Ricotta-filled Long Doughnut – European elegance in snack form

Ricotta-filled long doughnut – $4.50 from Petit Espresso, Lower Ground Floor, Queen Victoria Building, Sydney

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Yes readers, it’s been a long time between posts. I don’t know if it’s the weather, or the shorter days, but I feel a startling lack of snack inspiration lately. Even my favourite little BBQ Pork Pie hasn’t been filling me with joy. This week however I once again felt the urge to venture forth in search of new snacks, thanks to the worlds greatest bicycle race, and Gabriel Gaté, a man whose passion for eating rivals even that of my own. It’s fitting also that this week sees the first ever stage wins by an Australian team, and the Maillot Jaune worn on the back of a hardworking Aussie. To honour this significant moment, I depart from my usual Asian snacks and venture to continental Europe, and Petit Espresso.

This snack purveyor can hardly be called a shop, being a small corner of an arcade in front of which some enterprising person has placed a glass booth and an espresso machine. Not being a coffee drinker, I had paid little attention to this nook as I ambled past each day, assuming it was a coffee stand with the appropriately standard array of stale pastries. But one day while spinning to avoid a group of schoolchildren on smartphones, I turned my head and was surprised by what I saw: the glass booth contains all manner of elegant European treats, including chocolate éclairs, cannolis, and filled donuts. I wiped a small string of saliva from my face and moved closer.

One snack in particular caught my eye, a unique beast that I have so far failed to identify, so comment away if you know the name. It’s made of sweet doughnut dough, spiralled into a long bar shape with a tunnel through the centre. The tunnel is filled with your choice of chocolate, custard or ricotta, and dusted with icing sugar. Not quite a doughnut, or éclair or longjohn, but some sort of delicious doughy hybrid. This week I opted for the ricotta version, and was delighted by what I found.

The dough is a fairly standard doughnut recipe, sweet, not too chewy, the perfect starting point for an afternoon treat.  The structure of the doughnut can be described in a word – solid. One might expect that a completely hollow tube of dough would be brittle at best, but biting into the doughnut leaves the structural integrity satisfyingly intact. The spiral formed tube is also aesthetically pleasing, with evenly formed lines and subtle ridges, obviously the work of a master pâtissier. The ricotta filling is a superbe, smooth and creamy, and just enough sweetness added without compromising its dairy nature. Writing this has made me so hungry, I might just go and purchase another one right now. 4 stars.

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Originality – Excellent

Execution – Excellent

Value – OK (Excellent if you manage to snag one for $2.50 after 4:00 pm)

Overall judgement: 4

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Takoyaki Roll – Octopus Inception

Takoyaki Roll – $2.60 from Fuji-Pan, Goulburn St Sydney (next to Fujiya Restaurant, 605 George St)

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Long time readers may remember my first foray into snack takoyaki as a solid but otherwise underwhelming experience. Today I introduce you to another variation of the humble octopus ball, reimagined by those purveyors of strange snacks, Fuji-Pan. Without repeating myself too much, takoyaki is a traditional Japanese snack of small octopus dumpling balls, served at a  temperature usually reserved for molten magma, and garnished with bonito flakes that dance like Swayze in the heat.

In a fashion one can only describe as unnecessary, Fuji-Pan have made what on first glance appears to be a giant takoyaki, around the size of a cricket ball. My stomach lit up at the thought of such a feast, and all the tentacular goodness within. On biting into the snack though, I quickly realised that this wasn’t an oversized dumpling at all, but rather a cold bread roll made to look like a giant takoyaki, complete with sauces and some fairly limp bonito. I would by lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed at this point, not the least because I was again let down in the temperature department.

Upon further excavation though I uncovered something unexpected – the roll had some sort of filled centre. Then the eureka moment – the centre of the giant takoyaki was in fact another takoyaki, like some sort of edible babushka doll. I quickly dissected the inside takoyaki in the hope of finding a tiny pea-sized dumpling, but found only a chunk of cepholapod appendage.

On the one hand, Fuji-pan have done something incredible here, in creating a snack wholly enclosed inside a giant version of itself. However, this doesn’t hide the fact that neither the core nor crust resemble anything close to the piping hot takoyaki of my youth, and the bonito flakes look more like me dancing than the late great Swayze. Another promising snack let down by poor execution. 2 1/2 stars.

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Originality – Excellent

Execution – Poor

Value – Fair

Overall judgement: 2 1/2

[Snackshot!] Pretz – You can make friends with salad

Pretz by Glico – available at all good Asian food stores

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For our second Snackshot I thought we should have a look at Pretz, another popular packaged snack from Japan. As with Yan Yan, Pretz bears similarities to a popular local snack, but brings some fresh elements to the table which I think Australian audiences will enjoy.

Much of my adult character was formed around schoolyard snacking. I have this friend, who for the entirety of his schooling career had BBQ Shapes for morning tea/recess/playlunch/little lunch/tiffin (circle the appropriate word for your region). By around the age of 11, this friend being a generous gent, would give his daily allowance of Shapes to his friends, which over time led to much discussion about barbecues, shapes, and snacks in general. We began to ask those great questions often faced by snack eater – What does a BBQ really taste like? Which Shape is the best? And which Shape shape is the best? Which is better – Chicken Crimpy or Dixie Drumstick? Can you hit that kid in the head with a Shape from here?* It was around discussing these questions that we became accepting of each others different opinions, and our friendship blossomed.

But we aren’t here to spend all day talking about Shapes. Enter Pretz, Japan’s heir apparent to the Shapes throne as King of Snacks. What makes Pretz better than Shapes? For starters, the shape. Pretz are long thin sticks which lend themselves well to sharing, storing, and maximising surface area. Shapes treat their shape as a gimmick, and there’s really only so many variations of a hexagon.

Second is the startling array of flavours, which currently tops 74 flavours compared to a paltry 21 for Shapes. And the flavours are wild. Are you ready for Asparagus Pretz? Hairy Crab? Blueberry Cheese? Hawaiian Pineapple? French Toast? Probably not, but there really is something for everyone.

My personal favorite flavour, and the subject of todays Snackshot, is Salad Pretz. I like salad because like BBQ, it’s an attempt to turn an arbitrary concept into a specific flavour, that in the end has very little resemblance to the original foodstuff. The picture on the packet suggests a salad of tomato, onion, grated carrot, and two types of lettuce. The taste? Pretty similar to BBQ shapes really.

I think I’m a fairly well rounded person (in both life and waistband), and I owe a great deal to BBQ Shapes. However, I think the new kid on the block could take the social development of snack seeking schoolchildren to a whole new level. I urge school canteens/tuckshops/refectories/cafeterias across Australia to begin stocking Pretz, and watch on as our future generations rise up to become the leaders of tomorrow.

* My answers for those playing along at home – a) fire b) Pizza c) triangle d) Drumsticks, Crimpys are too frothy e) yes

Chicken-mushroom doughnut – the next offical jam doughnut variation?

Chicken-mushroom doughnut – $2.60 from Breadtop, plenty of locations all over greater Sydney (except for Sussex St which has closed)

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To say that jam doughnuts have played a significant role in my life would not be an understatement. When I reminisce on my many years on this earth, I remember numerous occasions when simple jam-filled balls of dough deep fried in fat until the jam resembles molten magma have sustained me through long nights and cold winters. Needless to say, when I first saw the family resemblance in Breadtop’s chicken-mushroom doughnut, the fond memories came flooding back, and I purchased it on the spot. Triumph or atrocity? Read on.

In a similar vein to Barby’s cheese and bacon, Breadtop has taken something that western snack eaters know and love (the jam doughnut) and given it an unexpected twist (by replacing the jam with a chicken and mushroom sauce). A quick search of the font of all knowledge finds that the jam filled doughnuts exist in regional variations in over 16 countries, including Australia (although largely limited to South Australia, home of Fritz). So far the chicken-mushroom has not been recognised as an official JD variant, though as the late great Bob Dylan said, the times, they are a changing.

The chicken-mushroom donut suffers from many of the same symptoms as Breadtop’s other offerings, largely inconsistency. Some days, on biting into the bulbous mass, you’ll be greeted with a warm oozing stream of fungo-poultry paste, other days, a cold hard slap in the face. Unfortunately the doughnuts seem to be more hit than miss, and eating cold chicken rarely inspires confidence in a snacker. That said, I do keep going back, hoping to find the enveloping feeling of comfort and safety that comes with a good fried doughnut. 2 and a half stars.

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Originality – Excellent

Execution – Average

Value – OK

Overall judgement: 2 1/2