James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

The Two Most Beautiful Words in Doughnut Language

The Two Most Beautiful Words in Doughnut Language

Maple Bars in Washington State

It’s always pretty dicey driving over the Cascade Mountains from Yakima, Washington to Seattle. Hairpin turns, construction, and the seemingly endless stream of truckers make for an exhausting drive, even on a sunny day. But winter presents its own unique challenges, whiteout conditions among them.

Driving in a Snoqualmie Pass blizzard requires white-knuckle focus. And if you’re coming from the east side, there’s no other way to reach SeaTac Airport when flights out of my hometown are shut down for snow. It’s either drive over the pass or sit on the couch to nowhere. Fortunately, there’s a singular solution to help anxious drivers make the trek. A freshly baked maple bar, and there’s only one place to get it.

[Read: Can you put bourbon on my doughnut?]

An hour before hitting the summit, I take Exit 85 off I-90 and head to the tiny town of Cle Elum and the even tinier Cle Elum Bakery. Originally home to the Kittitas band of the Yakima Native American tribe, this frontier village became a mining boomtown after coal was discovered there in 1894. Four years after the town was incorporated, in 1906, Cle Elum Bakery opened its doors.

For more than 100 years, the little bakery has served immigrant miners, cattle ranchers, farmers, loggers, homesteaders, and, today, hundreds of skiers heading to the black diamonds of Snoqualmie Ski Resort. Many love the Cle Elum Bakery for its French loaves, but savvy drivers facing a snowstorm check the glass case first. The bear claws and apple turnovers may be tempting, and I wouldn’t judge anyone who opted for a hot cross bun, but if you’re in for inclement weather, there’s no better choice than the maple bars, topped with a generous coating of brown maple glaze. Bakery owner Claudia Osmonovich says they can sometimes be overlooked because they’re not the prettiest pastries in the case, but you shouldn’t. The filled version, sort of an éclair maple donut, is often called a Long John in other parts of the U.S., but on the West Coast we stick to the two most beautiful words in doughnut language: maple bar.

[Read: Never underestimate the doughnut lobby]

Wax paper in hand, the server will collect the sticky sweet baked good. Service is quick and the maple bars are swiftly tucked into a white paper bag. I grab a to-go coffee, but it’s the sugar high I’m after. In my car, wheeling back to the interstate, I bite into it slowly, contemplatively, allowing the rote chewing to calm my anxiety as my snow tires grip the asphalt.

As hit 75 mph and the flakes grow thicker, each chewy bite delivers the kick I need to hone in on the road. My wipers can barely keep up with the gail, but with my hazard lights on and my hands sticky with maple glaze, I can grip the wheel tighter and ease into another curve.

Cle Elum Bakery
501 E 1st St
Cle Elum, Washington 98922
7 a.m.-5 p.m. (Mon.-Sat.)
7 a.m.-4:30 p.m. (Sun.)

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