Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Back to Eden Bakery Boutique: Review

(To read my latest update about Back to Eden Bakery, click here.)

Tucked into a corner of the NE Alberta district, a shoebox Bakery Boutique--not much wider than a hallway--serves up vegan goodies to the discerning eaters of Portland, Oregon. They call themselves Back To Eden, and they do their best to source local, organic products and provide their guests with healthy alternative sweets and treats.

Aside from being entirely vegan, Back To Eden offers gluten-, soy-, and sugar-free options, and that just makes me happy. For those of us who can't eat dairy, all we have to do is choose from the list of gluten-free desserts, and then indulge with delight.

Back To Eden is not a certified, dedicated gluten-free bakery. So, for those of you who can't ingest even trace elements of gluten, Back To Eden is probably not your best option. They do bake all of their goodies in-house, and although they try to separate gluten containing products from the gluten-free, there is always a chance of cross contamination, even if it's slight or microscopic. For the rest of you, the atmosphere is warm and welcoming, albeit a little too cozy at times, and the gluten-free options are abundant.

Top shelf from left to right: Peanut Butter Fudge/Almond Fudge, Black & White Cheesecake, Peanut Butter Amaranth Bar, Chocolate Nut Truffle. Middle Section: Chocolate Lover's Cake. Bottom shelf from left to right: Carrot Cream Cheese Cake, Pistachio Rosewater Mini Cake, and Chocolate Hazelnut Toffee Bar. (All but the pumpkin whoopee pies on the bottom left are gluten-free. That's why I didn't list them.) Most of their baked goods are sweetened with organic evaporated cane juice.  

The Almond Fudge (pictured above) was too sweet for my taste. And while I enjoyed the amaretto flavor, I would have preferred that the natural almond flavor be lightly sweetened instead of being overwhelmed by too much sugar. I felt like I was eating frosting straight, but maybe that's just me.

The Pistachio Spice Cupcake (pictured above) was good when I ate the frosting and the cake together. But when I ate them separately, I could tell that they were balancing each other out in sweetness. The frosting was very sweet, and the cake tasted more like a spiced muffin. It was good, but I think I would have enjoyed it as a breakfast cake with coffee, instead of having it for an afternoon dessert.

The Chocolate Hazelnut Toffee Bar (pictured above) had a cookie on the bottom, a thick layer of ganache on top, and a hazelnut toffee crumble sprinkled over the ganache. The first time I had the Chocolate Hazelnut Toffee Bar, the cookie wasn't completely baked, which made me think that the bottom layer was made out of almond butter. While I liked its texture, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, I liked it better when I had it again a few days later. The cookie had been baked through, which gave it more of a crunch, and the toffee flavors were more prominent. It was harder to eat than the par-baked version, but the toffee, chocolate, and hazelnut flavors were more pronounced and more balanced.

Black & White Cheesecake
The Black & White Cheesecake was excellent! And for those of you who don't eat dairy, you know how valuable a good vegan cheesecake can be. This was no exception. The crust was nut-based, and it tasted like there were gluten-free chocolate cookie crumbles in the mix. The crust had a nice texture, and it was moist. The middle layer tasted like it was made from tofu. It had a fluffy, creamy, cheesecake texture and a light amaretto flavor. The ganache topping was thick, rich, and salty/bittersweet. The combination was a multi-textured, chocolaty, salty/sweet confection that was hard to savor slowly. It was a good thing I was taking notes. Otherwise, I may have eaten the entire slice in mere seconds. It went great with a cup of coffee mixed with agave syrup and So Delicious coconut milk creamer (keeping it soy-free.)

Maple Walnut Scone (contains gluten)
My partner had the Maple Walnut Scone, which contained gluten. He said it was flaky and biscuit-like. He said it wasn't very sweet, but it was tasty, and it was an excellent accompaniment to his morning cup of coffee.

You will have to try the rest of the above featured desserts for yourself.

The top-shelf items: Pistachio Spice Cupcake (GF), Seeded Bagels (contain gluten), and Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes (GF).

Wait! There's more! Every day for lunch, Back to Eden offers a gluten-free soup of the day with a gluten-free cornbread muffin. Other lunch options are Grilled Cheese with Daiya Cheddar or Pepperjack vegan cheeses, savory hand pies, and quiche (not gluten-free.) I was hoping they offered gluten-free bread and bagel options, but with limited space and facilities, providing gluten-free bread and bagels for lunch could cause cross contamination. You've got to respect them for understanding the importance of that.

The tiny Back To Eden is also a soft-serve vegan ice cream parlor, and it has a huge menu of Specialty Shakes, Sundaes, and Single and Double Servings with toppings and sauces to choose from. They even have a Banana Split! All of their ice creams come from Chicago Soy Dairy. And for the soy-sensitive, they will substitute Luna & Larry's Coconut Bliss Ice Cream for an extra dollar.

Basically, you can go there in the winter and eat soup and muffins, or drink a hot cup of coffee or tea and eat cake (or cheesecake, or bars, or truffles...) In the summer, you can get your ice cream fix--gluten-free and vegan style.

Just remember to say excuse me if you bump into another patron while making your way to the counter or to your seat. If you're friendly, you may even make a few new friends who share your love for alternative eating. Being friendly is always preferred to being snooty, antisocial, or just plain mean. But if you're allergic to people, well, we will try to keep an open mind.