saffron & cardamom hot cross buns

saffron and cardamom hot cross buns
saffron and cardamom hot cross buns
saffron and cardamom hot cross buns

These hot cross buns were inspired by Swedish Lucia buns (aka lussekatter, amongst other names) which are typically eaten during St. Lucia’s Day, a celebration of the patron saint of light around the darkest day of the year. Given the occasion, perhaps it’s no wonder that Lucia buns are made from such a sunny, saffron-infused dough. The buns are often formed into S-shaped curls and spotted with a couple of raisins. I find the story and tradition behind these buns rather fascinating – read more about it, and see a classic recipe, from the blog semiswede (and find out whether the buns also ward off dark spirits at Atlas Obscura).

In making these hot cross buns, I’ve transposed the saffron and raisins (but a lot more of them), paired along with cardamom and candied orange peel. I never really thought I liked hot cross buns all that much, but the deluge of hot cross buns that I noticed on Instagram last year sparked a new fascination. And once I started making my own hot cross buns, I loved the combination of soft bread, dried fruit and peel!

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spiced apple sourdough semlor

spiced apple semlor
spiced apple semlor
spiced apple semlor

Shrove Tuesday has passed, but semlor are still in season! Semlor are Swedish buns (though analogues exist in other Nordic countries) typically filled with torn crumbs of bread and sticky almond paste, creamed with a bit of milk into a soft filling. Topped with whipped cream and powdered sugar, they’re just the sort of comforting and Scandinavian (cardamom-perfumed of course!) baked good I came to love after pouring through the pages of the classic The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas.

I adore the classic filling of bread crumbs and almond paste, but in these ones I’ve combined the almond paste with spiced apples instead; it is just lovely – spiced and sweet and very moist and a bit less bread-y than the original. I actually first made these five years ago, but the recipe needed a bit of a spiff up. And perhaps more than that, I also just wanted to make apple semlor again!

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rosemary & gruyere sourdough brioche

rosemary gruyere sourdough brioche bun loaf
rosemary gruyere sourdough brioche bun loaf

If we were to try to summarize the state of my sourdough starter Bartholomew, “criminal neglect” would be an accurate term to use. But recently my sourdough starter has been the happiest and liveliest it has ever been. And no, it’s not because I have taken on the mantle of pandemic sourdough baking. Rather, my mum has. And she has also taken to the task of keeping Bartholomew fed and watered with gusto.

I feel a bit jealous sometimes – a companion I created in eighth grade, living up life under someone else’s care and seeming all the more happier for it. But sometimes if you love someone, you’ve got to let them go.

And more than I am jealous, I am lazy so all in all it’s a relief. The situation has been rather convenient – upon spontaneously deciding I want to do a bit of sourdough baking, I can borrow some bright and bubbly starter. (This, as opposed to opening the jar for the first time in months to find a layer of sludge laying below an inch of alcohol, necessitating a week-long pampered revival before Bartholomew deigns to leaven even the smallest bun.)

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apple tatin brioche

apple tatin brioche
apple tatin brioche

It would feel remiss to post and not to touch on the US election. While I’m not American, the intensity of Canadian news coverage of American elections always eclipses that of even our own elections – this year in particular for good reason. But most of all, I think we’re all wishing for our neighbours to have a peaceful, fair and democratic process to elect their new president, senate and congress. (Though, even the threat of current events aside, a legacy of voter suppression and gerrymandering continues to overly benefit Republicans.) These last few days have been emotional cartwheels for me – and I can’t imagine what it must be like for those in the states. Today has taken quite a hopeful turn, though some bitter truths and a conservative supreme court remains.

But because nothing around here happens without an irrelevant recipe, for such a stressful week here is one of my favourites. These apple tatin brioche have a burnished apple half and a thick core of vanilla-flecked custard sunk into a wispy brioche dough. This is how a bread-based dessert should be in my books: approximately half fruit and custard, covered with caramel and scented with vanilla.

I was inspired by Mari Bakery, which specializes in perfect roll cakes (which have motivated my own foray into roll cakes) and choux. I haven’t been in a long time, but I take a peek at their instagram page every so often, especially for roll cake inspiration. Last winter I came across their apple tatin brioche and immediately began pondering how I could try to make them myself.

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rhubarb cardamom skolebrod

rhubarb skolebrod

rhubarb skolebrod
rhubarb skolebrod

It’s already been well over a week since the Jun 29th Toronto city council meeting where they debated the possibility of defunding the police and other reforms. I caught the last three hours of the livestream. A few things: I doubt I’ll watch another city council meeting for a while given I’m not typically interested in most items on the agenda. But when there is an issue you’re interested in, it can definitely be worth it as the coverage you read in news articles can only cover so much of what happened (though now I get the value of Twitter such as in Jennifer Pagliaro’s thread on the meeting!). It’s also a rather good way of getting a sense of the councillors’ leanings after hearing all of them speak, debate, and then hearing their names called a dozen times in the rounds of recorded voting.

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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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coconut & pomelo hot cross buns

coconut & pomelo hot cross bunscoconut & pomelo hot cross bunscoconut & pomelo hot cross buns

It’s probably a bit of a different long weekend this year for everyone. Though given all the hot cross buns I’ve been seeing all over instagram (the series of blog/insta posts I just finished has given me a new instagram-checking routine so I am now super in the loop these days), all the time at home has meant baking is a-happening.

My favourite bakery bun growing up was the coconut (aka cocktail) bun, probably because the filling was very sweet and I was a depraved child who loved anything with sugar. First I would pick away at the surrounding bread, leaving behind just the bottom underlying the filling, and then slowly enjoy the sugary filling on its own. I still love cocktail buns, though these days my favourite bun tends to be custard.

These hot cross buns are essentially cocktail buns in round form. Soft milk bread, coconut filling, and with the cookie-like topping which normally forms two strips on either end of the bun (like strips on a football) refurbished into crosses. To add to the hot cross bun ethos, I mixed candied pomelo peel into the dough.

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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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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.) You can find the whole series here.

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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