Gerhard Jenne looks at American styles on both sides of the pond.
The spring sunshine has put everyone in an upbeat mood. Bakery and café owners with access to a sunny spot have been able to dust down the outdoor furniture and set it up to welcome sun-seeking customers.
One fabulous sun-kissed spot can be enjoyed outside the East London bakery Violet. Opened by Claire Ptak (also an author and food writer), on über-trendy Wilton Way, it provides a few small tables, but also benefits from some nearby public benches. The blossoms from surrounding trees and bushes help set an urban bucolic scene. It’s great for people-watching; Bugaboo-pushing mummies stop by for afternoon tea cakes, Rapha-clad cyclists barely get off their fixies to refuel on flat whites. I love it as a starting point for an urban walk that meanders via London Fields to the nearby Broadway market, where Violet also runs a stall on Saturdays. The whoopie cakes and dainty cupcakes are representative of Violet’s American-style baking and are hugely popular with the locals and foodie tourists that have made it off the beaten track to this East London outpost.
Instagram-able moments are also provided by the Meringue Girls. As their name suggests, the entire business is based on just one basic recipe, albeit in a wonderful array of colours, sometime even two-tone, and they are flavoured in seductive combinations, such as rosewater & pistachio or lemongrass & ginger. Nearby, a lady runs a stall offering everything gluten free baking, including some cute little mini doughnuts.
This brings me nicely to the second part of my New York bakery excursion. We went on several urban walks there, and one was specifically designed to hunt down some doughnut concepts. I really wanted to taste one of the famous Cronuts, developed by chef Dominique Ansel. The word ‘cronut’ has been registered as a trademark by Ansel, but sadly, by the time we had trekked to his Spring Street bakery, they had already sold out – and it was only 10:30am! This, apparently, is a regular occurrence and has led to queues forming before opening time. It’s obviously a killer product for them, but the businessman in me couldn’t quite understand why they don’t keep up with demand. The cronut sounds like a really delicious invention if only one could lay one’s hand on one.
In my opinion, a signature product should be given as much display space as possible and be promoted accordingly. There is the saying that 80% of your profits come from 20% of your products. It might, of course, vary slightly; in Konditor & Cook’s case a 70/30 rule applies, as our sponge cakes, brownies and Magic Cakes combined achieve just that, giving plenty of room to chop and change at the end, even though it is sometimes emotionally difficult.
I was impressed with another doughnut concept located in the Big Apple. Founded in 1994, Doughnut Plant New York City has a couple of branches and supplies Dean & Deluca. Its offer and branding is excellent, and you can find a lovely illustrated back story on its website. Its roots go back 100 years. This kind of heritage is priceless and sets it apart from other concepts.
Its best-selling doughnut is dipped in a Tres Leche coating. I fell for a glossy looking Crème Brûlée, a smaller, yeast-based one with creamy custard filling and dipped in brown caramel. There were about 20 others to choose from: holes, no holes, cake-based, yeast-based, dipped, filled, round and even square – doughnut heaven!
Like all the other bakeries visited, DPNYC also offered some none edible merchandize, from bags to aprons, travelling mugs to a range of branded clothing. Theirs was youthful and stylish and an excellent example of brand extension for a bakery. While I might not have been bowled over by the American baking in general, how even the smallest shop builds up their brand has been an interesting lesson.