There is no excuse for a pastry case ﬁlled with shitty pastries.
I am vulnerable in the morning, as I'm not only hooked on coffee, but also on the promise of a little something sweet. Sometimes the thought of an indulgent little coffeehouse breakfast is all that gets me out of bed in the morning. Which is why my tolerance is low for coffee shops that are too lazy or too cheap to serve decent pastries.
Don't act like you haven't noticed the stagnant greasy mufﬁns, the triangular objects comically referred to as scones, and those strange glazed brown lumps of listless bran sitting behind glass in coffee shops all over town. Perhaps in desperation you have even purchased one of these things to go with your caffeine. It is no way to start the day.
Enough ink has been spilled on the evils of corporate coffee, but no one has paid attention to its corollary: the evils of corporate pastries. When industrial-scale bakeries pump out cupcakes and call them mufﬁns, or slap some jelly on an undercooked slab of dough to simulate a Danish, they slowly wear down our standards. Corporate pastries make it harder for truly good pastries-perhaps a little pricier, perhaps a little less uniform-to thrive.
Fed up with shitty pastries I have decided to unmask one of the chief perpetrators: Kent-based pastry factory Mostly Mufﬁns. You're probably familiar with their work: pasty, oversized mufﬁns with a squat starburst of heavily stabilized cream cheese on top; sturdy, ﬂat scones bisected by dank berries; and stiff cinnamon rolls of an uncanny regularity stuccoed with white icing. It isn't surprising to ﬁnd this dross at QFC, even in its new "gourmet" location on Broadway, but it is inexcusable that these same pastries can be found at Seattle's downtown espresso carts, independent coffeehouses, and higher-minded coffee chains like Peet's.
In a tone almost as sickly-sweet as their chocolate mufﬁns, Mostly Mufﬁns' website (www.mostlymufﬁns.com) cheerily describes their scones as "each made lovingly by hand, bring[ing] back the traditions of the past with a Nuevo Northwest style." I'm not so sure what the heck Nuevo Northwest means, but it must have something to do with lemon poppy-seed scones that feature the chemical sting of too much lemon extract (not to be confused with their poppy-seed mufﬁns which have the chemical sting of too much almond extract). Or perhaps it refers to Mostly Mufﬁns' attempt to mask the heaviness of their bran mufﬁn by serving it upside down and glazing it with a candied nut mixture. (I have noticed nearly identical bran mufﬁns at Starbucks and even at the espresso mecca itself, Cafe Vivace, although they are not openly Mostly Mufﬁns customers.)
The reason most cafes chose Mostly Mufﬁns (or Costco, or other industrially baked pastries) is that they are cheap and consistent (consistently bad, but no matter). You can get a variety pack of eight Mostly Mufﬁns mufﬁns for $6.16 (.77 apiece, that is), and resell them at $1.90 apiece, just like the Green Lake Peet's does. To be fair, this markup also covers rent, dishwashing detergent, and the salary of that cute tattooed barista. But none of that cafe overhead excuses the presence of shitty pastries.
Perhaps in heaven, cafes serve pastries handmade daily in their own kitchens, like the ﬂaky sweets at Cafe Besalu in Ballard, or the earthier mufﬁns baked at Zoka in Green Lake, but here on earth not every coffee shop has the time, money, or talent to make its own stuff. But the choice isn't between making your own pastries or serving up Mostly Mufﬁns' inferior goods. There are biggish wholesale bakeries in this city that make good products even as they churn out thousands of pastries a day.
The Essential Baking Company pastries have a slightly industrial sheen to them, but butter is still a priority at this growing company. With the possible exception of some overworked scones, they do good work, with organic ingredients no less. Take one of their cranberry mufﬁns that I recently bought at the Fargonian Coffeehouse: glossy and just a little chewy on the outside, tan and tender on the inside, just sweet enough to offset a generous dose of tart cranberries. Essential mufﬁns wholesale at 85 cents a pop, just 8 cents more than Mostly Mufﬁns. You can also ﬁnd Essential products at Cafe Allegro in the University District, and the cute new Fuel Coffee on 19th Avenue East. Why not at Peet's too?
Macrina Bakery deserves its gleaming reputation. They sell to coffee shops around town and their pastries have a folksy, hand-shaped look to them. I'm personally hooked on their squashy harvest bread, but their not-too-sweet mufﬁns have an elegant architecture, and their scones have achieved just the right balance of moisture and crumbliness. Victrola on Capitol Hill carries Macrina products even though they're a little spendier-their morning pastries can wholesale for $1 or more, from which point it can be hard to do a typical double-wholesale markup, because beyond about $2 a pop pastries don't sell. But tasty baked goods bring in customers, and repeat business, and the coffee-shop game is all about loyalty. Victrola may make a little less on each Macrina mufﬁn they sell for $2, but they no doubt sell more mufﬁns and make up the difference.
With Essential Bakery and Macrina in town there really is no excuse for selling bad mufﬁns and chalky scones. So coffee shops that serve bad pastries are hereby put on notice. In the next few months, with the help of Chow readers, I intend to smoke out all the bad pastries served in coffee shops around town, both independent and corporate. I want to clear out those pastry cases and make room for bakers who care about good butter, seasonal fruit, and, most importantly, crusts. Crusts are the single greatest expression of the baker's art and they are not to be found on Mostly Mufﬁns' pathetic mufﬁns.
So is your morning coffee shop serving gourmet coffee with shitty pastries? (What are those arid coffee-hazelnut scones about, Caffe Ladro?) Does it offer you a puffy bun topped with cheese and dried oregano and ask you to call it a pizza bagel? (Why, Zoka, why, when everything else you do is so nice?) Or has it replaced perfectly good wheaty, buttery pastries with gluten-free, vegan-simulated mufﬁns? (Thanks for nothing, Elliott Bay Cafe.) Chow readers are invited to report singularly bad pastries to the pastry police (firstname.lastname@example.org), and get 'em busted in this space. My goal is to make the streets safe for your morning sweet tooth. Because if we remain complacent, Mostly Mufﬁns will win. ■