white cheddar & za’atar scones

cheddar za'atar sconescheddar za'atar scones

My introduction to Bouchon Bakery  by Thomas Keller & Sebastien Rouxel began with my sister waxing poetic on everything she had made from the book. Even the chocolate chip cookies were probably the best cookies she had ever made.

This scone recipe is a riff off of their savoury bacon cheddar scones, and they are probably the best scones I’ve ever made.

What’s that – a good scone? Yes – a good scone: i.e. the perennial struggle! There are many things that I tend to make terribly over and over again, scones one amongst them. There have been tough scones, flat scones, scones that are just straight up proper paperweights.

These scones are actually, like, good scones – baking up light while tasting like blocks of butter and browned cheese and herbs.

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olive paste & feta babka

olive paste & feta babka
olive paste & feta babka
olive paste & feta babka

For me, part of hashtag-quarantine-cuisine is reacquainting myself with the contents of my parents’ cupboards.  Such as a tin of black olives with a best before date of Feb 9, 2011 (or perhaps Aug 2, 2011 – I never remember whether the day or month comes first – but either way we can assume 11 refers to the year). I asked someone to try an olive for me. Surprisingly, or rather unsurprisingly, the olives tasted fine.

After meeting my family’s approval for consumption, I still had some reservations of eating them straight. Or perhaps more accurately, I don’t often eat canned olives as a snack, so they ended up being chopped into a paste via food processor. Spread onto a butter-enriched bread dough with crumbled feta produced this savoury babka.

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my (current) favourite hands-off whole wheat sourdough

whole wheat sourdoughwhole wheat sourdough

this loaf in several words: 67% whole wheat, 80% hydration and minimal interaction

I had put together this post over the summer as I was getting very consistent results with my usual sourdough loaf (though not the loose craggy crumb I dream of!). And if I’m to continue following along current pandemic-baking trends, sourdough is up next, given that many have trouble finding yeast plus newfound time to nurse slow-growing loaves of bread.

But this is a, hmm, casual sourdough, shall we say? It was something I developed when facilitating my inattentiveness and impatience was a priority. The features: single rise and some cheating with the shaping. I really mean the “minimal interaction” part.

I titled this post, “my (current) favourite” back in the summer when I wrote it. I revived my sourdough starter recently (hello again Barty!), and the loaves that I’m making now are not this bread. I’m taking a slower pace, and a renewed interest in techniques that I generally avoided. Like practicing shaping without deflating. Oh and kneading, something I dumped as soon as I was able to in my rather tenuous and unimpressive bread-making journey.

So, my go-to loaf from a different time and a bit of a different world. Not ardently whole wheat (67%) and definitely not too serious.

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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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grandpa’s steamed radish cake

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This post took me a while to write (in the interim I posted a gleefully technical breakdown of my process behind a revamped sticky toffee pudding – that pudding is so lovely by the way.)

My mother has always been worried about a resurgence of anti-Chinese racism. Reading negative news articles about China (which in western media, is most news about China) she would turn to me and sigh. “I wonder how this will affect Chinese Canadians here.”

To be honest, I never really took her concern that seriously. That racism, including anti-Chinese racism, is alive and thriving in Canada, I didn’t doubt. But I couldn’t understand why my mum was worried that anti-Chinese racism would increase – particularly compared to the virulent racism faced by black and Muslim and indigenous folk in Canada. Though comparisons are not relevant to this particular discussion (also, model minority myth much?)- as while racism impacts different groups in different ways, it still functions to oppress all racialized groups.

However, perhaps were I old enough to remember SARS, I would think differently. These past weeks have been eye-opening for me to see just how quickly and effortlessly the more vitriolic aspects of anti-Chinese racism slither back out.

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brussels sprouts & gruyere focaccia

brussel sprout & gruyere focacciabrussel sprout & gruyere focaccia

This focaccia is terribly, thoroughly, utterly devoid of whole wheat flour. It’s thus also chewy and springy and light, when sliced reveals an cobwebbed cavernous crumb, and tastes of delightfully unadulterated carbs.

I love the flavours of whole grain but there is a part of me – probably the part that remembers growing up on plain white rice and craving plain white bread (though only being given whole wheat bread) – that wants nothing more than plain white flour and salt and fat. And besides… there are some textures that I find hard to achieve once I start bringing in whole grains.

The dough, from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible, is a wonderful carb base for anything you so desire (even just salt and fat! maybe a fragrant olive oil fat). This time I topped the focaccia with sliced onions, brussels sprouts and gruyere. The flavours are more so in line with a flammekuchen/tarte flambée gratinée, but of course the dough gives it a distinctly focaccia-like bounce and spring.

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duck broth jook

jook, or rice porridge, is a definite winter comfort food for me. this is one of my favourite ways to make it, with a strong duck broth and simple garnishes

duck broth jookduck broth jook

My mum would always make jook (congee or rice porridge) for me when I was sick. The degree of flavour would depend on the degree of sickness – a stomach flu would call for nothing more than rice cooked in water with a slice of ginger. For a cold, it would be chicken broth.

Though, my favourite sort of jook is free of association with sickness. After buying a BBQ duck, my mum would dismantle it and the the bones, stripped of the meat, would be simmered for a couple hours for a strong broth which made a jook heavy with meatiness and spices and a just a tad bit sweet.

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