rhubarb danishes with lavender & cardamom pastry cream

rhubarb danish

Earlier in the spring during the pandemic I made a series of posts on bakes inspired by local businesses. Food industry profit margins are notoriously slim (for instance, this article cites an average of 3% over the whole industry) – and the current situation has certainly not helped. It reminds me to appreciate food businesses who work with these slim margins and few guarantees to bring their favourite flavours, creativity and skill to life. Here is one more post about one of my favourite bakeries (and luckily, one so thoroughly beloved in the city that we likely don’t need to worry too much about them) – and another reminder that if we have the means, to look into safe ways to support our local businesses.

Blackbird Baking Co. is tucked in the middle of Kensington Market. A wall of crusty breads, each loaf scored and oven-bloomed, sits along one wall; among them, the multigrain batard is a favourite. The display case in front is where things get most exciting on the dessert and butter front – there is always a sweet and savoury scone pair next to dense chocolate corks, beside which are the croissants and danishes with lamination so precise that the edges look like the splayed pages of a book.

Continue reading “rhubarb danishes with lavender & cardamom pastry cream”

mocha java loaf

mocha 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.

Continue reading “mocha java loaf”

houjicha & persimmon dorayaki

persimmon houjicha 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 (my guilty pleasure).

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.)

persimmon houjicha dorayaki
persimmon houjicha dorayaki
persimmon houjicha dorayaki

Fresh dorayaki has been a revelation, as has been the creativity of their fillings beyond anko. It gave me some inspirational leeway to brainstorm other dorayaki filling flavours. I filled these ones with a houjicha pastry cream and a very end of season persimmon compote. It’s a mellow, comforting combination.

persimmon houjicha dorayaki
persimmon houjicha dorayaki

houjicha & persimmon dorayaki

  • Servings: 5 dorayaki
  • Print
Makes five 3 1/2 – 4″ dorayaki (10 pancakes).

pancake

Pancake recipe from Cooking with Dog.

  • 2 eggs
  • 60g sugar
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 50mL water
  • 120g cake flour
  • 1-2 tbsp of water

Whisk eggs with sugar and honey, and beat for 3 min (i.e. listen to one song while you do this) until light and thick. Dissolve the baking soda in 50mL water and whisk into the eggs.

Sieve the flour overtop, and whisk until just combined. Cover and let the batter rest in the fridge for 15-30 minutes.

Add 1 tbsp of water at a time to make batter flow fluidly (see the original recipe for a video which gives you a sense of the desired consistency).

Heat a nonstick pan over medium or medium low. Once heated, pour a bit of oil into the pan and rub in a thin layer over the pan. When making the pancakes, pour the batter from a few inches above the pan in one spot to allow the batter to spread out into a circle on its own. I found it took around 35g (3 tbsp) of batter to make a 3 ½” diameter circles. Cook the pancake until you can see bubbles appearing under the surface, then scoot around the edges of the pancake with the spatula to loosen before flipping. Cook for another 30 seconds or so on the second side or until the pancake is springy and the bottom is golden brown.

Set the pancakes on a tray and cover with a damp kitchen towel to soften the surface and keep them from drying out. Repeat until all the batter is used. It will make about 10 pancakes.

houjicha pastry cream

  • 2 tsp houjicha powder
  • 1 tbsp boiling water
  • 240g whole milk
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 15g cornstarch
  • 35g granulated sugar, or more to taste
  • a pat of butter

Have a sieve set over a bowl for when you’re done the pastry cream.

Whisk together the houjicha powder and water until smooth and no lumps remain. Place the milk in a saucepan and whisk in the houjicha mixture.

Whisk together the egg yolks, cornstarch and sugar in a small bowl.

Heat the milk until steaming, then pour into the egg yolk mixture while whisking constantly to temper the egg. Return to the saucepan and continue to cook, whisking constantly (or stirring constantly with a rubber spatula) until the pastry cream begins to thicken and bubble (you will need to briefly pause your whisking to check for bubbling – it will look like a slow sort of “burp”). Cook for 1 minute at a bubble, whisking vigorously, to ensure that the cornstarch is cooked.

Immediately remove from the heat and scrape into a sieve, passing it through the sieve to remove any lumps and into a bowl. Whisk in the butter. Cover, let cool, then chill completely. When ready to use, whisk to loosen the cream.

vanilla persimmon compote

  • about 100g fuyu persimmon, peeled and cut into dice
  • sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste

Peel the persimmon and cut into chunks. Place a small saucepan with a small splash of water, a sprinkle of sugar and the vanilla bean paste. Simmer, stirring, until the fruit is tender and the liquid is reduced and syrupy. Let cool completely.

assembly

Match each pancake with another close in size. Dollop some pastry cream on one of the pancakes and spread so that it is thicker in the middle than along the edges. Press some chunks of persimmon compote into the pastry cream and top with the matching pancake. Chill for a bit before eating which allows the pastry cream to firm up a little bit and makes them easier to cut without the pastry cream squishing out.

Notes on making dorayaki:

  • 1. Making consistently sized dorayaki – for this recipe you can use a 1/4 cup scoop filled about 3/4 of the way. What I find helps me make even more consistently sized dorayaki is to measure out the same amount of batter into a small bowl and then use that to pour the pancakes. For this recipe, measure out 35g of batter into a small bowl and repeat with each pancake (keep using the same bowl). The first pancake add a few grams extra as some batter will remain in the bowl.
  • 2. Oiling the pan – I find it’s better to use a bit more oil the first time and get a not so nice looking pancake (use it on the bottom of a dorayaki). It gives the pan a chance to be seasoned so the subsequent dorayaki don’t stick.
  • 3. When to flip the pancakes – In my first couple batches, I found I tended to end up with very thick dorayaki, even with proper batter consistency. I realised that it was because I was waiting too long to flip the pancakes over – I would wait until bubbles had appeared, risen to the surface and popped all over the surface of the pancake. Rather, I found it is best to look for the bubbles to appear under the surface, but not quite reach the surface and pop – then flip the pancakes over for a still fluffy pancake, but with more manageable thickness!
  • 4. Making thin dorayaki – another way to ensure you have thinner dorayaki is to use a thinner batter (which is what I did in the batch photographed). If you add about 4 tbsp of water to the batter (instead of 1-2) so that it is the consistency of thick cream, it ensures you make thinner pancakes, but there are some drawbacks to the texture – not quite as bouncy and tender as usual! As for when to flip: the batter bubbles very easily when it is this thin, so flip the pancakes where bubbles are clearly visible across the pancake.

Update notes: Updated November 2021.

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.

Continue reading “elchi chai madeleines”

lemongrass & coconut tres leches cake

lemongrass coconut tres leches cake
lemongrass coconut tres leches cake
lemongrass 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.

lemongrass coconut tres leches cake
lemongrass coconut tres leches cake
lemongrass coconut tres leches cake

“Last time I tried making this, it was completely dry in the middle.” I confided in the lady at the counter. “It completely missed the point of being a tres leches cake!” With a laugh, she told me now I know what to aim for.

I’ve managed to get there – a couple key points being to use a very light sponge cake, and being very, very thorough with poking the cake. In this version I’ve infused the milks with lemongrass and included plenty of coconut milk.

Lemongrass is like someone took a lemon, gave it an herbal aroma, and smoothed out all its sharp points; it’s a flavour that just melts into anything milky. Lemongrass comes out wonderfully when infused into milk or cream for custards, pastry creams or ice creams but it does not lend itself well to coming out in baked goods such as cakes. However, given the sheer quantity of milk with which a tres leches cake is soaked with, this is absolutely a lemongrass cake.

A lemongrass-infused tres leches is something I’ve tried before, but without full cake saturation, the lemongrass flavour doesn’t saturate the cake either! To prevent yourself from ending up with a dry interior and a soggy exterior: poke the cake and take it seriously. None of this lightly pricking the surface. No, poke the cake all over and poke the cake right down to the bottom of the pan.

After wielding a skewer with decisiveness, this cake somehow absorbed 700mL of liquid – landing at that balance point of saturated but not soggy!

lemongrass coconut tres leches cake
lemongrass coconut tres leches cake
lemongrass coconut tres leches cake

There are many ways to make a sponge cake. In all of them, the eggs and flour do come together in the end, but can do so in different ways – the eggs can be separated or beaten together; flour can be mixed in all at once or alternated with egg whites. Regardless of the method, and at this point I have tried many of them, I tend to make the stodgiest sponge cakes. The last one I made, while alternating between folding flour and whipped whites into the yolks, I somehow folded away the egg whites away into oblivion. Or there have been times when, due to a thick paste-like batter, instead of aerating with egg whites, I deflate them. Or there have been times I keep folding and folding to try to smooth out lumps of sifted flour until the batter is a puddle. At this point stodgy spongecakes have happened so often I know that it’s not to do with any of the recipes – it’s really just me!

The recipe I’ve shared is one of few sponge cake recipes that I have never had problems with. The method is straightforwards and the ingredient list is just the essentials: eggs, sugar and flour, with no milk or melted butter. This is a bit of a departure, as most tres leches recipes I saw used at least milk if not also butter in their sponge cakes – thus if you’re not me and can actually make sponge cakes, feel free to use your own preferred recipe. But if you’re a bit more sponge cake adverse, I recommend this one – it is so light, and suitably lean such that 700mL of mixed milks is just what it needs to become moist and rich.

lemongrass coconut tres leches cake

lemongrass & coconut tres leches cake

Makes one 8×8″ square cake, which can be cut into 9 pieces. Sponge cake recipe from Natasha’s Kitchen.

milks

  • 80mL condensed milk (or more, depending on how sweet you want it)
  • 340mL coconut milk
  • 280mL evaporated milk
  • 1 stalk lemongrass

cake

  • 4 eggs
  • 50g sugar
  • 85g flour
  • pinch salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder

topping

  • 240mL whipping cream
  • toasted coconut flakes

Combine the condensed milk, coconut milk and evaporated milk in a small saucepan. Taste and add more condensed milk if desired – I’ve sweetened it to my own tastes. Cut the lemongrass in half lengthwise and into four or five segments which can comfortably fit in the pot. Take the pieces of lemongrass and and bend them in order in order to crack and release the aroma. Add to the milk, heat until it comes to a simmer. Then cover and set aside to cool, and then place in the fridge to steep for about 24 hours.

The next day, preheat the oven to 350F. Very lightly butter an 8″ square pan – I buttered it, then wiped over the pan with a tissue to leave only a trace of butter.  Line the bottom of the pan with a piece of parchment paper.

Place the eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat until frothy, sprinkle in the sugar, and then continue whipping until very light and fluffy. They are done when you can draw a figure-eight with a ribbon of batter flowing from the whisk, and it stays on the surface of the batter for at least 10 seconds.

Stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Sift a third of the flour over the egg whites and fold in until no streaks or lumps of flour remain. Repeat twice more until all the flour is incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth out with a small offset spatula. Bake the cake for around 25 minutes or until browned and an inserted skewer is removed clean. Let cool (it’s okay if the cake is still a bit warm when you begin). Poke the cake all over with a skewer right down to the bottom of the pan (I did some serious all-over poking – like every 2cm poking).

Strain the milk and transfer to a measuring cup with a pouring spout. Slowly pour over the cake, being sure to get the sides and middle, adding more milk as it is absorbed. Cover and refrigerate at least an hour or overnight.

When ready to serve, whip the cream (sweeten if desired – I prefer it unsweetened!) and sprinkle with toasted coconut.

Update notes: photographs updated July 2021.

olive paste acma

olive paste acma
olive paste acma
olive 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.

olive paste acma
olive paste acma
olive paste acma
olive paste acma
olive paste acma
olive paste acma
olive paste acma
olive paste acma

Acma are often made unfilled, and twisted in various ways, commonly a bagel-like shape (for a recipe in this style, here is one from Ozlem’s Turkish Table). The ones at Simit and Chai are also twisted, but more in a bun-like form, which I’ve done here as well.

I like to compare recipes when I make something new – sometimes you find that there seems to a universal formula underlying all the recipes, and sometimes you find every recipe is different. Acma dough is somewhere in between – I consulted Turkish Style Cooking, When Feta Meets Olive, Hayati Magazine and Edible Maison as in the below table.

olive paste acmaThe dough that I’ve made here is something of an intermediate average – and it’s such a delight to work with! Quite sticky, but soft, stretchy, and it bakes up wonderfully tender. The acma took a couple batches to get the where I wanted – I made the dough saltier, rolled them thinner, and filled with lots more olive paste.

olive paste acma

olive paste acma

  • Servings: 8 small buns
  • Print

Inspired by the olive paste acma from Simit & Chai. Developed by referencing a number of other recipes: Turkish Style Cooking, When Feta Meets Olive, Hayati Magazine and Edible Maison. Makes 6 acma (or 8 smaller ones). 

  • 400mL can black olives packed in water (I ended up with 160g of olives once pitted)
  • 200g all-purpose flour (generous 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1/2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp coarse kosher salt
  • 1 tsp instant yeast
  • 60g boiling water (1/4 cup)
  • 60g whole milk, cold from the fridge (1/4 cup)
  • 34g olive or vegetable oil (approximately 3 tbsp)
  • 1 egg white
  • egg yolk for egg wash
  • black sesame seeds
  • melted butter

Drain and pit the olives, and grind in the food processor with 1 tsp of olive oil until it forms a thick paste. Taste and season with salt – I use about 1/2 tsp coarse kosher salt, but this may depend on how salty your olives are. This also makes extra olive paste – you can eat any leftovers on bread or in sandwiches.

To make the dough, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt and yeast. Combine the boiling water and cold milk, which will result in a nice warm intermediate temperature. Add the water/milk mixture, the oil and egg white to the flour and stir with a wooden spoon until a dough is formed.

Cover with a damp towel and let rest ten minutes to allow the gluten to begin developing. Fold the dough – fold it onto itself like an envelope horizontally and vertically to form a tight ball. Let rest another ten minutes and repeat the fold. The dough will be a bit sticky and very elastic and smooth.

Let the dough rise until doubled, around 30-40 minutes.

While working with the dough, lightly oil your hands. Divide the dough into eight portions, each about 50g. Shape each piece loosely into a ball. As you work with one piece of dough, keep the others covered.

Roll out the ball of dough in one direction to produce a long oblong rectangle-ish shape. Exact dimensions don’t matter, but typically the dough is around 6cm wide by 16cm long and about 0.5cm (1/4″) thick. Spread with 1 tablespoon of olive paste, sparing the edges. Roll up widthwise into a long, skinny log, pinching the edges to seal. Stretch the log slightly, then curl it the log around itself, tucking the end underneath. Set the acma on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Cover with a damp towel and let rise around 25-30 minutes or until puffed.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400F. Beat the egg yolk with a few drops of water. When the acma are ready to be baked, brush with egg yolk and sprinkle with black sesame seeds. Bake the acma for around 13 minutes or until nicely browned. I broiled mine for a couple additional minutes to get a deeper colour.

Brush the hot baked acma with a bit of melted butter and transfer to a wire rack to cool. Cover the buns with a lightly damp towel as they cool to keep the crusts soft.

Recipe and photos last updated May 2022.

black sesame hotteok

black sesame hotteok
black sesame hotteok
black sesame hotteok

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.

black sesame hotteok
black sesame hotteok
black sesame hotteok

I decided to give a try at making hotteok myself. As I tend to do when I make something new, I consulted a variety of recipes – from Allrecipes, Kimchimari, Maangchi and Korean Bapsang. Generally I found that the flour to water ratio was typically 2:1 by volume (the recipes I saw ranged from 2:0.75 to 2:1.25). Some recipes used milk, and some used water – as I was indecisive I used half and half. The proportion of glutinous rice flour varied more, from none to 1/5 to 1/2 of the the total flour, so I used a vague average of 1/4 glutinous rice flour.

I read that while brown sugar, walnut and cinnamon is the classic filling, there’s a growing wealth of creative versions using other sweet or savoury fillings. With that in mind, I tried a black sesame and brown sugar fillling, which produces a tarry toasted caramel and a flavour remniscent of black sesame tang yuan.

These were quite fun to make and very satisfying. I can’t get them nearly as thin, even, and perfectly filled as Hodo Kwaja so I can’t wait to go back. However, that smell of cooking yeast dough and melting brown sugar that fills the kitchen is nearly the same.

black sesame hotteok

chestnut & black sesame hotteok

  • Servings: 8 11cm (4.5 inch) hotteok
  • Print

Based on an amalgamation of Allrecipes, Kimchimari, Maangchi and Korean Bapsang. I made half black sesame and half classic but feel free to double one of the filling recipes and do all one kind.

dough

  • 195g all purpose flour (1 1/2 c + 1 tbsp)
  • 56g glutinous rice flour (1/2 c)
  • 2 tsp instant yeast
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 120g cold milk (1/2c)
  • 120g boiling water (1/2c)
  • 1 tbsp oil

classic filling (for 4 hotteok)

  • 1/4 c brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • about 2 tbsp finely chopped walnuts

black sesame filling (for 4 hotteok)

  • 1/4 c brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp ground black sesame seeds

To make the dough, stir together the flours, salt, sugar and yeast. Stir together the boiling water and cold milk (this will make for a nice warm mixture) and the oil. Add to the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until a very sticky dough is formed. Cover with a damp towel and set aside to rise for an hour or so, or until doubled.

Make each filling by stirring together the ingredients.

Lightly grease your hand and work surface as you work with the dough. Divide dough into eight pieces. Flatten the dough into a large round in your palm. Top with 1/4 (about 1 1/2 tbsp) filling and pinch the dough to seal around the filling. Place on a tray lined with parchment and repeat until all the pancakes are filled. At the moment they’ll resemble little buns. Cover with a damp kitchen towel to keep from drying out.

Heat a pan over medium, or a bit on the medium-high side. Brush with oil. Place one of the pieces of dough seam side down on the pan. Brush a large flat spatula with oil and use it to press the dough into a flat pancake. Keep the pressure on the pancake for 30 seconds, then remove the spatula.

Let cook until the bottom is golden and the pancake is slightly puffed. Flip over and cook on the other side until golden as well.

The hotteok are best eaten warm – if they’re not fresh from the pan, rewarm them in the microwave to remelt the filling.

Update notes: Updated Feb 2022.

black sesame hotteok

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 – chocolate brownie perfumed with pandan and dotted with matcha cream cheese. (Camoflauge pattern inspired by the Bon Appetit brownies of course).

matcha pandan brownies
matcha pandan brownies
matcha pandan brownies
matcha pandan brownies
matcha pandan brownies

As vanilla prices soar, pandan is something I’ve become more interested in using. It is gorgeously aromatic and endlessly affable in the way vanilla can be – easy to pair and get along with other flavours. Here I’ve used it in a similar way as I would vanilla – as a background complementary flavour.

There was this box of scented markers I inherited from my older sister – at that point, none of them worked so I never used to them to draw, but they were still heavily scented. Every once and a while I would pull the box out of my “treasures drawer” and sit down to uncap each one by one to smell them. The worst two, by far, were liquorice (the manufacturers sure had high hopes for six years olds) and cotton candy. The best two by far were buttered popcorn (smelled just like artificial butter flavouring) and cupcake. To me, the cupcake became my imagining of the conceptual aroma of baking down, concentrated down into a scented water-soluble peach-coloured marker. Of course, I would now define the “conceptual aroma” of baking quite differently – more to do with yeastiness, browning butter and caramelizing sugar, a far cry form that marker. But the first time I smelled pandan extract right from the vial, it was the cupcake marker. In other words, a roundabout way to describe pandan extract in a way… that may still not make sense to anyone… other than me…

These brownies are a lower sugar version of their usual selves. Usually the sought-after shiny, crackly “ethereally delicate top crust, a series of whorls and ridges that shatter with every bite, showering lighter-than-air chocolate flakes onto plate and counter” means I’m less willing to cut back on the sugar content. But when you have a camouflage-patterned cream cheese on top, who cares what the crust is like? (I think that’s not a feature of the base brownie recipe – based on Alice Medrich’s cocoa brownies – anyhow). These brownies have a bit less sugar in the topping for a bitter matcha counterpoint, and an additional reduction in the base, making them dense, heavy chocolate brownies with a more muted sweetness. The pandan comes out surprisingly well – wait a moment after you swallow a bit of the brownie: the chocolate will subside and the pandan will be there.

matcha pandan brownies

matcha pandan brownies

  • Servings: 16 from an 8-inch square pan
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Adapted from Bon Appetit’s camouflage brownies. Makes 1 loaf-pan worth of brownies (I used a pan with a base measuring 4×10″).

toppings

  • 250g (1 block) block cream cheese, cubed
  • 45g granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tsp matcha whisked with 2 1/2 tsp boiling water into a smooth paste

pandan brownie

  • 140g butter
  • 140g granulated sugar
  • 80g cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 13g (about 2 tsp) pandan extract or flavouring, but may depend on your extract
  • 2 egg
  • 63g flour

Preheat the oven to 325F. Grease and line an 8×8″ baking pan with parchment paper.

For the topping, place the cream cheese in a microwave safe bowl and heat for 20 second intervals, stirring between each, until the cheese is soft, warm and smooth. Beat in the sugar. Crack the egg into a small bowl and whisk briefly to break up the weight, and then add half at a time to the cream cheese, mixing in each addition. Divide the cream cheese mixture in half and add the matcha paste to one half. Set aside.

For the brownies, place the butter, in a microwave safe bowl and microwave until melted and warm. Whisk in the sugar, cocoa powder and salt. Add the pandan extract – it may depend on the strength of yours, so use 2 tsp as a benchmark. Add enough such that the batter has a strong, but not overwhelming, pandan aroma, one that will last even once baked.

Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until smooth and emulsified. Add the flour, stir until incorporated, then beat the batter with a wooden spoon around 40 times. Scrape most of the batter into the prepared pan, leaving a bit (around 1/2 cup) in the bowl. Spread evenly with an offset spatula.

Alternate dollops of the plain cream cheese and matcha cream cheese overtop. Finish by dolloping the last bit of brownie batter overtop.

Bake for 22-25 minutes or until the brownies appear set and an inserted skewer is removed not with a liquidy slick of batter, but a with a thick and pasty wad of crumbs attached. It’s always better to err on underbaking brownies. Let cool on a wire rack completely. Cut into 16 squares once cooled.

Update notes: Recipe updated March 2022. The previous version was a small batch take on the recipe – if you’d like to do that, halve the recipe and bake in a loaf tin. Watch the baking time as it likely will need less.

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 “rosemary honey panna cotta with grapefruit jelly”

semlor

semlor
semlor
semlor

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.

Fika is a charming café, tucked in an old house 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. 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).

semlor
semlor
semlor
semlor
semlor
semlor

While I’ve made semlor before, the pitfall with making something you’ve never actually tried is that sometimes you don’t know what you should be aiming for. I’ve taken some cues from Fika’s version to work on improving my own. I adore the way you get hits of flavour from a freckling of coarsely crushed cardamom seeds, as oppose to finely ground, a feature that I adore and that I’ve replicated here. As for the filling, typically it is made by mixing the pieces of bread hollowed out from the inside with almond paste and enough milk to reach the desired consistency. I like the no-waste aesthetic, the bulk that the bread give the filling, and how it tempers the sweetness of the almond paste. My initial attempts were a bit pasty and lumpy, however. I found that by pulsing the bread in the food processor into finer crumbs, they meld into the almond paste adding body and a hint of cardamom, and keeps the filling smooth! Be sure to mix in enough milk for a nice soft consistency – it may take more than you think.

semlor
semlor

My initial attempts were based off of Magnus Nilsson’s recipe from The Nordic Cookbook, but I’ve never quite warmed up to the method of making the dough with melted butter. In my hands, it stunts the gluten development and I always tend to end up with buns a bit denser and firmer than I prefer (this is likely just my personal predilection towards fluffy Chinese bakery buns …). I’ve since modified the dough considerably with higher hydration and a more brioche-style butter incorporation, only beating softened butter into the dough after some gluten development has occurred. While it may be not quite traditional compared to the tender dense semlor I’ve tried and that Nilsson’s recipe seems to make, I love the super light and fluffy bun it makes.

This take on classic semla has an extra soft cardamom-flecked bun, a generous amount of sticky almond pasty filling (a good pinch of salt in the almond paste is a must), and a hefty billow of vanilla-scented cream on top. They are a total comfort and homely bake, but lively with cardamom. Semlor season is now my favourite season.

semlor

semlor

Initially adapted from Magnus Nilsson’s The Nordic Cookbook, though my go-to sweet dough no longer bears any resemblance after much modification. Inspiration from Fika Cafe in Toronto. Almond paste recipe adapted from Linda Lomelino.

dough

  • 1 tsp cardamom seeds
  • 110g whole milk
  • 140g all-purpose flour
  • 40g whole grain flour (whole wheat or spelt)
  • 3/4 tsp instant yeast
  • 30g granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 25g egg
  • 35g butter, at room temperature
  • beaten egg for egg wash

almond paste

  • 100g ground almonds
  • 40g granulated sugar
  • a good pinch salt
  • 1-2 tbsp water

filling and assembly

  • milk
  • 200g heavy cream (which gives enough for some very hefty swirls of cream, but if this sounds like too much to you, 140g is enough for more moderate swirls)
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • icing sugar

To make the buns: Pound the cardamom seeds in a mortar and pestle until the seeds are coarsely ground with some larger pieces remaining.

Combine the butter and cardamom in a small saucepan and heat until quite warm. Set aside to cool to lukewarm.

In the bowl of a standmixer, stir together the flours, yeast, sugar and salt. Add the milk mixture and 25g egg and stir together with a wooden spoon until a dough is formed. Use the dough hook to knead until smooth – the dough will be a bit sticky. Add the soft butter a lump at a time, working each one in with the dough hook before adding the next. Once all the butter is incorporated, knead a few minutes more to produce a very soft, smooth and elastic dough.

Cover with a damp towel and let rise until double, about 1 hour. Divide the dough into eight portions, each around 46g each. Shape each piece into a tight ball and space evenly apart on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Cover with a damp towel and allow to rise until well puffed, about 45 minutes to an hour. The buns are risen when puffed and, after being poked with a damp finger, the dough slowly springs back, but doesn’t fill in completely. 

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375F. Brush the buns with egg wash. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until browned and the internal temperature registers at least 180F. Let cool on a wire rack.

To make the almond paste: combine the almonds and sugar in the bowl of a food processor and grind for 30 seconds to  ensure the almonds are quite finely ground. Add the water, a spoonful at a time as needed, processing until it forms a smooth paste. Transfer to a small container and set aside.

To fill and assemble: Use a knife to cut a triangular shape from the top of each bun (alternatively cut a flat circle from the top). Use your fingers to hollow out a cavity from the centre of each bun, enough to hold 2-3 tablespoons or so of filling.

Collect the pieces of dough from the centre of the bun and pulse in the food processor until they are the consistency of coarse breadcrumbs. (You can do this manually, but I find the food processor is the fastest way to get a finer crumb for a softer and smoothing filling consistency). Transfer to a bowl and add the almond paste and a couple spoonfuls of milk, mixing together to form a smooth paste. Add additional milk, a tablespoon at a time, until the filling reaches a soft sticky consistency. Use this paste to fill the buns.

Whip the cream until stiff and mix in the vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a large star tip. Pipe a dollop of cream over the filling to level the surface of the bun, then pipe 1-2 swirls of cream overtop. Place the little triangular hats over top and dust with icing sugar.

Semlor are so absolutely best enjoyed freshly filled while the bun is still soft! If you must store them, they should be kept in the fridge to keep the filling and cream from going bad, though this means the buns will get a bit hard. Thus if at all possible I recommend just filling prior to eating.

Update notes: recipe and photos updated Feb 2022.