberry one surprised me before, so I still tried this one.  This time, I was asked if I'd like it warmed up, and since I was planning to consume it right there I said yes.  Starbucks really has worked some magic with their heating machines, as it was handed over to me in what seemed like only 30 seconds, totally nice and warm.

It was also totally and completely gross, but in an almost ok sort of way.  Let me attempt to explain this one.

Since it was warmed up, it was very moist and doughy.  The center was almost raw even.  How was this possible, when moments earlier it was a solid lump?

It was loaded up with cranberries, which were very tart.  I'm not really sure why I even thought I'd like this, since I don't like tart cranberries. Mine didn't seem to have any of the cranberry spread in the description or photos from Starbucks, which I think is for the best, since I wasn't loving the cranberry.  It did also have a touch of orange to it, again, not something I really like, so I'm not sure why I choose this.

The scone was consistently cooked, no burnt or dried out edges, but the base flavor was quite boring.  No tang like the blueberry one.  It did have nice large sugar crystals on top for some crunch.

This thing was really quite fascinating.  The bottom and the sides were quite boring, not very flavorful, and kinda cakey, not at all what I think of as a scone.  The whole thing seemed not fresh and loaded with preservatives.  But that gooey inside was actually really addicting, even though it was sorta like raw muffin batter.  I devoured it.

And then, I felt ridiculously sick afterwards.  I can't say for sure it was the scone, but ... it sure seems like it.  I won't be getting another, gooey center or not!


Besides the scones, the rest of the La Boulange baked goods at Starbucks look really unappealing.  The muffins always look soggy.  The croissants and danishes look worse than what you see in a generic grocery store.  The rest of the "breakfast" menu is rounded out by a few coffee cakes and quickbreads.  The coffee cakes were turned into mini loafs, rather than slices, as part of the La Boulange re-vamp, which apparently has outraged fans of the old style.  The quickbreads, pumpkin or banana, remain slices.
Pumpkin Bread.
"A gently spiced bread with pumpkin flavors and pepitas."

I am never a fan of quickbreads, no mater where from, but Starbucks had samples out, trying to entice customers to give the new La Boulange items a chance.  Of course I had to try.

It was just a basic pumpkin bread, with crushed pumpkin seeds on the crust.  The pumpkin flavor was not very strong.  It was pretty dry.  It was however, very spiced.  Too spiced.  Too much nutmeg perhaps?  I did not like, and would never purchase.


And finally, my favorite category: desserts!  Not that Starbucks has a lot to offer here, just a couple cookies, a rice crispie treat, and pound cake.  Then again, I consider a majority of their "drinks" desserts anyway, so it isn't like it is hard to satisfy your sweet tooth at Starbucks.
Birthday Cake Pop.  $1.50.
Sometime in the past year or so, I had a cake pop that I really loved.  But for the life of me, I can't remember where it was from.  The most cake pops I've had have been from Sweet Lauren, but I haven't ever really liked those.  I really want to like cake pops though, as eating desserts on sticks just seems way too fun.  Let me know if you have recommendations for any!

Anyway, while I did research on Starbucks baked goods selection, I kept finding mentions of their cake pops.  People seemed to legitimately like them, which is more than I can say for most of their other food offerings.  In particularly people mentioned the chocolate ones, but I haven't been able to find those anywhere.

So I went for the one I could find, the "Birthday Cake Pop", described as "vanilla cake and icing, dipped in a pink chocolaty coating with white sprinkles."

It was a pretty standard cake pop.  The pink colored white chocolate shell was far too thick, resulting in one-note sweetness.  A little of this would have gone a long way, and it was exactly the type of white chocolate that gives white chocolate a bad rep, just so, so sweet.  I liked the crunch from the sprinkles it was dipped in, and wished there were more of them.

Inside was the cake, in classic cake-pop form, it had the icing mixed into the cake, creating a very dense, moist interior.  It wasn't particularly vanilla flavored.

So overall, not a winner, and far too sweet.  It would have probably paired nicely with a strong, bitter black coffee, but that isn't exactly what Starbucks is known for either.  If they added some actual vanilla flavor to the cake, thinned out the shell layer, and dunked it in more sprinkles, perhaps it would be a decent pick.  The idea is right, the execution just wasn't stellar.

$1.50 price was fine for the small treat.
Starbucks doesn't offer these anymore, but I tried one at some point.  I'm really not sure why.

This was totally unremarkable, although, I'm not sure what would make a good madeleine, they just aren't interesting in general.

It was fairly flavorless.  Kinda oily.  Obviously baked a long time ago, individually wrapped to last a while.  Meh.


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