Ricotta-filled long doughnut – $4.50 from Petit Espresso, Lower Ground Floor, Queen Victoria Building, Sydney
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.
Originality – Excellent
Execution – Excellent
Value – OK (Excellent if you manage to snag one for $2.50 after 4:00 pm)
Overall judgement: 4
Yan Yan by Meiji – available at all good Asian food stores
Author’s note – A number of readers have commented to me recently that this blog is becoming a little one-dimensional, and that limiting myself largely to baked snacks denies the world (and my snack swallowing stomach) my reviewing talents in other areas. After long consideration, I introduce the Snackshot, a new style of post which will be appearing regularly on these pages. These posts will be reserved for pre-packaged snacks, as sold in convenience stores and international food marts, which I have found myself frequenting more of late. There wont be an overall score, just a presentation of some of the hidden gems that make their way to Sydney’s shores.
There was a time when a packaged snack was more than just a meal, it was an activity. As a lad I would look forward to those summery school days when I had that most famous of recesses, Le Snack (now my French is not great, but I believe this loosely translates to ‘The Snack’). The dip-in combination of savoury biscuits and cream cheese required considerable skill to eat. Too much pressure and the biscuit would snap in half; too little and no cheese would be forthcoming. Le Snack, and other snacks of its ilk taught a generation of children lessons in dexterity, patience, problem solving, and foreign languages.
In this modern age of touch screen technology and on-demand entertainment, I worry that our children are missing crucial developmental stages. My regular correspondent and friend of the blog, Kindergarten teacher Ms Crocodile, informs me that the problem has gotten so bad that some children are now missing the fine motor skills to open even the simplest of snacks, and as such miss out on eating recess altogether. Compounding the issue are the Australian snack manufacturers, who have dumbed down their foods to match the limited skills of todays youth (what is an LCM anyway?) I fear the problem is way out of hand, and something must be done soon, lest future generations fully lose the use of their extremities.
To solve this problem, I think we need to look to Japan, where snack purveyor Meiji has given us Yan Yan. The snack follows the tried and true biscuit and dip combination, presenting a number of slightly sweet biscuit sticks along with a velvety chocolate cream. Like Le Snack, Yan Yan requires a deft hand, but the real inspiration comes on the biscuits themselves. Each stick is printed with the face of a well known animal, accompanied by a related quote. These quotes are sometimes unorthodox, but provide hours of wonder and amusement as each new stick is extracted and the quote is read. Eating Yan Yan gave me the kind of joy I haven’t experienced since opening my christmas presents as a child. Fox – Beware of lies? Genius.
So parents of Australia, if you’re looking for a way to give your child a head start in the rough and tumble of modern society, you have your tool – Yan Yan.
Peanut Swirl – $2.40 from Breadtop, plenty of locations all over greater Sydney (except for Sussex St which has closed)
This week sees us return to Breadtop for a Peanut Swirl. Now right from the start this snack has me in two minds. On one hand, I do appreciate the literal naming of snacks (see the Sascha Pork Floss Roll), but on the other hand, I can’t stand this new trend of turning verbs into nouns (or vice versa, as my good friend Bernard Black would agree). This time it’s going to come down to taste, so lets potter along in order to learn more about this snack shall we?
Firstly a few warnings. Those of you with nut allergies should not attempt a Swirl, and perhaps should even stop reading this review now, as recent research has shown that even pictures of nut based products can cause a mild reaction in some anaphylaxis sufferers. Additionally, the unique appearance of the swirl may require a bit of a leap of faith from new eaters, who could be forgiven for thinking the roll was covered in maggots, but anything more than a cursory glance would show that this isn’t the case (or at least that the maggots are now dead, providing an additional protein boost).
The Swirl starts as many similar snacks do, with a sweet bread roll base, which in this case is twisted prior to baking to give the swirled appearance. Next the base is covered in a unique nut mixture, unlike anything I’ve eaten before. It’s more pastey than crushed nuts, more crumbly than peanut butter, but is somehow reminiscent of both – no mean feat. On top of the nuts comes another swirl, this time of custard, adding a splash of colour to an otherwise fairly brown snack. Finally comes the small white worms populating the top of the Swirl, which luckily are nothing more than extruded noodles of milk powder paste, adding a welcoming crunchy finish.
The peanuts really are the heart of this snack. The unique sweet-yet-savoury flavour and crumbly-yet-smooth mouthfeel are a triumph, recalling features of many childhood snacks while still retaining a refreshing modernity. The subtle layering of flavours and textures completes what is a very satisfying afternoon treat. Minus half a point for the noun/verb thing though. 4 stars.
Originality – Excellent
Execution – Excellent
Value – Good
Overall judgement: 4
Walnutmeats – from all good Asian food stores
If you’re wondering, that sound you’re hearing is once again the sound of my hyperbole radar beeping at outrageous snack claims. This time, the beeps come to you courtesy of The Best Food No 1 – Walnutmeats. “But that’s a packet!” I hear you say. “I thought you only ate baked goods?” Well dear reader, snacks come in many forms, and limiting myself to the lovely yet limited world of baked snacks would be doing you, nay the world, a disservice.
I’m not much of a gambler. With my addictive personality, I fear that a few small wagers would lead me down a destructive path, ending in financial ruin and personal turmoil. I do like a bit of a flutter though, so instead of trading in currency, I use cultural ignorance. For me, gambling sees me head to my local Asian supermarket, buy an unknown snack with limited English descriptions, and eat it. As with regular gambling, sometimes you win (Yan Yan) and sometimes you lose (dolphin satay sticks).
Walnutmeats are the caramelised combination of walnut kernels, honey, sesame seeds, oil and glucose. Popular in both China and Korea (or so I’m led to believe), this “Super Quality Health Food” are a high density source of nutrients, including essential fatty acids. The snack is tasty, as expected, with a slightly airy mouth-feel. The crunchy caramel coating contrasts with the meaty centre, and leaves a smooth sugary sesame finish. As for The Best Food? Unlikely. No 1? Maybe not, but I’m definitely counting it as a win.