almond pear cake

pear almond cake
pear almond cake

I realise that by now much of the Northern hemisphere is well into spring, but my sense of the seasons is arrested back in winter… probably because I’ve barely spent any time outside. The windows are open to get a bit of fresh air in, but I’m still craving heavy warm foods.

This almond pear cake is more definitely a winter-y/fall cake.

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mocha java loaf

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This is day 10 of 10 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.

Harbord Bakery is an everything bakery – the main wall lined with shelves proffering rye breads, fluffy challah, dense poppy seed Danish rings, and the fabled Thursday-through-Sunday-only chocolate babka. In comparison, the mocha java cake is a bit more discreet. We’ve only ever seen it in the freezer section, innocuously tucked away against the lemon and blueberry loaves. My roommate bought it once out of curiosity – a deep brown loaf cake with a tight, silky crumb, and intense coffee flavour. We devoured it within days – a slice for breakfast, oh a slice for afternoon snack, maybe another with tea in the evening. It’s such an anticipated treat that when we do buy it, we usually crack open the plastic clamshell as soon as we get home and eat the first piece (or two) while still frozen, breaking the slices in our hands, softly brittle as chalk. It is just as great frozen too.

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elchi chai madeleines

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This is day 8 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.

If there is one spice that I use, it’s cardamom. Likely, the same goes at Elchi Chai, where their namesake elchi (cardamom) chai is decanted from larger canisters into glass drinking mugs. The tea is brewed and mixed with milk ahead of time to a creamy, caramel-toned opacity. Prior to visiting Elchi Chai, I had only had tea with a full mix of spices (speaking of, their masala chai nad ginger masala chai are also wonderful!). The singular use of cardamom makes for a combination is far more subtle – and to me, an instant classic, like a gentler herbal-y version of earl grey. My usual order when I’m there: a medium elchi chai to stay.

At home I’ve started putting a couple of cracked cardamom pods into my black tea – and it was only a matter of time before I was going to use cardamom and black tea together in baking.

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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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prune & rum sticky toffee pudding

sticky toffee pudding is quintessential warming winter dessert. here i’ve gone a bit of a different direction with a pudding that is all dark bitter notes and sharp rum and nutty whole wheat.

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My parents’ dessert of choice at the neighbourhood pub they frequent is always the sticky toffee pudding. It sits in a warm bowl filled halfway up the sides with toffee sauce and drizzled with creme anglaise. I love it too, but we all agree that it is remarkably sweet!

Desserts are desserts so I have nothing against sweet and sugary desserts – it is a treat after all. But I also have nothing against lower sugar and lower sweetness desserts. It’s all a matter of personal preference, and my personal preference tends to sway to the side of lower sweetness desserts. In the end I often end up enjoying them more and I figure it doesn’t hurt if they have less sugar in them as well.

Here is my version of a sticky toffee pudding – made with a dark rum caramel and a whole wheat and prune sponge – and in the style of many of the desserts that I make, it tastes barely sweet. It’s a different sort of sticky toffee pudding – the flavour profile is a dark and burnt and bitter version of the usual with intense biting notes of burnt caramel and rum, plus all the nuttiness of prunes and whole wheat flour. I loved it – it’s just my type of pudding!

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rosemary & orange blossom basque cheesecake

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Basque style cheesecake, also known by the very accurate moniker of “burnt cheesecake” casually defies the usual conventions of cheesecake wisdom: i.e. the low temperatures and water bath and smooth, even cooking. Instead it’s all about the burnt and burnished surface and rustic puffed edges generated by a high temperature bake unhindered by any water bath whatsoever. It’s so glowingly described by Lili on her blog Lili’s Cakes that I had to give it a try.

Also – did I mention – no water bath!

Both visually and in taste the burnt crust lends the cheesecake so much character. And if you keep it wrapped in the layers of parchment paper that it’s baked in, the singed edges waft a bit of smokiness every time you unwrap the cake. I added in a bit of this and that for a flavour combination with interesting contrast – the orange blossom water is perfumed and floral; the rosemary gives it a startlingly savoury edge.

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black sesame and chestnut layer cake

a light black sesame and chestnut layer cake –  as simple as possible with sponge cake and whipped cream

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Today we are keeping it simple with only two steps to what is best described as a very fulfilling experience. Step 1 is to find a low traffic hallway – most promising are uppers floors or the dead-ended hallway adnexa. Step 2 is to seat yourself down with your back against the wall and enjoy the wonders of having such an expanse of space to sit (you can cross your legs or even stretch them out if you’re really feeling ambitious) – as well as to pile up the requisite winter combo (i.e. the coat + the mitts + the hat + the scarf + …) that the weather requests you carry with you everywhere. Feel immensely comfortable – until your back begins to ache a bit – because while simple, it is one of life’s finest pleasures.

Somehow, until yesterday, I think it’s been years since I’ve sat on the floor in front of my locker. I keep the instructions general to facilitate sitting on the floor even in situations without lockers, but while secluded hallways are good, it is the locker that is essential for peace of mind. The proximity of the locker gives you a sense of belonging and ownership over the four vinyl floor tiles that you occupy. As inconvenient as it may be for locker neighbours and passer-bys in the case of narrower hallways, you can feel steadfast in your randomly assigned administrative-given right to root yourself in place. (I imagine that even if an adjacent locker is not yours, if you have enough self-confidence to project the possibility that it could be yours to those passing by, that would also suffice).

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