Sunday, December 31, 2006

happy new year !

Since I have been busy, I haven’t had much time to bake or blog. Still I am slowly continuing to make things that intrigue me. So I decided to make Nigella Lawson’s Clementine Cake, which I have had bookmarked since I saw the recipe in 2004. it only took me two years to get to, oh well! The cake was lovely and moist and best of all simple to make. The version I have made is from the Green and Black’s chocolate book where, Nigella advises to grate 100g of Maya Gold Green and Black chocolate over the cake once it has come out of the oven. Let the chocolate completely cool before you cut. To make mine a little more festive, I dusted it with gold dust. Wishing you all a wonderful 2007!

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

chocolate pot de crème

I didn’t have very much time to make a dessert for Christmas dinner, so I decided to make chocolate pot de crème by Michel Bras. I had some praline left over so, I decided to flavour the cream with it. Make sure to strain the praline out before combining the chocolate and butter into cream.

chocolate pot de crème

7 oz (200g) bitter chocolate
1 3/4 cups (400g) heavy cream
3 Tbsp (50g) unsalted butter


Boil the cream. Melt broken chocolate pieces with butter. Beat thoroughly with a whisk. Pour into ramekins and keep cold until ready to serve.
* Flavour the cream with coffee or praline, if you wish.

From, The Notebooks of Michel Bras Desserts

I found these cute shot sized ceramic cups at this years One of a Kind exhibition in Toronto. When I bought these, I had pot de crème exactly in mind.

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Monday, December 25, 2006

happy holidays!

I would like to wish everyone a wonderful winter holiday, a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


xoxo Sam

Sunday, December 24, 2006

ottawa: eating our nations capital

I started my holiday vacation with a few days in Ottawa. It was my first time in Ottawa and I had a great time visiting the parliament buildings, the National gallery, friends and of course eating my way around the city! I would like to thank Emily and a lovely woman I met named Lisa, who made a fantastic list of places for me to frequent. Here is a list of my favourite places.

The Scone Witch

This small café makes some of the best scones I have ever tasted. There scones include: cranberry-orange, current-ginger, vanilla cream, lemon poppy seed and during December gingerbread. The scones are served with an array of condiments, some include: devon cream, lemon curd and strawberry rhubarb jam. The scones here have a wonderful crumb, they are light, moist and buttery. The Scone Witch also does sandwiches, which are held together by savoury square scones. The two sconewitches we tried included smoked salmon with a lovely mushroom soup and a pesto, goat cheese, tomato and olive with a nice side of greens. Wash down all the wonderful baked goods here with a coffee or a house blend of their tea. They have a small selection of food, but they do it well. If I had to pick one place in Ottawa to eat again, it would be The Scone Witch!

The Scone Witch
388 Albert Street
613 232 2173

3 Tarts

If you are looking for cakes or cookies in Ottawa, the place to go would be 3 Tarts. 3 Tarts was recommended to me by a couple of lovely women in Ottawa who work in the industry. Although not what I would describe as a fancy bakery by its décor, 3 Tarts does make a good selection of cakes and tarts. The only sad thing is that they don’t seem to sell them by the slice. Since I wasn’t in the mood to buy a whole cake or tart, I decided to try an assortment of some of their cookies, which were all quite delightful. The best of the lot however was a wonderful Hungarian shortbread cookie, which was eaten quickly and is absent in the photo. So if you are ever in the neighbourhood, I suggest you try it. The Hungarian shortbread consisted of a firm layer of shortbread, rhubarb in the middle and a crumbly shortbread topping… mmm!

3 Tarts
1320 Wellington Street
613 729 9832

Le Boulanger Francais / The French Baker

Hailed as the bakery with the best croissants in the city. They may be the best in the Ottawa, but as a fussy croissant eater myself. I can’t say they are the best croissants I have ever eaten. The croissants here are good and buttery, but I found that they were a bit too bread-like for me. They didn’t seem to have the layers, textures and complexity that I look for in a croissant. Nevertheless, The French Baker is a wonderful bakery filled with quality breads, cakes and an assortment of goodies. Attached to the bakery is Benny’s Bistro, which is a lovely restaurant. I had breakfast there, which was a simple but very satisfying meal. I have heard that their lunches and dinner are also wonderful.

Le Boulanger Francais / The French Baker
119 rue Murray Street
613 789 7941

La Brioche

I don’t know much Middle Eastern baking and pastries, but I do know that I am always open to trying things. I did a lot of sampling at this store. I probably bought three times the amount of pastries as shown in the photograph. If you ever are in this neighbourhood, I would suggest at least going into this simple and modest bakery. The shop is filled with huge heaping piles of sweets, which is quite impressive. My favourite of all the bite sized morsels that I ate was the cashew baklava which was fantastic, I could have eaten a dozen of these yummy pastries.

La Brioche
866 Bank Street
613 565 0002

Thyme & Again

With a lovely storefront, Thyme & Again is one of Ottawa most well known catering companies and a favorite lunch spot. For lunch Thyme & Again has a lovely selection of sandwiches, salads and soups. The shop offers a good range of breads, pastries and baked goods. Thyme & Again also carries the bread of pastry chef Kevin Mathieson who runs Art-is-in Breads. Above is a photo of Mathieson’s twelve grain fennel bread, which was delicious. Art-is-in Bread is definitely raising the standard of bread making in the city and it can be found at local outlets and some of Ottawa’s fine dining establishments.

Thyme & Again
1255 Wellington Street West
613 722 0093

The Wild Oat

Wild Oats Bakery and Restaurant is a wonderful place to get a selection of vegan and vegetarian dishes and wheat-free desserts. With a simple, healthy and tasty menu the Wild Oat is one of those laidback vegetarian hangouts. The desserts here are again simple and tasty, I have been told that the brownies and carrot cake are good. I tried a raw fruit tart, which consisted of raspberry, blackberry, cranberry, mango, carob and an oat crust - it didn’t taste half bad. The bread here looks and tastes great.

The Wild Oat
817 Bank Street
613 232 6232

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

carrot cake

A couple of weeks ago, I found some heirloom carrots at the St. Lawrence Market. These carrots were purple on the outside, orange on the inside and very sweet. I thought that I would make a carrot cake and knew exactly which recipe I would use - one from Baking Illustrated. I like this recipe because the emphasis is on the carrot. I find that I am often a purist. This cake has no walnuts, raisins, pineapple, coconut or any of the usual pairings. It is simply carrots with a hint of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Served with cream cheese frosting, this cake is a winner.

* Note: If you decide to use purple heirloom carrots, as I did, the batter of your carrot cake will be purple. However, once it bakes no one will ever know they are eating purple carrot cake!

Carrot Cake

2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1 pound carrots, peeled (6-7 medium carrots)
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups safflower, canola or vegetable oil

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz cream cheese
5 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened but still cool
1 Tbsp sour cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups confectioner’s sugar

1. For the Cake: Adjust an oven rack to the middle position; heat the oven to 350ºF. Spray a 13 by 9 - inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper and spray the parchment.
2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.
3. In a food processor fitted with the large shredding disk, shred the carrots (you should have about 3 cups); add the carrots to the bowl with the dry ingredients and set aside. Wipe out the food processor and fit with the metal blade. Process both sugars with the eggs until frothy and throughly combined, about 20 seconds. With the machine running, add the oil through the feed tube in a steady stream. Process until the mixture is light in colour and well emulsified, about 20 seconds longer. Scrape the mixture into a large bowl. Stir in the carrots and the dry ingredients until incorporated and no streaks of flour remain. Pour into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick or a skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes, rotating the pan from front to back halfway through the baking time. Cool the cake to room temperature in the pan or on a wire rack, about 2 hours.
4. For the Frosting: When the cake is cool, process the cream cheese, butter, sour cream, and vanilla in a clean food processor until combined, about 5 seconds, scraping down the work bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Add the confectioner’s sugar and process until smooth, about 10 seconds.
5. Run a paring knife around the edge of the cake to loosen it from the pan. Invert the cake onto a wire rack, peel off the parchment, then invert it again onto a serving platter. Using an offset spatula, spread the frosting evenly over the surface of the cake. Cut into squares and serve.

From, Baking Illustrated, Edited by Christopher Kimball

Sunday, December 10, 2006

cookie-making workshop

Last Sunday I taught a cookie-making workshop. Debra initiated the workshop as a get-together idea with friends. During the three-hour event, we talked about cookie methods, ingredients, techniques and tips to make, shape and store cookies. My goal was to keep the group interested and entertained by explaining baking process, answering questions, and getting them involved as much as possible. I enjoyed having the group roll, scoop and assemble cookies. We made gingersnaps, rugelach, chai butterballs, korova cookies, and orange almond biscotti. I supplied everyone with a small booklet/collection of cookie recipes. I think that we had a good time, and everyone left with cookies. All in all, it was a fun day of baking and eating.

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Sunday, December 03, 2006

new york : post 10

Two weeks ago I was in New York, where I had a small whirlwind of eating, drinking and shopping. In this post I describe some of the places that I visited.

If you love desserts and are heading to New York, check out some of my other posts.
post 1 : Jean George
post 2 : Chickalious & Room 4 Dessert
post 3 : Cream Puffs in New York
post 4 : Bouchon, Fauchon, Minamoto Kitchoan, Wichcraft
post 5 : Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, Rice to Riches, Fluff
post 6 : Serendipity 3
post 7 : Blue Ribbon Bakery, Nougatine
post 8 : Buttercup Bakeshop, Amy's Bread
post 9 : Kee's, La Maison Du Chocolat, Michel Cluizel, Richart, Vosges Haut-Chocolat
post 10 : Doughnut Plant NYC, Lady M Cake Boutique, Tavalon Tea Bar

See a slide show of my New York 2006 Dessert Adventures!

Doughnut Plant New York City

I think the Doughnut Plant served the best donuts I have ever eaten. The storefront for this shop is simple and utilitarian. Their focus is to make the finest doughnuts they can with the highest quality ingredients. Based on my sample, their doughnuts are light, moist and extremely flavourful. Their selection included: Valrhona chocolate, banana pecan, grapefruit, chocolate crumble, cranberry, pannetone, tres de leche and vanilla bean. Being overwhelmed by the choice, I asked for help from my friendly server, who suggested the cranberry doughnut. Based on appearance, I was skeptical of this choice because the donut was glazed in pink and covered in tiny red specks. Nonetheless I bravely took his advice. It was so delicious that I immediately had to try another. I chose the tres de leche. I had one bite and was in heaven. I found it even better than the first. That was it: I had fallen in love with the Doughnut Plant. If you like doughnuts, or just have a sweet tooth, the Doughnut Plant will probably win your heart too.

379 Grand Street
New York
212 505 3700

Lady M Cake Boutique

Lady M is a classy salon on the Upper East Side that has a lovely selection of desserts. Their display case is filled with classic cakes that sound, look and taste exactly as you would imagine. Their cakes include: Lady M Mille Crepes, Miroir Caramel, Gateaux aux Marrons, Gateaux aux Chocolate, Gateaux aux Fromage Blanc, Mille Feuille, Gateaux Citron, Montague de Fraise, Tarte aux Fruits and Le Gateaux New Yorkais. I tried their Lady M Mille Crepes Cake, which I was told was a favourite. It is composed of perfectly shaped, light-as-air, crepes that are sandwiched between thin layers of cream custard. The cake has a hint of cherry liquor and a caramelized top. It was amazing. Although you’ll pay a bit more, I suggest you go to Lady M for a slice of high quality cake. Desserts this satisfying can be hard to come by.

41 east 78th Street (between Madison Avenue and Park Avenue)
New York
212 452 2222

Tavalon Tea Bar

Tavalon Tea Bar is a fairly new teashop near Union and 14th Street that offers a variety of premium loose leaf teas, including green, white, black and chai. They also sell a selection of teapots, tea gift sets and tea accessories. Tavalon offers hip and stylish hot and cool drinks, like the Healthy Buzz, Detox, Chai Seduction, Genius, Herbal Oasis, Tropical Peony, and After Dark. During my visit I sampled a number of flavours and bought a canister of After Dark, which is a blend of herbs, such as chamomile, and tangy exotic fruits that smells absolutely spectacular. I also purchased green tea cookies that Tavalon sources from Amai Tea and Bake House. Some of you might be familiar with Amai Tea and Bake House: It’s run by the lovely Kelli of the blog Lovescool. I have made green tea cookies, but they we certainly not as good as Kelli’s. Tavalon is a cute and stylish tea store and worth a visit if you are interested in quality teas.

22 East 14th Street (between University and 5th)
New York

Here are two other dessert venues that I visited and want to mention:

Balthazar Bakery

Balthazar Bakery is a small and busy shop that you can count on for a small and lovely selection of baked goods. Many loyal New Yorkers frequent Balthazar for their morning coffee and snack. Their display cases are filled with croissants, Danishes, scones, cookies, breads, tarts and miscellaneous small snacks. I had a wonderful pear tart, which had pears poached in red wine arranged on light puff pastry. It was one of the finest pear tarts that I have had in a while. Balthazar has delicious and reliable baked goods.

80 Spring Street
New York
212 965 1785

Francois Payard

It would be wrong to write about desserts in New York without mentioning Francois Payard . If you have never visited Payard’s Patisserie and Bistro, I suggest you go. Payard is undoubtedly one of New York’s most well known pastry chefs. His pastries and desserts are beautiful, elegant and delicious. Upon entering Payard’s, you will see marvelous display cases lined with tarts, cakes, mousse cakes, petit fours, cookies and chocolates. If you have a sweet tooth, are a pastry chef or just love beautiful desserts, I recommend dropping by and picking up some lovely pastries to go.

1032 Lexington Avenue (between 73rd and 74th Streets)
New York
212 717 5252

Since I will not have a chance to head back to New York this year, I have decided to end my series of posts on sweets in New York. I have had a wonderful time discovering, eating, drinking and sharing my experiences. Thank you to all the sweet friends who accompanied me on these excursions, as well as to all the amazing people on-line who recommended places to try. Also, a big thanks to everyone who has continued to read and support my blog. Cheers, Sam!