The vetrnik is arguably one of the best pastries in Prague, and the weak spot of many Czech and foreign men and women (us included). Incredibly rich and creamy, this choux pastry seems very light at the beginning, yet can become very filling at the very end. Heck, we even finish our tours with one, and it is one of the highlights. As our recents guests said it: “How come this is not famous?” (Yes, they went back to have seconds the next day.)
But just like with every great pastry, every pastry shop has its own recipe and the variables are aplenty. Which begs the question: which vetrnik is the best in town? To answer that question, we have set out to put some of Prague’s vetrniks to the test. We have reserved a table at EMA Espresso Bar one Saturday (they do not normally make reservations, but the owners clearly understood the severity and importance of the task - thank you for that) and invited esteemed judges.
Who were they? Michaela and Dino, two vetrnik aficionados. Michaela has been pointed to us by one establishment, and also by her husband, as a bona fide vetrnik expert, and Dino really came up with the whole idea of testing Prague vetrniks. The other judges were Klara, food blogger and food critic who writes reviews for the Euro magazine, and Julka, a.k.a. Maskrtnica, arguably the most famous baking blogger, currently employed at Maso a kobliha, who came by to say hello and stayed longer just to finish the test with us. And then the two of us, of course.
We bought 14 vetrniks from 14 pastry shops in total. They all more or less met our definition of a vetrnik: choux pastrywith vanilla cream, caramel-flavored whipped cream and a caramel glaze. There were two minor varieties: the vetrnik at Caffe Cremeria Milano did not have any glaze whatsoever, and the vetrnik at Cafe Cafe is really made in the form of a cake instead of a pastry: three choux layers with whipped cream and caramel-flavored whipped cream, caramel and sugar dusting. You get a slice. A very different approach but the judges decided to give it a go.
These are the fourteen happy pastry shops that were included in the tasting, in random order: Cafe Cafe, U Veletrhu, Erhart Cafe, Viktoria, FishR deli (known by many locals as the “old-school deli at the Dejvicka roundabout”), Paukert deli, Apetit, Cafe Savoy, Cafe Mysak, U knoflicku, Cukrarna u Beranku at the Jiriho z Podebrad farmers’ market, Caffe Cremeria Milano in the Kotva department store, Ovocny Svetozor and Svatovaclavska cukrarna. We always asked two questions: whether the vetrnik was made in-house, and what were the precise ingredients. All pastry shops and cafes made their own vetrniks, with the sole exception of the FishR deli. The only pastry shops that responded to the question about ingredients with any major precision were Cafe Apetit, Cafe U Veletrhu and Cafe Savoy. Other cafes just resorted to general statements. (Just for the sake of completeness: we wanted to include St Tropez and Pralinka pastry shops in the tasting, but they did not have a vetrnik in stock on the day of the tasting.)
If you’re thinking that a tasting of vetrniks is a great idea and you should repeat it at home with your friends, let us tell you right away: it is a truly horrible idea. We have had the impression - for the longest time, really - that most of the pastry shops in Prague are fairly bad, but we just did not know how bad they really are. Some of the vetrniks were so bad we really only had a small bite just in the interest of fairness - they were borderline inedible. We had a points scorecards for appearance, the choux, vanilla cream, caramel whipped cream and caramel topping, and in many cases, Klara gave 1 point just to acknowledge the simple fact that the vanilla cream, for instance, was present. That was all.
And the vanilla cream was the biggest weakness of most of the vetrniks we have tasted. Only a few actually tasted like vanilla, or included actual vanilla or natural vanilla extract. Many creams simply did not taste like anything, or were overpowered by Czech aromatic rum. The consistency of most of the creams was far from ideal, being dense and heavy instead of fluffy. The worst ones had a strange artificial aftertaste. The dough, on the other hand, was the strong point for many vetrniks in the test: it was mostly done well, had the right consistency and color. Two vetrniks had a slight problem with the choux pastry dough: the choux of the Cafe Mysak’s vetrnik was overdone and too brown, and the three chouxs of the Cafe Cafe vetrnik were soaked from all the whipped cream that was in between them. So what were the results?
The magnificent six
- Café Savoy
- Erhart Café
- Mysak Café
- Paukert deli
- Ovocny Svetozor deli
These are the best vetrnik pastries sold in Prague. Cafe Savoy was the clear winner, head and shoulders above all the competition. The Erhart Cafe vetrnik offers great value for money, although, compared to Savoy’s version, it was too sweet and had big reserves in the vanilla cream department. The Mysak Cafe vetrnik scored high marks for appearance - it was beautiful despite the brown choux, and it was one of the two vetrniks that were admittedly made the day before. All the other pastries were made in the morning of the tasting. Paukert's vetrnik had not two, but three fillings: vanilla cream, whipped cream and caramel-flavored whipped cream. Ovocny Svetozor's vanilla cream had a high rum component but still made it in the top six.
The winner: Cafe Savoy
We must admit we were a bit biased and partial to the Cafe Savoy vetrnik going into the tasting. We take our Prague food tour guests there and were confident that the Savoy vetrnik would rank high. We like it a lot, just like Michaela, who tends to have it every Sunday.
Still, we were shocked by how much better it was than all the remaining competitors. It won in every category and all the judges agreed it was the best one by far. Klara only had a small issue with the caramel topping but still thought it was the best vetrnik of all those she tasted. The vanilla cream includes visible vanilla seeds and actually tastes like vanilla. Overall, it was the most balanced vetrnik of all, and most importantly, it was one that was clean and natural tasting. Truly the king of vetrniks. Bonus fact: you can also get it in virtually all the Lokal pub locations, too!
The rest of the lot
In the interest of completeness, we should write about the rest of the field. All these vetrniks were flawed in one or many ways.
7. FishR deli
8. Cafe Cafe
These two ranked just below the line. Cafe Cafe vetrnik was not truly horrible per se, but the problem is the texture: the choux layers were entirely soaked, thus giving no support to the cream. Also, it had no caramel topping. It would have ranked higher if these two flaws were corrected.
10. Svatovaclavska cukrarna
11. U knoflicku
12. Cukrarstvi u Beranku at the Jiriho z Podebrad farmers’ market
13. Caffee Cremeria Milano
14. U Veletrhu
You should eat these vetrniks at your own risk only. They were all truly bad and we rank them in a particular order just because we formally have to: no 9 is not much better than no 14. Of special note is the vetrnik sold at the Jiriho z Podebrad farmers' market: you expect good quality and all-natural ingredients at the farmers' market, but this vetrnik nearly accounted to a crime against humanity. Also, beware of the vetrnik at U knoflicku: it scored high marks for appearance (roasted almonds at the top) but the actual flavor was a bitter disappointment.
The trophy goes to Cafe Savoy. We were looking forward to the tasting but the whole event turned into one big regret even before it was over. You know the pastries are bad when you hardly have a bite and still don't want to give the rest to anyone else, including our photographer, simply because you don't want to hurt him.
We have learnt a lesson: if you want to open a good pastry shop in Prague, do it. The bar is so low it is hard to crawl underneath it. It is a sad realization but it needs to be made before we can move forward. Until then, it's still the Savoy.
Photos by Everbay Co.