When we set out for 85°C Bakery Cafe on Sunday morning, the fun and gluttonous goal was to taste each of the pastries at the hot new Chinatown addition so we could rank them all. However, even at the semi-ambitious hour of 9 a.m. with minimal lines, several of the bread cases were already bare (the three trays of the signature swirl taro bun set out during opening were reportedly gone by 8 a.m.). So while this is not an entirely comprehensive ranking of all of 85°C's breads, it's as representative a sample as we could get on a weekend.
After tasting more than 30 items from the bakery, we quickly determined the crowd favorites and the (relatively few) duds of the bunch. The following guide is broken down into pastries, drinks and cakes, so make sure to check out our favorites and which ones to skip.
Least favorite pastries
- 85°C coffee bread: To be honest, most tasters hated this roll, but I kind of loved it. The pillowy bread tastes faintly of coffee, with a slightly crumbly, crusty cookie layer that hugs the domed top. It's stuffed with red bean and a gooey bubble of mochi in the center, so it's kind of like four breads in one — which some felt was excessive and not well-executed. I beg to differ. Worth a try if you like red bean, mochi and coffee.
- Cheese bites: Although these perfectly cylindrical, golden-topped bites looked highly appealing, they were a little too sticky and almost gummy in texture, with an artificial, caramel-like aftertaste. Those hoping for a fluffy, Japanese-style cheesecake were disappointed. Unless you're a diehard cheesecake fan of all types, skip these. “We’d rather eat the cheese tart," commented multiple tasters.
- Matcha red bean jellyroll: Sadly, this cake was dry, crumbly and virtually tasteless; it tasted as though it had been sitting in its plastic case for a week. Whole red beans dotted into the cake added nothing (though one taster suggested a layer of red bean paste alongside the nearly undetectable cream might be nice). It's a beautiful color, and that's about the best thing we can say about it. “I’m sure they’re good fresh,” said one optimistic taster.
Pastries we were meh about:
- Squid ink bun: "Tastes like a Hawaiian roll," said one taster, which we generally agreed with. Despite its dramatic color, this was a very simple roll and we puzzled over why one would buy it. Maybe to make a unique-looking sandwich? Other similar-looking buns appear to be stuffed with cheese, which sounds much more exciting — so be sure to try to grab a stuffed one, if possible.
- Coconut twist: Although this twist looks impressive, the coconut is ground up into tiny, gritty particles instead of the typical larger shreds, which gave the pastry a weak coconut flavor. All tasters were pleased with the pillowy golden bread base, but were split on the issue of coconut: "I don’t like the way they do coconut because it doesn’t taste coconutty enough. I wouldn't go back to order it," said one taster. "I like that it’s not giant flakes — the coconut is more pulverized. It's very different from the way other bakeries do coconut breads and I like it because it's not in your face." It smelled more like coconut than it tasted, but it was at least good with coffee.
- Coconut strudel: Similar to the coconut twist, this strudel didn't blow us away with an intense coconut flavor, and most of the tasters didn't really like the way it paired with the puff pastry. The not-quite-toasted almonds on top were a bit jarring. “Not my favorite” pretty much sums up our thoughts on this one.
- Cranberry cream cheese: A rather plain, slightly sweet cranberry-studded dough surrounds a blob of unsweetened cream cheese. It reminded the tasters of a bagel bomb — good for eating on the go, but not necessarily a destination pastry.
- Chocobun: With a dense exterior, this was slightly reminiscent of a bagel. Luckily, the outside is not super-sweet, since the filling is studded with chocolate bits and is extremely sweet. “It'd probably be better if you microwaved it so it’s gooey inside," commented one taster.
- Almond half moon: While the cloud-like chiffon was flawlessly soft and puffy, with an even crumb, there wasn't a whole lot of flavor in the cake, and the ratio of cake to cream leaned heavily on the cake side. The almonds were displeasing and chewy; we felt that toasted almonds would have been a better choice.
Borohs: We chose several borohs, thinking we had a selection of plain, taro-filled and custard-filled, but we either misread the signs or mistakenly grabbed the wrong items because all of ours ended up being plain ol' bread rolls with a sweet, slightly crumbly, pineapple bun-style design on top. Those who had eaten borohs before were not impressed by 85°C's rendition, but I was impressed by the softness of the bread and the good balance of sweetness. Definitely seek out the filled kind for an extra thrill if they're available when you go.