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And so it starts … Hot cross bun tour 2009

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So many hot cross buns. So little Lent … only 40 days (officially 44)

I started with two favorites from previous years
- Hopkins Street Bakery
- Virginia Bakery

HOPKINS STREET BAKERY
2 for $1.50 or 85 cents each.

The new owners changed it and it loses its number one ranking and drops currently to fourth place. It is still a fine bun. However it is bordering on a good raisin bun. The assertive cardamom spicing saves it from that though. My mouth is still pleasantly cardamom flavored a while after eating the bun.

There are just whole raisins, golden and black. The amount of raisin is just right though. No citron or candied fruit. The soft texture is nice and it is pleasantly yeasty

They do make one swell hamantaschen to switch to another religious pastry

VIRGINIA BAKERY

$1
Better than 2008 but not as good as a few years back.

Two types of crosses - lemon and custard. Light white sugar glaze.

The bun was more like a soft Danish There was less citron and candied fruit and it was finely chopped which is a great improvement. .

The custard cross while tasty, had A LOT of egg yolk in it turning it an alarming color like the blocks of medium cheddar cheese at supermarkets.. Lemon was fine

THE PERFECT HOT CROSS BUN

Over the years I’ve mellowed in terms of requirements.

In the past, I had standards … white icing cross, generous raisins, restrained candied fruit, not spiced with cloves.

The heck with it … some of the best buns didn’t meet those standards

Given how the buns seem to change over the years, I’d appreciate any current sightings and recommendations. I would however, be reluctant to try some of the buns at the bottom of my list though without multiple thumbs up reports.

Emporio Rulli is an exception because one year it was perfection and then dive-bombed to the bottom. I keep hoping the original returns.

Which is why I torture myself every year with Boudin which once had the perfect bun and then seemed to do the impossible by making them worse each year. Just when I think they hit an all-time low they dig the pit deeper. Maybe … maybe … someday they will see the error of their ways and return that perfect bun.

List of hot cross buns I have tried
http://www.chow.com/lists/1138

List of hot cross buns to be tried or re-tried
http://www.chow.com/lists/1245

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  1. Do you think you'll try to visit the much recommended places that you didn't make it to in the past couple of years? Destination is what comes to mind.

    7 Replies
    1. re: Atomica

      Yes. That is one of my prime targets. I might have a little more time to fool with my crawl this year and I'm really going to make it a ... uh ... destination.

      1. re: Atomica

        Yeah, finally made it a destination. Someone else ... maybe you? ... described it perfectly ...

        " ... about three inches across. Studded with raisins, it has a real taste of citrus zest, and in fact, you can see tiny flecks of orange zest in the dough. Topped with a nice vanilla icing cross, it's quite delicious. To make it perfect, I would wish for a slightly lighter, yeastier dough" ,

        The icing cross in very generous and it seems also to have some orange flavoring to it, as well.There is no other spice or flavoring other than orange. I agree that the roll is slightly off and this comes as close to being a raisin bun as possible without crossing over the line. If the bun was closer to a real hot cross bun and there were a few less raisins ... as pleasant as they are ... this orange based bun would be pretty steller, the orange zest probably being more appealing to people who don't like other candied fruit.

        This is currently in no 11 place, just above Emporio Rulli. Not because it is not tasty, but because it strays too much into raisin roll territory.

        I went in the afternoon and after 2pm Destination Bakery has a special of 2 breakfast pastries for the price of one. At 2:30 there were still quite a few hot cross buns left.

        Cant's say how much they were as I also bought an apricot hamantaschen to be ecumenical in my baked goods eating. It is not part of the 2 for one deal. My total tab was $3.15.

        This was really nice. I had an excellent hamantaschen recently at Virginia Bakery in Berkeley and was thinking that was better, but I got more and more into this. It is a more elegant version and that apricot filling is just swell.

        1. re: rworange

          The Destination hot cross almost remind me of Sticky Buns at first glance, which is what that bakery was known for before it became what it is now. I wasn't impressed with their chocolate chip cookie, but I'm intrigued by your hamataschen report. If I recall, your preference was for a harder well done cookie with hamantaschen right?

          Also, this is not a recommendation so much as just a Hot Cross sighting to report, but I spotted some promising looking ones only just yesterday that caught my eye, at West Portal Bakery. Once in a while they make a few things that stand out, but by and large most of their goods are odd. If for some strange reason you find yourself out in that part of town, it's worth taking a look.

          1. re: sugartoof

            Just tried Arizmendi's hot cross bun this morning. (They will have it today and this weekend).

            I've also tried Acme, Destination, West Portal' Bakery's version this year.

            Acme I could eat every day, a good breakfast bread, but I think Destination is more what I expect from a hot cross bun, and I like it. The icing makes it special. I don't remember Acme's having any icing.

            My husband and I both did not like West Portal's compared to the others --- dry. Ok, wasn't terrible, but Destination and Acme were better.

            Arizmendi -- ok too. But here's what I'm getting. I love Arizmendi's products, but now I see that their special seasonal items are very similar! ie. Pan De Muerto, King Cake, and not hot cross buns... all have a very similar yeasty dough with fruity elements. I like them all fine but I don't think they go for what they are supposed to be like. The King Cake was too yeasty for what I expected (King Cakes in NO are really more like cake, or drier, or pastry.) Arizmendi's is definitely higher quality, don't get me wrong, than the typical King Cake I've had in NO (like a danish), but it's seems to be Arizmendi's standard special dough.

            I also wasn't crazy about the prune or dates in the King Cake.

            The hot cross bun at Arizmendi is a good size, like a hamburger bun size, and as icing or cross, I think it's a pear slice, moist. The fruit is mized in well with the dough, almost not discernible.

            I love easter!!

            1. re: rln

              Has Acme changed? It was really a raisin bun and they didn't even call it a hot cross bun. They called it a not cross bun. Yeah, I love Easter food too ... although I feel slighlty guilty looking forward to Lent.

              1. re: rworange

                It is a not cross bun, but it also has candied peel in it in addition to currants. No frosting, no glaze.

                1. re: wally

                  Yeah, like a raisin bun.

                  I have a new favorite - had Downtown Bakery's from Healdsburg version at the Ferry Building this weekend. For me, all my preferred elements. Icing, moist but not overly wet/yeasty, distint fruit parts.

      2. Are there any hot cross buns in Marin? There seems to be a dearth of nice bakeries in our county.

        4 Replies
        1. re: Sharuf

          Emporio Rulli, Sweet Things, Boulange have them.

          I want to check out Fat Angel to see if they have them. IIRC, one of the vendors at the Sunday Farmers market carries them.

          I was almost going to Marin yesterday when I got sidetracked by Fonda's $9 brunch so went to Temescal Market where no one was carrying them with Feel Good acting like they never heard of such a thing though they carried them last year from what I read. I don't get too hopeful until the week before Easter. Everything before that is just a bonus.

          One year I did see them at Mollie Stone but read the ingredient list and ... ick.

          1. re: rworange

            I bought one from Feel Good last night ($2.75). It's made from some kind of non-white flour and had very little fruit -- just a couple of specks of raisin. The orange-flavored glaze over the top was augmented by a faint icing cross (brushed rather than piped). It was surprisingly tasty -- given the lack of fruit -- but not what you're looking for.

            The HCB at the Boniere is much more traditional, but had a yellow (lemon, I think) cross, not a white one.

            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              I like the Feel Good bun last year, though it was not traditional. It had the expected Feel Good chewiness and a nice flavor.

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                Thanks !!!. I tried twice to get the HCB at Feel Good at Temescal but they only sell it at the bakery. I keep meaning to get over to Alameda to check out those two bakeries Easter or not.

                A few more I tried, the mention of specks of raisin reminded me of ...

                Fat Angel (Fairfax)
                This had a pleaseant bun but only specks of raisins. The white Icing cross looked thin, but was tasty and was one of the best. It made me think that is why bakeries that have custard or other types of crosses ... thank heavens pineapple seems to be less popular these days ... why those often include a glaze. It is to get that white icing cross taste.

                No spice. What was interesting about this was I thought I could be detecting a faint rye background taste. Miette, as much as I hated that bun, had a rye-based bun which I think is done in Ireland. If they are using rye at Fat Angel, they are doing it right. It doesn't overwhelm the taste and gives it an interesting note.

                A Great Harvest Bread Co. (Oakland)

                White cross, but it was more like buttercream, sort of messy. This is one of those variiations I like, cross aside. Excellent soft yeasty bun. I didn't realize until I got home that they make both a honey wheat and honey white. I'm guessing I got the honey white version.

                What elevated this bun is the fruit in it. Real pieces of orange peel, dried cranberries, choppewd white raisins, whole black raisins. The fruit was just about right, not too much or too little. Not traditional, but good.

                They also make a hot cross bread, about the size of a large round of bread. Cute, cute honey bunny bread shapped like bunnies and made out of their honey wheat bread.

                Will rank these later as it is the final day for me and I've got a few places to stop

                Places that definately don't carry HCB - Brioche Bakery and Katrina Rozelle.

                Places that were sold out and will have to wait till next year, Fioreli (Sonoma), Della Fratoria (Petaluma), Actually, DF dumped the batch on the day I stopped by. They thought they didn't come out right.

          2. If you get up to Healdsburg, I love the buns at the Downtown Bakery, even though I am not as knowledgeable as you obviously are. When I lived in H-burg, I used to beg Kathleen to keep them all year long as they were the perfect breakfast, not too sweet, very satisfying. She claimed that I appreciated them more when they only came once a year. I'm still not convinced!

            1. Maybe I read it too fast, but I didn't see John Campbell Bakery (the Irish place way out on Geary) on either list.

              They got 'em and I think they're pretty good...

              1. Has anyone had any good buns farther down on the Peninsula (around Menlo Park)? I thought I'd be surrounded by great food when I moved up here, but this part of the Bay Area seems to be lacking. Would love to try a good hot cross bun, but may not make it to one of the other bakeries during their seasonal run.

                2 Replies
                1. re: emily

                  Draeger's had a postivie mention in previous years. Also someone liked The Cakery. Descriptions and a few places to avoid in my 'to try' list

                  1. re: emily

                    To answer my own question, Mayfield Bakery's hot cross bun was great. I'm disappointed I only bought one. It was moist, slightly sweet, with candied orange and a white icing cross. Nicely spiced, too. Better than the ones I've made at home. I was told they'd have more tomorrow.

                  2. I had Sweet Adeline's HCB yesterday, and it lived up to your description in your tried buns list. Moist but not overly soft, with a well-developed crumb; just a little sweet; great flavor in the bits of fruit, and subtle cardamom spice.

                    I also tried their large, soft ginger cookie for the first time. Mine was a bit hard around the edges, and while it was buttery and its ginger flavor was reasonably good, I would have liked more spice and less sweet. I'll stick with the gingerbread, one of the best things there - very dark and gingery, and very moist.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                      The bun sounds yummy, thanks for the report. Addling link.

                      -----
                      Sweet Adeline
                      3350 Adeline St, Berkeley, CA

                    2. I noticed hot cross buns at Costeaux french bakery in Healdsburg on Saturday.

                      1. Danilo Bakery in SF leaps to the number 2 spot. If they had a white icing cross instead of custard, they would be an uncontested #1 for my tastes. This is what the long ago perfect Boudin bun tasted like. I haven't tortured myself yet to try this years version at Boudin to see if they have been able to make it even more horrid.

                        Caffe BaoNecci / Danilo Bakery

                        It has a nice sweet glaze and a custard cross. The bun itself is classic. There are enough black raisins and the candied fruit is finely chopped and there's not too much so it adds little bits of flavor and color without being overwhelming. The spicing is nice in that it doesn't call attention to itself. As much as I like cardomom, I don't want to be overly aware of it.

                        Emporio Rulli

                        Emporio Rulli once had a hot cross bun that was close to perfect for my tastes. Then they changed it.

                        The first time I tried the changed bun I was unhappy ... really, really unhappy. Now that the disappointment has worn off, I'm a little more objective

                        It is still far from my ideal, but not a bad bun for what it is.

                        They went lemon with this. The cross is lemon and the only citron in it are little bits of lemon here and there. There are a few black and golden raisins and no other spicing. The bun itself is an unusual texture almost a mix of coffee cake and bun. This is actually a pleasant sweet roll, just not a traditional hot cross bun. It moves to the number 12 spot just behind Bread Garden.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: rworange

                          I liked the one from La Farine. On a walk with the mutt, I darted in to get him a sour dough roll to split with me. (The hard crust takes him longer to eat so it's not just toss and go for $2, with him forgetting within 10 feet that he'd ever had a treat in his life.) Instead I got a HCB, mighty tasty and the lemony cross added a citrus flavor--not too sour, not too sweet--to the bun.

                        2. Was at Mollie Stone's in Greenbrae Wednesday. They had a special on HCBs $5 for a box of nine. I'm no connoisseur of the genre, but they taste just fine to me.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Sharuf

                            The only problem with Mollie Stone's is the ingrediant list which put me off one year. They had a lot of preservatives and junk in it.

                            1. re: rworange

                              I saw a good looking HCB at the bakery aisle at the Marin Farmers Market this morning. Not my kind of breakfast but any comments for RW? Are they week old or still in season?

                              1. re: wolfe

                                Rats. I was going to go today. Today is Greek Easter, so a few places were selling them through today.

                          2. I saw some at Dianda's. They do not look housemade. They look like they're shipped in, like a lot of their stuff.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Atomica

                              I tried this year's version (likely not different from past years') of Healdsburg's Downtown bakery at the Ferry Bldg FM last Saturday. Fresh and excellent. White icing (not custard), an orange tinge to a pretty yeasty dough.

                            2. Just had a nice HCB at the Santa Rosa Farmers Market ...$1.50 each at "Flour Creations" booth. Nice bit of lemon flavor, and not too many raisins.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: energy

                                I picked up one last weekend. Flour Creations sells at the Santa Rosa FM or you can order them for pick up at the wholesale bakery in Cotati. I wasn't too keen on this example, too dry, and reeking of cardamom. It did have the icing cross.

                                -----
                                Flour Creations
                                459 Portal St, Cotati, CA

                              2. Since I've loosened up a bit about hot cross bun standards ... I like some non traditional, even though they don't satisfy my hcb craving, I gave Market Hall Bakery in Oakland a try even though one look told me it wasn't going to do it.

                                $1.95 Large bun that was more bready than a sweet roll. This was a sloppy bun. If a sign had not identified them as hot cross buns, there would be no way to know. The custard cross, while covering the top was all over the place and didn’t look like a cross. There were splotches of white icing here and there that shattered and dropped off when a bite was taken. There were some chopped raisins, no spice or citron and the bun was a bit dry. The description at the bakery said there were hints of orange … nope.

                                This bun gets the position 21 on my list behind Shuberts and Neldam's. The last two might be to supermarket-ish, but at least some care goes into making them.

                                Not sure if Danilo or Sweet Adeline should take the top spot, I retried Sweet Adeline. It was more raisin-based this year and even though Danilo's isn't the ideal, it moves into first place.

                                Ok, we're in the final lap here, and hopefully I'll be stepping things up this week.

                                Has anyone tried Beckman's? They were sold out by time I got to the farmers market Saturday.

                                The problem is they only sell, six (for $6). I like some of Beckmann's farmers market stuff enough to give them a shot, but if anyone else has tried them, it would be a help.

                                The husband ... heh ... well, if everything finally goes well this week ... the husband likes Easter breads like pannetone, but isn't that fond of hot cross buns, so if Beckmans isn't that great I'm stuck with five of them.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: rworange

                                  I had schubert's last week and liked it very much. Different with a loose and moist crumb, very yeasty, lots of high quality dried fruit (including currants and not raisins), and just a little sweet.

                                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                                    I retried Schuberts since it has been at a minimum of a decade since I bought one there ... there were so many years where there was that perfect and now greatly missed Boudin bun.
                                    .
                                    It is different than I remember, but it has been so long. At that time I had hcb standards, and I could see why it might have repelled me back then. It has a sticky topping and the cross is custard. However, I'm so over that and have had so many bad buns, this may move up in the list. While it could use more citron, I like that it was finely chopped so it gave some color and not call attention to the citron like in a bad fruitcake.

                                  2. re: rworange

                                    Nabolom Bakery still has fans. I particularly favor their challah and hot cross buns. The buns are made from the same recipe as their holiday stollen with a mouth-watering meyer lemon icing. They also serve McLaughlin coffee.

                                  3. Had one from Masse's (North Berkeley) this morning. It was delicious- citrus flavor in the generous cross over the glaze.. A little on the hefty side, but this made it less of a bread roll and more of a breakfast pastry. The raisins were moist, the candied orange peel was fresh and not too big. Nice flavor in the whole thing, not too sweet, not too much like a scone, and well-balanced. I'm not sure what the traditional HCB is, I just know what works. Masse's is such a great place anyway. Just looking at the selections inspires me to do more with my baking.

                                    1. Crixa has them today and tomorrow. $2.35 ea. Tennis ball sized. Light glaze and a very fine custard cross. Dinner roll texture and nice flavor. They say currants, cherries, citron, and orange rind, but there's not a lot of fruit in these, so you may not find all four in a single bun. Having shared two with my hubby, I can attest to their presence.

                                      1. The number one spot this year is going to John Campbell’s Irish Bakery.

                                        They are the Irish version which has rye in it.

                                        It is a soft yeasty bun with raisins and there is rye flavor but no seeds. It is almost like a fragrant spice

                                        The thick, flat cross is made of bread and it is nicely placed covering the bun. I really enjoyed this, especially with a cup of John Campbell’s excellent tea.

                                        It is the only bun I plan to buy again next year, even though this bun has little in common with the buns I grew up with.

                                        1. Any one who doesn’t want to read a rant about Boudin’s unholy bun, this baked good from Beelzebub, skip this post.

                                          Boudin deserves a special place in hot cross bun hell.

                                          The ‘cross’ cut into the top looked more like a jagged irregular scar which the top swelled around like infected flesh. The thinnest custard coagulated in the cut … “is that custard?” I wondered, picking at it like a scab. I’m still not sure.

                                          I peeled off the paper. It has been a few years now that they put them in cupcake paper … so wrong.

                                          A tentative nibble … it was like biting into cotton … that exact taste and texture. I think though they were going for brioche since there was a faint background butter note.

                                          They were even stingier on the fruit this year. There were a few raisins, one tiny piece of red citron and another unidentifiable piece of clear citron… I’m guessing … hoping … otherwise what this small chewy bit might be … too horrid to contemplate.

                                          Boudin once again takes dead last place on the hot cross bun list.

                                          The reason for this ‘slightly’ over the top angry reaction is that at one time Boudin made the perfect bun. I had a list of people I bought them for every year. Anyone who tried one wanted more.

                                          There was no lonely wandering from bakery to bakery trying to find a good bun. I was faithful to you Boudin. You left me …why, oh, why?

                                          About 5 years ago, they started making changes and each year was progressively worse

                                          I didn’t think they could top themselves when two years ago the candied fruit dyed red and green splotches into the dough.

                                          Somehow … somehow … they made it worse. It almost takes genius to do this.

                                          Now I feel compelled to see how they can top the previous year’s awfulness. This ritual rant has become part of the Easter tradition for me … renouncing Boudin’s sinful, satanic bun. I don't mean sinful in a good way ... as in sinfully good ... sinful as in shameful ... shame on you, Boudin

                                          I have a few other buns to post about from last week’s bunathon. I just thought the best and the worst buns this year deserved their own posts to single them out from the pack.

                                          1. Thanks to everyone for all the tips and leads. I'll have to re-try some I didn't get to this year.

                                            Best Bun: John Campbell's
                                            Best Traditional Bun: Danilo's
                                            Worst Bun: Boudin's

                                            My final lists.

                                            SF Bay Area: Hot Cross Buns - The best choices
                                            http://www.chow.com/lists/1138

                                            SF Bay Area: Hot Cross Buns - Bad to meh
                                            http://www.chow.com/lists/788

                                            SF Bay Area - Hot Cross Buns to try
                                            http://www.chow.com/lists/1245

                                            Sadly though, no one has yet matched the perfection that was the Boudin hcb about 5 years ago. I think I'll write them and complain finally. It seems like my search will continue next year.

                                            1. Anybody tried cross bun at Schubert's in S.F. Richmond district? I think they are very tasty.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: MaryD

                                                Upthread in April.
                                                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6019...