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Entries in canada (13)

Thursday
Jan212010

Sweet Love: A Bakery Crush on Coco Cake, Vancouver BC

Photos by Lyndsay Sung and Amy Pelletier

If it were legal to marry a cupcake business, I'd probably propose to Coco Cake in Vancouver.

Why? Well, if you have to ask, you've clearly never checked out the website. Why not go there now?

Probably now you have an idea of why Coco Cake ought to be adored, but just for fun, let's talk about some of the reasons why it's a CakeSpy pick.

Coco Cake is totally sweet: The operation is run by Lyndsay Sung, an "artist and fun-loving baker" whose sense of whimsy is matched by a slight dark humor (bloody hand cupcakes to raise awareness for workplace safety, anyone?) that makes for simply irresistible cakes.

Coco Cake is thoughtful: When asked the open-ended question "why cupcakes?" baker Lyndsay had a thoughtful and thought-provoking response: "I think in an aesthetic sense, cupcakes appeal to me, especially when done artfully and with care and a nice sense of design. I also love vintage-look cakes, old school buttercream techniques, anything well-designed. I hate it when you go into a shop and you can tell someone has frosted their cupcakes so sloppily with no regard or real caring. I really do care about my cupcakes and think about them often on their journeys out into the world!"

Coco Cake is inventive: You've heard of Red Velvet...but how about Brown Velour? It's a Coco Cake original--in Lyndsay's words, "it's a play on the idea of the Red Velvet, because ... don't murder me, world-- but I'm not a fan of the cake part of a red velvet cake, but I love the creamcheese frosting. So Brown Velour is a dark chocolate cupcake topped with vanilla creamcheese frosting. More what I would hope to bite into rather than the bland weird red muffin taste of some red velvet cakes. The name Brown Velour also makes me think of an old lady with lavender hair boogying it up on a dancefloor in a brown velour tracksuit...!

Coco Cake enjoys life balance: Baker Lyndsay makes an adorably sweet cupcake burger. But in truth, she's just as passionate about the savory versions! "I actually love regular burgers and hot dogs as much as I love the cake versions!" she says, adding a tip for visitors to Vancouver: "We have this awesome hot dog stand in Vancouver called Japadog. Japanese style hot dogs, with nori, Japanese mayo, miso, all sorts of yummy/crazy sauces." Life is about balance, and Coco Cake embraces all of the major food groups!

For more, visit cococake.com or keep updated via the Coco Cake blog!

Monday
May262008

You Say Nanaimo: Words, Praise and Lore on the Heavenly Nanaimo Bar

Nanaimo Bar

If you've been following our cake gumshoeing for a while, you may remember that a while back, some of our spies took a Nanaimo bar adventure in Victoria, BC. However, since then, we've spent more than a little time thinking about this unusual little treat, which is beloved in Canada but still relatively unknown in the States. We consider this an import worth getting to know better--so, without further ado, here are a few interesting tidbits we've picked up on Nanaimo's pride and joy.
First off, for those of you who have never tried a Nanaimo bar, let us briefly try to explain its wonder and deliciousness.

The top layer is a solid chocolatey layer, which is firm but not hard.
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 bottom layer is a sturdy, tightly packed layer of chocolate, graham cracker and coconut, bound together with melted butter.
That is to say--super yum.

And now, we'll move on to more of the Nanaimo bar's lore:
Mysterious Origins:
By many accounts, the bar came into existence when a Nanaimo housewife entered her no-bake squares into a magazine contest. Though we see several sources citing that it was "about 35 years ago", though we were not able to locate the name of the entrant or the magazine in which it was published. However, the legend goes on to say that when the recipe was published, it put both the bar and the town on the map.
Then again, according to Wikipedia,
the earliest confirmed printed copy of the recipe "Nanaimo Bars" appears in a publication entitled His/Hers Favorite Recipes, Compiled by the Women's Association of the Brechin United Church, with the recipe submitted by Joy Wilgress (p.52); this publication is not dated, but is circa 1950s.

And still others argue that the Nanaimo bar was actually invented long before in NYC, where it is referred to as the "New York Slice". However, none of our spies who have lived or currently live in the NYC area can recall ever having seen a confection by said name (though please feel free to correct us if we simply missed it). However, we do have fond memories of a wonderful three-layer chocolate, caramel and shortbread bar from a bakery which is now closed but used to have a few locations in Manhattan called Taylor's (pictured left--and though it's a bit of a tangent, for those who miss the dear, dear Taylor's can order a similar item of equal tastiness online from clairesquares.com).
However, we elect that regardless of where it comes from, the bar came into its own in Nanaimo, and therefore credit is due to Nanaimo for the heavenly bar.
Nanaimo Bars, Zoka CoffeeFinding Delicious Nanaimo Bars:
One thing that few will argue is the bar's deliciousness. As our friend ReTorte says, "Nanaimo Bars are very popular. And why not? Chocolate and custard - are you kidding me? The reality is, though, that they're usually cheaper to buy from a wholesaler, so frequently they are not made on site. This doesn't mean that the bars are bad, however; my favourite Nanaimo Bars are still the ones sold on BC ferries, and they bring them in from a wholesaler and are awesome".
And it's true--gauche as it may be to say, we've found that our favorite Nanaimo bars have been purchased not in fancy bakeries or restaurants but in significantly less "gourmet" spots--supermarkets, ferries, or delis. However, perhaps there's a strange logic behind this. Through trial and error we've found that the bars often taste better one or two days after they're made--so perhaps the absolute freshness that most bakeries or restaurants strive for is a detriment in the case of the Nanaimo bar, whereas in the aforementioned settings, where the bars will have a longer "shelf" time, they are allowed to improve with age. Hey, just a theory!

Extended Family: If you think the Nanaimo bar resembles some other sweets (at least physically), you're right. Starting with a list of related confections on Barry Popik's site, we hunted down some sweets that resemble the Nanaimo bar (if not in taste, at least in construction) and sought out a few of our own. Aside from the "London Smog" bar though, few of them seem to be derived from the actual Nanaimo bar recipe, though they are delicious.
When making your own Nanaimo bars, the sky's the limit. While the official City of Nanaimo recipe (determined during a 1980s contest for the "ultimate" Nanaimo bar recipe, which was won by Joyce Hardcastle) is found below, there are some great variations which can be found here and here.

 

 


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.

 

 

Thursday
Oct252007

Cakewalk in Victoria, BC

When we decided to spend some time in adorable, very British-y Victoria, British Columbia, naturally bakeries were on the agenda. Due to Victoria’s proximity to Nanaimo, we decided to pay homage to the Nanaimo bar (a no-bake bar with a coconut / chocolate crust, a buttery, custardy middle section and a stiff-but-not-hard chocolate topping which is said to have originated in the area), tasting several of the local varieties, which make up Part 1 of the Cakewalk in Victoria. But dare we say that one cannot live on Nanaimos alone? Well, they do say that variety is the spice of life, so we branched out to taste some of the other local bakeries; Part 2 reflects what else we spied during our all-too-brief stay in this charming coastal city.

Cakewalk in Victoria, Part 1: IN SEARCH OF NANAIMO PERFECTION 

Disclaimer: At the below establishments, unless otherwise noted, we only tasted Nanaimo bars and cannot speak for the quality or taste of their other baked goods. In some cases the bars were made in-house and some were from wholesalers, but for this feature we focused more on where to buy the ones that tasted best!

Green Cuisine: Green Cuisine is a fairly unassuming café (in the bottom level of a shopping complex) featuring a full vegan menu. And while by all accounts the savories are quite good, we had a sweeter target in mind. The vegan "Not-Nanaimo" was good... but perhaps because it looked so much like the typical Nanaimo bar, we couldn't help but expect something else when we bit into it. We really wanted to like this one, but unfortunately, it just fell a little flat compared to its creamy, dreamy, dairy counterparts. (Grade: B-) 560 Johnson St., #5; online at greencuisine.com.

Market On Yates: This place made us nostalgic for the old Larry's Markets in Seattle; sort of granola-y and bearing a circa-1989 aesthetic. But more importantly, they had a fully stocked bakery case, and their Nanaimo bar held its own: a nice layer of custard between a hard (but not so hard it cracked) chocolate top layer and a chewy, soft crust on the bottom layer. We'd go back. (Grade: B) 903 Yates St.; online at marketonyates.com. 

Olde Time Deli: Surprisingly, this touristy café with just-OK lunch items ended up having the best Nanaimo bar we tried. The custard was smooth, rich and creamy; the chocolate top layer was soft and fresh, and the bottom layer was a mix between crust and cake; chewy without crumbling apart when you bit into it. Heaven. (Grade: A) 1009 Government St.

The Nanaimo that Got Away: 

Bond Bond Bakery: Oh, it looked good: upon looking inside we were taunted by the presence of a "Blonde Nanaimo" siren calling to us from beyond the darkened, closed doors...they're closed on Sundays. Sigh. If anyone has been here, please comment! (Grade: Incomplete) 1010 Blanshard St.

Cakewalk in Victoria, Part 2: THE BEST OF THE REST 

No Nanaimos at these establishments, but plenty of other sweet treats!

Bubby Rose's Bakery: We cannot recommend this place highly enough. Everything we tried was fresh, comfortingly homemade, and wonderful: from the crusty-but-soft breads to perfect strawberry rhubarb tarts with a flaky, golden-buttery crust, to the beautiful cupcakes, we ended up wishing we were staying several more days in Victoria. Also note: although we didn't
get a chance to try them, ourselves, we hear their cinnamon rolls are the best in town! Two locations: 313 Cook St., Cook Street Village; we went to 1022 Cook St. (near Fort St.).


COBS Bread: This place looked suspiciously chain-y, but also very inviting with its fogged-up windows and yeasty, sugary smell on a cold day, so we went in for an iced pumpkin scone, which was hot, just-frosted, spicy and surprisingly good. Upon later review on the internet, we found that while it is a franchise chain, the scones' ingredients were pretty normal, and not chock-full of the nasty chemicals that some chains just love to use. And you know what? Chain or not, the scone was really good. 140A - 911 Yates St.

 


Murchie's Tea and Coffee, LTD: We were told before our trip that this place was touristy but good and likely to have a Nanaimo bar. Well, no nanaimos here but we were glad we went nonetheless: their scones and biscuits were amazingly rich and creamy, the perfect balance of sweet and savory; their slightly French-influenced tarts and cakes were drool-worthy. They have six locations throughout Canada; one of their two commercial kitchens is right in Victoria. 1110 Government St.; online at murchies.com.

Rhineland Bakery: This place looks old-school, and it is: they've been serving up sweets since 1956. We like to imagine that they taste similar now to how they did then. The cakes seemed to have crisco-type frosting, which is not necessarily bad (but it can be); but what we really went for here were the cookies, which were rich, crunchy and buttery. 730 Fort St.

This post owes much thanks to blogger buddy ReTorte for all of her great Victoria bakery recommendations and Nanaimo bar feedback!

Additionally, for those who are curious about a Nanaimo Bar recipe, it's readily available at the City of Nanaimo website: click here or see below!

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.

  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp. and 2 Tsp. cream
  • 2 Tbsp. vanilla custard powder
  • 2 cups icing sugar

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

 

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