The sausage roll, like so much baking, is in the hands of a new generation who wish to make a baking statement in what I like to call the Canadian farm grandma style. It’s a romantic one with coffee cakes, pies, sticky buns, and sausage rolls. I’m glad we’re having this revival even if the bakers, in their sweet butter-yellow shops, have never been on a farm.
Britain’s Guardian newspaper says enough of the baking fad. But we are in serious need over here. From someone who flirted with whole wheat in the seventies, I can say that nothing, nothing makes classic baking classic except prodigious amounts of butter, cream, white sugar, and white flour. All the bad things are good again. Hallelujah.
This should be a good thing for the sausage roll, right? But since most new bakers probably didn’t really have baking grandmas, I have to question how first hand their sausage roll relationships are. This isn’t Britain, a place with serious sausage roll lineage. There’s been drop out here.
There are only two components to the sausage roll: pastry and filling and the two sub groups for both are texture and flavour.
For me – and I know there’s some subjectivity going on here – a sausage roll should be a bit messy. They are something I can eat in the car, so some flaky bits on my coat front isn’t all bad. I also like to see a bit of grease seep onto the paper bag that’s holding it.
I’m an advocate of puff pastry but here’s the thing with puff, all pastry, really: it’s awful cold out of the fridge and not especially good if kept warm. The microwave is no friend of any pastry so if anyone offers to reheat in one, you’re in the wrong place. The best is room temperature but the food police get in on the act because of the meat and demand refrigeration. While you may think this is a good thing, it messes with perfection.
Pastry problems seem small given that the filling is where most sausage rolls are almost always wrong. The new guard of food and drink like to make their mark with genius new flavours – they do it with beer and sausage making, too (enough pumpkin spice already). A classic sausage roll is a simple thing: Gently seasoned pork, the kind that makes you think of turkey dressing, no fancy pants other stuff. And chunky onion bits belong in Scottish bridies.
The filling’s texture? I’m looking for tender, moist, and finely grained. This means using filler and fatty meat. Take note retro bakers, filler is not bad. Neither is fat. The filler (grated raw potato or bread crumbs) helps to keep in the fat so the centre remains soft rather than mealy or hard and lumpy.
The best sausage roll in my city was from the now defunct Lisbon Bakery on Hastings near Nanaimo in Vancouver. It was a tired place and had nothing to do with Lisbon when I knew it. My east side Vancouver friend, Helen says it was once Sutherland’s Bakery beside Burton’s Five & Ten. At some point Chinese owners bought it and made really good cake donuts, Portuguese buns and the sausage rolls. As it often is with the old, it became invisible, was overlooked, and so the Lisbon Bakery closed forever.
If ever I see an old school bakery like it I have high sausage roll hopes. Chances of being rewarded get higher the further from the city and the closer to the farms I get.
A note about the photograph: this sausage roll is from Fratelli’s Bakery on Commercial Dr. They may know cake but fail seriously at sausage rolls. It was uninspired but worse, it was stale. They would never sell me a stale cake so why this?