I am part Danish, and the Danish part of my family were famous for their baking (they were all home- and church-bakers, not professionals). I was so excited to see someone post about a Danish bakery (as opposed to a danish bakery) in Downtown that I broke my train journey to Burbank this morning, got on the Metro Purple Line and headed to the new Hygge Bakery on Hope St. just south of 11th in the South Park neighbourhood, two blocks from the Staples Center.
About the name: "Hygge" is one of those untranslatable words, but the closest I can come in English is "cozy" or "warm fuzzies". Great British pubs are hygge; snuggling with your loved one by a fire on a cold winter evening is hygge; a party with friends where everyone's having a great time and nobody's barfed yet from alcohol is hygge.
I don't think you could describe the bakery's decor as hygge. It's stark modern look-at-all-these-lofts-how-could-Downtown-change-so-quickly-my-God-this-used-to-be-a-homeless-encampment. It doesn't matter, though. Nobody goes to a bakery for the atmosphere, they go to a bakery for the baked goods.
The place smells great. You can absolutely smell that bakery all the way from the opposite corner of 11th and Hope.
The place is definitely a Danish bakery (again, not a danish bakery), with lots of items involving almond paste and flaky pastry. One item was a, well, a raised danish with sweet almond filling and chocolate chips. Good, but very sweet (don't sweeten your coffee as much).
Poppy seed buns were not what I expected -- not classically sweet, made with the sort of vaguely sweet dough used for flaky pastry, rolled over, coated in poppy seeds (white poppy seeds for the butter buns, dark for the non-butter buns). You would need a sweet coffee milk to dip this into.
Raspberry and apple danish were perfectly OK, but I'm 99% sure they were made with pre-made fruit fillings. This is a shame because fruit is busting out all over the place in Los Angeles that could be turned into scrumptious fillings in the space of half an hour.
Croissants were better than average, but not as good as, say, Le Pain Quotidien or Aux Delices.
A standout item -- easily the best thing in the place -- was the buns, what Finns would call pulla and what Swedes know as lussekattar. This is a milk bread made into buns, some plain, some studded with raisins, some studded with chocolate chips. They had that undulating, shiny, soft brown top that is the epitome of what a Scandinavian coffee bun looks like. The only way to improve these would be with just a pinch of freshly-ground cardamom in the dry ingredients. Then they would taste exactly -- EXACTLY -- like Aunt Gertrude's cardamom buns, which I make every year for my wife's Swedish family. Not to mention that they were hot, and I had people giving me desperate looks of longing the whole way back to Union Station and the whole way up to Burbank.
I sampled the two breads at the counter (there were a lot of samples, I was happy). The rye bread was spongy -- finally, some spongy rye bread. Good sour taste, great crumb. Needs the chewy/slightly crunchy top in order to compete with Streit's. The white bread I tried was fairly average and I might buy a loaf for the very fine, soft crumb if I were making bread-and-butter puddings, but I don't see it as a bread I would do much with. One thing I saw was the rye breads wrapped in plastic on the shelf. That is NOT a good thing -- and it makes it look like the bread was from yesterday. I'm sure it wasn't -- it didn't taste day-old -- but if someone sees it they will assume that.
I did not order coffee. It was in big pots marked Gaviña and I don't like Gaviña coffee at all.
They also have a selection of cookies, and a strawberry tart with fresh strawberries on top of a sponge cake with Bavarian cream and ganache. Looked good, lots of strawberries, but for $20 I think I would like it to be a bit... bigger. I didn't try it, obviously, so I've no basis for whether it tastes good.
In talking to a woman at the Coffee Bean on 9th and Hope (I told you I wouldn't drink Gaviña coffee!) about the place, she said she'd seen it but it hadn't been open and that she wondered if it would serve lunch. If they put some sweet butter on that rye bread and then a slice of smoked salmon, or cucumber and egg, or tiny brine shrimp and an olive, I'd go there and eat them. I love smørrebrød, the Danish open-faced sandwiches.
Service was kind but sort of all over the place. Four people behind the counter at 7.30 in the morning, but only some people knew how much things were (and not everything was marked -- shame on you, either mark them all or mark none, don't equivocate!). I'm not going to ding them for the service, though. Anyplace is going to have some wobbles the first day and at least they were able to answer questions. One hint to one particular staff member, though -- when someone asks what's in an item, "almonds and sugar and stuff" is not a good answer. "Almond paste on a pastry raft with sugar glaze" would have been a better answer.
Prices were OK. I bought probably a dozen and a half pastries and a dozen of the milk bread buns, and my total was $38 or so. Perfectly fine pricing for downtown, and I'm sure the rent in that building can't be cheap.
I'm not sure if they are planning to expand the selection. There are only so many things you can do with almond paste, chocolate and glacé icing, so I'm going to do something unusual here, which is make a concrete list of thing they could do to improve the place, given that they're not even open a week yet, and I'm going to break the fourth wall here:
1. More signage. While this is definitely going to be a neighbourhood place, you folks are only four blocks from the 7th St/Metro Centre Metro Rail stop. It is not too far to go, but I had to wander around the intersection and come at the place cock-eyed before I found it.
2. Get your website up. It's on your business cards, but you're pulling an Yxta (they FINALLY got theirs up and running). At least put up a placeholder static page with your exact address, a photo so people know what to look for when approaching, your phone number and hours. The only thing out there besides weekly neighbourhood rags talking about your "upcoming bakery" is your Yelp page, which does not have this information.
3. Label the prices while you train your staff. I bought a lot of stuff and had absolutely no idea how much I was going to spend. It turned out to be OK but I would have been pissed off to find out that an item was much more than I thought. Surprises are bad.
4. Diversify a little bit. Fresh fruit is much more available here year-round than it is in Denmark. Use it -- cook it down with sugar in a pot and use it for fillings. Don't use the stuff that comes in a giant tin from Sysco. Fresh is more expensive but things like the Donut Man's fresh peach doughnuts or even Marie Callender's strawberry pies should tell you that people are willing to pay more for fresh.
5. Don't wrap your breads. It's off-putting to see them wrapped up like I'm at the appy counter at Albertsons or something.
This has the hallmarks of a good beginning, and doubtless I will return, but this place needs a month or two to get things going and get comfortable in their skin before I'll try again. Unless, of course, I get the hunger for those milk bread buns again.
Since the Add-a-Place is broken:
1106 S. Hope St.
Los Angeles, CA 90015
1106 S Hope St, Los Angeles, CA 90015