I have to thank this humble master baker; Wu Pao Chun for giving me all the reasons to squeeze Kaoshiung into my “sardine-packed” travel plan. A friend of mine raised her eyebrows when she learned that I was on a day trip to Kaoshiung. She protest that it was not worth to spend S$200 odd for a returned fare on high speed rail from Taipei to Kaoshiung and to imprison myself for a good 2.5 hours with no multimedia entertainment on-board, just didn’t make sense. It sounds even more crazy to many with the intention to check out bakeries. But I felt much better after being told of more craziest stories from the cabby who ferried 2 tourists to the bakery, having to buy just a croissant!? Aye, I have a much better planned itinerary apart from queuing up for breads, I told myself! So the story begins…
Making Beeline at 10am
The morning crowd was shocking. Although I have been warned, I didn’t expect to see 30ish people waiting in line for the bakery to open its door. The cabby then asked, “Do you still want to get down and queue?” What!? Of course I would, that was my chief purpose to Kaoshiung! It would be silly of me to let you ferry me elsewhere. And so I got down the cab and joined the crowd.
At 10:00 sharp, the bakery finally opened its door to welcome the first 6 customers in line (crowd control: only 6s are allowed to enter the bakery at any one time). Counting patiently to my turn, I gave a closed examination at the bakery. I took noticed of another huge wooden main door separating the glass entrance and its panels, I guess it acts as a “shield” to keep anyone from peeping into the store at its closing? In case of any unauthorized disclosure on the chef’s recipe? Such wild guessing sometimes helped kill my boredom anyway.
By 10:30, I managed to march into the shop, grinning at my partner standing next to me (os: “look at those envy-looking faces behind me, heh”). I am finally a few foot closer to the 2 champion breads that have made the Taiwanese proud. Was hoping to act relaxed, but I couldn’t hold on to my excitement and had to rush to the counter to ask for them. As directed, the 2 huge loaves towering in the bread basket seems to be showing off at me. Without thinking, I pick up the winning “Millet-wine, rose-petal and dried-lychee bread” with my bread tong. Oh my god, this darling weighed a few stones. Suddenly, the tong appeared flimsy and I almost risked dropping the loaf. There were 3 left after I helped myself with one (the Red Wine Dried Longan bread were not as fast-selling in comparison, based on the turnover). And in no time, the basket was emptied by others. The staff had to politely turn away a customer who came to buy the lychee bread (I felt a thousand times better than striking a lottery) and was told that there won’t be anymore batches for the day (both award-winning bread is limited to only 100 loaves per day).
This Rose Sweetheart (for Taiwanese movie 「女孩壞壞」 set to release on May 31,2012) bread was made with US strawberries, California walnuts & Canadian linseed. Incorporated with organic rose petals, pure longan-fruit honey & New-Zealand cream cheese, the taste was explosive! It came with a surprise when I made an incision on the bread, revealing the whitish cream cheese piped in the middle. The cream cheese was soft and mild tasting, all very refreshing. Each bite on the bread evoked pleasurable feeling, remembering my first love. For only NT120, it has been under-priced.
2010 Champion Bread ~ Millet wine with Dried Lychee & Rose Petal Bread NT350
This Millet-wine with dried Lychee and Rose petals bread 「荔枝玫瑰麵包」 was first of its kind. A truly artisan piece of work by this avant-garde baker; Wu Pao Chun. This masterpiece has won him the “2010 Masters de la Boulangerie” title in the European-style bread category. The inspiration came from the popular french confection; Lychee macaron (immediately came to mind was PierreHermé’s famous Litchi & Rose ganache; sandwiched between 2 Ispahan macron biscuits), prompts him into experimenting for nearly a year before the bread becomes a success. His courageous hard work (he practiced from 6pm after work to 3am the next day, at least one day a week) has finally paid off. His intention to promote the Taiwan’s agriculture produce has led him into using millet-wine & dried lychee as the main ingredients in the competition which were also rare in Europe. His decision not only crowned him with the prestigious title but also allowed the world to come to know Taiwan, his hometown. His success was made out of his love for his late mother who had helped him overcome all odds in life. He has then start to make pineapple tarts 「陳無嫌鳳梨酥」that named after his mother (who worked in the pineapple field and had been poor) to make her spirit live forever.
This 2010 champ has all the innovative ingredients hidden in it and I vouch for the unique and unforgettable taste of my lifetime! The lychee liquor used to plump up the dried lychee fruits, give the bread its distinctive flavour. The honeyed rose petals was full of flavour. Together with the use of microorganisms (he had spent 3 years reading Japanese-text recipes) to cultivate his own leaven, had him finally succeeded in harmonizing the flavor in the bread. Truly, very single bite heightened a different level of enjoyment. My experience with this award-winning Lychee and Rose petals bread was beyond description. You just have to get acquainted with it to feel what I have felt. Baker Wu is genuinely a gifted master baker whose baking deserves many more applause.
Taiwan Longan with Red Wine Bread NT350
Another award wining bread, 2008 “Taiwan Longan with Red Wine” 「酒釀桂圓麵包」,is another ingenious work by Wu Pao Chun. Selecting only the traditionally-smoked dried longan (from Southern part of Taiwan) soaking up in red wine, it is yet another calligraphic art work in the shop. Using only the French red wine as one of the key ingredients, the bread didn’t taste alcoholic at all. In essence, the dough was fermented not only by the nice yeasty smell but doubled up by the grape fruit in the wine. The crunchy California walnuts made the bread even more aromatic. The taste was gratifying. If you insist I made a choice out of the two champion breads, I have to vote for the 2010 Millet-wine with dried Lychee and Rose Petals bread but this Taiwan Longan with Red Wine bread did come close.
Baguette with mixed mushroom and truffle oil NT80
The sight of this truffle mushroom baguette whetted my appetite for wanting another piece but was a complete sold out. The limited quantities has made this expensive looking bun even more precious. I was lucky to sweep the last one from the basket. The baguette was crisp even though it has lost its warmth. The minced mushrooms, seasoned with truffle oil married well with this mini french pain. The toppings was mild and slightly salted, neither the wild fungus nor the white truffle oil tasted awful (no gasoline after-taste). Both gave a pleasant exchange in its flavour. The pressed garlic made the flavor more mellow. The size was perfect to start the day with.
Mentaiko Baguette NT60
Mentaiko「明太子」 baguette, somehow fall slightly behind the truffled bun. The marinated pollock roe was spicy but not burning. Its saltiness was somewhat tamed. I wish for a more distinctive mentaiko fillings (something like Singapore’s Donq). The crusty baguette was as good on its own.
Spring Onion Bread NT20
The Spring Onion bread didn’t let me down. The Taiwanese traditional bread was a delight to eat! I enjoyed the fragrance of the spring onions and its sweetness was not too overly spicy. They were moist and crunchy at the same time. Taiwan has the best local produce and Yilan; a county in Northeast Taiwan, is well-known for its spring onions 「宜蘭三星蔥」.
Plain Croissant NT35
As for the Plain Croissant, I would give it 2 out of 3 stars. I loved its astonishing flaky layers (better than a puff pastry) but it hasn’t had the pronounced buttery flavour (perhaps the Taiwanese prefer it baked this way) which I was after. I hope the bakers could laminate the roll with more butter. Another good notes were that the bread was light & not greasy. I still had a good time with it although the table has been quite a mess when I attempt to tear the croissant apart to share.
陳無嫌鳳梨酥 – NT399 (12s/box)
Apart from baking bread, the baker also offers in-housed pineapple tarts. Stacking neatly on the shelve, next to the cashier, I reached for 2 boxes (packed in 12s/box) to delight my friends back home. 「陳無嫌鳳梨酥」which named after his mother, was made round instead of the rectangular looking tart. The enclosed pineapple filling was fresh and dampish. I adored the sweetness which tasted natural and not artificially sugared. The texture was soft and flaky. It has got a pleasant duck egg flavour (not gamey) and rich buttery taste in the pastry (for those who didn’t like dairy products, maybe this may not appeals to you). The bite size melt-in-the-mouth cake makes a delightful souvenir, it spares you from feeling heavy after eating them.
Staring at the crowd, queuing to foot their bills (mine was a shocking S$80 in total! I have never paid anything like this just for breads…), I felt warm at heart. This master baker has earned himself streams of supporters both locals (mostly) and abroad (occasionally like myself). The interior of the bakery has been designed sleek and clean with very tall ceiling. “Shopping” for breads here, had been a therapeutic affair, though at times it becomes less enjoyable when the champs were sold out.
The long wait at the store is worth a lifetime! I did not regret making a trip to Kaoshiung to buy bread from this Taiwan’s World Champion baker, from which, I now better understand why the queue was all about. In fact, I am glad to have pay a visit and will fondly remember this very day when others mentioned “吳寶春”.