I am not joking when I say that if I had to eat only one thing for the rest of my life, I would choose baked goods. Cookies, cake, doughnuts, tarts, cupcakes, any construction of baked, sweet carbohydrates: it is my ultimate. However, when this question comes up with my friends (the “what one thing would you eat…” question), as it often does with hungry, foodie college girls, someone always demands that I pick a specific baked good. “You can’t pick a blanket topic! You have to pick just one! That’s the point!” someone will undoubtedly say. After not much thought at all, I always come to the same conclusion: The Chocolate Bismarck from Schuler’s.
Schuler’s is a locally owned bakery from my hometown, Urbana, Ohio. Started in 1937, it calls itself “the home of the homemade,” and operates out of three stores, the one in my hometown being located in the building that used to be a 7-Eleven. It is an underwhelming place to enter, with poor lighting, no decoration and no attempt to be homey, but the nourishment you find there will without a doubt change your life, as it has mine.
As a kid, my father would surprise us with Schuler’s doughnuts on Sunday mornings. He’d enter the house with a big white box with royal blue writing and my eight-year-old legs would get to the kitchen table as fast as they could. With a tall glass of milk, I ate glazed classics, bearclaws, and doughnut holes for years and years, but always had a favorite: The Chocolate Bismarck.
The Bismarck was usually reserved for my mother. They were her favorite and complemented her morning cup of dark roast coffee perfectly. If there was an extra, I always plotted to make it mine. I loved this particular Schuler’s creation for its richness, its giant-ness, and, most of all, its representation of my mother and her class, intelligence and elegance.
As I grew up, my father learned that the Bismarcks were my favorite and would always add an extra to the box if he picked up doughnuts during his morning errands. They became a treat, signifying a cozy Sunday morning in bed with my dogs and the newest issue of InStyle, or a lazy Saturday afternoon with the entire second season of Gossip Girl on Netflix. The first bite always put a little wobble in my knees and the last bite tasted like I was ready for another.
The Chocolate Bismarck is, if I may say, a beautiful thing. The doughnut itself is a six-inch braided yeast doughnut, perfectly golden on the outside, fluffy, white and soft on the inside. On top of the twist is a thick layer of chocolate icing that is never applied with any sense of accuracy. Some Bismarcks have so much icing, you cannot see the contours of the twist and others have a perfectly distributed layer of icing that displays the gentle curve of the braid to what some might call a sensual extent (Or maybe that’s just me. Because I find baked goods very, very sexy.) Regardless of which Bismarck you choose, you’re in for a taste experience that is sacred.
The dough tastes, for lack of a better word, homemade. No hint of preservatives, pre-made frozenness or artificial sweeteners; just down-home, real ingredients, with hearty flour and a subtle pinch of salt being the stars of the show. The icing adds a level of richness and decadence that begs for a glass of milk or dark, bitter coffee to join the party. I highly recommend, if you’re ever in Urbana, that you start brewing coffee before you leave the house, pick up two Bismarcks, and enjoy them at the kitchen table with someone you love. Eat them at 11:30 a.m., skip lunch in favor of an afternoon catnap, wake up at 4 p.m. and have a fabulous night out (which, in Urbana, means driving an hour to the nearest metropolis, Columbus).
When asked what I miss the most about being home, I can think up a list miles long: my parents, my dogs, my bed, my car, watching the football team warm-up with my girlfriends, my grandmother’s home cooking (worthy of twenty “Best Thing I Ever Ate” columns…). Also included in that list is seeing my dad come through the front door with the dry-cleaning over his shoulder and a white box balanced in his other hand. I miss drinking coffee with my brother and eating three Bismarcks without noticing. And if I’m completely honest, I miss the feeling of having everything from simply taking a bite out of an eighty-nine cent doughnut.