An assortment of pastries from the great Chestnut Hill Baker Tasting event. (Photo by Laurea Anderson Zhu)

by Wesley Ratko

It all started with a cupcake. Specifically, a red velvet cupcake and a conversation between two friends about where in Chestnut Hill to find the best one. Five bakeries along the Avenue offer a wide variety of treats to the conscientious connoisseur of confections, and Laura Anderson Zhu – newly relocated from Queens, New York – was interested in trying them all. But not without a little help.

The idea to sample an assortment of goods from Chestnut Hill’s bakeshops came from Laura’s friend Amy Lynch, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Pennsylvania who suggested that a side-by-side comparison would offer a better perspective than sampling one cupcake at a time. With a salad and a bottle of wine, she said, the taste test could become a decadent dinner party.

Thus began the great Chestnut Hill Bakery Tasting.

Laura, 30, moved to Chestnut Hill last fall with her husband, John, and one-year-old son Sam. John works in information technology in Manhattan and commutes four days a week from their home on Ardleigh Street. Laura stays at home with Sam. She’s known Amy since middle school in North Carolina where they both grew up.

I came along as Amy’s date – as a reporter for the Local. It seemed like a good opportunity to learn more about a few of the businesses on the Avenue. And, of course, to indulge my sweet tooth.

We split into two groups, each responsible for getting a cupcake, a cookie, a pastry and a specialty item. Amy and I went to Night Kitchen Bakery at 7725 Germantown Ave., the Baker Street Bread Company at 8009 Germantown Ave., and Metropolitan at 8607 Germantown Ave. Laura and John collected their goods from Bredenbeck’s at 8126 Germantown Ave. and Cake at 8501 Germantown Ave.

Laura Anderson Zhu (center) her husband, John Zhu, and their son, Sam, hosted a great Chestnut Hill Bakery Tasting at their Ardeleigh Street home last weekend. (Photo by Wesley Ratko)

Our visits to Baker Street and Metropolitan offered too many unsweetened options for us to remain steadfast to our assigned categories, and by the time we arrived at the Zhu residence our experiment had grown to include bread tasting as well.

Once there, our selections were sorted by category and labeled with the name of the bakery it represented. From Night Kitchen, Amy and I brought an iced brownie, a cinnamon bun, a chocolate chip cookie and the Rocky Road Cupcake – a devil’s food cake topped with marshmallow and covered in a chocolate butter cream icing.

From Baker Street Bread, we offered an assortment of its dinner rolls, a tomato pie and, yes, a chocolate chip cookie. Metropolitan also provided us with comparisons for our bread tasting, as well as a berry and cheese Danish, a chocolate-chip walnut cookie (close enough), and a cannoli.

Awaiting us at the Zhu house were cookies (chocolate-chip and ginger from Cake, chocolate-chip and peanut butter from Bredenbeck’s, tarts (chocolate peanut butter caramel, citron from Cake, fruit tart from Bredenbeck’s), and cupcakes (carrot cake with cream cheese icing from Cake, turtle and lemon curd from Bredenbeck’s). An éclair and a cannoli from Bredenbeck’s completed the spread.

With the salad course came the bread tasting. Everyone, including Sam, liked the tomato pie enough so that there wasn’t any left by the end. John felt the bread from Baker Street had a better texture, but the flavor of Metropolitan bread stood out. Laura disagreed, saying she thought Baker Street breads – especially the rustic Italian – stood out. Her favorite, though, was the raisin walnut from Baker Street.

Amy preferred both Baker Street and Metropolitan for their raisin breads. Of the Metropolitan raisin nut, she said it tasted more like a confection than a dinner roll, sweet and nutty. This reporter fell in love with Baker Street’s pumpernickel, although the tomato pie was a close second.

The group felt that while Metropolitan’s bread selections were all excellent, Baker Street offered real standouts in terms of both flavor and texture.

In cupcakes, Night Kitchen’s Rocky Road cupcake won the crowd over. Bredenbeck’s lemon curd cupcake drew some favorable responses (especially from this reporter), as did their turtle cupcake, but the pound cake base didn’t appeal to Laura. Cake’s carrot cake cupcake drew some positive reviews for its cream cheese frosting, but the concentration of raisins in the cake prevented it from getting a higher rating.

Cookie tasting proved to be the most controversial item of the evening, with no one favorite emerging. The chocolate-chip cookie from the Baker Street Bread Company was largely thought to be the best tasting, but didn’t offer the texture that Night Kitchen’s chocolate chip offered. Cake’s ginger cookie drew high praise for its understated flavor.

Metropolitan’s berry cheese Danish, which Laura complemented by saying she didn’t typically care for Danish, was a standout, as was Night Kitchen’s cinnamon bun, which Amy said was “clearly bad for you,” the way any good cinnamon bun should be. Laura and I both liked the citron tart more than any other item on the table, which we all felt was Cake’s best offering. Bredenbeck’s cannoli was rich, decadent and by far the best from that establishment.

For those of you who read this and decide to plan your own tasting dinner party, a word to the wise: Save your carb loading for the night before a marathon. Where the point of our experiment was to taste and judge, this reporter foolishly started out the night by eating most of our initial offerings, which made it difficult to fully enjoy the sweets reserved for the end of the meal.

We never did find a red velvet cupcake.