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Entries in canada (13)

Tuesday
Sep202011

Guest Blog Post: Cake Gumshoe Molly Visits Dooher's Bakery, Ontario

Images: Molly AllenCakeSpy Note: This is a guest post from Cake Gumshoe Molly. Read her full post here!

Dooher’s Bakery of Campbellford, Ontario, Canada has always been a favorite of mine. Dooher’s opened in 1949 and has flourished with popularity ever since. Everything about Dooher’s is kept within the family and all recipes are made from scratch.

I’ve never stepped foot in a bakery with so many delicious choices. Dooher’s is stock full of breads, buns, biscuits, muffins, cookies, donuts, pies, and sweet pastries. The choices are ridiculous, as you will want to eat one of every single item available.

I had one of their cream puffs, mainly because it has been a must-have for every Dooher’s trip I’ve had since I was little. Those things are incredible. Most cream puffs are made with a puff pastry base, but Dooher’s makes theirs with donuts! Two incredibly fluffy, sweet donuts with a big spoonful of cream in the middle? Aren’t you convinced yet?

For years, my family has come to Dooher’s for their tarts and pies. Their pastry crust is unsurpassed, and their fruit fillings are made from locally grown produce. We picked up a few lemon tarts, which are, by my standards, incredible. Creamy, lemony, tart filling plopped on a flaky crust; no wonder they do such wonderful business.

This time during my visit, Dooher’s had a new treat I had never seen before. The friendly clerk at the counter described it as “a French pastry crust with a custard and raspberry filling, topped with whipped cream.” Whoa. Sure, I had already chosen a large number of treats…but I think that can be considered a necessity. It was flaky, it was creamy, it was sweet, it was tart; all of the best baking adjectives combined into one incredible treat.

Lastly, we took home a bag of Dooher’s Oatmeal Jam cookies. Such a simple treat, but an incredible one at that. These cookies consist of two vanilla-oatmeal cookies with a sweet layer of raspberry jam in the middle. It is really easy to eat the whole bag in one day; a love/hate relationship.

The Dooher family has spread their love of baking throughout Ontario for years. My family have been avid customers for a number of years. Their baked goods are of the best quality. There is no other bakery I have found that can compare to this favorite of mine.

Dooher’s Bakery, 61 Bridge Street, Campbellford, Ontario, Canada

Friday
Aug192011

Cakewalk: The Nanaimo Bar Trail

CakeSpy Note: This week, I visited the city of Nanaimo, which true lovers of sweets will probably know best as the birthplace of the mighty Nanaimo Bar. This bar is beloved by many--the city has even created a "Nanaimo Bar Trail" with a guide to some of the best Nanaimo Bar experiences. My friends at Serious Eats even made a delicious slide show! On my visit, I checked out several of the spots on the trail and then some--here's a chronicle of what I saw, learned, and best of all, tasted. 

Exhibit A: The Nanaimo Museum. In the City of Nanaimo, there is a place called the Nanaimo Museum. It has other exhibits, but the only one I went to see was the one focusing on the Nanaimo Bar. Hey, just being honest.

The display is not huge, but it is a loving tribute to this sweet triple-layer confection. And they have Nanaimo Bar benches. And you know what that means...PHOTO SHOOT!

They also sell tea towels featuring the official Nanaimo Bar recipe, but (sob) they were out when I visited.

Exhibit B: The Classic. Personally, my main objective was to sample the authentic Nanaimo Bar in its place of birth. Directly adjacent to the Nanaimo Museum, Serious Coffee makes the bars using the official city recipe, and I found theirs to be highly satisfying, with a deliciously crumbly base and a good-quality chocolate top acting as bookends to the real reason why I eat the bars, which is the custard-cream filling. 

Also offering the classic style are Perkins Coffee:

...and Bocca Cafe, and McLean's Specialty Foods (which, btw, is also the home of "Haggis Extravaganza"). But truly, these bars are ubiquitous--you'll find them at Tim Hortons, grocery stores, on the ferry, and...well, everywhere! (BTW--my friend Allyson says some of her favorites are made by The Cakerie).

Exhibit C: Ice Cream Variations. The city boasts several ice cream variations, including Nanaimo Bar ice cream, a Nanaimo Bar Ice Cream Sundae at Jakeob's Ice Cream Parlour, Nanaimo Bar Ice cream sandwiches (pictured above) at 2 Chefs Affair (if you're stateside, you may also be able to get these in NYC!), and crumbled bars are a common topping or mix-in with ice cream.

CakeSpy note: I also found a recipe for a Nanaimo Bar Ice Cream cake here.

Photo: Grand Hotel NanaimoExhibit D: Quaffable Nanaimo Bars. The city boasts a Nanaimo Bar Martini, which is always available at the Modern Cafe. I did not sample it. But it exists. Just wanted you to know. It is also occasionally offered as a special at the Grand Hotel Nanaimo (pictured above).

Exhibit E: Fancy Nanaimo Bars. I consider these a very blue-collar treat, but some establishments have raised it to pinkies-out status. One such place was Mon Petit Choux, where the cream filling was much more copious in terms of height and quantity, and yet it tasted lighter and fancier...delicious, but perhaps not as "authentic" as other versions. Also according to the City of Nanaimo site, a fair-trade, all organic/amazing version is made by Pastry Chef Sarah Wallbank and can be found at the various Farmers’ Markets in Nanaimo. The rest of the year she will make special orders.

Nanaimo Bar Cupcakes Photo: A Wee CupcakeryExhibit F: Awesome Overload. Also available, if you're seeking sweet excess? Nanaimo Bar Fudge from Rocky Mountain Chocolate (they didn't have it when I visited, though they DID have Chocolate covered frozen Nanaimo Bars), Deep-Fried Nanaimo Bars from Pirate Chips, Nanaimo Bar Cupcakes at A Wee Cupcakery (friday and saturday only), and Nanaimo Bar Cheesecake at Minnoz (side note: Minnoz is attached to a hotel which would like to be your home during your Nanaimo Bar crawl--they will even start you out with a Nanaimo Bar waiting in your room!)

CakeSpy Note: If you are not in Nanaimo, here's a recipe for Nanaimo Bar cupcakes!

Exhibit G: Other Variations. There are also peanut butter Nanaimo Bars, as well as variations in mint, coffee, and Irish Cream flavors; also, there are several confections which seem to have the same construction if not flavors. There was the "Kleinberg Bar" at aforementioned Perkins Coffee, which visually resembled a Nanaimo Bar and shared the same custard-cream middle layer, but had a peanut butter crispy base and peanut butter topping. It somewhat reminded me of the peanut butter krispy-based version at Savary Island in Vancouver.

Exhibit H: Transit. Don't forget that there are Nanaimo Bars to be found both on the ferry to and from Nanaimo, and at the ferry terminals on both sides! 

...the end, for now. Create your own Nanaimo Bar adventure; visit the Nanaimo website here. Read about Miss 604's adventure here. Learn more about the history of the Nanaimo Bar and find more of my recipes for them here.

Wednesday
Apr272011

Cakewalk: A Sweet Bakery Tour of Montreal with Cake Gumshoe Lauren

CakeSpy Note: You know what rules? Getting bakery tips from readers. Here's a great round-up of sweet spots that I know I'll be trying next time I'm in Montreal, thanks to Cake Gumshoe Lauren H.!

Given Montreal’s ties to France, it seems logical to assume that the city is full of lovely French bakeries; so my husband and I spent a recent trip testing this hypothesis by visiting as many Montreal bakeries as possible! Thankfully, the assumption is correct – lots of good bakeries – and I wanted to share our findings with fellow Cakespy readers, in hopes of providing a couple of places for them to try next time they’re in Montreal!

As we visited a lot of places, I’ve ranked them in our order of preference. I’ve included boulangeries and patisseries on the walk, because you sometimes need some good bread to cut the sweet of all of the patisserie visits!   

1. Duc de Lorraine. The pastries from Duc de Lorraine were far and away our favorites of the trip. While we took our treats to go, the bakery did have seating and savory options. In researching places to try, I’d read excellent things about the bakery, and it was clear why! The pastries that we tried (pictured below, clockwise from upper left, coffee éclair, delicious strawberry/banana pastry, crème éclair, and chocolate éclair) were as good as any that we had in Paris, and I’d return in a heartbeat!

2. Patisserie Kouign Amman. I had seen Kouign Amman on the Cakespy site and was hoping to try to visit, so I was thrilled when we passed it during a visit to Mont Royal. Unfortunately, we popped in late in the day, and there were no more pastries to try. Fortunately, they were still well-stocked with croissants, so we picked up a few for later. Thankfully, my husband talked me out of my original attempt at restraint (“Let’s just get one to share”), because I don’t think either of us would have been willing to give up a bite after tasting how wonderful the Kouign Amman croissants were. They’re everything that you’d want a croissant to be – flaky, buttery, and delicious.

3. Le Fromentier. I went to Le Fromentier specifically to get bread for a picnic dinner, and it was absolutely worth the trip. The shop itself is delightful and very European (one of the only places in Montreal where the shop keeper spoke only French), with breads, cheeses, and pastries. We only tried the bread, which was wonderful (especially the sourdough baguette), but I’d imagine that the pastries are equally wonderful. Le Fromentier is a bit out of the way and a bit of a walk from the closest metro station, but it’s definitely worth the hike!

4. Olive + Gourmando. I’d read that Olive + Gourmando was slightly more a brunch café, and that does appear to be the case, at least in part. We visited late on a Saturday morning, and they had soups, sandwiches, and hot breakfasts available in addition to more traditional baked goods and coffee. It was incredibly crowded, but the staff was efficient and got us a table in about ten minutes (impressive, given that there were 3 – 4 couples in front of us in line). They also offer the option of ordering your coffee and pastry to go, which numerous people appeared to be doing. We stayed more on the savory side at Olive + Gourmando, trying toast with cheddar, an apple and cinnamon “brioche” (more of a cinnamon roll), and a croissant au fromage (pictured, left to right, below). All three (and the coffee and hot chocolate) were lovely; this fact, combined with Olive + Gourmando’s central Old Montreal location, makes it a great place to try!   

5. Café Myriade. Technically, Café Myriade is a coffee shop. Still, I’m including it on the list because their cinnamon bun (pictured above) was one of the best non-patisserie treats that I had during the trip and my husband ranked his croissant (pictured below) as very close to those of Kouign Amann in quality. In short, Café Myriade has wonderful coffee and pastries and a very cozy ambiance – definitely worth a visit!

6. Premiere Moisson. Premiere Moisson is one of Montreal’s chain bakeries; they have approximately twenty locations throughout the city. However, the “chain” label is perhaps deceptive in this case: we visited the location close to our hotel a few times, trying more than the crème éclair and opera cake pictured above, and found all of the pastries to be very nice and not at all what you might expect from a place with so many locations. While Premiere Moisson lacks the “neighborhood” feel that the places ranked above it possess, its treats are good, and its multiple locations make it a great place to grab a nice pastry while you’re running around Montreal!   

7. Claude Postel. We stumbled across Claude Postel in Old Montreal and decided to pick up our desserts for the evening (coffee éclair, chocolate dessert whose proper name escapes me, and chocolate éclair, pictured left to right below) there. I’d definitely recommend it – everything was good – but the pastries didn’t quite measure up to the pastries from the other locations that we tried. Still, I’d try everything that we had there again – one of the benefits of Montreal is clearly that even the 7th ranked bakery on the list is still pretty wonderful!

8. Cocoa Locale. Cocoa Locale is ranked 8th only because it was closed when we arrived to give it a go. However, it is worth noting that it was closed an hour before it was scheduled to be because it had completely sold out of its cakes and pastries for the day (as the sign in the above photo indicates). This fact makes me think it would be ranked much higher if we’d actually gotten to try a Cocoa Locale cake – and puts it on the top of my list for our next trip to Montreal!

9. Boutique Point G. Ranked last, behind even the place we were unable to visit, is Point G. We were drawn in by all of the brightly colored macarons and couldn’t resist trying a few, but it was such a disappointment! As my husband put it, “These look like Paris macarons, but they most certainly don’t taste like them!” The cookies were very cake-y and paled in comparison to all of the other treats that we tried during our trip; in fact, we carried the majority of them home and actually never ate them. Point G is a few blocks away from Kouign Amman – I’d definitely recommend skipping the macarons and going for a croissant instead!

I hope this walk gets other Cakespy readers visiting Montreal started on a boulangerie- and patisserie-filled trip!

Places mentioned:

Duc de Lorraine, 5002 Chemin de la Cote-des-Neiges

Patisserie Kouign Amann, 322 Mont-Royal Est

Le Fromentier, 1375 Avenue Laurier Est

Olive + Gourmando, online at http://www.oliveetgourmando.com/index_flash.cfm

Café Myriade, online at http://www.cafemyriade.com/

Premiere Moisson, online at http://www.premieremoisson.com/

Claude Postel, online at http://www.claudepostel.com/

Cocoa Locale, 4807 Avenue du Parc

Boutique Point G, online at http://www.boutiquepointg.com/

Wednesday
Apr062011

CakeSpy Undercover: Cake Gumshoe Lanis Visits Sugarpie Bakery in Calgary

CakeSpy Note: The sweetest kind of correspondence? A letter that comes with love...and a good bakery tip. And here's a good one I recently received from Cake Gumshoe Lanis in Calgary, Alberta, Canada:

Dear CakeSpy,

I am writing you from Calgary, Alberta Canada. No lie, it has snowed 15 cm here today, on April 2nd. Being the good Canadian that I am, I trekked out to our Kingsland Farmers Market and what I found was awesome and I knew I had to share it with someone.

Here is the rundown: I leisurely walked into the market and came across Sugarpie Bakery. At first, I thought they were selling cake and cookie pops. I immediately asked the lady at the counter and she said, “Oh no, these are actual little pies, we call them pie pops.”

They were adorable and the April special was Key Lime Pie. I happily scooped one up and then bought my fruits and veggies and headed home. After supper it was the moment of truth, and I sunk my teeth into a delicate pie crust that was actually very sturdy. It was light and held the mini pie like a precious gift. There was a tart, delicious lime middle. I was impressed, and it was the perfect snack. The use of natural ingredients made all the difference. I shared with my sister, and she commented on the flaky goodness. I can't wait to go back and try their other flavours.

Sending love from the Great White North, Cake Gumshoe Lanis

Want more? Discover more sweetness at sugarpiebakery.ca.

Tuesday
Apr052011

You Mochi My Day: Sesame Peanut Mochi From Wheat Garden Bakery, Richmond BC

If you've never had mochi, let me give you a brief education. Very brief.

Mochi is a Japanese rice cake made of glutinous rice pounded into paste and molded into shape. 

Now, perhaps some knowledgeable readers can help out here, but I feel like when mochi is prepared in such a way that it's sort of a round ball filled with stuff, it falls into Daifuku territory. (a little help?)

But at any rate, on a recent visit to Wheat Garden Bakery in Richmond, British Columbia, it was called mochi, it was filled with a sweet sesame seed and peanut filling, coated in coconut, and it was freaking yummy.

The saltiness of the peanuts served as a nice flavor contrast to the very sweet outer coating, and both the coconut on the outside and peanuts inside added a nice crunchiness to slightly gummy mochi texture (it's not for everyone, I will admit).

Wheat Garden was a bit of a treasure, too--I happened to pull off of the highway on my way back to Seattle from Vancouver, and was intrigued by the Richmond Public Market--this place was in an unassuming strip mall just across the street. They had a variety of traditional Asian sweets and savory baked goods, including all sorts of buns, breads, cookies, and cakes.

But I'll be going back for more mochi.

Mochi from Wheat Garden Bakery, #155-8191 Westminster Hwy, Richmond, BC V6X

Wheat Garden Bakery on Urbanspoon

Tuesday
Mar292011

Sweet and Salty: Closeup on the Maple Canadian Bacon Nanaimo Bars Recipe

 

CakeSpy Note: by popular request, here's an individual post, all on its own (originally part of this massive Nanaimo Bar oeuvre), for the Maple Canadian Bacon Nanaimo Bars. Um, plus I thought it would make for a great entry in the Denny's / Foodbuzz Baconalia challenge for a chance to win! Enjoy!

Inspired by two other Canadian specialties, these bars were made with a "blonde" (sans cocoa) bottom layer, topped with a maple-infused buttercream center, all of which was topped off with a thick layer of white chocolate sprinkled with brown sugar and Canadian bacon baked until crispy with a maple glaze.

Makes 24-36 bars, depending on how hungry you are

Bottom Layer

  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1 ¼ cups graham wafer crumbs
  • ½ c. finely chopped pecans
  • 1 cup coconut
Middle Layer
  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • 2 Tablespoons cream
  • 2 teaspoons maple syrup (I used grade B)
  • 2 Tbsp. vanilla custard powder or vanilla instant pudding powder
  • 2 cups confectioners' sugar
Top Layer
  • 3-4 slices canadian bacon
  • 2 teaspoons maple syrup
  • 3/4 cup white chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar

 Procedure

  1. Melt the butter and sugar in the top of double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, coconut, and nuts. Press firmly into an ungreased 8" x 8" pan.
  2. Cream butter, cream, custard powder, sugar, and syrup together well. Beat until light. Spread over bottom layer, making sure that it is as smooth and flat as possible. 
  3. Prepare the bacon. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line a sheet with parchment. Place the canadian bacon slices on top of the parchment, and drizzle with the maple syrup. Place in the oven until it is very crispy, turning after about 5 minutes. For me, the slices were fairly thin so it only took about 10 minutes total to get them very, very crispy. Remove from the oven and let cool while you prepare the rest of the topping.
  4. Melt white chocolate in the microwave in 20 second increments, stirring after heating, until it is melted and smooth enough to spread on top of the buttercream layer. Spread it on top as quickly and smoothly as you can.
  5. Sprinkle the brown sugar on top of the white chocolate, and then crumble the bacon on top, making sure to get even coverage. 
Sunday
Mar272011

Foodbuzz 24x24: Nanaimo Bar Extravaganza

It is with a heavy heart full of sadness that I realize that many of you have never even heard of--much less tasted--the wonderful thing that is the Nanaimo Bar.

But it is with the lightness and joy of 99 luftballoons floating in the summer sky that I realize that I am going to show you the light, in the most delicious way possible.

That's right. It's time for an absolute education and delicious extravaganza featuring the Nanaimo Bar. This post is my entry for the Foodbuzz 24x24 project, and it's broken down into three parts: History (wherein you will get educated on the ways of the Nanaimo), Recipes (I made 7 different versions!), and Testimonials (loving thoughts and odes from eager eaters).

You say Nanaimo...
First things first. It's pronounced "Nuh-nye-moe". And it's named after the city where, if not officially where the bar was invented, the city where it came into its own. But don't worry, I'll tell you much, much more.
As previously mentioned, I realize that it is possible that you have never tried--or even heard of--the Nanaimo Bar, which I lovingly refer to as “the best thing Canada has ever invented”.  Let me briefly try to explain its wonder of this three-layer no-bake bar cookie, building it from the bottom up:

The bottom layer is a sturdy, tightly packed layer of chocolate, graham cracker and coconut, bound together with melted butter.
The middle layer is a buttery, frosting-y, creamy, custard-y stuff that is so much the opposite of low-fat that it makes you want to weep with pleasure.
The top layer is a solid chocolatey layer, which is firm but not hard.

As you may have come to suspect, each layer is tasty enough to stand on its own--but when combined, you’ve basically got a triple threat of intensely rich, decadently condensed deliciousness.

That is to say--super yum.

But where did this bar come from? There’s a popular story about how the bars were the winner in a baking contest, invented by a housewife who named them Nanaimo Bars in a burst of civic pride. While said housewife does figure into the equation (see below), it’s definitely not the whole story.

There are several purported predecessors of the bar going by “New York Slice”, “Chocolate Slice”, “Refrigerator Cake”, “Miracle Bars”, “Ribbon Bars”, “Smog Bars” (or “London Smog Bars”). 

It’s those Smog Bars, though, that seem to be the closest relative to the Nanaimo Bar, as evidenced by an interview with Jan Pare, who wrote Company's Coming: 150 Delicious Squares, who spent her formative years (1927-47) in Alberta, Canada:

"Nanaimo Bars were originally called Smog bars, and everybody made them: graham-cracker crust, cocoa, Bird's Custard in the filling. My Grandma Locke made smog bars, so did my mother."

Proof is in the pudding--or rather, custard: Bird’s Custard, a popular custard powder invented in the UK and a key ingredient in Nanaimo bars, easily could have immigrated to the area in the early 1900s when there was a large wave of new immigration from Europe; this would have been well-timed with the advent of iceboxes as a common household item in Canada, which would explain for the bar’s UK influence but Canadian birth.

In fact, the first published instance of the phrase Nanaimo Bars dates back to 1953, in the Vancouver Sun, but the recipe itself is for London Smog Bars, with a footnote that “These are also known as Nanaimo Bars”.

It doesn’t seem too far-fetched then, to conjecture that this confection, like those European settlers, migrated westward; a recipe that resembles the Nanaimo bar in basically all but name, entitled “Chocolate Slices”, was submitted by a Mrs. E. MacDougall in 1952 Women’s Auxiliary Cookbook.

But regardless of how they got there, one thing is for certain: even if they weren’t invented in Nanaimo, it is where the treat took root. And it’s here that the humble housewife mentioned earlier shows her important role: Mrs. Mabel Jenkins of Cowichan Bay submitted her recipe for the bars to the annual Ladysmith and Cowichan Women's Institute Cookbook, which was sold in the early 1950s in the region as a fundraiser. It was a popular favorite in the book, and because the bars are ridiculously delicious and keep well, the recipe gained popularity in the province's households and working-class towns, and was sold in many of the coffee shops on Nanaimo’s Commercial Street.

In more recent years, the bars have been called “Canada’s Favourite Confection”, and all I can say is, Butter Tarts never stood a chance.

Part 2: The Recipes

How did I do it? I made a variety of different types, starting with the traditional recipe, then creating several riffs on it (many inspired by other Canadian specialties!). I then got testimonials and stories from the eaters (scroll to below the recipes for those), who ranged from professional Nanaimo Bar eaters to first timers. Some were even Canadian.

Recipe 1: OFFICIAL NANAIMO BAR RECIPE

Bottom Layer
  • ½ cup unsalted butter (European style cultured)
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 5 tbsp. cocoa
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1 ¼ cups graham wafer crumbs
  • ½ c. finely chopped almonds
  • 1 cup coconut

Melt first 3 ingredients in top of double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, coconut, and nuts. Press firmly into an ungreased 8" x 8" pan.

Middle Layer
  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp. and 2 Tsp. cream
  • 2 Tbsp. vanilla custard powder (Cake Gumshoe Kate adds that if you don't have or can't find custard powder, instant vanilla pudding works in a pinch)
  • 2 cups icing sugar

Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light. Spread over bottom layer.

Top Layer
  • 4 squares semi-sweet chocolate (1 oz. each)
  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
Melt chocolate and butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool, but still liquid, pour over second layer and chill in refrigerator.
---------------------------------

Recipe 2: Maple Nanaimo Bars

Bottom Layer

  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 5 tablespoons cocoa
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1 ¼ cups graham wafer crumbs
  • 1 cup coconut
  • ½ cup finely chopped walnuts

Middle Layer

  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon cream
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup (the darkest you can find)
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla custard powder (instant vanilla pudding works in a pinch)
  • 2 cups confectioners' sugar

Top Layer

  • 4 ounces good quality dark chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Directions:

  1. Prepare the bottom layer. Melt butter, sugar and cocoa in top of double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, coconut, and nuts. Press firmly into an ungreased, parchment-lined 8" x 8" pan. Let chill in the refrigerator until cool to the touch.
  2. Cream butter, cream, custard powder, maple, and confectioners' sugar together well. Beat until light; it should be a thick consistency, but still spreadable. If desired, stir in food coloring until completely mixed in. Spread over bottom layer, making sure that it is as flat as possible (I use a metal spatula to "scrape" it into a flat top). Return to the fridge until the middle layer is completely set. Sometimes I even put them in the freezer so that they will be extremely firm before adding the top layer.
  3. Melt chocolate and butter over low heat. Once cool, but still liquid, pour over second layer, very gently spreading so that it covers the entire layer--you will need to do this fairly quickly so that the second layer doesn't start to melt or meld with the top layer. Let chill in the refrigerator for at least a half-hour. Serve lightly chilled, or let come to room temperature. When you're ready to serve, use a sharp knife to slice the bars, and keep a towel on hand to clean the knife frequently between cuts to ensure clean, good-looking bars which showcase the pretty layers.

----------------------------------------

Recipe 3: Blonde Nanaimo Bars

These have a white chocolate topping and a mix of cocoa and brown sugar in the base, making for maybe more of a dirty-blonde, but a very delicious variation.

Bottom Layer 

  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1 ¼ cups graham wafer crumbs
  • 1 cup coconut
  • ½ cup finely chopped walnuts

 Middle Layer

  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon cream
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla custard powder (instant vanilla pudding works in a pinch)
  • 2 cups confectioners' sugar

 Top Layer

  • 3/4 cup white chocolate chips (I like Ghiradelli)

Directions:

  1. Prepare the bottom layer. Melt butter and sugar in top of double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, coconut, and nuts. Press firmly into an ungreased, parchment-lined 8" x 8" pan. Let chill in the refrigerator until cool to the touch.
  2. Cream butter, cream, custard powder, maple, and confectioners' sugar together well. Beat until light; it should be a thick consistency, but still spreadable. If desired, stir in food coloring until completely mixed in. Spread over bottom layer, making sure that it is as flat as possible (I use a metal spatula to "scrape" it into a flat top). Return to the fridge until the middle layer is completely set. Sometimes I even put them in the freezer so that they will be extremely firm before adding the top layer.
  3. Make the topping. Melt the white chocolate either in 20 second intervals or over low heat until it is smooth and creamy. Once cool, but still liquid, pour over second layer, very gently spreading so that it covers the entire layer--you will need to do this fairly quickly so that the second layer doesn't start to melt or meld with the top layer. Let chill in the refrigerator for at least a half-hour. 

 ------------------------------------------------

Recipe 4: Maple Canadian Bacon Nanaimo Bars

Inspired by two other Canadian specialties, these bars were made with a "blonde" (sans cocoa) bottom layer, topped with a maple-infused buttercream center, all of which was topped off with a thick layer of white chocolate sprinkled with brown sugar and Canadian bacon baked until crispy with a maple glaze.

Bottom Layer
  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1 ¼ cups graham wafer crumbs
  • ½ c. finely chopped pecans
  • 1 cup coconut
Middle Layer
  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • 2 Tablespoons cream
  • 2 teaspoons maple syrup (I used grade B)
  • 2 Tbsp. vanilla custard powder or vanilla instant pudding powder
  • 2 cups confectioners' sugar
Top Layer
  • 3-4 slices canadian bacon
  • 2 teaspoons maple syrup
  • 3/4 cup white chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar

 Procedure

  1. Melt the butter and sugar in the top of double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, coconut, and nuts. Press firmly into an ungreased 8" x 8" pan.
  2. Cream butter, cream, custard powder, sugar, and syrup together well. Beat until light. Spread over bottom layer, making sure that it is as smooth and flat as possible. 
  3. Prepare the bacon. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line a sheet with parchment. Place the canadian bacon slices on top of the parchment, and drizzle with the maple syrup. Place in the oven until it is very crispy, turning after about 5 minutes. For me, the slices were fairly thin so it only took about 10 minutes total to get them very, very crispy. Remove from the oven and let cool while you prepare the rest of the topping.
  4. Melt white chocolate in the microwave in 20 second increments, stirring after heating, until it is melted and smooth enough to spread on top of the buttercream layer. Spread it on top as quickly and smoothly as you can.
  5. Sprinkle the brown sugar on top of the white chocolate, and then crumble the bacon on top, making sure to get even coverage. 

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Recipe 5: Butter Tart Nanaimo Bars

For these babies, combined the regular Nanaimo bar crust recipe with that of Butter Tart filling. I omitted the raisins - not my style.

Bottom Layer

  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 3/4 cups graham wafer crumbs, very fine
  • ½ cup finely chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 cup raisins (optional)

Middle Layer

  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon cream
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup (the darkest you can find)
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla custard powder (instant vanilla pudding works in a pinch)
  • 2 cups confectioners' sugar

Top Layer

  • 4 ounces good quality dark chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Directions:

  1. Prepare the bottom layer. Melt butter and sugar in top of double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Press firmly into an ungreased, parchment-lined 8" x 8" pan; bake in a preheated 325-degree oven for about 10 minutes. Let cool.
  2. Cream butter, cream, custard powder, maple, and confectioners' sugar together well. Beat until light; it should be a thick consistency, but still spreadable. If desired, stir in food coloring until completely mixed in. Spread over bottom layer, making sure that it is as flat as possible (I use a metal spatula to "scrape" it into a flat top). Return to the fridge until the middle layer is completely set. Sometimes I even put them in the freezer so that they will be extremely firm before adding the top layer.
  3. Melt chocolate and butter over low heat. Once cool, but still liquid, pour over second layer, very gently spreading so that it covers the entire layer--you will need to do this fairly quickly so that the second layer doesn't start to melt or meld with the top layer. Let chill in the refrigerator for at least a half-hour. Serve lightly chilled, or let come to room temperature. When you're ready to serve, use a sharp knife to slice the bars, and keep a towel on hand to clean the knife frequently between cuts to ensure clean, good-looking bars which showcase the pretty layers.
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Recipe 6: Nougabricot Nanaimo Bars

What is Nougabricot? It's a Québécois preserve consisting of apricots, almonds, and pistachios, that's what. Here's a Nanaimo bar made with a white chocolate topping studded with apricot, almond, and pistachio, inspired by this specialty.

Bottom Layer

  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 5 tablespoons cocoa
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1 ¼ cups graham wafer crumbs
  • 1 cup coconut
  • ½ cup finely chopped walnuts

Middle Layer

  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon cream
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla custard powder (instant vanilla pudding works in a pinch)
  • 2 cups confectioners' sugar

Top Layer

  • 3/4 cup white chocolate chips
  • About 3/4 cup of a mix of almond bits, dried apricots, and pistachios (make the mixture to the proportions of your liking)

Directions:

  1. Prepare the bottom layer. Melt butter, sugar and cocoa in top of double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, coconut, and nuts. Press firmly into an ungreased, parchment-lined 8" x 8" pan. Let chill in the refrigerator until cool to the touch.
  2. Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and confectioners' sugar together well. Beat until light; it should be a thick consistency, but still spreadable. If desired, stir in food coloring until completely mixed in. Spread over bottom layer, making sure that it is as flat as possible (I use a metal spatula to "scrape" it into a flat top). Return to the fridge until the middle layer is completely set. Sometimes I even put them in the freezer so that they will be extremely firm before adding the top layer.
  3. Melt white chocolate in the microwave in 20 second increments, stirring after heating, until it is melted and smooth enough to spread on top of the buttercream layer. Spread it on top as quickly and smoothly as you can. Directly after adding the topping, scatter the fruit and nut mixture on top to ensure that it sticks to the still-tacky white chocolate. Let set before serving.
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Recipe 7: Poutine Nanaimo Bars

So, I thought to myself, "what if I used a Nanaimo bar as the base for a batch of Poutine?". Poutine, of course, being that famous Eastern Canadian dish consisting of french fries topped with gravy and cheese curds (in NJ, where I grew up, we had a decidedly less pinkies-out version consisting of Cheez Whiz and gravy on fries, known as "disco fries"). Guess what? Not delicious. But pretty fun to make.

Bottom Layer

  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 5 tablespoons cocoa
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1 ¼ cups graham wafer crumbs
  • 1 cup coconut
  • ½ cup finely chopped walnuts

Middle Layer

  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoon cream
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla custard powder (instant vanilla pudding works in a pinch)
  • 2 cups confectioners' sugar

Top Layer

  • 1 cup cheese curds ( had fairly big ones, which I warmed and kind of squished into place, which gave them a sort of ricotta cheese look)
  • 1/2 cup gravy

Directions:

  1. Prepare the bottom layer. Melt butter, sugar and cocoa in top of double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, coconut, and nuts. Press firmly into an ungreased, parchment-lined 8" x 8" pan. Let chill in the refrigerator until cool to the touch.
  2. Cream butter, cream, custard powder, maple, and confectioners' sugar together well. Beat until light; it should be a thick consistency, but still spreadable. If desired, stir in food coloring until completely mixed in. Spread over bottom layer, making sure that it is as flat as possible (I use a metal spatula to "scrape" it into a flat top). Return to the fridge until the middle layer is completely set. Sometimes I even put them in the freezer so that they will be extremely firm before adding the top layer.
  3. Place the cheese curds on top of the Nanaimo Bars. Let come to room temperature before serving; ladle a little gravy on each slice before serving.

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Part 3: Nanaimo bar Testimonials 

To get a variety of reactions on La Belle Nanaimo, I took it to the street--literally.

First, I took a batch to the Seattle waterfront, set myself up nearby the ferry to Canada and swapped treats for tales, asking eaters "What's the best thing about a Nanaimo Bar?".

Most people were quite receptive to swapping treats for short tales, and after about 20 minutes my batch was gone. Some remembered the bars as a childhood treat; some recalled them from ferry rides; one person said that the best ones are found at the grocery store baker's case; and for some people, this was their first-ever Nanaimo bar experience (I'm so glad I got to share it with them).

My favorite response, as it happens, was from a homeless guy who asked if he could have one. After taking a thoughtful bite, he told me that these were much better than "the package cookies". This made me feel sort of like laughing, and sort of like crying, all at once.

Next, I brought a big batch to the Bake it in a Cake Cupcake party at CakeSpy shop, where I got some real-live testimonials on the bars.

Mr. Spy expands on what is so great about a Nanaimo Bar, including how it is better than Rick Moranis:

A couple of other store visitors, upon tasting the Maple Canadian Bacon Nanaimo Bars and the Blonde Nanaimo Bars, respectively (both were first-time Nanaimo bar eaters!) had this to say:

...and yet more eaters had this to say:

 

...but  I will tell you the truth, after one bite of the poutine version, it became very clear that this probably is not a food trend that will take off, so I didn't serve those. 

All in all, people loved learning about and devouring these delicious bars, and I feel as if I have done my job to spread the word about this sweet Canadian treat. So...til next time...

Tuesday
Nov022010

Happy Overload: Peanut Butter Crispy Nanaimo Bar from Savary Island Pie, West Vancouver, BC

If the subject of Canada comes up in conversation, chances are you're going to hear all about my deep and undying love for the Nanaimo Bar

If you don't know what a Nanaimo Bar is, then clearly you've been wasting your life up until today. It's a no-bake bar composed of three layers of pure pleasure: base of graham cracker crumb, cocoa, coconut and nuts all held together with butter, a middle layer of rich, buttercream custard, and a top layer of firm chocolate. They're messy, they're hella buttery, and they are pretty much the most delicious and decadent thing you could dream of eating.

And while I've embraced variations in the past, recently I came across one that stopped me in my tracks: the one at the Savary Island Pie Company (not a typo; pronounced the same as "savory" or, you know, since they're in Canada, "savoury") in West Vancouver.

What we thought was a Nanaimo Bar was actually referred to as a peanut bar--because you see, the bottom layer was not the chocolate crumb mixture, but instead it was like a peanut butter cereal treat.

It does bring up the important question: is it ok to mess with the perfect balance of a classic?

In this case, when you're doing a sort of scotcheroo-meets-Special K bar-meets-rice-krispie-treat-Nanaimo Bar-mashup, it's so, so very OK.

The crispy crunch of the base adds a wonderful texture contrast to all the soft creaminess on top, and the peanut butter offers a satisfyingly savory dimension to the flavor. 

All things considered? A successful riff on a sweet treat that I wouldn't dream of sharing with Mr. Spy (though he was quite satisfied with his raspberry rhubarb pie).

You can find this magic at the Savary Island Pie Company, 1533 West Marine Drive, West Vancouver, BC.

Savary Island Pie Company on Urbanspoon

Thursday
Oct212010

Bright Lights, Big City Cupcakes

It's totally awesome when friends go on a trip and send you a postcard. 

But it's a zillion times awesomer when they bring you back cupcakes.

I'm talking, of course, about some of my favorite people in the world, Denise and Nick, who recently went to Vancouver and brought back cupcakes for myself and Mr. Spy.

The cupcakes were from Big City Cupcakes, a business which appears to be taking over Canada, and they were delectable.

Here's a review of the specimens sampled:

First, the Strawberry Cheesecake. Comprised of a strawberry cupcake with a big ol' gob of cheesecake filling baked inside (do you hear that, Bake It In a Cake?), and topped with strawberry cream cheese frosting. Now, after that description I probably don't even need to tell you it was delicious, but I still will. It weighed roughly as much as a brick, but in like, the best way possible. Rich, creamy, and delectable.

Second, the "Red Carpet"...their version of Red Velvet--described as being "vanilla cake with a hint of chocolate", the cake was very dense and rich--if not very cocoa-y--and it was topped off with basically an ice cream scoop's worth of cream cheese frosting. YES!

Check them out (and find a location!) at bigcitycupcakes.com.

Sunday
Feb072010

Sweet Love: A Bakery and Baking Blog Crush on Cupcakes and Sundry Cupcakery, Toronto

It's happened again. Like a ray of buttercream sunshine straight to the heart, CakeSpy has another bakery crush. This time it's a double dose of delicious, because Cupcakes and Sundry is not only a custom order baking business, but also a delectable baking blog.

So who's behind all of this sweetness? Head baker Stephanie is a teacher by day, baker and blogger by night. What moves her?

I've been in love with cupcakes all of my life. In March 2008, I started making cupcakes as a hobby in my little apartment kitchen. Every week I'd pump out a different flavour for my friends and colleagues to try and to judge. Everyone has their personal favourite; mine strawberry angel food cake (picture on photo page) and a new flavour the peanut butter colossal.

I like to swirl and sprinkle, dip and glaze, fill and layer, pipe and top or just make cupcakes simple and sweet. Birthday, holiday or any occasion cupcakes are a perfect dessert after any meal.

And now that you have the backstory, howsabout the goods?

On the menu, you can build your own cupcakes using various cupcake flavors, fillings and frostings--love that. And oh, what an array of flavors--the chocolate chip cupcookie with cream cheese frosting sounds pretty good to me--or perhaps some vanilla cake with boston cream filling and chocolate frosting for a sort of Boston cream pie shout-out? Oh, you lucky Canadians who can order Cupcakes and Sundry wares!

Of course, for those not in the Toronto area, instant pleasure is available via the Cupcakes and Sundry blog, where you can follow Stephanie's day to day adventures, and you have access to some of the recipes she loves. Don't know about you, but within five minutes I was able to find a bunch of baking ideas I wanted to try--including Snickerdoodle cupcakes, cotton candy cupcakes, coffee and doughnut cupcakes, Oreo Cheesecake Cupcakes, macaroons, and -- OMG-- these: 

Yup--Cupcakes and Sundry deserves to be loved.

You can check out Cupcakes and Sundry in several ways: if interested in ordering, visit the order page; if you want to keep up with the baking adventures, visit the blog; if you want some seriously sweet pictures to tempt you, visit the Flickr page.

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