Scrolling through the breakfast sides menu at The Poodle Dog, my finger paused on a curious item: butterhorn.
That’s a pastry you don’t see much anymore.
The one I ate at the Poodle Dog reminded me of the ones I grew up eating from my local bakery.
Buttery, sweet pastry with old-fashioned icing that crackled when I bit into it, and sliced almonds. The square of pastry looked blocky, rough-edged, as if it had been cut from a sheet pan of butterhorns ($4.59 each).
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Who had baked them?
Jane Balmer, that’s who. She’s been a baker at The Poodle Dog in Fife since 1980.
Poodle Dog manager Charles Amner told me he calculated how many butterhorns she’s baked.
“I did the math. She was selling four sheet pans a day with 15 pieces each on them for 10 years. Then it went to two (sheet pans) and then one.”
He estimates she’s made 1.2 million butterhorns.
The recipe is a hand-me-down from the original restaurant owners (Tim Tweten of South Sound Restaurant Group currently owns it).
Balmer’s changed the recipe over the years. She substituted cream and water for milk powder.
“The original butterhorns were iced and topped with granulated peanuts, but now we use the almonds,” she said.
Indeed, that’s how most people familiar with the pastry grew up eating them.
The pastry, by the way, will be described differently depending on an eater’s introduction. They can look similar to rolled-up crescent rolls. I’ve seen those listed in Scandinavian cookbooks as smørhorn.
Others know them as a sweet pastry wedge or round (like a danish) made with real butter, glazed and topped with almonds.
Balmer said her dough starts with cream, water, shortening, yeast, eggs and flour. And there’s a tasty extra in the dough — ground mace.
But what about the butter?
That’s added in stage two of the two-day baking process. Balmer spreads whipped butter across a broad swath of dough.
“The dough, it’s made in two stages, like a danish, where you make the dough and then we butter it and fold it. Then butter it and fold it. Then it’s put into the cooler where that butter solidifies.”
The second day is all about rolling.
“You roll it out and put your cinnamon mixture in it and roll it up, like a cinnamon roll almost, and then cut into the rolls,” she said. “Before I proof the rolls, I sprinkle them with the almonds and then bake them and then put the glaze on so that the almonds are covered with the glaze.”
Tenna Lusk, the baker for Poodle Dog’s sister restaurant The Hob Nob, was trained to make butterhorns by Balmer. She said Balmer makes it look easy, but butterhorns are labor intensive. She makes them once or twice a month at The Hob Nob.
“You have to make sure you have the right height on the dough and roll it out over and over and over,” Lusk said.
Did she ruin them under Balmer’s watch?
“She’s the nicest, most patient, kind teacher. She is a wonderful person to work with. It’s like your grandma teaching you the recipes. If you mess up, she’s very nice about it,” Lusk said.
One of Balmer’s six children decided to pursue bakery arts herself. Her daughter Laura Hagen teaches pastry arts at Cascade Culinary Institute at Central Oregon Community College.
She even brought her mom down to teach a class. It was a class about butterhorns, of course.
Butterhorns at The Poodle Dog are available cold or warmed up (get them warmed). They’re served with a big plop of whipped butter and an extra side of icing.
The Poodle Dog
Where: 1522 54th Ave E. in Fife; 253-922-6161; poodledogrestaurant.com.