Tag Archives: bakery

A is for autumn, A is for apple

25 Sep
(and X is for waXing philosophical)

The hordes are back at school, the suits are out in full force downtown, and the air is crisp – summer, alas, is waning.

Autumn is my favourite season. Can you smell it? It smells like a fresh start, a clear head, a sweater, a pile of leaves, a freshly-stoked fireplace. It tastes like turkey, fresh cranberries, gourds of various shapes and sizes, and apples.

Always, apples.

One of the (many) strange (and in this case, lovely) things about being the child of an Anglican minister (well, of two Anglican ministers, but let’s just let that go for now, ok? Ok…) is that you get to discover new communities every time your parental unit is moved to a new parish. Thus we moved from the wilds of Laval (it was the wilds back then, sort of) to walks along the riverfront in Verdun, to fireworks in St Lambert, to the rolling hills of the Montérégie.

We lived in Otterburn Park, nestled at the foot of Mont St. Hilaire (a mountain I climbed several times during our three years there). Were you to jump in a car and drive along Chemin de la Montagne, hugging Mont St. Hilaire’s south peak (as we did every Sunday), you would reach Rougemont, one of three points in my mother’s parish, and the heart of Quebec’s apple industry.

No place ever spoke to me like Rougemont did. Granted, the small town had all the right Alex ingredients: a deserted, romantic graveyard, a picturesque, tiny church, a host of eccentric characters, and (let’s be honest here) horses. It also, of course, had orchards: orchards as far as the eye could see, leading up in pin-straight rows or haphazard zigzags to the Rougemont mountain itself. I learned a great deal about farming in those years: I saw early mornings and late nights, biting frost and blighting sun. I, less so than my mother but still enough to make an impression, was invited into the old farmhouses of Anglophone rural Quebec: butter churners and rocking chairs, wooden stools and hiking boots. I ate fresh corn on the cob, I bore witness to the most magnificent Thanksgiving altar displays; singing the hymn “Come Ye Thankful People Come” never had such humble significance. I also got my first shock from an electric fence, but never mind that now.

I picked apples: up ladders and down. I ate apples: fresh apples, cooked apples, apple crisp, apple pie. I grew to love and respect the trees and their fruit; I could identify dozens of types of apples by smell and taste.

I am lucky enough to still have a Rougemont farmer in my life; one of the lesser blessings is the bags of apples he brings me every autumn. I’ve moved from Otterburn, to Bedford, then Pointe Claire, and Montreal (2 apartments; 1 condo), and now Ottawa; the bags follow. There are few more happy phrases uttered than, “Alexandra, I’ve got some Cortlands for you!” Cortlands remain my favourites: their tart, crisp, clear white insides, and the way their red skins bleed a little when you cut them, are a constant marvel (wait, that sounds weird, doesn’t it? Have I been watching too many criminal dramas?). My mother favours Paula Reds; my husband likes Spy apples (which I turn my nose up as an Ontario apple). I hate nothing more than the wax they put on apples to give them a shine in the grocery store: those things look to me like the fruit equivalent of someone with a fake tan: why take a good thing to extremes? I am also a local cider fiend: the best, in my book, is Covey Hill’s own Mystique. An excellent article about the cider route in Quebec is here, featuring Rougemont’s most well-known cider-making resident, Michel Jodoin.

In a life somewhat geographically schizophrenic, nothing takes me back to lazy teenage days in the country quite like a fresh bag of apples, tied tight and stowed in the car, promises to future autumn afternoons.

Some apple factoids to crunch on:

  • Apple saplings came over to the New World with Champlain
  • That cad, Sir George Simpson, turned up on the shores of the most westerly HBC fort with apple seeds tucked into his vest pocket
  • McIntosh apples are as Canadian as, well, I’ll let you fill that blank in…: Every McIntosh can trace itself back to one discovered in 1811 by John McIntosh in Dundas County, Ontario.
  • Did you know that Canadian researchers analysed eight popular types of apples and found Red Delicious, Northern Spy and Ida Red had the most antioxidants? Guess I should play nice, then.
  • Apples should be stored in a cool, dark, slightly moist place: I put mine in the crisper drawer of the fridge, with a dark, wet tea towel completely covering them (yes, I chortle when I tuck them back in).

My favourite apple crisp recipe (adapted from Nigella Lawson’s How to Be A Domestic Goddess  Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking and The Yoga Cookbook: Vegetarian Food for Body and Mind, by the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres):

Filling ingredients:

  • 4 large apples, sliced into eighths, skin on
  • 25 g raisins
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

Topping ingredients:

  • 60 g chopped walnuts
  • 2 1/2 cups granola (I swear by this stuff)
  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 2/3 cups honey and/or maple syrup (I like to mix both)

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Mix the filling ingredients together and transfer into an 8-inch square baking dish. Combine flour with butter, then honey and/or syrup and mix well. Stir the liquid mixture into the granola. Spoon the topping over the filling. Bake for 45 minutes.

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A few words on gluten-free (G.F.) cooking

28 Aug

By Nancy Bertolotti

Before you start preparing G.F. food there are some things you need to know.  First, if a product is not labeled “gluten-free” you may still be able to use it but should always check with the manufacturer to find out if it contains gluten.  Some products may not say they are gluten-free on the label but may be.  Others won’t.  Be wary because you also need to watch for contamination.  Anyone who bakes knows that flour has the ability to ‘fly’ around the kitchen and end up in places you would never suspect. For a person with celiac disease this is a problem.  Many of them can’t even have a crumb.  A gluten-free label means a product was processed or prepared in a separate facility where there is no possibility of contamination.  Another thing you need to be aware of if you are purchasing products that are not labeled gluten-free, is that suppliers of the ingredients for prepared foods often change.  In other words, one batch of something may be gluten-free while another may not.  The manufacturer of the prepared food should be able to tell you its status.  Check with them often.  Don’t just assume because you purchased this product before and it was gluten-free that it still is.

Is it necessary for you to have a completely gluten-free kitchen?  No, it’s not, but I do recommend you clean all utensils just prior to use.  And if you are baking items that are not gluten-free on the same day, bake the gluten-free ones first.

If you are on a gluten-free diet or you want to cook for someone who is, try this tasty Zucchini Bread.  You and they will love it!

G.F. Zucchini Bread

It’s zucchini season!  Every day I find a new zucchini ready to be picked from my garden and sometimes I find oversized ones that have been hidden under the large leaves of the zucchini plant.  The optimum size for picking is around 6 inches, but if your plants should get away from you, this recipe might help you use some of those extra large zucchinis.  It is an adaptation from a book I can’t recommend highly enough called The Gluten-Free Kitchen by Roben Ryberg (2000).

Gluten-free zucchini bread

Ingredients

1 egg
3 tbsp. oil
2 tbsp. butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup potato starch
3/4 cup cornstarch
1 tbsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. xanthan gum
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup milk
1 cup grated zucchini
optional:  chopped walnuts  (Don’t forget to check with the manufacturer of the nuts.  Sometimes they use flour when roasting them.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In large bowl mix egg, oil, butter, sugar, and vanilla.  Add all remaining ingredients except zucchini and nuts.  Mix more – it will be thick.  Then add zucchini and nuts.  Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake for 45 minutes.  Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes.

You will notice that baked goods that are gluten-free are a little more crumbly than non-gluten-free goods.  You will also want to wrap this shortly after cooling so it doesn’t dry out.  This loaf does freeze well and you may even want to cut it into pieces before freezing and then just extract the number of pieces you need when you need them, microwave them from frozen for 15 to 30 seconds and you have a ready-to-eat dessert for your guests who require gluten-free food.  This recipe also passed the test with family members who do not need to eat gluten-free.

Enjoy!

Check out Nancy’s bio and a link to her food blog on the Contributors page

Love letter to the brioche

21 Aug

Dear brioche*,

I have always loved you. Since we first met, I knew you were vastly superior to the common croissant and its infinite variations (almond, chocolate, apple, and so on).

I love your substantial nature: since you contain eggs, you can be considered a meal in a pinch, to be consumed (head first) while walking down the street (preferably in Paris, but Montreal will do). Unlike  other viennoiseries, you are also low-maintenance: you leave no sticky residue on fingers or flaky shavings on clothing.

I love your size: you are just right, compact, a perfect accompaniment to a cup of coffee. Bakers, take note: this is how big a muffin should be (well, unless they are adorable mini muffins). My poor brioche! You are dwarfed these days by cookies and muffins (and sometimes – gasp! – even croissants) seemingly made for giants!

I love your shape: your beauty is unique. You are instantly recognisable in a crowd, with your jaunty head perched on your crimped bottom. I think it’s sweet that you need your own fluted tin to be baked in. This may be your only high-maintenance moment, but you save it to have in the secrecy of your own oven. I thrill in your shiny egg wash.

Others may dress you up with a sugar dusting, or dried fruit, but I love you au naturel – your simple, rich taste should not be undermined or distracted from by empty baubles.

Even if the French Baker only makes a few of you each day, (apparently “people here don’t know what to do with a brioche”), and you haven’t yet found your way into every ubiquitous Starbucks or Second Cup, you are still my favourite.

Yours,

Alex.

xoxo

*Or brioche à tête, to be specific.

A Taste of Charlevoix

5 Aug

by Jill Boruff

I like knowing where my food comes from. My recent trip to the Charlevoix region of Québec was an excellent opportunity to get up close and personal with the origins of my lunch.

The tourist office has an excellent guide to food in the area called the “Flavour Trail.” It helps you find many farms and local producers of food in the region. We made a point of visiting several of these sites during our stay.

Our first stop was Boulangerie Rémy. Not only do they bake bread, but they stone-grind the flour in a restored grist mill. We had a tour of the mill, where we got to see the waterwheel and the stones in action.

mill at Boulangerie Remy

mill at Boulangerie Rémy

Of course, we had to buy bread (and flour!). They are most known for the “Batard de Charlevoix” which is a sourdough loaf using a mixture of wheat and rye flours. It was delicious! We loved it so much that we went back for two more loaves. We were amazed at how long the bread stayed fresh and chewy without getting mouldy.

Batard de Charlevoix sourdough

Batard de Charlevoix sourdough

Our next stop on the Flavour Trail was La Maison d’affinage Maurice Dufour to gather some local cheese for our picnic. Before buying the cheese, we got to meet the sheep who produce the milk for some of the cheese. The cows were in a different pasture, so we didn’t get to meet them. I really enjoyed seeing the animals and where they lived.

We chose two cheeses for our picnic. The first one was a firm cow’s milk cheese called Le Migneron.

Le Migneron

Le Migneron

The second cheese was a runny cow-sheep milk mixture called Le secret de Maurice. This one was so runny that you had to eat it by cutting a hole in the top of the cheese.

Le secret de Maurice

Le secret de Maurice

For our second picnic on another day of visiting the region, we visited La ferme basque. Here, we were quite charmed by the women and girls running the little shop and giving tours of the duck farm. The girls, the daughter of the farmer and her cousin, who were only about 11 or 12, were so excited to show us the newborn ducklings that had arrived that very afternoon. They also showed us around to the other duck pastures, for lack of a better word.
ducks

La ferme basque

La ferme basque

We were able to taste many of the duck products in the little shop, and we finally chose duck rillettes to add to the leftover cheese and bread for our picnic. All of their products were made in small batches the farmhouse and were absolutely delicious.

rillettes

rillettes

It was so satisfying to meet the people (and the animals) who were feeding us. I only wish that I got to do it more often.

Jill Check out Jill’s bio on the Contributors page

Lobster tales 2 : Sfogliatella

18 Jul

Sfogliatella, lobster tails from Patisserie Alati-Caserta

Sfogliatella / lobster tails from Patisserie Alati-Caserta

Lobster season continues.  The pastry pictured above is an Italian favourite. Sfogliatella translates to many leaves, or many layers. This pastry also goes by the name of code di argosta – meaning lobster tail.

I should have put my hand in there for scale. They’re monsters and these 2 fed 6 people. The outside is a flaky layered pastry and the inside is filled with a creamy ricotta that has strong hints of citrus and vanilla.  The bakery that makes these, Patisserie Alati-Caserta , is in the heart of Montreal’s Little Italy. They also make cannoli, cookies, intricate marzipan fruits, special Easter pastries, almond cake, and spumoni ice cream. The Calderone family has been running the business since 1968. If, for whatever reason, I stop  librarianing you will find me at the door of this bakery begging for a job.

A lot of what I know of my Italian heritage is about food. I don’t speak the language, although I am trying to teach myself Italian using free podcasts and books . I’ll let you know how that goes when I actually have to use it and I’m prepared to use the same line I use when people ask me how I learned French. To quote Manuel of Fawlty Towers “I learned it from a book”.