The best coffee in Toronto?

Leave a comment
cafe / drink

Today, I had one of the best coffee’s I have ever had in Toronto… at Thor Espresso Bar. It’s a small cafe on Bathurst south of King St. It has a sibling – Odin Cafe + Bar over in Corktown.

I had a flat white. The coffee was ultra-smooth, and the micro-foam lasted the *whole* way down to the last drop, it didn’t break like it does in some places. Not a hint of bitterness.

Advertisements

Haselnüsse kranz (or hazelnut crescent)

Leave a comment
baking / cake / recipe / Swiss food

The haselnüsse kranz, or hazelnut crescent/ring is one of my favourite cakes. It’s something my mother use to bake, often for my birthday, and honestly I have never baked on myself. It is a classic Swiss cake, although not the sort of sponge like cake. The dough is almost biscuit like. Growing up, it was usually made using almonds instead of hazelnuts due to availability.

INGREDIENTS

  300g  unbleached white flour
 2 tsp  baking powder
  100g  superfine sugar
     1  egg
 200ml  milk
  125g  unsalted butter (cold)

Filling:
  200g  ground hazelnuts or almonds
  100g  superfine sugar
     5  drops almond essence (optional)
     1  egg
4 tbsp  water

        egg yolk to glaze

Making the dough is somewhat unconventional, because it involves mixing the cold butter into a wet flour mixture. First, mix the flour with the baking powder in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and add in the sugar, egg and milk. Mix until a wet dough forms.

Next cut the butter into small pieces, and work into the dough by hand (there can be some small chunks of butter). You can also do this in a mixer with a dough hook. Knead the dough lightly, wrap in plastic, and refrigerator for 1-2 hours to allow the dough to rest.

Pre-heat the oven to 375°F.

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to a rectangle approximately 35cm × 45cm in size. In a separate bowl, mix all the ingredients for the filling together with a fork. You may need more or less water, but the mixture should have a paste consistency. Spread the nut mixture over the dough with a spatula, leaving approximately 1cm (½”) along the edge. Roll up the rectangle from the longest side, forming a pin-wheel.

Pinch the ends tightly together, and place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Form into a crescent shape, and brush with the whisked egg yolk.

Bake for 30-35 minutes.

The top of the cake should be a golden brown colour, and will probably form a split across the top during baking. Remove, and allow to cool on a cooling rack. When cut, the cake should reveal a nice spiral, and although it seems like it would be dry, it is actually quite moist (because of the nut mixture).

Herefordshire cider cake

Leave a comment
baking / British baking / cake / recipe

It was likely the Romans that first introduced apples to Britain with sweeter, and better taste. After the Romans left, many of the orchards were abandoned with the invasion of the Jutes, Saxons, and Danes. It was not until the Norman Conquest in 1066, that new varieties such as Pearmain and Costard were introduced from France, and orchards were established in the grounds of monasteries. Southern England has ideal conditions for growing fruit such as apples, and the Normans had a strong tradition in apple growing and cider making.

With a resurgence in the manufacture of cider in recent years, it seems ideal to actually use it for baking. This is a recipe for Herefordshire cider cake, however it is likely that similar cakes exist in all cider-producing regions of England. I am using a local Ontario Cider “Local Press“, made from Idared, Empire, Spartan and Royal gala apples.

INGREDIENTS

  115g  unsalted butter (room temperature)
  115g  sugar (light brown or caster)
     2  eggs
  225g  all purpose flour
   1/6  grated nutmeg
 ½ tsp  ground cinnamon
 1 tsp  baking soda
 200ml  cider (or perry)

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease the sides of a 8-9″ round baking tin, and line the base with parchment paper.

2. Cream the butter until soft with a mixer, and add the sugar. Allow the mixture to become light and fluffy, 7-10min. Add the eggs one at a time making sure the first is properly incorporated before adding the second.

3. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, nutmeg and cinnamon.

4. Slowly add one half of the flour mixture to the creamed butter-sugar mix. Stir in the cider, then add the remaining flour.

5. Allow to bake for 35-40 minutes, until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes before removing from the tin, and placing on a cooling rack.

This recipe produces a somewhat shallow cake, which I served with a mascarpone cream. Whip one one cup heavy cream, then mix in one cup mascarpone and two tablespoons superfine sugar.

 

Melton Hunt cake

Leave a comment
baking / British baking / cake / recipe

I like Christmas cake, but sometimes prefer a “lighter” alternative. This year I made a small Melton Hunt cake. Melton Hunt is a moist fruit cake originating from the town of Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, England. It was first made in 1854, supposedly for members of the local hunt to eat while out fox hunting. It comes from the same area as Melton Mowbray pies, which makes sense when considering the hunt. I adapted the recipe in Paul Hollywood’s “British Baking”, replacing the currents with dried cranberries. It is a dense cake, because of its size, and amount of fruit it contains.

INGREDIENTS

  175g  unsalted butter (room temperature)
  175g  dark muscovado sugar
     3  eggs (preferably free-range)
  zest  of one lemon
  175g  all purpose flour
  175g  sultanas 
   75g  dried cranberries
   75g  glacé cherries
   75g  chopped almonds
2 tbsp  rum

extra cherries and blanched almonds to decorate 

1. Soak the sultanas, and cranberries in the rum for 1-2 hours.
2. Preheat the oven to 300°F. Line a 6″ (15cm) round baking tin with parchment paper.
3. Whisk the butter, sugar, and lemon zest together in a mixer, until fluffy.
4. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and allow sufficient time to combine.
5. Mix in the flour, by hand 1/3 at a time. Then fold in the soaked sultanas, cranberries, and cherries (halved).
6. Spoon the mixture into the baking tin, and level the surface. Use the extra cherries and blanched almonds to decorate the top of the cake.
7. Bake the cake for 45 minutes, then lower the temperature to 280°F, and bake for a further 1 to 1½ hours (I baked it in a convection oven). When a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean it is done!
8. Allow to cool in the pan for 20 minutes, then turn it out.

Tips for baking biscuits (cookies)

Leave a comment
baking / biscuits / cookies / Swiss food

Here are some tips for baking biscuits (the British vernacular for cookies, because when I think cookies I think choc-chip type drop cookies).

♦  Use fresh ingredients – Good butter, and nice fresh free-run eggs.
♦  With fine dough, or dough rolled out thin, use caster (superfine, fruit, instant dissolving) sugar, not to be mistaken with powered sugar. It melts faster and incorporates more smoothly than regular sugar. Normal sugar can result in a grainy texture.
♦  Always cream butter and sugar well – until the mixture turns a nice pale colour.
♦  Let biscuit dough rest in the refrigerator for the required time – it’s easy to make dough 1-2 days ahead of time.
♦  Make a bunch of doughs at the same time, and bake them together – it’s super efficient.
♦  Once biscuits have been stamped and on the baking sheet, put them in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes before baking.
♦  Baking times in recipes are never exact – don’t rely completely on them. There are variances in oven’s, altitude, and even ingredients which means that you have to watch the baking closely.
♦  If you are baking on parchment paper, remove the biscuits onto cooking racks as soon as they are out of the oven, otherwise there is a risk of the parchment paper wrinkling due to steam underneath the biscuit.
♦  Don’t be tempted to create HUGE cookies, ie. gingerbread people that are 3 inches in height. Large cookies are fine for kids, but adults often prefer smaller cookies. Cookies that are 1 to 1½” are perfect.

Clementine biscuits

Leave a comment
baking / biscuits / Nordic / recipe

These are shortbread like biscuits made with clementines, and patterned using a wooden roller.

INGREDIENTS

  350g  all purpose flour
 ¾ tsp  salt
  250g  cold unsalted butter
  125g  icing sugar
  zest  2 clementines
     1  egg yolk
 1 tsp  vanilla extract
 1 tsp  milk

1. Mix the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl. Cut the butter into small pieces and combine with the flour by hand until the mixture has the consistency of crumbs. Alternatively, grate the butter into the flour.

2. Combine in the icing sugar, and zest, and then the egg yolk, and vanilla extract. Bring the dough together, using the milk if the dough seems too dry. Form a disc, and allow to rest in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours (or overnight).

3. Remove the dough from the refrigerator, and allow to warm for 10 minutes. Preheat the oven to 340°F.

4. Split the dough into two portions. Roll out each portion to approximately 4mm. Cut out biscuits with cookie cutters. For these biscuits I used my new patterned roller to imprint a pattern on the surface of the biscuits. Then I cut the dough into rectangles and squares.

5. Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until the surface of the biscuits turn a golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Leave plain, or drizzle with a clementine glasur (icing sugar + clementine juice).

 

Baking Christmas cookies

Leave a comment
baking / biscuits / cookies

I began helping to bake Christmas cookies when I was probably three or so years old. It was a tradition, that in the weeks leading up to Christmas, the cookies were baked, and then stored in vast containers in preparation for Christmas to begin. Of course, the containers were so vast, and stored in the hallway closet, that it was always easy to pilfer one or two without anyone being the wiser. Christmas was the one time of year there were snackables around the house – normally there were no cookies, candy, or chocolate for snacking on. So at Christmas I tend to bake cookies that only get baked once a year. I think if they were baked more often, likely they wouldn’t be as special. But now, over 40 years later, I have baking 800+ cookies down to a fine art. I usually spend the first day just making 4-5 doughs, and then spend another day baking them, interspersed with those cookies that get baked straight away. Normally the doughs need 1-2 hours resting time, so it is just as easy to make them the day before, and bake them all in one batch. Sometimes, like this year, I intersperse new cookies into the mix.

But there are a few things with my cookies. Firstly, I mostly bake Swiss or other European cookies. The reasons (apart from tradition) are two-fold. Firstly European cookies are generally fairly plain, i.e. they aren’t festooned with ¼” of icing, or have sprinkles on them, gummi bears etc. Cookies do not need that much stuff on them, i.e. they don’t need to be over sugared. The most my cookies get is a glasur, which is a fine coating of a icing made from icing sugar and lemon (or water, Kirsch, orange juice) – just enough to impart a slight citrusy  note to the cookies. Secondly, European cookies are not huge. My cookies are generally about 1-2″ in diameter. I hate huge cookies, because they are often far too much. Smaller cookies allow for trying a few different varieties, and not feeling like you have just eaten a whole meal.

The nine cookies of Christmas.

People are often awe-struck at the thought of baking 800 cookies, but honestly, it’s not that hard. The trick is to make cookies where the dough is uncomplicated, and to make sure the size of the cookies is reasonable. Most of the cookie (or biscuit) recipes I have posted have been thoroughly tested over the last 20 years. Here are some tips:

– Recipes are never fool-proof. There will be differences with the type of flour, and ovens – two factors which are never the same anywhere. For flour, I use one with about 10g of protein. This is essentially all-purpose flour (read the next post on protein in flour). Cookies need to be watched in the oven, at least near the last 1-2 minutes (don’t Set-It-And-Forget-It). Sometimes they need more time, sometimes less. Altitude also makes a difference in the baking times, as does fan-forced or not (and if it’s not fan forced, the heat will often emanate from the elements on the floor of the oven.

– Large baking trays are efficient, but also mean that cookies on the outer rim will bake faster than those in the middle. I generally use two aluminum baking sheets (15″×21″) and parchment paper. The baking sheets are made by Nordic Ware, in the US. Baking in Canada is perfect at Christmas, because baking trays can be put outside in the cold weather to rapidly cool before the next batch!

– If you are using more than one tray to bake, stagger them by 5 minutes minimum. You don’t want to deal with two trays coming out of the oven at the same time. Ideally 10 minutes is better, but it depends on baking time. If the baking time is less than 1o minutes, then maybe putting one tray in as the other one comes out is optimal. Remove the cookies from the parchment paper to cooling racks ASAP, as there is always the possibility that condensation will occur under the cookie.

– Use good ingredients: flour, unsalted butter, and free-range eggs. It is amazing what a difference a good quality egg makes to the outcome of a bake. For sugar, I usually use super-fine, or caster sugar, as the sugar crystals are nice and small.

 

Swiss Nidelzältli (or fudge)

Leave a comment
recipe / Swiss food / Switzerland

These Nidelzältli or Rahmtäfeli are a form of Swiss fudge which come in either hard or soft varieties. This is the recipe for the soft variety, which just melts in the mouth. There are many recipes for Nidelzältli, the hard ones tend to use milk, and the softer ones a mixture of cream and milk. Some contain vanilla sugar, others honey.

For the soft Nidelzältli, mix together 250ml of cream (35% fat), 100ml of milk (2%+), and 300g of superfine sugar in a heavy saucepan. Stir the mixture constantly on medium heat for about 25 minutes. The liquid should become firm (soft ball candy stage), with a light caramel colour. Take it off the heat, and pour onto a baking sheet lines with parchment. Cover with another piece of parchment, and roll until 3/16″ (4-5mm) in thickness. Immediately cut the Nidelzältli into 1″×1″ squares (25×25mm). You can of course make it thicker, say ¾” cubes (20mm).

A recipe for harder Nidelzältli uses 250ml milk (I would use at least 3% milk fat), 40g of butter, and 250g of sugar. Same method as above (it will turn out darker).

 

 

 

A patterned roller for biscuits

Leave a comment
baking / biscuits / kitchen tool

Sometimes its time to try something new with baking. I have a whole bunch of shape cutters, but how to make biscuits more interesting. The answer is a patterned wooden (beech) roller like this one (made in Russia). I bought this roller from Etsy.

Simply roll out the dough, then run the roller over the surface, imprinting the pattern. It works best with doughs that don’t rise substantially, as otherwise the pattern tends to disappear.

Nordic gingerbread with orange zest

comment 1
baking / biscuits / cooking / Nordic / recipe

Gingerbread biscuits seem to be a staple in Nordic countries, especially around Christmas time. They differ from Germanic gingerbreads in that they are much thinner, and often quite crisp. These biscuits are gingerbread with a hint of orange zest. It produces anywhere from 60-100 biscuits depending on the size of the cutters used. This is a super easy biscuit to make, and I have added it to the collection of Christmas biscuits that I bake.

INGREDIENTS

  550g  all purpose flour
 1 tsp  baking soda
 1 tsp  ground ginger
 1 tsp  ground cloves
 2 tsp  ground cinnamon
 1 tsp  ground cardamom
        a pinch ground all-spice
        a pinch salt
  150g  unsalted butter (room temp)
        zest of one orange
  200g  corn syrup
  100g  superfine sugar
  100g  light brown sugar
 150ml  cream (35% fat)

1. In a bowl, mix together the dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, spices, and salt.

2. Mix the butter, at room temperature, with both the dry ingredients, the corn syrup, the sugars and cream.
3. Form the dough into a disc shape, wrap in plastic wrap, and allow the dough to rest in the refrigerator overnight.

4. Pre-heat the oven to 390°F. Cutting the dough into 2-3 portions, roll out the dough thinly on a lightly floured surface. I rolled this out using my wooden rolling guides to 4mm (which is quite thin).

5. Bake in the oven for 5-6 minutes, or until the surface of the biscuits starts to turn a mid-shade of brown. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. These cookies will crisp up as they cool.

Lee Valley sells a set of dough thickness guides in 1/16″, 3/32″, and 1/8″.