Ancona Bakery in Northlake: How dry is too dry?

21 May

When we’re en route to a donut shop, we like to keep our eyes peeled.  You never know when you’ll spot a bakery that warrants a visit.  This brings us to an important Pastry Rule: When you’re on your way to get donuts, don’t forget to be on the lookout for other places to get more donuts.  This is how we found Ancona Bakery.

On our way to Donut King Grill last week, we spotted this place right near the intersection of North Avenue and Wolf Road.  We made a mental note to return the following Saturday and check it out.

Here’s what we found:

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Donuts #1 & #2:

Choc. Frosted & Choc. Frosted Long John

Coffee Girl: Past experience has led us to expect breadier donuts from Italian bakeries, and Ancona Bakery followed suit.  More closely related to a yeast dinner roll than to a sweet, fried confection, these donuts faired better when coupled with particularly tasty toppings.  I really liked the chocolate frosted and chocolate long john.  The chocolate frosting was excellent, and a strong enough taste to partner the solid, bready dough.  I liked both of these donuts.

Donut Boy: The chocolate frosting was good, definitely.  As my colleague mentioned, these donuts were of a denser, dryer variety, but still presented tasty packages.  The long john, for my taste, veered off into too-dry territory.

Donuts #3 & #4:

Vanilla Frosted with Sprinkles & Vanilla Long John

Coffee Girl: The vanilla frosting was too much of a wallflower to bring out the best in Ancona’s bready dough.  With nothing to contribute to the mix, the frosting left the donut stranded and boring.

Donut Boy: I wouldn’t have thought I’d be saying this, but I would have liked a sweeter frosting.  Simple and unremarkable, this vanilla frosting failed to validate the even-dryer dough of the above two pastries.  The sprinkles came on as an afterthought.

Donut #5: Boston Kreme

Coffee Girl: Here the substantial nature of the dough worked in its favor, partnered with two strong ingredients that appreciated its support.  The excellent chocolate frosting and the luxurious cream filling benefited from the heft and gentle taste of the dough.  Very nice.

Donut Boy: Yes, the custard helped add moistness to the pastry.  I very much enjoyed its super-sweet taste, which contrasted nicely with the darker flavor of the chocolate frosting.  I would certainly get this again.

Donut #6: Plain


Coffee Girl
: I would think that, if one appreciated a completely plain donut, one would be pleased with Ancona’s version.  Nice texture to the cake donut, nice medley of gentle spices combining into a very pleasant taste over-all — if one does not feel that life is too short for plain donuts.

Donut Boy: Ironically, this donut ended up being one of the less-dry entries we sampled this morning.  Simple, straightforward cake dough (with hints of nutmeg, maybe?) that dissolved pleasantly on the tongue.  We’re not crazy about plain donuts, but we have to give credit where it’s due.

Donut #7: Double Choc. Cake

Coffee Girl: Feh.  The dry-ish, slightly bitter chocolate donut wasted the excellent frosting on top.

Donut Boy: While I still liked the chocolate frosting, the chocolate cake dough had a weird sort of muteness to it, like the baker had set out to create  a chocolate-y dough but then stopped short for fear of offending someone.

Donuts #8 & #9:

Glazed & Glazed Twist

Coffee Girl: I liked these a lot.  The sweet glaze partnered perfectly with the lovely, soft breadiness of the dough.  You just have to reset your baseline donut expectations, perhaps using a slice of nice bread as ground zero.  “Hey!  What if we put a sugar glaze on this?”  Delicious.

Donut Boy: I loved the milky sweetness of the raised glazed donut.  I would have enjoyed a lighter pastry — this donut’s density brought to mind a piece of bread — but I can’t argue with the great flavor.  Alas, the glazed twist proved less flavorful and more bread-y, a combination which quickly sent me searching elsewhere for Flavor Inspiration.

Donut #10: Buttermilk

Coffee Girl: Yowza!  Bull’s eye, Ancona Bakery!  This donut, with its delicious sugar-glazed peaks and valleys housing a tasty cake interior, lacked only a suggestion of crunch to catapult itself into stellar status.  As it is, it stands as Ancona’s star in the Donut Firmanent.

Donut Boy: This donut was my favorite.  Hard, almost crispy exterior with a moist, sweet cake interior.  If I would wish for anything more, it would be some crunch, but I’m getting picky.  The smooth glaze on the outside cranked up the flavor a few notches and really brought this pastry home.  Delicious.

Donut #11: Jelly

Donut Boy: It’s a shame I found Ancona Bakery’s vanilla frosting so unremarkable, because I suspect it could have really added something to this jelly donut.  As it was, I really only tasted jelly in this pastry.  Still, it was sweet, fresh-tasting jelly (and plenty of it).  The dough here was still dryer and denser, but like the Boston Kreme (see previous), it helped hold the donut together.

Coffee Girl: Here again, as with the Boston Krème, Ancona’s bready dough was an effective housing for some very tasty jelly, although I’m sure Donut Boy is complaining about the filling-to-dough ratio.  A very nice jelly donut — especially, I would think, if you’re Italian (which I’m not) and don’t expect a greasier, more South Side donut to start with.

Bonus Pastry #1: Cinnamon Roll

Coffee Girl: Pleasant.  Could have used more interior layers of frosting and cinnamon.  Could have used about 300 more calories involved in the over-all recipe.

Donut Boy: Here the dryness really got to me.  This pastry tasted like someone had baked a spiral-shaped loaf of bread and then brushed some frosting on as an afterthought.  The glaze wasn’t very sweet and the cinnamon flavor was subtle.  Sub-par.

Bonus Pastry #2: Choc. Cream Puff

Donut Boy: So pretty to look at, so underwhelming to taste.  While the chocolate whipped cream was an interesting texture, the dough it was sandwiched between was weirdly hard and chewy.  For a pastry with several interesting components, this cream puff registered pretty low on the Flavor Meter.  Watered-down chocolate flavor and a slightly egg-y aftertaste from the pastry.  Disappointing.

Coffee Girl: What he said.  Couldn’t have put it better myself.

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In the pastry world, there is clearly a certain sect of bakeries that subscribe to a dryer, breadier notion of how pastries should taste.  There must be people that prefer their donuts this way — the lady at Ancona told us they’ve been in business since the ’20s — but we confess we are not among them (we were baffled when we visited Vesuvio Bakery last year).

If that’s how you like your donuts, we won’t judge.  After all, if you like donuts, we like you.  And if you like donuts, you’ll probably like Ancona Bakery.  It’s not quite our cup of tea, though.

Until next week!

-CG&DB

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