Ohh La La Tasting

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Is there anything better than dessert for dinner? I didn’t think so. That’s why I jumped at the invite to attend a dessert tasting event hosted by Ohh La La Patisserie, making sure to come on as empty of a stomach as possible. Chef Sebastian invited several local food writers and bloggers to taste-test proposed items for his new menu. All 5 desserts were paired with tea from the host venue, The Tea Factory. It was actually an excellent idea. The cold teas were especially refreshing given the high sugar content of the food we were eating.

We started off with what was probably my least favourite course of the evening, an olive oil cake with white chocolate ganache, mascarpone espuma and coffee pearls. Although I could have eaten the ganache on its own with a spoon, the rest of the components didn’t really strike a chord with me. I liked the idea of topping the cake with an espuma or foam, but the texture was a bit off and the tang of the mascarpone was not as apparent as I would have liked. The coffee pearls were little balls of gel, set by agar agar, a fun idea in theory but they were a little too firm and didn’t really add anything to the dish. Overall, it was an underwhelming first course. Luckily, it meant that things could only get better.

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The second course was Sebastian’s take on apple pie, with layers of crust, caramelized apples, almond financier and finished with a vanilla Bavarian cream. As was the theme of the evening, he used molecular techniques to create a maple sphere, again set with agar agar. I much preferred the little dome of sugary, maple goodness to the aforementioned coffee pearls. Other than the caramelized apples themselves, nothing in the pie was overly sweet, so combining just a sliver of the maple sphere on your fork with all of the other ingredients really brought you back to your childhood eating grandma’s apple pie with vanilla ice cream. In fact I would take the impeccably smooth texture of the vanilla Bavarian cream over regular ice cream any day. The dessert was paired with an apple pie tea, which was probably my favourite drink of the evening. It was the strangest sensation to drink something that tasted and smelled exactly like apple pie, minus the sweetness, but at the same time, what pairs better with apple pie than apple pie?

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The third course paid homage to Sebastian’s Argentinian roots and was filled with tropical flavours. From the outside, it looked like a simply passion fruit mousse draped in glistening strawberry glaze, but the centre held plenty of surprises. Banana cream, lady finger and a hazelnut sable were all enveloped in the silky mousse. My only critique of this one is that I thought the strawberry flavour slightly overwhelmed the subtlety of the passion fruit, although it was the perfect pairing with the banana. I also wonder if the sable would have been more effective if made with macadamia nuts, which are slightly more tropical than hazelnuts (I always think hazelnuts and chocolate so it threw me off a bit). All in all though, I would definitely order one of these at Ohh La La.

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My favourite course was the fourth one, mainly because it was chocolate galore. Chocolate sponge cake, chocolate mousse and chocolate ganache are three things that make me one happy girl. The most interesting element of this dessert however was the caramel tagliatelle, a dessert take on “pasta.” Essentially he used agar agar and a few other chemicals to set salted caramel into a firm but pliable sheet, which he then sliced into “noodles.” Sure they were a bit on the slimy side, but I did not find the texture off-putting and the salt was the perfect foil to all of the other sweet components. Just look at that cross-section of chocolate heaven.

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I could have finished things off with a second helping of the chocolate course but we moved on to a light, Greek yogurt mousse instead. It definitely was not the most photogenic of the bunch but there were some interesting flavours and textures at play. Underneath the mousse sat a Matcha (green tea) dacquoise cake and on top that’s not spinach, it is a Matcha “wrap”, essentially a green tea flavoured jelly skin (there was a purplish blackberry one as well). Similar to the caramel tagliatelle, the wraps had a certain slime factor to them, but it was a unique way to provide texture to the foaminess of the mousse. Maybe if they were sliced in a chiffonade it would be easier to incorporate tiny pieces into each bite, rather than committing to an entire mouthful of Matcha or blackberry gel. Either way, I applaud Chef Sebastian’s creativity and courage to test out different techniques on us as his critics, to see if they would fly with actual customers. The thing with molecular gastronomy is that used effectively, I do believe it can enhance a dish above and beyond its natural state. However, oftentimes it is used without purpose, simply to add a modern technique in an attempt to be inventive and original, without actually enhancing the ingredients themselves. You don’t know until you try. That being said, after all of the feedback, hopefully you will see some of Sebastian’s latest creations in the showcase at Ohh La La Patisserie in the very near future! Just make sure you get there early before I go hoard all of the chocolate ones for myself.

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Canada Day Desserts

Happy early Canada Day to all of my fellow Canadians out there! To celebrate the occasion, I have put together a round-up of some amazing Canada Day desserts and other sweet recipes from some unreal Canadian bloggers. This country has some great talent and there are simply too many to choose from, so this is just a taste of what Canada’s food scene has to offer! Enjoy and I hope you have a fabulous day spending time with those you love most.

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The Dunbar, courtesy of Isabelle over at Crumb. It’s based on a recipe from a bakery in Vancouver.

– This Canadian take on Baklava from Dan of Dan’s Good Side, chalked full of apples and cranberries.

– Nothing says summer in Canada like stone fruit and berries. Julie from Dinner with Julie definitely know what’s up.

– We love our camping up here in the Great White North and that means one thing – s’mores. Wanda from Bakers Beans has you covered!

Blueberry pie is pretty traditional but not when you add spruce tips like Bernice from Dish ‘n’ the Kitchen did. Too pretty!

– These strawberry cloud bars from Regina at Leelalicious are red and white, just like our flag. Sounds about right for Canada day!

– When you are hiking in the mountains you need some trail mix – or trail mix cookie balls like these ones from Stephanie over at Global Dish.

– Anna Olson is as quintessentially Canadian as it gets. Check out her chocolate chip cookies on Stephanie’s blog (a different Stephanie), Clockwork Lemon.

– Ok it’s technically not dessert but it’s still sweet. The honey brew beer cocktail over at Eat North that is.

– If you have any rhubarb left it must go into making this tart from Melissa at Eyes Bigger Than My Stomach. It must.

– Does the top of this soufflé from Medha of Farm on Plate not look like our flag too? Except in chocolate form which is even better!

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– We may not grow tropical fruits in Canada but we do have some wicked blueberries. Mixing them into cheesecake ice cream is genius! Thanks to Nancy from Gotta Get Baked for this.

– Amy of Simple Bites makes a wicked looking fresh strawberry pie. Heck yeah.

– This country makes some gooood ice wine. Why not try it in a gelée like this one courtesy of Tara from Seven Spoons?

– Cool off with this frozen berry tart from Emily, the blogger at This Rawsome Vegan Life.

– What dainty little muffins from Jo-Anna at A Pretty Like in the Suburbs. Pretty indeed!

– Start off the day with these strawberry crepes from Janice at Kitchen Heals Soul.

– Maple syrup and blueberries. Check and check. This cake from Dessert by Candy looks awesome and super simple too!

– If there is anyone who deserves recognition on Canada Day it is Valerie from A Canadian Foodie. She has started up such projects as the Canadian Food Experience Project and basically dedicates her site to all things Canadian. It seems fitting to end things with Valerie’s grandmother’s angel food cake. Traditions are what make this country what it is and there are nothing better than food traditions. Happy Canada Day to all!

Nanaimo Bars

Nanaimo bars
Until a couple of days ago, I could not tell you when the last time I had a Nanaimo bar was. In all honesty, it was probably a store-bought one at a piano recital at least 7 years ago. It was the one thing I looked forward to after listening to kids hack away at the ivories for a solid 2 hours, the snacks! It was the same deal with soccer. I would not have gone if it weren’t for the orange slices and Rice Krispie squares. Even as a child my love for food was immense.
What were we talking about again? Oh yes, Nanaimo bars. I am curious, can anyone tell me, can you get these/does anyone make these in the States? I have never really paid attention to whether or not I have ever seen them there. I know that they got their name because they originated in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island but I would be interested to know how far they have spread. As a Canadian, they scream holidays or any get-together where inevitably a grandmother will be baking something.
Ok so here is the Nanaimo bar low-down for those of you who are out of the loop.
1. Crust made primarily of coconut, graham cracker crumbs and cocoa (chopped nuts are optional). Some people bake it, some people don’t. I find that any melted butter/graham crust holds together better when baked so that’s the route I take.
2. Butter icing filling, flavoured with custard powder. Personally, I don’t see what the custard powder adds flavour-wise. I tasted it by itself and it was exactly like cornstarch, blah. However, it does contribute to the eggy, yellow colour. This surprised me as it is bleach white when dry but the minute you add moisture to it, it turns bright yellow. Natural? Perhaps not, but Nanaimo bars would not be Nanaimo bars without a yellow middle layer.
3. Chocolate ganache-like topping. Just melted chocolate with a tablespoon or two of butter, that’s it, that’s all. Unless you are me and then you use Green & Black’s Burnt Toffee chocolate (it was just released in Canada and they sent me a couple of bars to try) to add some crunchy texture and caramel-y flavour. But I guess that is still just melted chocolate and butter. Fancy chocolate, but still chocolate.
Layer it up, let it chill and voila, you’ve got yourself some Nanaimo bars. Eaten right away or frozen for later, they are a nostalgic treat that brings out the kid in any full grown adult. Next thing you know, you will be leaving some out for Santa. Who does that though? You are supposed to give Santa the crappy stuff that you don’t want to eat. The Nanaimo bars, well you keep those all to yourself. It’s worth the risk of getting coal in your stocking.
Nanaimo bars
Nanaimo bars
Nanaimo bars
Nanaimo bars

Nanaimo Bars

Makes 25 squares

Ingredients
Base
½ cup butter
¼ cup white sugar
6 tbsp. cocoa powder
1 egg
1 tbsp. milk
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup coconut
Middle Layer
¼ butter, softened
3 tbsp. milk
2 tbsp. custard powder
3 cups icing sugar
Top Layer
2 bars Green & Black’s Burnt Toffee chocolate (or 200g semisweet or dark chocolate of your choice)
2 tbsp. butter
Instructions
1.     To make the base, combine the butter, sugar, cocoa and milk in a large saucepan. Heat to melt the butter, stirring until smooth.
2.     Remove and add in the graham cracker crumbs, coconut and egg. Stir until well incorporated and pack into a parchment lined 9×9” pan. Bake at 325F for about 10 minutes. Once it is out of the oven, put it in the freezer to cool for 5 to 10 minutes.
3.     To make the middle layer, beat together the butter, milk, custard powder and icing sugar until smooth. Spread this on top of the base and chill.
4.     Melt together the chocolate and butter in the microwave for the top layer. Allow it to cool slightly. Pour this over the first 2 layers, spreading it evenly across the top.

5.     Refrigerate until everything is set, 30-60 minutes. Slice and serve.
Nanaimo bars
Nanaimo bars

Cranberry White Chocolate Snickerdoodles

Cranberry white chocolate snickerdoodles
Ok Christmas baking. I am officially on it. This week I’ve got cookies coming at you left, right and centre. By which I actually mean 3 cookie recipes but considering that prior to Saturday I had made nothing, it’s a pretty big step. First up, cranberry white chocolate snickerdoodles!
Believe it or not, all three recipes are variants of the same (healthy!!!) cookie dough base. Applesauce is your best friend here. It adds moisture and chew without the fat. We make up for that by adding white chocolate but you can’t have it all, right? I love Green & Black’s white chocolate because it is laden with speckles of vanilla bean. That’s a double flavour whammy right there.
As for snickerdoodles themselves, until a couple days ago I had never made nor eaten a single one in my entire life. Blasphemy, I know. Apparently my family didn’t think it was important to include them in our Christmas baking traditions. My grandma is even German and according to the trusty source, Wikipedia, the word “snickerdoodle” originated from the German word “Schneckennudeln” which means “snail noodles”. What this has to do with a cinnamon sugar coated sugar cookie, I have no idea. Clearly the German connection was lost somewhere along the lines. Or Wikipedia is not telling the truth which is beyond my realm of comprehension. Wikipedia, not truthful? More blasphemy.
Well on that note, happy baking. Have a cranberry white chocolate snickerdoodles-i-licious day! Unless of course you don’t have any snickerdoodles on hand, then I guess you can have a non-snickerdoodle-i-licious day. But what fun is that?
Cranberry white chocolate snickerdoodles
Cranberry white chocolate snickerdoodles
Cranberry white chocolate snickerdoodles

Cranberry White Chocolate Snickerdoodles
Makes 25-30 small cookies

Ingredients

1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup applesauce
2 tbsp. vegetable oil (or other neutral flavoured oil)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
50g (1/2 bar) Green and Black’s white chocolate, chopped
1/3 cup dried cranberries (I used blueberry flavoured ones)

1/4 cup white sugar sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

Instructions

1. Heat your oven to 350F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.
2. In a bowl, mix together the brown sugar and cinnamon. Set aside to roll the cookie dough in later.
3. In another mixing bowl, combine the brown sugar, egg, applesauce, oil and vanilla. Beat until smooth.
4. Stir in the flour, baking soda, salt, chocolate and cranberries. Mix until the dough forms a ball and there are no pockets of flour remaining.
5. Using a cookie scoop, portion out the cookies and roll them in the prepared cinnamon sugar. Place the sugar coated dough on the cookie sheets, spaced out 12-15 cookies per sheet.
6. Bake at 350F for 9-10 minutes or until golden.
7. Cool and enjoy!

Variations

To make the cookies vegan, omit the white chocolate and replace the egg with 1 flax egg (1 tbsp. ground flax seed mixed with 3 tbsp. water, let stand 15 minutes).

Pomegranate Brownies

Oh technology. I was saving this post for later in the week but then my finger slipped and I pressed “publish” instead of “save draft”. But hey, what the heck? I think we can all go for some pomegranate brownies now, right?
Pomegranate has officially replaced pumpkin as my favourite ingredient right now so I decided to add them to the batter. I would like to take credit for the idea, but truthfully I saw pomegranate brownies over at Twigg Studios. The sourness of the pomegranate seeds actually does wonders to cut the richness of these brownies. And believe me, they are rich. For the most part I am totally down for making healthy desserts. But when it comes to brownies, you need two critical ingredients, butter and chocolate. I don’t care what people say about adding beans and avocados and applesauce (I have done all of these things myself and yes, they produce a yummy product but it’s not the same). If you want a rich, fudgy, decadent and totally over the top brownie, it’s not going to be good for you. Period.
People just need to wrap their heads around the fact that every once in awhile, that’s not going to kill you.
Just look at these. For me at least, it would be much worse to go without.
Pomegranate Brownies
Pomegranate Brownies
Pomegranate Brownies
Pomegranate Brownies

Pomegranate Brownies
Makes 9

Ingredients

170g dark chocolate, 70%
1/2 cup butter
3 eggs
1 cup white sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 pomegranate, seeded

Instructions

1. Heat your oven to 350F. Prepare an 8″ or 9″ square pan by lining it with parchment paper.
2. Melt together the butter and chocolate, either over a double boiler or just in the microwave. Stir to incorporate and set it aside to cool slightly.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt.
4. Add the cooled melted chocolate/butter to the egg mixture, whisking to combine.
5. Stir in the flour, mixing until it is just combined. Then stir in most of the pomegranate seeds, reserving about 1/3 cup.
6. Pour the brownie batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the remaining 1/3 cup of pomegranate seeds over the top. Using your hand, press them lightly into the batter but not so much that they no longer show on the surface.
7. Bake at 350F for about 30-40 minutes. The outer edges should be matte and set while the middle remains slightly glossy.
8. Cool to room temperature, refrigerate and slice. And then eat of course!

Pomegranate Brownies
Pomegranate Brownies