The way I wrote recipes pre-blog went something like this: a list of ingredients + maybe a baking temperature +/- possibly a baking time. Either on a sticky note (destined to be accidentally thrown out) or in an obscure word document that I would never find again.
It took some searching, but I did find one word document again while I looking for a genmaicha-infused chocolate caramel custard I had made back in high school. It was written, of course, in typical fashion: a list of ingredients (no baking temperature, no baking time). To be fair to my former self, since I was making quite a few puddings at the time, I likely had the procedure memorized.
Long wait aside, we both agreed that the fresh strawberry latte with panna cotta (also a fashion necessity) was our favourite – strawberries pureed with milk, poured over a soft and jiggly panna cotta, and the whole thing drank with a straw. (It must be said: eating panna cotta with a straw is pure brilliance.)
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.)
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 – one big enough to hold with both hands and that burns if you bite into it too fast.
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.
a toasted sugar pavlova that tastes just like a roasted marshmallow, piled with browned butter cream, persimmons and 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).
Back in grade 6 one of my friends would yell at me in gym class. It was an effortless thing for them:
Get the ball!
Having someone to push you to do things often feels uncomfortable or unbearable or simply terrifying. And it can continue to feel that way even when it’s something you actually want to do–like try your best in gym without caring about what others thought–because staying in the comfort zone is of course the best possible option. But when you take a breath of air outside you realize there was some purpose to all that fuss and kerfuffle.
Vínarterta is a classic Icelandic Christmas cake that was brought to North America along with a wave of Icelandic immigrants around the late 18th to early 20th century. It was a thin cake that could be cooked over a hearth, and as prunes were très cher, it was very “en vogue”! The vínarterta still is en vogue, or at least in North America.
It’s like the founder effect (maybe?) but with cake. The vínarterta remains a popular and iconic Christmas cake in the Icelandic population of North America, but has become an obscurity in Iceland itself. It’s been described a “culinary time capsule.” I imagine what happens is that when you’re further from home, the traditions brought with you are treasured even more highly and can become even more resistant to change.
I wanted to write a very beautiful post. I wanted to write about how my great-grandmother would make these cakes, a thin batter sweetened with brown sugar and steamed in tea cups. I wanted to write about how the four peaks spoke to prosperity in the new year.
Instead, my first draft was not any of this. It was all standard tentimestea, about the actual making. I wrote about the trial and error. I made 7 batches in a dogged attempt to end up with a gift for my grandparents, a cake whose top split into four. I explained the details of each batch—how too much gluten made the cake too strong to split open properly, but the wheat starch helped make the top of the cake smoother. I wrote about how the true secret to these cakes was me turning to the Internet and finding a recipe to work from.