The Persian - Gastro Obscura


The Persian

A Thunder Bay bakery misnamed this berry-frosted cinnamon bun after General John Pershing.

The term Persian can refer to a number of things, including people, cats, rugs, and cinnamon buns covered in berry icing. You may be thinking that the last entry bears no relation to present-day Iran or the empire that preceded it. You’d be right. This fried and frosted delicacy hails from Thunder Bay in northern Ontario. And it’s supposedly “named” after John J. Pershing, an American general in World War I. This, of course, is if you were to pronounce his name “John J. Persian.” Pershing is not Persian, either. He’s from Missouri. 

According to store lore, General Pershing visited Bennett’s Bakery (a three-and-a-half hour jaunt from the naval base in Duluth, Minnesota) sometime after the war. To pay tribute to their famous guest, founder Arthur Bennett invented and named the pastry in Pershing’s honor in the 1940s. Today, the bakery’s new owner, Danny Nucci, sells Persians both from Bennett’s and a coffee shop called The Persian Man. Nucci inherited Bennett’s from his father, who bought the shop in 1962. He had worked in the kitchen as a kid and remembers bags of Persian dough mix with no label. Art Bennett’s whole recipe was a secret, and Nucci keeps it that way. To this day, the bakery makes Persians just the way they were invented.

Area residents hold the pastry near and dear, and they make sure visitors know that eating one is a must-do on any trip to Thunder Bay. The pastry has an extremely loyal local fanbase, and older natives may recall a time when a special variation known as “toasted Persians” graced restaurant menus. Making these toasted treats required halving a bun, browning the slices in a buttered frying pan, icing on the top haves, and flipping them to caramelize the icing. The toasted Persian is no longer a menu staple, but it’s just as easy to make at home.

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