RACINE — Before any fruit or frosting meet the flaky crust, it takes three days for the dough of a kringle to take shape. But it takes a lot longer for a new kringle flavor to be allowed to reach customers’ mouths.
When O&H Danish Bakery premiered its eggnog kringle during the first week of December, it was the end of a nearly yearlong experiment.
Matt Horton, the vice president of O&H, said the idea to put the classic holiday flavor into a kringle sprung up sometime around January, 11 months before it was put up for sale.
“It’s a pretty comprehensive and long process,” according to Horton.
Cindy Bendtsen, manager of Bendtsen’s Bakery, 3200 Washington Ave., almost romanticizes the danish her business is powered by — selling between 400 and 800 kringles per day in December.
“It’s kind of like a quest for certain flavors,” she said. “We try to add what we already know tastes good in a kringle.”
Birth of a kringle
O&H, Bendtsen’s and Larsen Bakery, 3211 Washington Ave., say they rely on customers’ input to come up with new flavors.
“Sometimes customers will say, ‘We really like this kind of fruit. You should try that in a kringle,’” Horton said.
“Feedback from customers is always cool,” said Don Hutchinson, who co-owns Larsen Bakery with his sister Debbie.
At O&H, once a good idea (like eggnog) is pitched, bakers will make a few test samples with different proportions of ingredients. After a few rounds of taste-testing, the bakers, owners and staff are able to decide whether the kringle is good enough to be served to the masses.
Hutchinson says that new recipes are usually pinned down in three attempts or less at Larsen Bakery.
The failed flavors of kringle
Some of Hutchinson’s experiments are short-lived, like peanut butter and jelly, while others are repeatedly called upon as a monthly special. Hutchinson created a strawberry champagne kringle in 2017, and it’s popped up every so often in the months since.
“The frosting really does taste like champagne,” Hutchinson said, clearly proud of the pastry he created.
However, some ideas “don’t make it past the cutting room floor,” according to Horton.
O&H tried making a salted caramel kringle once, but it came out too salty, Horton said. Other flavors, like coconut, proved to be too difficult to replicate in kringle form.
Sometimes, a risk will pay off, like how apricot and almond/apricot have entered the regular rotation at Larsen Bakery.
“Generally when our customers come back and ask (for a kringle flavor) a month or two later … that’s when we know we have a winner,” Hutchinson said.
Bendtsen said that sometimes new flavors are discovered on accident. One time a baker was supposed to make one apple and one lemon kringle for a special order, but misread the instructions and combined both fruits into a single kringle, “and it was really good,” Bendtsen said.
At Bendtsen’s at least, testing new kringles is driven by customer demand. When some flavors fall out of vogue, like date pecan and pineapple pecan have recently, the bakery will be willing to test out new products, like French toast, cinnamon roll and roasted pecan.
A kringle culture
And although O&H is selling an eggnog kringle for the first time this year, Larsen Bakery has had one for a while. It’s part of the culture around Racine’s kringle-makers.
“We pay attention to what the other bakers are putting out,” Hutchinson admitted, so he has no issue with O&H jumping on the eggnog bandwagon.
While The Journal Times was interviewing Hutchinson at Larsen Bakery earlier this month, the phone rang. It was somebody from another bakery asking if Hutchinson could spare some ingredients, since it was running low — a result of too many kringle orders.
Hutchinson said this isn’t uncommon. Sometimes he’s had to get some kringle boards from either O&H or Bendtsen’s Bakery when his stockroom empties.
December is the busiest month of the year for these bakeries. O&H claims it can make 7,000 kringles in one day across its five locations. Hutchinson says that Larsen Bakery, with only one storefront in West Racine, can make about 1,200.
Hutchinson credits sweet-toothed Wisconsinites, not bakers like himself for innovating the Danish pastry, for keeping the kringle business going.
“We’re blessed and busy … Customers make them (bakers) feel special, when it’s just an everyday thing for them,” Hutchinson said. “The customers are the ones who made it famous … It’s unique.”