mocha java loaf

mocha java cakemocha java cake

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 softly brittle slices into pieces in our hands. It is just as great frozen too.

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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.)

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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 and 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. Another 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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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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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 – one big enough to hold with both hands and that burns if you bite into it too fast.

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matcha pandan brownies

matcha pandan brownies
matcha pandan brownies
matcha pandan brownies

This is day 4 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.

Rustle & Still is 90% café, but about 10% greenhouse, with a front wall of windows that allows natural light to filter past hanging pothos and strings of spider plants. There’s an airiness to the space that manages to make my chronically strained eyes feel a bit less strained. The first time I went I had the houjicha latte, thick and robust with ground houjicha and frothy milk. Then there is the matcha pandan latte – matcha imbued with the ambiguous vanilla-like fragrance of pandan. While I tend to be caught up in flavoured lattes, the cafe specializes in Vietnamese coffee and their bahn mi are affordable, filling and delight with bright pickled vegetables.

I took the matcha pandan flavour combination as inspiration for these brownies – a pandan chocolate brownie base (which also hides the colour of pandan extract, something I’m still getting use to) dotted with matcha cream cheese. (Camo pattern inspired by the Bon Appetit brownies of course).

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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.

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semlor

semlorsemlorsemlor

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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banana & dulce de leche french toast

my favourite french toast inspired by bb’s diner in toronto – and i try my hand at describing food more …er, descriptively? properly?

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This french toast is based on the version at BB’s diner – a Toronto filipino brunch spot in a two-floor house, charmingly retrofitted with what could be pastel-coloured 80s McDonald’s booth seating, houseplants, vibrantly flowered tablecloths and mismatched vintage china. The food trumps even the charming interior design. Their tapsilog is a trifecta of runny-yolked eggs, addictively pungent garlic fried rice and crisp fried milkfish dipped in tart vinegar. Another one: an omelette of fluffed egg melded with melting, charred eggplant, showered in golden rosti. Out of all of this though, the french toast is my favourite.

It looks unassuming – square white bread, sliced at a regular thickness, the custardy interior cooked until a bit firm. But pale gold banana dulce de leche lies below a whispery canopy of powdered sugar, slivered almonds and shredded coconut. The toast itself rests in a pool of what I assume is warmed evaporated milk, tasting opaque and cooked. It is every sort of delicious and comforting; think the mellow flavours, and the tres leches-crossed-with-porridge vibe from the bath of warm evaporated milk.

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