Coming out of this years’ Berlin’s Best Bread competition, where the line-up of breads made only with sourdough was so high in quality, we were all surprised and very excited about the state of bread in Berlin. So I decided to hold another competition of a baked treat that I and many others love dearly: the cinnamon bun! This idea was pushed by the fact that the cinnamon bun, kanelbullar, or Zimtschnecke seemed to be everywhere – a trend I explicitly welcomed. So I called some trustworthy bun-thusiasts to join me in the quest of finding the bestest bun in town. However, the outcome wasn’t what we expected.
In order to find the most delicious bun, we gathered on an afternoon in my office in Kreuzberg to taste buns, freshly bought from thirteen bakeries from all over town, from particularly Swedish ones to US-American inspired, Italian versions, and Danish spins on the classic. We divided them by shape, separating the ones baked in a tray and those cut from a roll, and started munching. The jury was made of baker Ruth Barry of Black Isle Bakery, Cory Andreen, coffee-expert-extraordinaire with a special eye for treats to best go with his Brewbox drinks, Ruth Bartlett, tested sweets-lover, co-owner and head of all things looking fabulous at Sweethearts, Anna Thieme, Swedish chef of catering service Anna’s Kitchen, and me!
We picked up buns from these bakeries from six districts: Café Kanel, Café Liebling, Café Stockholm, Café Valentin, Katie’s Blue Cat, Lula, Okay Café, Ora, Sironi, Soluna, The Bread Station, Zeit für Brot, and the café at the Swedish church in Wilmersdorf. We also wanted to include the Finish buns of Populus Coffee and the vegan ones from Brammibals’, both of whom didn’t offer them the day of our tasting.
While we expected to dwell in cinnamon bliss during the tasting, it was quite a bit of work and the results a bit of a surprise. We tasted all of them twice, and our decision was unanimous: only one of them was fit to be considered a tasty, well baked, recommendable cinnamon bun: the Swedish kanelbullar of Lula, which is also the clear winner of this tasting.
What happened? Well, for one we took the buns out of their natural habitat – usually they’re enjoyed with a coffee or tea on the side in the pleasant atmosphere of a café or bakery during an enjoyable break from your day. We lined them up and ate only them to scrutinize their inherent quality. And then their flaws, which might be overlooked during a fika, showed. For one, many of the buns were either under or over baked. This difficulty to match the best baking time didn’t only affect the often bigger tray-baked buns which were either way too dry, even burnt on top, or had a raw inside. The same applied to the smaller buns cut from a roll of dough, with many of them being very pale and squishy.
Another issue was the quality and thus flavor of the cinnamon, most buns didn’t have enough of it, some of them used a cinnamon with a very weird after-taste, and way too much, low-quality sugar to make up for it.
Here are the exceptions: The Bread Station’s bun was tasty and well baked, although a bit greasy with its huge amount of butter, but it was using flaky pastry and had chocolate and almonds on top with only a hint of cinnamon inside, which made it a delicious pastry, just not a proper cinnamon bun in our eyes. Same goes for Ora’s, a not too bad bun all in all, but glazed in a citrus jam that takes it quite far from what we were looking for.
However, we had one we really liked and thought it was cinnamon bun enough to earn the title: the kanelbullar of Friedenau’s Lula bakery. (Which also sells a tray-baked cinnamon bun which unfortunately has most of the issues mentioned above, so be precise when you order). Their bullar is a knotted variety with a bit of cardamom in the dough, then filled with cinnamon and butter, in just the right ratio and thus with a delightful balance of flavors, very well baked through without being too dry, and generously sprinkled with coarse sugar. A pretty bun that is also very tasty!
So what’s the learning? Way to go Berlin! Up your standards! Call out under baked or burned sold to you, ask for better quality ingredients. And to all of you baking buns – don’t try to re-invent the wheel until you found out how to make it roll. A cinnamon bun is a fairly simple affair that needs attention to detail and prime ingredients to jam-pack it with that delicious sweet, spicy, and buttery flavors we’re all craving.
I’m not giving up, though! My hopes for Berlin are high and I will repeat this tasting next year again, hoping it will yield the results we had hoped for this year.