houjicha & persimmon dorayaki

houjicha persimmon dorayakihoujicha persimmon dorayaki

This is day 9 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.

Okay, so one more café (I am quite the cafe person).

Ninetails Coffee Bar is a newer addition to the Bloor Koreatown strip serving coffee, matcha and Japanese sweets to a cheery backdrop of pop-y Beatle’s covers and doo-wop. Their freshly made dorayaki are generously-sized and sandwich one of three fillings – anko, custard, and matcha custard. My previous dorayaki experiences have all emerged from imported plastic packaging, where I had assumed the perfectly shaped pancakes were due to the magic of food manufacturing technology. However, the pancakes at Ninetails are actual embodiments of perfection as well: circular, evenly deep brown, and branded with a small nine-tailed fox. They’re firm, honeyed, surprisingly tender, and sport a bouncy chew unlike an American style pancake. Against that backdrop, I am most partial to the thick soft swirl of custard cream as a filling. (On the savoury side, they also happen to have an avocado toast of miracles – thick-cut crusty bread piled with an eqi-thickness of avocado, toasted sesame oil, furikake and shichimi togarashi.)

Continue reading

elchi chai madeleines

elchi chai madeleineselchi chai madeleineselchi chai madeleines

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.

Continue reading

chestnut & black sesame hotteok

hotteokhotteokhotteok

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

prune sticky toffee puddingsprune sticky toffee puddingsprune sticky toffee puddings

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!

Continue reading

toasted sugar pavlova with persimmons & figs

a toasted sugar pavlova that tastes just like a roasted marshmallow, piled with browned butter cream, persimmons and figs

toasted sugar pavlova with persimmons & figsroasted sugar pavlova with persimmons & figs

In general, I’m a bit off pavlovas. I love the assortment of textures, particularly how the meringue already comes with two inherently built in, but they’re usually a bit too sweet for my liking. Understandably, as a French meringue ratio is typically 2 to 1 sugar to egg white by weight.

Thus my pavlova making has also come with an inbuilt quest to find ways to reduce the sweetness – previously I’ve paired the meringue with tart fruit as well as reduced the sugar in the meringue. Next up on my list was trying to use toasted sugar, a technique courtesy of Stella Parks whereby a slow bake in the oven kicks off sugar breakdown (i.e. caramelization!), all while retaining its granular consistency. In this way the sugar takes on a caramelized flavour with the additional benefit of slightly subduing its sweetness.

Despite that pavlova is at least half sugar (as mine is) if not more (as most recipes usually are), I was still taken aback by how flavourful the substitution of toasted sugar made the meringue. It tastes like a toasted marshmallow, but completely through and through – not just around the charred, bubbly edges with a molten centre threatening to slip off your skewer (I am not good at toasting marshmallows over fire).

Continue reading

spiced poached pear and buckwheat mille crepe

a pear-forward mille crepe with a pastry cream made of the pear-poaching liquid, slices of poached pears, and a spiced pear-poaching liquid caramel overtop. plus a review and summary of the thought-provoking Food Bank Nations by Graham Riches.

SAM_1781SAM_1805SAM_1816

Crepe making is definitely a book-requiring process. Unless I have a distraction, such as a book, I get a bit too impatient and end up turning the heat too high.

With Canada’s first national food policy recently established, sustainability, food security, justice and the right to food are coming more into focus nationally. With that in mind I recently read Food Bank Nations: Poverty, Corporate Charity and the Right to Food (2018) by Graham Riches while making some crepes – and despite the title, which reminded me uncomfortably of Fast Food Nation, I found an interesting overview of food banking history and its implications in wealthy countries. It was thought-provoking and convincingly argued – recommended, particularly if some of the points I summarize below interest you.

“While recognizing the moral imperative to feed hungry people, Food Bank Nations challenges the effectiveness, sustainability and moral legitimacy of globally entrenched corporate food banking as the primary response to rich world food poverty.”

Continue reading