Finding Great Desserts in Vancouver is as Easy as 1 (Pastry), 2 (Scoops of Gelato), 3 (Doughnuts)
My trips to Vancouver tend to focus primarily on Asian food. And why not, when the area has some of the best dim sum, xiao long bao, sushi, and ramen in North America? But after dining on so many savory delicacies, I inevitably start to crave sweets. Eating around the city, I've come up with recommendations that should satisfy any sweet tooth: one pastry, two scoops of gelato, and three donuts.
At Beaucoup Bakery, choosing just one treat is quite the challenge. The pastries are pretty solid (the plain croissant scores high on my scrutiny test, and the pine nut croissant is impressive), the tarts are works of art, and I still dream about a cookie that's rich with chocolate and rosemary flavor. However if I was forced to recommend one item worth the visit, I'd suggest the Black Sesame Choux ($6). Essentially a religieuse, the two pastry buns are reminiscent of Chinese or Vietnamese sesame seed balls, but much better quality. Rich and creamy, they're topped with fondant and studded with candied black sesame seeds. Jackie Ellis sources the best Japanese black sesame to make her paste, which she mixes with pastry cream and lots of salt. The wafer of sesame nougatine between the balls is like a sesame snap of the black variety. The dessert gets the trademark Asian compliment of being not-too-sweet, with a bonus of being easy for two people to share.
James Coleridge won both the Jury and People's Choice awards at the 2012 Florence Gelato Festival. The guy is good, and you can get what he's making at Bella Gelateria. His pride shows in having the whole gelato-making process on display to his customers, and using quality ingredients to make unique flavors in small-batch production. Calling his product "culinary-based gelato" (Bella maximizes flavor intensity by infusing his gelato and sorbetto bases for at least 12 hours), Coleridge explains that "I want to be ethnically inclusive in flavor profiles because Vancouver is multicultural." The ever-changing list of flavors might include akbar mashti, Thai coconut milk, and matcha. My pictured pairing ($6.43 for a double scoop) is an odd combination, but since Bella uses high quality chocolate, I first wanted to try Michel Cluizel's Mokaya Single Plantation (66%) for its earthy flavor and licorice notes. With that, I went away from the gelato menu and chose Faloudah sorbet. Based on the Persian dessert, the sorbet is scented with rosewater and contains actual rice vermicelli noodles. It's a light and refreshing contrast to the rich chocolate.
For coffee and donuts, I recommend Cartems Donuterie. Cartems serves Matchstick coffee, prepared my preferred way: as a pour-over (Chemex). The donut display will make you salivate, constantly getting replenished as new ones make their way to the counter. I bought three doughnuts ($2.86 each) to take to my wood-topped table and stump stool. For colorful appeal (and out of curiosity, as I was told it's the most popular choice), I got the Earl Grey. A steep in the butter infuses the doughnut with earl grey flavor, which appears again in the glaze, while a sprinkling of rose petals adds floral fragrance and flavor. To satisfy my chocolate craving, I went with a Chocolate Sweet Snow doughnut, which is topped with white chocolate ganache (made with coconut milk and Callebaut white chocolate) and organic coconut. But my favorite was the Maple Glaze, a yeast doughnut that's not overly sweet, and buoyed by walnuts that are smoked and spiced on site.
About the author: Jay Friedman is a Seattle-based freelance food writer who happens to travel extensively as a sex educator. An avid fan of noodles (some call him "The Mein Man"), he sees sensuality in all foods, and blogs about it at his Gastrolust website. You can follow him on Twitter @jayfriedman.