Before I went to New Zealand, I talked to friends who had visited before and they all said it was incredible — truly one of their favorite places on earth — but there was a catch. “Don’t expect too much of the food” was something I heard over and over again. So I went without high culinary expectations. Maybe that was good because I was pleasantly surprised. I’m not sure if things have changed dramatically since my friends visited but I was blown away by the fresh seafood, the craft beer, the coffee scene (that rivals the one in my hometown of Portland, Oregon), and the bakeries. New Zealand is full of Europeans who left the hustle and bustle of the EU in search of a simpler way of life, and they’ve brought the tradition of excellent baking with them.
On the North Island in Auckland, The Caker, aka Jordan Rondel, makes delicious and even healthy cakes, cookies and pies. Rondel’s great-grandfather was a pastry chef who ran a patisserie in Paris so baking is in her blood. She certainly puts her own spin on things– many of her pastries are gluten-free or vegan like the triple coconut and raspberry cake with berry coulis. Everything Rondel does is loaded with yummy ingredients like fresh fruits and nuts and I really appreciate the rustic presentation where nothing is too perfect. The blueberry, rhubarb and white chocolate cake decorated with a splattering of berry coulis and freeze-dried rhubarb is reminiscent of a Jackson Pollock painting. One thing to keep in mind, this is a made to order bakery (not a retail space) so cakes and cookies must be ordered online at least 24 hours in advance.
On the South Island in the outdoorsy community of Nelson a Hungarian couple has opened The Baker’s Coffee Shop, a bakery that from the outside doesn’t seem like anything too special — it’s located in a medical office building — but inside it feels like a dream. The walls are covered with crisp white subway tiles, daily specials are written on kraft paper, and the gorgeous pastries are displayed on a wooden butcher-block table.
Greta Vagujhelyi and her husband Zoltan — who look more like models than bakers — wear aprons they made themselves with suspenders from Seoul, South Korea. They say their croissants, chocolate tarts and Danishes are made in the Viennese style (many believe croissants originated in Vienna). The chocolate snail, a traditional Hungarian specialty, is a pastry I’d gladly hop on a flight for: The flaky dough is rolled with a layer of Valrhona chocolate. It’s deeply flavored but not too sweet.
452 K’Rd (where you pick up your cake)
Aukland, New Zealand
+64 021 883 595
The Baker’s Coffee Shop
105 Collingwood Street
Nelson, New Zealand
+64 3-545 9136