EDITOR’S NOTE: When I first published this review, just over 24 hours ago, I announced that Edward Hawk Neal-Paci would be partnering with Donut Central and Fuelpresso in Winter Park to make his citrus-glazed croissant doughnuts available for sale there throughout the week. Unfortunately, after a trial week, that won’t be happening after all, and I have edited my review to reflect that. I don’t want any potential or returning fans to go to Donut Central looking for those perfect pastries and end up disappointed in your friendly neighborhood Saboscrivner, or especially in Edward.
Okay, stalwart Saboscrivnerinos. I’ve found another dessert to add to my pantheon of all-time favorite desserts. We are lucky and blessed here in Orlando to be surrounded by so many incredible bakeries, including my two personal favorites, Se7en Bites and Sister Honey’s. But I’ve discovered another talented master baker, on the same high level as Se7en Bites’ Trina Gregory-Propst and Sister Honey’s Evette Rahman. And just like both of them, he’s a really friendly and nice person, a prince among men, a real mensch. (I’ve never met a jerk-ass baker, though. Have you? Maybe you have to be sweet to create sweets.) His name is Edward Hawk Neal-Paci, and his new business is called Edward’s Gourmet Confections and Fine Coffees (https://www.edwardsgourmet.com/).
I first met Edward back in late November, where he was set up at the Longwood Farmers’ Market on a Sunday. That’s where you can find him most Sundays. He also sells his wares at the Audubon Park Community Market on Monday evenings, but I teach a night class on Mondays this semester, so that ain’t happening for me. But before that, I had followed him on Facebook for a few months, salivating over his photos and descriptions of creative, hand-crafted baked goods and getting more and more psyched for my first visit due to the enthusiastic, rave reviews. I’m much more into savory, salty, spicy foods, but I appreciate the sweet stuff as much as anyone, especially pastries made with care and love.
When I finally met up with Edward at Longwood, I tried two of his brioche doughnuts: one strawberry and one cookies and cream. These were light and fluffy, airy, and absolutely gorgeous — not heavy and greasy like far too many doughnuts. As I get older and become more of an anhedonic altacocker, I can’t deal with the acid reflux I get from some oily, greasy foods like doughnuts. It makes me sad that I don’t enjoy them that much anymore, even from bakeries and doughnut shops I once dug. But I assure you that his decadent doughnuts didn’t have that effect on me.
Here’s that strawberry brioche boi. More on the other in a bit. Look at that rich, smooth, shiny icing. It actually tasted like strawberries — like the actual fruit! — rather than just cloying sugar dyed pink.
But I was so lucky to get the main thing I came for that morning — his very last citrus-glazed croissant doughnut. I’m sure you’ve heard of the cronut out of New York City, the beautiful, perfect love child of a rich, flaky croissant and a doughnut. That’s what this is — the thing I mentioned earlier, one of those rare perfect foods — an all-time Top Five dessert in my 40+ years on this big blue ball o’dirt.
Here’s the aforementioned cookies and cream brioche doughnut and the star of this review, the citrus-glazed croissant doughnut:
I would later learn from Edward that the citrus-glazed croissant doughnut includes not one, not two, but five kinds of hand-squeezed fresh citrus juices: orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit, and tangerine. And the laminated croissant dough isn’t just plain croissant dough, goodness no (although that would be good enough for most of us), but orange croissant dough, made with rich European butter, in *81* separate layers. I started gently pulling it apart, layer by layer, but couldn’t pick out all 81, although I believe every word the man says. That’s why to me, cooking may be an art, but baking is equal parts art, science, and magic. And this man is the Sorcerer Supreme, the Master of the Mystic Arts, when it comes to doughnuts and croissants.
Here are cross-sections of all three, back at the Saboscrivner’s Sanctum Sanctorum:
Finally, Edward amazed and astonished me with a savory croissant stuffed with three of my favorite things to eat, together or separately: serrano ham, goat cheese, and figs. It was an award-winning combination: salty, sweet, chewy (with the slightest crunch from those fig seeds), and a little funky from the goat cheese, especially wrapped and baked inside the soft, flaky, buttery croissant. It was like a dream.
Of course I have to show you the cross-section:
Apparently I missed out on a beloved apple fritter and sweet potato pie, but I have faith that old favorites will return throughout the year, as Edward also introduces new desserts destined to be classics.
This past week, Edward embarked on a new adventure: an all-too brief period selling his citrus-glazed croissant doughnuts and citrus-glazed bites (small cubes about a quarter of the size of a full croissant doughnut) at Donut Central and Fuelpresso (https://www.donutcentral.com/) in Winter Park, on the southeastern corner of Aloma Avenue and Semoran Boulevard. Edward used to work there, so he teamed up with his former employer, providing his citrus specialties for sale alongside their own doughnuts. Unfortunately, he thought he might have a longer partnership with Donut Central, but it didn’t work out. Still, I’m glad I caught him there, for the purposes of this review.
I was lucky enough to see him again and meet his charming husband Eric when I popped in this past Saturday, the second day his citrus-glazed croissant doughnuts were available at Donut Central. This was when I learned about the different citrus juices, the 81 layers, and Edward’s background as an accountant. (I am a huge proponent of anyone who changes careers and ends up doing what they love the second time around, since I did that too, and it saved my life.)
Here are the citrus-glazed croissant doughnut bites ($6.50 for four). These things totally melt in your mouth.
And here are three (because I couldn’t resist eating the fourth one right away) drizzled with rich, velvety chocolate. Chocolate and orange go together surprisingly well, although I think I prefer them pure and unadulterated.
I planned to just get some of the croissant doughnut bites, but we chatted for a while, fully masked and socially distanced. After 15 or 20 minutes flew by, Edward had a whole batch of fresh citrus-glazed croissant doughnuts ready, and I was able to leave with a whole one ($5), still warm. It was the best one yet.
Some of those luscious laminated layers:
This croissant doughnut sings. First of all, you can see the tiny flecks of orange, yellow, and green zest from oranges, lemons, and limes in the freshly applied glaze. The pastry is crispy and crackly, yet soft and yielding whether you bite in or deconstruct it, layer by buttery layer. It’s sweet (as if there was any doubt), but also surprisingly tart, with the refreshing bite of fresh-squeezed juice(s). There’s a lot going on with this pastry, a lot to unpack — hence all those layers. It is the best of all possible worlds, and it will remind you why, for all of its many problems, we are pretty lucky to live here in Florida.
Edward’s citrus-glazed croissant doughnut reminds me of an infamous contest a few years ago, where local chefs and bakers were invited to submit dessert recipes to be considered as the “signature dish” of Orlando, our City Beautiful. The only stipulation is that they had to include one ingredient, so synonymous with Central Florida and Orlando history. If you guessed citrus, you’d be… wrong! The chosen ingredient was honey, and the contentious contest led to a controversial champion, a precious, fancy dessert most people couldn’t even pronounce, from a single restaurant that has since closed.
I’m always fascinated when I travel to different cities that really do have a distinct local dish, where every restaurant serves their own unique, individual take on it. Think NY pizza or bagels, Philly cheesesteaks (even though DiNic’s roast pork sandwich is better than any cheesesteak), barbecue in Texas and Memphis, Cuban sandwiches in Miami, Cuban sandwiches in Tampa. (That’ll get a debate going!) I think that has to happen organically, over time — and I’m talking decades or longer, not mere years. And it definitely can’t be decided unilaterally, based on a single contest. Marketing helps, but the people have to choose.
Orlando has an incredible culinary scene that I’ve tried to do my part to highlight, but we’re not at a point yet where a single dish can represent our entire diverse dining dominion. This was one of the many topics Edward, Eric, and I discussed while I waited for my croissant doughnut. But that said… if Orlando was to have a single food that represented the city and its history, geography, economics, and culture, a dish that everyone should try because they would love it… this would be the one. I’m calling it.
I’d like to say you heard it here first, you savvy, sophisticated Saboscrivnerinos, but the legend of Edward Hawk Neal-Paci and his citrus-glazed croissant doughnuts has been exponentially expanding for months. The man has big plans for 2021, and whatever he does next, I wish him the best of all things. The farmers’ markets, the week-long team-up with Donut Central and Fuelpresso (which ended up being like a pop-up) — I think we’re ogling the outrageous origin of enterprising Edward’s excellent empire. I strongly advise you to follow him on social media and seek out this this delectable doughnut, this crushworthy croissant, this peerless pastry, sooner rather than later, just so you can say “I knew him when.”