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Asian Cuisine

Eat This Now: Rice Puffs at Queen's Bakery

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Wed, Mar 9, 2011 at 7:00 AM
click to enlarge A rice puff at Queen's Bakery - T. NGUYEN
  • T. Nguyen
  • A rice puff at Queen's Bakery

Queen's Bakery in Chinatown sits innocuously between a Sam Woo and Wing Wa Hing Gifts and Arts Co. (this is a one-stop shop: you can get everything from paper lanterns to fresh herbs here). The bakery is small, modest, and Pepto-Bismol pink. In fact, if you didn't know any better, you might ignore the whiteboard propped up outside the door, inviting you to try the queen's fruit smoothies, and head directly to the bigger and better decorated Phoenix Bakery a few blocks away.

But, you do know better - you are reading this, right? - so you know that you should go in. Maybe not for the smoothies (although they looked very good when we went), but definitely for the sachima, which the bakery also calls "rice puffs."

The American name is a bit of a misnomer. There is no rice in the rice puff. Indeed, even though its closest American counterpart is a funnel cake re-imagined as a Rice Krispies Treat, these puffs are made simply of flour and egg, held together with sugar and corn syrup, and then deep fried. To borrow from the bakery's slogan, this last step in the fryer is the "crowning touch" to the puffs.

There are a few variations to a plain sachima: sometimes they're topped with raisins. Some have walnuts. Others have both. Queen's Bakery's version has neither. Instead, the bakery sprinkles sesame seeds on top and dusts coconut shreds on the bottom. Together, these little accents offset the sweetness of the puff and give them a distinctly nutty flavor.

Perhaps the most surprising part of the puffs is how soft they are - unlike the jawbreaking, dry sachima you sometimes find in the candy aisle of Asian markets, these are soft, billowy even. And, despite all that sugar and fat binding everything together, they're sticky enough to keep everything in tact as you bite into it, but not so sticky that your fingers can now do little nothing more than turn pages, quickly.

Queen's Bakery places most of its pastries behind a slightly cloudy glass display: almond cookies, black forest cake, the all-purpose fruit cake. The rice puffs, though, are nowhere to be found there. No, like the best perfumes at Bloomie's, the rice puffs are only available behind the counter, and you must ask specifically for them. The bakery offers the rice puffs strictly by the dozen, in a regal white cardboard box with the puffs layered in two tiers, six neat squares per tier.

The downside, then, is that you can't just have one. The upside is, you can't just have one. So, you can keep these at your desk, perfect for a mid-morning and mid-afternoon and mid-evening snack. Or, you can be generous and share the box with your office, or bring it with you to a baby shower or housewarming party or whatever it is that you go to that requires you to bear a gift. You may never have to make a pan of Rice Krispies Treats again.

Eat This Now: Rice puffs ($4.75/dozen) at Queen's Bakery.

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