Last October, 85°C opened a storefront in Downtown Berkeley, providing another large-scale Asian bakery franchise to rival Sheng Kee on Southside. In order to determine whose buns taste superior, Spoon tried 3 classic pastries from each bakery.
1. Bo lo bau (AKA Pineapple Bun)
Sheng Kee’s pineapple bun heavily resembled the classic bun, with a golden brown crust forming a glossy, appetizing dome over the bun. The bun itself was soft but a bit chewy due to the bottom browning against the oven while baking. The crumble added a very nice crunch but tasted slightly overbaked, as the crumble wasn’t quite sweet enough to contrast the neutral flavor of the bun.
85ºC renamed its pineapple bun as the Taiwanese Bun (likely to prevent any confusion for pineapple-loving customers). It was baked in an orange, jumbo-sized cupcake wrapper that keeps the bun wonderfully light and fluffy without any browned crust on the outside of the bun. The “pineapple” topping was moist and crumbly, so every bite had a burst of sweetness that accented the bun.
Both bakeries did justice to this classic, but from a flavor and texture standpoint, 85ºC’s Taiwanese bun had the upper hand. The crumble had the right amount of sweetness to balance the bun, and the bun itself had an almost unreal feathery texture. Verdict: 85ºC.
2. Dan tat (AKA egg tart)
Sheng Kee’s tart impressed with its buttery, flaky crust. The crust was thick enough to stand up against the egg custard, giving the taste of both the rich crust and creamy custard in every bite. The custard tasted authentic with a distinct sweet egg flavor and a wonderfully soft texture that melted in your mouth.
85ºC’s tart took a unique spin on the classic tart, with a more cream-heavy custard and brûléed top that tasted almost exactly like crème brûlée. However, compared to the custard, the crust underwhelmed, as the moisture of the custard rendered the thin crust soggy.
While 85ºC added an interesting spin to its tart, it was no match for the all-around delicious version from Sheng Kee. Rich custard + flaky crust wins every time. Verdict: Sheng Kee.
3. Taro bun
The taro filling in Sheng Kee’s bun (AKA Purple Romance) was smooth and packed with taro flavor, while the bun was soft and buttery. As a whole, this bun was very satisfying with its double threat of sweet richness in both the filling and dough.
85ºC again added an unorthodox twist with a wheat based dough in its Marble Taro bun. The dough was made with a whole grain flour and was speckled with sprouted seeds. I’m not sure how much nutrition the wheat dough added, but it definitely evened out the richness of the taro filling, as the whole grain bun provided a neutral flavor that cut the sugary, starchiness of the taro.
This round came down to pure preference, depending on whether you were feeling like a rich and satisfying taro bun or a subtler, more balanced one. Personally, I appreciated the latter, so by a slight edge — Verdict: 85ºC.
Among these three popular pastries, 85ºC came out the winner over Sheng Kee. However, with so many different buns to compare from both bakeries, you’ll have to go to both bakeries yourself to decide the true victor.