Sunday, 31 March 2013

Hunting for Hot X BUN(nie)S.

The culinary palate at this time of year calls for two things: Chocolate (obviously) and Hot Cross Buns. Fearing an impossible task in trying to discover the best easter eggs and inspired by the glorious features of the Denizen I opted to hunt down and critique the BEST Hot Cross Buns Auckland had to offer.  
Let the hunt begin...

Using their leads, one sunny Friday morning I directed a stroll toward Newmarket via two possible contenders. Heart of Flavour is a boutique dessert and cake shop run by the talented duo Frank and Michelle. Gunning for the best first –(according to Denizen) I purchased a couple of their fresh and still warm buns to continue en route. The scent instantly filled me with joy and as a examined the buns’ sticky glaze spread over the signature white cross my mouth dribbled a little. Gems of dried fruit peeping out through the dough meant I indulged immediately. Bliss. Light and fluffy in texture, perfectly balanced between fruity and spicy but moreish and moist enough to chow down without butter or heating. Unsure how any other could come close I continued the search…
HBC Contestant # 1.

Next stop was the infamous Sabato Deli. The buns here are delivered fresh every morning from the award-winning Wild Wheat Bakery. Fellow foodie and I meandered around cleansing our palate and filling our intrigue with the latest and greatest olive oils, vinegars and chutneys. After ooing and aahing at every new product we made our purchase and prompt exit. With a darker colour tinge and slightly more dense texture we barely reached the end of the driveway before giving them a try. Slightly less sweet than the first, this one carried a strong citrus tone and although chewing required a tad more vigour it was a pleasure all the same. Vouching as slightly heavier on the spice sector I wandered home to devour them both hot. Both were delicious in their own right and mental notes were reserved for judging later.
Critical analysis underway.

The next two contenders were found on Dominion Road. Pandoro Panetteria has a series of retail bakery branches throughout Auckland and Wellington. Their bun was the most expensive of all purchases. But one taste-tester had it as her ultimate ‘fave’. I found this one to be particularly lemony and sweet with big chunks of zesty orange peel, it was relatively light but a pleasant texture all the same.

The contenders continued...
The second D-road purchase was from Nosh Food Market - the boutique supermarket who house the brand Loaf; Handcrafted breads created by Sean Armstrong. This little number was much darker on the colour palate, rather dense and almost cakey in texture. With its strong gingery undertones I likened it to a gingerbread loaf (fancy that) studded with raisins and currants. But the particular bun chosen by the Nosh cafĂ© staff was a crusty corner, nearing the stale scale. Putting it at a slight disadvantage from the get-go and meant it demanded to be consumed at home with its’ dear friends heat and butter. 
Chocolate vs. Original - battling it out at Tart Bakery.

After three failed attempts to taste-test Little and Friday’s version of the HCB. I resorted to finding another contender. My next entry was Tart Bakery a relatively new addition to the Grey Lynn suburb. As I watched the super-friendly, super-passionate lady at the counter sprinkle fresh white dust over a customers’ Raspberry Brioche I knew this would be a strong contender. Trays of both classic and chocolate Hot X Buns adorned the top of the cabinets and for research purposes I ordered one of each. The cheapest of the haul I headed home to taste test and both did not disappoint. The chocolate version was to be expected – sweet, sticky and delicious. Call me old-fashioned but it was only the spiced versions that had a shot in this race. Having the highest fruit ratio of all meant it upped the sweetness stakes, complemented by just a touch of spice all together it made for a pleasurable mouth experience (with the right amount of chew!). Extra points for the flavour and texture of their white cross.
Most fruit & best cross.

One final stop lead me to losing my Whoopie Pie virginity. And what better way than with an Easter Hot X Bun inspired version. Spiced, orange, fruity cake domes filled with orange buttercream and topped with a white chocolate cross of delight. Needless to say I enjoyed it very much. Although when a girl wants an HCB no matter how whoooop the pie might be. Simply nothing else will do. 
The Hot Cross Pie.

So the verdict…this is one of those horrible moments where no winner is announced and like the PC nation that we are we applaud everyone for their high-quality buns. Got ya! It is true though – all buns were tasty and enjoyable in their own right and most non-food-obsessed individuals would be happy as larry with any of these Hot Cross Buns. As long as they are served slightly warm with lashings of butter and jam. This festive treat is a winner for everyone. However…
The jury voted.

I have a winner in my mind – possibly skewed by a certain family connection, but I am not afraid to celebrate it…. Heart of Flavour wins my palate vote. The passion and pride in this business runs from the store name to every last crumb of cake. The perfect amount of class (the only entry served in a white cake box), flavour, texture, spice, sweetness, zest, balance, bready-ness and true to its traditional roots. I felt like the HCB had been individually crafted for my tastebuds, as opposed to being mass produced to feed any hungry mouth it lands in. I have my stash ordered for Easter and am looking forward to devouring this one all over again. Happy Easter everyone. X 
My winning Hearts of Flavour.
Note: Unfortunate circumstances meant that on my Easter Sunday I was deprived of consuming my winning buns of choice. Resorting to the trusty Te Puke Bakery, my point was proven that served with warm and buttered any Hot Cross Bun devoured on Easter will be satisfyingly delicious. 

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Partial to Pork Belly.

I have had this wee post planned for a while now and on the back of a fruitful, food-laden, Pork Belly included trip to Dunedin, it was time. Pork, get in my belly. Despite the influx of Mexican favourite Pulled Pork hitting the culinary world, least we forget this thick slab of gold. The infamous dish often epitomises fine-dining and can be found on the menu of most fancy eating establishments. It’s rich and indulgent, but pork belly perfection is not an easy task to master.

For your viewing pleasure c/o Nova Cafe, Dunedin. Circa - May 2012.

 The strangest yet most exciting version I have experienced was from the depths of the south, a quirky ski town, bustling with tourists and laden with wealthy locals - Wanaka. Boa-Boa Food Company is the latest and greatest addition to gourmet feasting in Wanaka. An upmarket takeaway designed to satisfy a hearty appetite to be enjoyed at home or by the lakeside. Owned by Leungo Lippe the uber talented Botswana-born Chef. After helping establish the highly acclaimed Botswana Butchery with restaurants in both Queenstown and Auckland - it seems whatever this man touches is guaranteed to taste good. 

Boa-Boa Food Company. Get here. It's Supreme.

 Add another two words to our old friend and you have yourself a mouthful from heaven. Pork Belly Spring Roll. A crisp golden cylinder, packed with delicate, juicy shards of pork immersed among shredded red cabbage, fresh mint, fragrant coriander and encased by a lightly fried (well deeply-fried) crunchy spring roll shell. I don’t think I even need to mention the sticky, sweet, umami soy-sesame emulsion that comes alongside to get you drooling. Incredible didn’t even cut it. With a Pork Belly Burger also on the menu made complete with jalapeno mayo I think its safe to say Boa Boa should be expecting to see my face again soon.

You know you want it.
An adventure with friends to find some sort of cheap and cheerful eatery in South Dunedin, led us to the fine-dining establishment at St Clair Beach; Pier 24. Without complaint and amongst frugal company, we were tactful with our choices and came away seriously satisfied with our $18 feast. Unanimous decisions were made and Pork Belly was selected. Despite eating one a mere 14 hours prior I was more than happy to oblige. This version had a strong Asian influence served on crushed new potatoes, a crunchy peanut slaw and finished with a sticky hoisin concoction. The picture says it all.

A plate of perfection c/o Pier 24.

The key to a good pork belly in my opinion is in the textural variation of each layer. Blistered, crunchy crackle – is a must. Chewy, rubbery skin just isn’t worth the mouth power. The final requirement is a higher meat to fat ratio. Obviously you need both but after all it is the protein you want to appreciate and not just a wad of fatty tissue. Get those things right and you have a hero. As we divided this piece into thirds, the bread knife managed to shred the delicately tender meat with ease. With that chewy char-grilled section on the bottom submerged in hoisin; my love for this juicy pig reached a whole new level.

Homemade greatness. Thanks Donald.
The final Pork Belly tail was a homemade version from my talented Barista of a friend. True to his ethnic roots – he is a right whizz in the kitchen. And his birthday celebrations consisted of some seriously succulent morsels. He kindly filled me in on his secret recipe of Chinese five-spice and salt and pepper. The Asian cuisine and pork belly are like Kiwi cuisine and hot chips. One is not complete without the other, so as imagined Mr Wong’s perfectly scorched, sizzled crackle, the slightest band of juicy fat atop the delicately moist meat were nothing far from exceptional.

Just so you never forget.

Despite attempting my own during last years Easter festivities, Little Miss Piggy is yet to conquer this sort after grub. Til then the pork shall remain on my fork. X
Note: I must mention my endeavour used Annabel Langbein’s technique where she cooks it in a milk and sage bath to ensure tenderness. I vouch for the method – but my other elements needed work. Hence lack of photo. Wish me luck.