lemongrass & coconut tres leches cake

lemongrass coconut tres leches cakelemongrass coconut tres leches cake

This is day 7 of a series celebrating local Toronto businesses!  Recent events have put many local businesses in a difficult position and unfortunately, it’s not clear when this situation will come to an end. For ten days I’ll be posting recipes inspired by some of my favourite local businesses as my own way of celebrating what they bring to our communities. While we may not be able to visit our local bakeries, cafes and restaurants right now, this is a way of keeping them in mind, and a reminder to support them again once there is a chance.

Ave Maria Latin Cafe is a café that dominates the back of a tiny Latin grocery store. Small tables and vinyl chairs in pastel green cozy up alongside grocery shelves lined with imported coffee, flour and guava paste. It’s cluttered in the best sort of way, which is to say, with food. To order at the counter you peer between the empanada warming case, a tray of snacks, and propped up menus.

They serve sandwiches, tamales, empanadas, and a slate of arepas. The first time I tried the Columbian arepas, I was surprised – made of white corn, they are a bit denser and drier than their bready Venezuelan counterparts, but just as delicious. The lady at the counter, who I suspect is the owner, is a lovely advocate for her foods, helping me pronounce arepa de chocolo, the sweeter yellow arepa encasing more melted cheese, correctly. One time I was in she spent fifteen minutes helping a customer pick out candy for his Columbian girlfriend.

If I am in for a meal, I love the simplicity of a salty arepa folded onto melty white cheese – and it comes alive when eaten with spoonfuls of the small dish of acidic spicy sauce that accompanies it. But it comes to dessert, I was floored when I tried the tres leches cake. It’s a towering square of sponge cake that somehow manages to be light and structured, while still fully saturated with milk. It’s the furthest thing from sodden or soggy. I don’t usually think of a milk as being a dominant flavour, but in this cake, which yields easily against a fork and leaves a small pool of milk behind, it makes perfect sense.

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olive paste acma

olive paste acmaolive paste acmaolive paste acma

This is day 6 of a series celebrating local Toronto businesses!  Recent events have put many local businesses in a difficult position and unfortunately, it’s not clear when this situation will come to an end. For ten days I’ll be posting recipes inspired by some of my favourite local businesses as my own way of celebrating what they bring to our communities. While we may not be able to visit our local bakeries, cafes and restaurants right now, this is a way of keeping them in mind, and a reminder to support them again once there is a chance.

A friend and I found first ourselves in Simit and Chai on a winter day with an abnormal amount of snow for Toronto. It was crowded, but we found room on a bench tucked in front of the window and watched King street turn white (again, it was an abnormal amount of snow!) with hot Turkish tea and baked goods. The cafe is named for their simit, which look like sesame-coated Montreal-style bagels, but rolled thin and wide and surprisingly soft. Split in half, they’re filled with various fillings, or served with different dips and side dishes.

When I asked for a recommendation for a small snack the olive paste acma was unequivocally endorsed – a soft, oil-enriched dough, burnished with egg yolk and sesame seeds, and rolled around a salty black olive paste. With a generous filling-to-bread ratio, the olive paste is both gentle and immensely savoury, and the best savoury pastry I’ve had in a long time.

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chestnut & black sesame hotteok

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This is day 5 of a series celebrating local Toronto businesses!  Recent events have put many local businesses in a difficult position and unfortunately, it’s not clear when this situation will come to an end. For ten days I’ll be posting recipes inspired by some of my favourite local businesses as my own way of celebrating what they bring to our communities. While we may not be able to visit our local bakeries, cafes and restaurants right now, this is a way of keeping them in mind, and a reminder to support them again once there is a chance.

Hodo Kwaja, a bakery located in one of Toronto’s Koreatowns, is an efficient bustle of activity in the morning. The small nut-brown walnut cakes that the bakery is named after trundle by on a conveyer-belt like waffle iron. Along the way they are methodically filled, either with red bean paste, or my favourite, sweet and milky mashed potato mixed with ground almond or walnut. Bought by the half dozen – or several dozen – they’re scooped from wire baskets into paper bags or boxes.

Next to the hodo kwaja, hotteok, brown sugar filled pancakes are smacked onto an oiled griddle and pressed flat with a large wooden-handled aluminum stamp. Thin, chewy dough surrounds a syrupy centre of molten brown sugar seeping with cinnamon and chopped walnuts.

I first tried the hotteok, years ago when I was just visiting Toronto. “They’re amazing,” my sister promised me. And they were – we shared it as we walked, ripping off pieces of pancake. Think cinnamon sticky bun, pressed into a delightfully chewy pancake form big enough to hold with both hands and that burns if you bite into it too fast.

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matcha pandan brownies

matcha pandan browniesmatcha pandan browniesmatcha pandan brownies

This is day 4 of a series celebrating local Toronto businesses!  Recent events have put many local businesses in a difficult position and unfortunately, it’s not clear when this situation will come to an end. For ten days I’ll be posting recipes inspired by some of my favourite local businesses as my own way of celebrating what they bring to our communities. While we may not be able to visit our local bakeries, cafes and restaurants right now, this is a way of keeping them in mind, and a reminder to support them again once there is a chance.

Rustle & Still is 90% café, but about 10% greenhouse, with a front wall of windows that allows natural light to filter past hanging pothos and strings of spider plants. There’s an airiness to the space that manages to make my chronically strained eyes feel a bit less strained. The first time I went I had the houjicha latte, thick and robust with ground houjicha and frothy milk. Then there is the matcha pandan latte – matcha imbued with the ambiguous vanilla-like fragrance of pandan. While I tend to be caught up in flavoured lattes, the cafe specializes in Vietnamese coffee and their bahn mi are affordable, filling and delight with bright pickled vegetables.

I took the matcha pandan flavour combination as inspiration for these brownies – a pandan chocolate brownie base (which also hides the colour of pandan extract, something I’m still getting use to) dotted with matcha cream cheese. (Camo pattern inspired by the bon appetit brownies of course).

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rosemary honey panna cotta with grapefruit jelly

rosemary honey & grapefruit panna cottarosemary honey & grapefruit panna cotta

This is day 3 of a series celebrating local Toronto businesses!  Recent events have put many local businesses in a difficult position and unfortunately, it’s not clear when this situation will come to an end. For ten days I’ll be posting recipes inspired by some of my favourite local businesses as my own way of celebrating what they bring to our communities. While we may not be able to visit our local bakeries, cafes and restaurants right now, this is a way of keeping them in mind, and a reminder to support them again once there is a chance.

I’ll be honest: L’arc en Ciel is pretty much the model of my (utterly) fantasy bakery business I mull over in the back of my mind some days – there’s a day-to-day base of gelato (though in my imagined bakery it’s ice cream), with some supplementary, seasonal and creative baked goods. They are a relatively new Toronto bakery, having opened over the summer. They did temporarily closed before we could try much, but the selection of tarts, gelato cakes, and pastries in the display case are absolutely up my alley in what I would like to try (and try to bake).

Back in late summer I had tried some of their gelato with a friend. This is based on the wonderful combination of gelato and sorbet flavours I had (which was also featured in one of the bakery’s gelato cakes) – a creamy savoury-sweet honey rosemary gelato and a biting acerbic grapefruit sorbet. I’ve replicated the flavours and creamy/bitter contrast here, in a panna cotta infused with rosemary and honey, and a tart grapefruit jelly.

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semlor

semlorsemlorsemlor

I’ve certainly been spending more time at home lately which is equivalent to doing some baking. I’ve been realizing that I am constantly being inspired by the things I eat in and around Toronto. Of course, recent events have put many local businesses in a difficult position and unfortunately, it’s not clear when this situation will come to an end.

For the next ten days I’ll be posting recipes inspired by some of my favourite local businesses as a way of celebrating them. While we may not be able to visit our local bakeries, cafes and restaurants right now, this is a way of keeping them in mind, and a reminder to support them again once there is a chance. (I’ve decided that day 1 is the banana & dulce de leche french toast I posted a few weeks early, based on a version at BB’s Diner.)

As for today (day 2!), I made semlor, inspired by Fika Cafe in Kensington marker.

Fika is a charming café along a quieter street in Kensington market, tucked between vintage clothing shops. Their Scandinavian baked goods are the star – the cinnamon buns are tight curls of rich cardamom-scented dough smeared with cinnamon. The same dough goes to make their semlor, round buns filled with almond paste and topped with a generous swirl of cream. Cardamom, Scandinavian gospel, is omnipresent, in the cardamom spice latte, and in their buns where coarsely ground cardamom seeds in the dough lend hits of cardamom to some bites.

When semlor are in the case, I find it hard to order anything else. They are sweet, hearty, satisfying and also feel so very, very Scandinavian (bread and butter and cream and cardamom and almond and, well, little else).

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