Hansen's Danish Pastry Shop
Hansen's Danish Pastry Shop and its stately black and white sign is hard to miss on this stretch of Pape Avenue, north of the Danforth. Owned by the same family for forty-nine years, there is virtually nothing around it which shares a similar aesthetic or cultural perspective. It startles.
And startle me it did, as I pressed my nose up against the foggy window of the Don Mills 25 bus for the first time, almost exactly a year ago. Visions of Danish butter cookie tins from my childhood danced in my head, and all I could think, through the sheer force of superficiality and imagination was: "I want to go to there."
It consequently became a mission of epic proportions to find it again (damn those foggy windows and my complete lack of directional skills), and to find myself there when it was actually open. The reality most certainly did not disappoint, and due to our conflicting schedules, and the space between us, every visit is a precious treat.
My most precious treats happen to be cookies with lots of butter. Now, I am no baking expert, nor Danish cuisine expert, but the butter appears to be pretty plentiful around these parts.
The raspberry cookies (30 cents each, $3.65 a dozen) have a lovely golden tinge, and smooth texture which would suggest as much. Many of the other cookies seem to share these traits, as they do that piped shape which warms my soul (those ones used to be my second-favourite in the tin).
The pecan tarts ($1.50) also carry the use of this ingredient to a blissful extreme - the richest, smoothest, freshest I've had anywhere. The crust and filling practically disappear into each other, in a mass of chewy comfort, and even the one that got crushed in my bag on the way home tasted of perfection.
Despite their intense sweetness, their relatively small size is perfect for those of us who can only take our desserts in small doses (and it's the same case with most of their cookies). They are also the perfect size to appear downright magical, and to treat a large group of loved ones for not very much money at all.
My favourite thing here though is probably the no-nonsense "white cream buns" ($2), which are usually my inspiration to get off the bus in the first place. Like an ĂŠclair, only better, the pastry is impossibly light and flaky, as well as very moist. It is filled with cream - not custard, but cream. See? No nonsense. They are divine.
That age-old phrase about kids in candy shops was created for establishments of this ilk. The treats are all laid out in grand piles, behind a store-spanning pastry case and through the front window, perfect for some more nose-pressing-against. Oh, and I can assure you that it will have just the right amount of fog on it, soon enough.
The result is very old-fashioned, and very European. The kind of feeling everyone knows that their pastry shop *should* have; the one that gives us that enchanted sensation in our bellies (even before trying the food).
A fellow customer has just exited, his arms full of bags and boxes (tied up with string!), and politely inquires about my photo-taking. He is a long-time fan of Hansen's, and of a Northern European background himself. Of course, my own assessment of the flavour is rooted in a Canadian (and Southern European) context, so I'm curious,
"Is the food -- ?"
"Yes, it's very authentic," he nods emphatically, before I can even finish. So authentic that he recounts a time in the past when he had heard rumors of closing, due to a momentary lack of bakers with the proper expertise. I trust that this was nothing more than a bad dream.
My box of pastries and I go and patiently wait to get back on the bus, preparing to lavish our loved ones with sweets for no particular reason.