A visit to the nation’s kringle capital practically demands a citywide kringle taste-test, right?
It was easy. And fun. From my favorite band of Racine residents — my husband’s family — I learned that the city boasts four primary kringle bakeries.
After devoting a pile of cash — and maybe an hour of driving around and buying both a fruit kringle and a nut kringle from each bakery — I gathered a discerning squad of lifetime kringle consumers: my sister-in-law, two of her daughters and their three teenage sons. Over the course of an hour, we sampled all eight kringles, carefully assessing each oval-shaped pastry in terms of flavor, texture, appearance, freshness and all-around appeal.
The unanimous favorite was the pecan kringle from 86-year-old Bendtsen’s Bakery (3200 Washington Av., Racine, Wis., 1-262-633-0365, bendtsensbakery.com).
It’s the bakery’s top seller, by a mile, and it’s easy to see why. The pastry was deeply golden and genuinely flaky and tender, and the filling, with its hint of butterscotch, was packed with plenty of nuts. It also lacked the toothache-inducing sweetness of its competitors. A sign on the bakery’s awning trumpets that it’s home to “Racine’s No. 1 kringle,” and it’s reassuring to see that truth in advertising really does exist.
“Midwest Made” author Shauna Sever is also a member of Team Bendtsen’s. “It’s a lovingly made pastry, they still do so much of the process by hand,” she said. “And Bendtsen’s still uses butter in that pastry. So often with baked goods, it’s that one little turn of the key that makes all the difference.”
Just up the street at the modest Larsen Bakery (3311 Washington Av., Racine, Wis., 1-262-633-4298, larsenskringle.com), the handmade kringle was nearly as impressive as its neighbor’s. Kudos to the cherry kringle; its filling boasted a vivid color and spot-on flavor. The pretzel-shaped kringle neon sign in the bakery’s window is a sweet history-minded touch.
If the Mall of America were to land a kringle-teria (and really, that’s not a half-bad idea) it would probably resemble the elaborate, branded-to-the-hilt outpost of O&H Danish Bakery (O&H has five locations, including 5910 Washington Av., Racine, Wis., 1-262-504-7000, ohdanishbakery.com) on the west side of town, which had, yes, two tourist buses parked out front when I visited. Because it’s available at Trader Joe’s, O&H is probably the city’s most recognizable kringle producer, but fame is not necessarily synonymous with appeal. O&H’s most memorable asset is its boundary-stretching sense of fun: pumpkin-caramel kringle, Turtle kringle, Key lime kringle, cinnamon roll kringle, even an iced “birthday” kringle. But the kringle itself? Meh.
Occupying the bottom rung of our kringle-a-thon was the disappointing Lehmann’s Bakery (9117 Durand Av., Sturtevant, Wis., 1-262-632-4636, lehmannsbakery.com), where the output was greasy, leaden and alarmingly sweet.
The primary downside to Racine’s bakery-made kringles is that they would benefit from butter, or more butter. Shortening, margarine and other price-conscious fatty shortcuts don’t cut it, which is why an all-butter, make-at-home kringle is a superior product. It’s just not as convenient as its commercial counterparts.