I had walked by the location of the highly anticipated bakery countless times—the corner of 11th and Hope. Hoping (cheap play on words I know) that it would open soon and wondering why the hell a bakery was named Hygge. I know both of the owners, Ray and Helen, and could have asked about the strange name for a bakery, but like that pebble in my shoe that I do nothing about until I get home and put on my jamys (ok I don’t wear pajamas but…) I let it alone and endured the annoyance.
Then came the email from Ray inviting me and the rest of the neighborhood to a Grand Opening Day of Danish Pastry eating. I should point out here, for those that are not familiar with the corner of 11th and Hope that Hygge is at the base of Luma, where both Ray and Helen also live upstairs. This little shindig was packed and I did try a few delicious morsels, but to do a proper story I decided to wait until I could come back, sit down comfortably, and try all eighty creations that are baked up fresh daily…The arrangements were made! (not really that dramatic I just sent Ray a text)
What would a Stan Lerner blog be if I didn’t say something like, “Hey business owners that aren’t downtownsters or happen to be big corporations (AEG) that just want to exploit our ever growing density to make a buck—take note that a little locally owned bakery invited everyone in the neighborhood over for some FREE DANISH!!!” Okay, I’m on vacation in Vegas so I won’t go dark, but seriously Hygge joins with Bottega Louie in making the big guys look silly. Better product, better price, and owners that care about the community. And for some reason my friend April The Stripper, who is looking at my screen as I write this masterpiece, has just informed me that Hygge means: to hang out in Danish. Now if she would just go back to rubbing oil on my back and let me finish my blog, she would know that Ray did tell me this very fact…But that’s still a bit further along in the story.
So knowing that I have blood sugar as volatile as Mount Saint Helens, I invited Shannon to write this piece—allowing me to gorge on Danish and not worry about being too shaky to take notes. And to call 911 in case I went into some kind of shock…I didn’t want Ray or Helen to have to deal with this if I hit the floor. So think of this as a blog about the writing of a blog.
Ray came to America to play jazz saxophone, and did so quite successfully for several years before taking a position at UCLA Medical center, where he met his partner Helen. During this period of Ray’s life he could not help but to think of one thing, “There was no Spandauer to be found in LA!”
Spandauer is a pastry made of twenty-seven layers of the most delicate low gluten pastry dough—folded and filled with custard, it strikes smooth, cool, creamy notes on the palate, all in that order. This Spandauer thing, which I shared with Shannon, was so good that I came to understand why people in Denmark hang out at bakeries—I’m not kidding.
“April, put your top back on. I have a girlfriend these days—she won’t understand that you just came over for a swim and got naked.” Pout. “Okay, but just the top, leave the string thing on.” Smile… “How am I supposed to work under these conditions? And where the hell is Andy, I thought he was bringing lunch?”
Where was I?
Great there are kids peaking over the fence—April The Stripper. I should mention here that my doctor’s orders to rest are the reason that I’m staying at my friend Dave The Jew’s hacienda in Vegas and not at a hotel.
“Hey guys take a picture it’ll last longer!…No, I was joking put those cell phones away!!!” To be honest I don’t blame them. I wish I could have gotten a glimpse of April topless in a pool when I was their age. Although I do have fond memories of Phoebe Cates in “Fast Times At Ridgemnont High”. And since I have yet to mention that Ray was born and raised in Denmark, let me do so now—thus his love of Spandauer.
So there I sat with Shannon as Ray pulled up a chair two pink boxes in hand. I wasted no time in opening a box and cutting a Spandauer in half. It was as described previously and I’ll take it a step further—what LA was missing. Next I sliced a Morning Poppy down the middle. This one looked a little dry and frankly I would have never ordered it if I just saw it in the case, but once in my mouth it screamed, “This is what you should eat every morning for breakfast!” Funny, apparently a book isn’t the only thing that you should not judge by its cover. As Shannon was making a note about a pastry called a Linz (because of its shape) I tried to eat the Raspberry Roumelade.
“Are you going to eat all of the Raspberry?”
“Well not now I’m not,” I said reluctantly cutting her side in on some of the filling I was trying to hog for myself.
The pastry at Hygge is fit for royalty because the chef is Henrich Gram and he actually did work for a bakery that supplied the palace of the Queen of Denmark. Remember, baking is serious business in Denmark, so bakers on the level of Mr. Gram not only have a four-year degree in baking they also have a two-year degree in confection. But six years of school and twenty-five years of experience are not what make Henrich Gram the master baker that he is—it’s his passion for baking. And you better have passion when your six-day workweek starts every morning at 3:00 a.m.
Thankfully, Ray had taken Shannon back for a tour of the kitchen, this allowed me to sit and eat the rest of the pastries without sharing. And as I did this, I stared at a picture of Copenhagen that hangs behind the counter. I wondered why Ray would leave such a beautiful place with such nice people and bakeries on every corner. “Baking began in Vienna, but it was perfected in Denmark,” they say and I believe.
Not too long after finishing the last of the contents of the first of the pink boxes I asked Ray the very question I had just been pondering.
“You know Stan, in America you can do anything or become anything that you want…I think one of the best things about this country is that people come from all over the world and bring what they like best from their own cultures here. So we have the best of everything here.”
I could write an essay on what I learned about baking in the course of this interview / tasting, but what makes what I do such an incredible experience are the things that I learn, which are not so expected. Downtown LA is a much better place now because my friend Ray Lee dreamed of opening a bakery. But really our whole country is a much better place now because my friend Ray Lee decided to set an example: think of the best thing you can contribute to this country, work hard, and make it happen.