Five Toronto bakeries serving up tasty treats for the holidays
These Toronto-based bakers have been working hard to create both new and traditional goods for the holiday season
Like a certain workshop at the North Pole, the city's best bakeries will be working around the clock over the next few weeks to meet the demand for the season's tastiest shortbread, richest panettone and flakiest rugelach. We caught up with a few of our favourite bakers just before things got completely holiday haywire to find out what treats they have lined up for this year.
609 King St. W., 416-603-8305, fornocultura.comThird-generation baker Andrea Mastrandrea has just put out his first test batch of pandoro, a traditional Italian sweet yeast bread. "It's different from the panettone," he says. "Pandoro becomes almost a built puff pastry where you're building layers. Traditionally, it would be butter, but I use olive oil, so it tends to be not as sweet, which I like." He uses orange blossom and bitter almond inside and fills the forms with toasted anise, dry citrus and a bit of sugar to give them a light crust.
For his panettone, Mr. Mastrandrea begins preparations in August. "We have such great peaches here," he says. "Although it's not traditional they make a great landscape for panettone, so I use them every year."
In addition to the dried, grappa-soaked peach version, he's also offering two new styles, one with dried grapes sourced from Norman Hardie's winery and soaked in brandy and a dark-chocolate version that uses 70-per-cent nibs that he mixes with grappa and toasted hazelnut. Additionally, he imports a panettone from G. Cova & C in Italy, each one hand-wrapped in vintage paper and tied with a bow.
Mr. Mastrandrea would like to see people enjoying pandoro and panettone throughout the season, but admits that, "If you really want to be true to the Italian tradition you have panettone on Christmas Eve and pandoro on New Year's Eve with prosecco."
Blackbird Baking Co.
172 Baldwin St., 416-546-2280, blackbirdbakingco.com
Simon Blackwell of Kensington Market's favourite bakery leaves much of the holiday heavy lifting up to his pastry chef, Jill Barber, but saves one special item, a dark and intense panforte, for himself. "Mine are a variation of one from a famous bakery in L.A. called Campanile," he explains, "but they've been making these in Italy since medieval times and they've always been associated with Christmas."
Mr. Blackwell's version includes almonds, hazelnuts, dried figs, candied ginger, orange peel, cinnamon, clove and a bit of black pepper for a touch of heat.
Ms. Barber, for her part, draws inspiration from childhood for her holiday baking. "The stuff my mom made or my grandmother made, that's what I crave during the holidays," she says. There are chocolate cookies, of course. "These ones are actually nut-free, gluten-free and dairy-free" she notes. "They're essentially like a really dense chocolate meringue."
Her training in France introduced her to speculoos, a kind of spiced tea cookie with clove, cinnamon and nutmeg and a coffee glaze. She also makes a simple custard tart that only nudges sweetness, relying on a trembling texture and a dusting of nutmeg for complexity. She pairs shortbread with candied orange peel and chocolate to create something that Mr. Blackwell says, "just tastes like Christmas."
780 Queen St. W. and three other locations, 416-368-2009, nadege-patisserie.com
"Growing up in France, we'd have a long table with a massive yule log in the middle," Nadege Nourian recalls. "I'm from a pastry-chef family, so my grandmother would always make it, but hers was really traditional. It really looked like a tree log. It was funny because nobody worried about the kids, so it was chocolate, dark ganache and packed with rum and kirsch and all the kids ate it. They went to bed early, I guess."
Today, Ms. Nourian makes yule logs for all four of her shops (although with a three year old, her version goes easy on the liquor). This year she'll offer vanilla with mascarpone cream, chocolate and honey as well as a tropical version with coconut mousse and a passion fruit compote.
New this year are chocolate and caramel macaroons with either Santa or a reindeer stamped on them and a pair of chocolate moose and snowman sculptures that look as though they've stepped right out of a classic Rankin/Bass Christmas special.
Also new for this year, or next year to be specific, is a galette des rois, a type of cake with a puff-pastry crust with almond cream or chocolate that has a little ceramic figure hidden in it. "It's normally served a week after New Year's for some religious reason," Ms. Nourian says, "but now it's just for fun and the person who finds the figurine gets to be the king or queen for the evening."
362 King St. E., 416-368-8188, roselleto.com
At this time of year, Roselle co-owner Stephanie Duong offers nothing less than "happiness in a box" at her popular east-end bakery. "The holidays are all about eating candy, after all," she says, so she fills each container with pecan toffee, chocolate shortbread and handmade nougat with almonds, pistachios and dried cranberries. There are assorted caramels: sea salt, mango/passion fruit, raspberry and more. Her candy-cane bark, a white-chocolate bark with crushed candy canes on top, also goes in along with packages of her Christmas granola with coconut, toasted pecans, maple syrup and gingerbread spice.
This year she's also offering a buche de Noel, with chestnut cream, whipped cream, vanilla mousse and cassis. Inside are little pieces of candied chestnuts and outside a very thin layer of crème de cassis to brighten the whole thing up.
"I love hot chocolate and think it's essential to the holidays," Ms. Duong says. "So we're offering four different kinds of Valrhona drinking chocolates: white, blond [roasted white chocolate], dark and milk. It's just great quality chocolate and milk. We don't use any added sugar or powder and it comes with either a homemade passion-fruit marshmallow or a salted chocolate cookie on the side."
Bunner's Bake Shop
3054 Dundas St. W. and one other location, 647-352-2975, bunners.ca
At both of Bunner's gluten-free and vegan locations this year, customers can buy a holiday treat and, by leaving a note on the Christmas tree, allow a stranger to redeem it. "We're calling it our 'Giving Tree Project,'" owner Ashley Wittig says.
Ms. Wittig's holiday menu is inspired by the holidays she remembers growing up. "My family has a big party every Christmas Eve," she says, "and I think about what my mom would make and what my aunts would bring and try to replicate those flavours and textures."
This year, that means gingerbread people, chocolate-gingerbread cupcakes and shortbread with a raspberry filling. Her bestselling treats are her Santa Babies, a big, soft cookie with peppermint frosting, melted chocolate and candy canes on top.
She offers a Christmas tart made without nuts that she describes as kind of like a pecan pie – with dried fruit in place of the pecans – mixed with mincemeat pie. "We have fruitcake muffins," she adds, "so instead of doing a traditional fruitcake, which obviously everybody hates, we do a fruitcake muffin, which everybody loves.
Her absolute favourite item for this year, however, are her balsam-red-currant cupcakes. The cake itself is red currant, but the frosting is made with coconut cream scented with real balsam pine. "It's surprisingly very good," she insists.