Posts Tagged ‘Baking’

Tortiere Grandmere


I’ve been dreaming about getting my hands on my French Canadian grandmother’s tortiere recipe for years, possibly decades, now that I come to think of it.

But it wasn’t until they moved Mamere from one nursing home to another earlier this year that someone finally found a copy of the original to send out to all of the kids and the kids of their kids.  I’ve been itching to make it ever since, but the idea of a hearty, meaty pie didn’t really jive with our warmer than usual Ontarian fall.

So, now that it’s starting to be cold weather eating season, it seemed more than appropriate to give the old girl a whirl.  What you see above is a rather decimated version of Antoinette’s tortiere; I didn’t have the presence of mind to take a picture for myself until after we’d already dug in.  No matter.  It will wow you all the same.

The original made 4 pies, but I have scaled the recipe down and added bay leaf for a little extra whiff, other than that, it is as she wrote it down, many years ago.  Bon appetit!

Tortiere Grandmere


To Your Health

100% Whole Wheat

Bread class this week was a trip down a path a little more ascetic than usual, with a pair of 100% whole wheat loaves and a double of compact spelt ones to keep them company.

Even though the 100% whole wheat was quite dense, the addition of vital wheat gluten helped to make it relatively springy, though nowhere near the unnatural bounciness of a loaf of one of those grocery store spotted foil bag wheat breads.


The spelt, on the other hand, never really rose up much, but its flavour is peerless.  I’m envisioning using the second flat loaf for a round of hors d’oeuvres crostini, since the first one went to work with the Everyman and a few jars of jam.

One of the things that I’ve been able to do since I started taking bread classes again is to build up quite a reserve of fancy loaves in our freezer.  At this very moment I have 5 or 6 ready to spring into action, and all they need is 10 minutes in a 350* oven to make them taste just like new.  It’s the dirty little secret of the bread baker’s world, but bread tends to be frozen a lot more often than you’d think.


This Just In: Turkey Day Treats

Salted Caramel Pumpkin Rolls

Our friends to the south will celebrate American Thanksgiving tomorrow, so with that in mind, I’ve whipped up a batch of salted caramel pumpkin pie rolls that would be equally at home on a breakfast plate or a dessert platter.

It all started when I found a small pie pumpkin lurking at the back of my overstuffed fridge on the weekend.  After brainstorming and rejecting my initial thoughts on its usage (pumpkin chocolate chip bars) I settled on the idea to make cinnamon rolls (which the Everyman loves) but tinge them festive and orange with pumpkin and pie spices. After googling for a while, I came across several recipes that had elements of what I was after, but no hard and fast winner.  Instead, I decided to come up with my own.

First, I roasted the pie pumpkin cut-side down until it was collapsed and yielding.  Once it had cooled a little, I ran it through the food processor until it had the consistency of baby food.  I’ve often wondered why homemade pumpkin puree is a light ochre-ish yellow and the stuff you get in a can comes out technicolor orange.  After pondering this for a bit, I’ve arrived at the hypothesis that they grind the whole pumpkin up, rind and all to obtain such a vibrant hue.

Incorporating my puree into a basic sweet dough, I left it to bulk ferment for an hour while I roasted some things in duck fat and salad spun some other things.  Some of the rest of this pumpkin mush will be making an appearance in another dish later this week, too.

When I returned, the dough was rolled out on a floured counter, brushed with copious amounts of butter and sprinkled with a brown sugar-based spice blend.  Rolled into a tube, it was sliced and placed in a silcone pan and left to final proof on top of the oven.


Bread Porn 2.0

I know.  It’s been a long time.  I shouldn’t have left you without a few eats to tempt you.

So, how’ve you been?

Me?  I’ve been swell, if more than a little tired as of late.

It occurred to me that perhaps it’s about time to share with you what I’ve been up to these past 10 weeks…

As I think I mentioned the last time I stopped by, I’ve been in school.  What I didn’t say was that I’ve been working towards my artisan baker’s certificate!  I’m doing this on top of my boring day job, and after a week or two, I began to wonder how so many people manage to do this without burning out or breaking down.  Needless to say, I was on the cusp of both of those options for a while, but, as the weeks have passed, I’ve slowly but surely been working my way into a routine and now it’s almost getting to feel normal.

Allow me to take you through a retrospective of the delicious things I’ve churned out over the past 10 weeks;


Mana’ From Rana


Though I’d heard of the middle eastern spice mix za’atar many times before, it wasn’t until earlier this year that I truly started to see its potential.

Za’atar is a blend of spices generally comprised of sumac, toasted sesame seeds, thyme, cumin and salt, though recipes differ depending on where in the middle east they come from. Back when I was reviewing Good Food For All for Taste T.O. one of the dishes I sampled was a za’atar-spiked chicken burger, which (incidentally was fantastic) left me with a cupful of the blend to continue using afterwards.

But as much as I enjoyed using za’atar in western preparations, it wasn’t until a Lebanese friend educated me about her culture and food that I learned some of the ways that they would use it traditionally.  One afternoon when we ordered food from a Lebanese restaurant, I fell head over heels in love with a flatbread-like object called manakeesh.  Slathered with labneh and sprinkled with za’atar, it was a doughy delight unlike any I’d ever tasted before, sort of like a cross between a pizza and a toasted bagel slathered with cream cheese.  Ever since that moment I have craved these za’atar and labneh manakeesh on nearly a weekly basis, but the restaurant is a fair distance from my house.

But on Meatless Monday this week I decided I wanted to make something to accompany our asparagus, fig and parmagiano salad, and I happened to have a ball of my frozen pizza dough on hand, so I thawed it out and stretched it into a large round.  It didn’t take long to connect the dots and add the strained yogurt that I normally eat for breakfast and a liberal amount of za’atar to the unbaked pie.  A quick rest in the oven was all it took for it to get puffy and golden brown.  It wasn’t a purist’s manakeesh by any stretch of the imagination, but man, it was still freakin’ gold.

I think Rana would be proud.


The Unsung Hero Of Saturday Morning Breakfasts Of Yore


There are a lot of things I don’t remember about my childhood.

The names of favourite candies, toys, friends and places, etc elude me, owing (I assume) to me having blocked out a fair number of memories after my parents got divorced.  Or maybe they just weren’t worth remembering… who can say?

At any rate, one thing I do remember is learning to make galette.  The provenance of said recipe is debatable depending on whether you ask me or my dad.  I seem to recall being gifted with it after going on one of those super boring but educational field trips that are all too common during your formative years; the ones where you learn how pioneers darned socks and churned butter, etc.  My dad, on the other hand, seems to think this recipe came about during the years I was in Brownies (the Canadian equivalent of the Girl Scouts and younger feeder group for the Girl Guides of Canada).  Both stories are plausible, but where the recipe comes from doesn’t really matter.

In either case, once my dad got hold of the recipe, it became a tradition in our small household, one that he also recalls from when he was a boy and my grandmother would make galette for her 12 hungry children.

Every Saturday morning hence, my dad would get up, put on his stovetop espresso pot and start to work on making galette.  The quick bread ingredients were all tossed together in a zippered plastic bag and then water was added to moisten them, then the bag was sealed and passed off to me for a good bit of kneading.  Once he thought the ingredients were suitably combined, the bag was turned inside out and the contents mooshed onto a foil lined cookie sheet.  After 20 minutes or so of me impatiently peering into the oven, he’d deem them to be ready, and I’d eagerly split mine apart, not minding that I was burning the tips of my fingers.  I’d generously cover both sides with margarine (the only thing my dad would keep in the house) or occasionally jam and then dig in until my belly was contented and full.


I Can’t Believe I Made These With My Own 2 Hands


Now that I know how to make real croissants, the bakeries in my area may become obsolete.

Having never been to Paris before, I really had no idea how different a full butter, freshly baked croissant would taste, but having sampled my fair share now (and probably your fair share, too) I can honestly say they’re like night and day in comparison.  So much of what I’ve had to date has been greasy with a faintly bitter aftertaste.  I now know that’s probably because they were made with something colloquially known as rolling fat instead of good old fashioned butter.  Nothing says delicious like the words rolling fat, you know?

At the top are a tray of crescent shaped plain butter croissants, which I’ve been told (but have been unable to verify) in France that shape denotes an inferior product made with rolling fat instead of butter.  I guess they take their croissants pretty seriously over there.  Mine were just crescent shaped because I thought it was pretty.



This One’s For You, Kid!

Japanese Cotton Cake

A favourite girlfriend from my office is in the middle of rather exuberantly expecting her first child right now.

And while I am sad that she will be leaving us at the end of this month, I was more than willing to use her departure as an excuse to shower her with well wishes and presents from the lot of us.  But man, keeping all of those bits and pieces in the air but still a secret for a few weeks sure was a ton of work!

Because she is special to me, I wanted to make sure that everything about the shower was just perfect, right down to the sugary confection I was planning to serve.  Not knowing her to be much of a dessert person though, I had to enlist the help of another kindly coworker to do a little low level industrial espionage in order to ascertain her preferences without sending up red flags.

The combination he reported back to me was cheesecake and pudding and I’ll admit, when he first ran it by me I was a little concerned about pregnancy cravings gone awry.  But, the more I thought about it, the more it started to come together into some semblance of a plan.

Since it’s summer, I decided not to do a traditional cheesecake, which is typically heavy (albeit creamily orgasmic) and a bit of a downer for a party scheduled right after lunch.  Instead I opted to make a Japanese (cotton) cheesecake, which is kind of like cheesecake and angel food’s awesome lovechild.  It’s puffy, light and airy, with a soft crumb and a pleasant hint of cream cheese that I envisioned would be well matched with a few of my homemade compote/jams.  To top it all off, I remembered a bottle of raspberry chocolate truffle creme that the Everyman had bought me around Mother’s Day that coincidentally had a texture similar to pudding, and thought that would make the guest of honor’s cheesecake complete.



Praline Buns

Lately it’s felt like the season of cakes around these parts.

Above, these scrumptious cinnamon and struesel-topped praline buns were an addictive favourite of mine.  You can top pretty much anything with struesel and I think I would eat it, though.

Sally Lunn Cake

There was also this Bath, England-born Sally Lunn cake.  It had a texture similar to poundcake, but an airier crumb and a dusting of sugar on top.  This one was spectacular with whipped cream and jam.

Nut-free Kugelhopf


Sweets For My Sweet

Galub Jamun

We’ve had quite a few exotic sweets floating around our house lately.

Though I enjoy desserts quite a bit, I find that when I’ve spent so much time making them, I don’t have a taste for them once I’m done.  So, when an overage of pastries presents itself, I normally send the excess to work with the Everyman, which often makes him quite popular around the office.  Many a time he has taken the rest of a batch of cookies, brownies or bars to work after I’d satiated my desire for a serving or 2.

Pain au Raisin

In the last few weeks he’s had a few trays of pain au raisin, a pastry cream filled glazed raisin pastry (shown above).



I’m Kind Of A Big Deal (I Kid, I Kid!)



On a weekend not too long ago, I was interviewed by Dakshana Bascaramurty for my take on the whole artisan bread in 5 minutes a day/no knead trend.  A few days after that happened, a photographer from The Globe & Mail showed up at my door to take pictures of me making bread for an hour while posing in all sorts of unnatural ways.  Because I’ve hated being photographed for a very long time (thanks to my Dad and his incessant cameras), I felt like I was incredibly unphotogenic that day.  So I was really glad when I saw that they decided to only use a picture of my hands kneading dough.  But what lovely hands they are (sic)!

Who’da thought I’d ever be on the other end of an interview?  Not me!  It’s really quite a strange feeling being on the non-inquisatory end.  Most of the time I sat there hoping I wasn’t making myself sound like an absolutely idiotic ass.  Now that I’ve read the story, I’m fairly comfortable that I didn’t, but I’m sure that some people will disagree.  Ah, well.  My opinion and a buck might get you a coffee these days, and being a free country, I’m entitled to it.

Anyhoo, if you’d like to check out the story, the article can be found here.  In case you were wondering, the baguette I decided to make for the shoot was a porky red fife number I invented myself.


No, It’s Not The Same, Actually

Pain Au Chocolat

Recently, I learned that despite what we believe in North America, the pain au chocolat and chocolate croissant that we consider interchangeable are actually not synonymous for each other.

Above is a tray of freshly rolled and baked pain au chocolat; as you can see, they are not croissant-like at all, but closer to an actual bread dough.  And dang, are they delicious!

After I tried these, it reminded me of when I was a child.  My dad and I would often get pain au chocolats together, and I always used to get mad because I thought he was buying me chintzy ones since they only had this 1 tiny strip of chocolate rolled up into the dough.  Little did I know then but that’s actually the correct way to make them, and that there is a specific chocolate product (called a baton) that is made precisely for this application.

Sorry dad if I ever doubted you.  Regardless, those pain au chocolat were always superb.


Now You’re Cooking With Gas

52 Loaves

During the past few years, baking bread has become more than just a part time obsession.

So, when I saw that William Alexander had a new book out called 52 Loaves, which was all about his year long quest to create the perfect loaf of artisanal bread, the story immediately resonated with me.  I too have been trying to perfect the art and craft of bread baking for quite some time now, (though I’ve never restricted myself to just one kind of bread) so the idea of such an undertaking was entertaining to me.

I’ve been meaning to read his other book The $64 Tomato since I first heard about it 2 years ago, but my Chapters wishlist is one of those things that only balloons as time goes by, yet despite buying several hundred dollars worth at a time the list never shortens.  Having just finished 52 Loaves and generally clicking with his writing style, I’ll be sure to jump his book about my other all-consuming passion (gardening) to the top of the list soon.

52 Loaves chronicles a year in the life of Alexander and his family, as he attempts to recreate a delicious peasant bread he consumed at a restaurant with his wife once.  What begins with the planting of a small field of wheat on his property, quickly escalates into so much more.  Week after week the fleeting memory of the ephemeral loaf haunts him, as the leaden, close-crumbed replicas he churns out in the beginning bear no resemblance to his ideal.  But as months pass, he educates himself further, reaching out to a yeast factory, several famous author/bakers and a growing number of books, culminating in a typical pilgrimage to France, though his is slightly unconventional as he ends up baking in a centuries old monastery, and also teaching the brother monks how to bake again.

Throughout the book hilarity often ensues, as Alexander writes about conventions, lectures, state fairs and a half-assed attempt to build a backyard wood fired oven that he was promised could be completed in a day.  He narrates the story with dry wit and charm, all the while causing the reader to wonder if he’s about to go mad.  One thing I particularly liked about the book was that he agreed with my analysis about the no knead technique, and after attempting it he wasn’t overly impressed either.  By the end of the book, you’re still not sure if he’s found what he’s looking for, but nonetheless he’s amassed scads of knowledge along the way.