Matcha, azuki, black sesame, ginger, and satsuma imo (sweet potato) are among the Japanese ingredients you'll find in use at Fresh Flours bakery in Seattle. With two locations, Fresh Flours has more of a coffee shop feel than Fuji Bakery, perhaps the most renowned Japanese bakery in the area. Fresh Flours is a comfortable place to sit with a Stumptown coffee or a matcha latte, especially at the Phinney Ridge location near the Woodland Park Zoo, where you'll find a lot of family action during the day.
My favorite discovery at Fresh Flours is the Green Tea & Azuki Red Bean Pound Cake ($2.75). This solid slice has a good balance of sweetness and grassy green tea flavor, and is studded with skin-on red beans. It goes well with a variety of types of tea, though it's strong enough to stand up to a stiff cup of black coffee.
You can sample more of the red bean flavor with the Mini Azuki Brioche ($2.75). Also known as anpan, this bun is seductively soft. The azuki has smooth texture and good flavor—not overly sweet—though I wanted just a little more of it. As is typical, black sesame seeds sit atop the bun.
Similarly soft, at least on the inside, is the Mini Melonpan with Cream ($2.75).The difference is that this bun has a cookie shell that offers a crispy contrast to the interior. This is a fairly ubiquitous item in Japanese food stores, usually at a low price point and filled with more cream than Fresh Flours' version. Kids in Japan are known to peel the sugary crust off the melonpan and swipe the cream with it, tossing aside the less desirable (to them!) bready body of the bun.
Surveying the showcase, it's hard to resist the plain Croissant ($2.75), especially in the absence of the occasionally available and unique azuki croissants. Typical of many Japanese pastries and breads, the croissant is a little lighter than usual. It's fine for what it is, but falls just short in most areas of my croissant preferences, including contrast between crumb and crust as well as buttery flavor.
Finally, it's impossible to overlook the colorful display of Macarons ($1.35 each) on the counter. These macarons are a little more diminutive than most in town. Cute, but their thinness translates to a little lack of enough filling, as well as the inability to sink the teeth into the soft, slightly chewy part of the cookie that comes after effortlessly cracking the crust. Still, each petite macaron is packed with good flavor, especially the Japanese-influenced ones that are my favorites: the citrusy Yuzu and the earthy Green Tea.
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.