Awesome Thing (That I Made!) – Scones That Are Flaky not Cakey


When did flaky scones become a thing?

Growing up in Nova Scotia, scones in our house were always fried. We had tea biscuits, which are the closest in texture to what we now refer to as a scone, but they were dense and cakey, never flaky with discernible layers. We had heard of Southern biscuits, which were known to be flaky, and were served with savoury foods such as chicken and gravy, but they never graced our plates. If a bread product made an appearance at supper it was a nice white dinner roll, or possibly brown bread (made with molasses).

But the flaky scone is what we’re all after here in Toronto. I’ve no idea if flaky is what they go for at Betty Windsor’s house, but here, we can’t get enough of those layers and layers of rich, buttery dough. There are a few places now to buy gorgeous flaky scones, and it was after reading an interview with the owner of shop Baker & Scone that I resumed my search for a decent recipe.


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Awesome Thing – Scones from Baker & Scone


I am so addicted to the scones at Baker & Scone (693 St. Clair Avenue West) that I have started to make up excuses to go to the Hillcrest neighbourhood. Thankfully there’s often something going on at Wychwood Barns, so it’s easy to make a stop on the corner of Christie and St. Clair West and come home with a box of Sandra Katsiou’s flaky, layered delights.

Arranged in the bright, pretty shop in tall apothecary jars, the fresh-baked delights come in 35 sweet flavours and 8 savoury, with around a dozen sweet and one or two savoury versions available at any time. So far, Toasted Coconut and Salted Caramel are my favourites, with the Old White Cheddar, Dill and Chive scones winning my favourite savoury flavour.

Why are they awesome? Katsiou’s got a great technique (folding and re-folding the dough like puff pastry) that creates high, layered scones, and her flavour combinations are fantastic. The scones are slightly cheaper by the dozen, which is just a great excuse to try one of every flavour in the shop. (Yes, I have done this. It was awesome.)

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Book Review – Baking as Biography

Baking as Biography – A Life Story in Recipes
Diane Tye
McGill-Queen’s University Press, 260 pages, $24.95

Most of us can look to a mother or grandmother as a cooking mentor; someone who taught us the basics of home cooking, and who shared their love of the craft and inspired us to try new dishes and expand our cooking repertoires. But what of the poor souls whose mothers didn’t cook, or worse, who didn’t cook well? What of the people who mothers cooked, but hated it?

Diane Tye had one such mother. A minister’s wife in the Maritimes during the 70s, Tye’s mother was obligated to cook, not just for family, but for myriad church and community events, but never truly enjoyed it.

Tye herself went on to become a Women’s Studies professor at Memorial University, and tells her story in two distinct voices; first the clinical voice of science, observing trends in food and social norms during her childhood, and analyzing how they affected her mother, and in turn her family with regards to what she baked, when, and for whom. But when recalling specific stories about her mother, her baking for various events or a description of the dish, Tye’s voice becomes softer, more familial, verging at times on romanticized. This jump can be disconcerting as Tye attempts to distance herself from the information.


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Grain on the Brain

I’m not typically a cake mix purchaser. When you still need to add milk, eggs, etc., it’s usually just as easy to make your baked goods from scratch. So I bought this bag of Grainstorm muffin mix at the Green Barns Farmer’s Market out of curiosity more than anything else.

The premise is that the various mixes (muffins, pancakes, oatmeal cookies and a vegan muffin) are all made from ancient grains, grown in Ontario and ground and mixes and then vacuum-sealed for freshness. They’re also peanut and nut-free. The grains though are not all that exotic – to me anyway – and include spelt, kamut, oats and red fife grains, all of which can be purchased as flours with relative ease, at least in Toronto. So I don’t know that buying a mix would really be saving me anything – I have most of these flours (plus buckwheat) in my cupboard at any given time and cook with them regularly.


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Tortas de Aceite

So after finally making it to the new Longo’s down at Maple Leaf Square, Greg and I are wandering through the place, filling our cart with many, many thing we don’t need. (Seriously, biggest one-stop grocery bill ever!) Anyway, added to the cart full of things we don’t need but want, is a package of Spanish torta de aceite. I have no idea what they are, but they come in a Seville orange flavour. That’s enough incentive for me. And since I’m being a greedy girl and buying many things I want but don’t need, into the cart they go, even though they’re eight bucks for what look like 8 individually-wrapped 5-inch crackers.

The torta come in a variety of savoury flavours; olive oil, sesame seed, anise, and one sweet variety, Seville orange, sprinkled with sugar and the dough studded with bits of Seville orange peel. The package says they are to be eaten with cheese.


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Cupcakes For Daniel

I can’t remember the last time I baked anything from a mix. Greg had a passing fancy with a disappointing Boston Cream Pie mix at one point when I had a broken arm and he was attempting to do some of the cooking, but it was a sad affair that we agreed never to repeat. Besides usually being not very good, cake mixes have the uncanny ability to suck absolutely all the fun out of baking. Dump powder, add water or milk. Stir. Meh. I get that this is exactly the amount of effort that is desired by people who do not like to bake but for some reason want to “make a cake”, as opposed to going out to a nice bakery and buying something. But for those of us that dig the process, it’s not a lot of fun.

Which is why this particular box of cake mix is such a conundrum.

When Greg’s uncle Daniel passed away at the end of November, he left an apartment full of stuff that needed to be dealt with. Daniel wasn’t a hoarder, but he definitely had some packrat tendencies, and his tiny little apartment often felt like a delicate dollhouse to my lumbering built-like-a-brick-shithouse frame, exacerbated by the fact that there was so much stuff everywhere.

As Daniel spent most of his adult life working as a chef, much of what he collected was food-related. Every time I saw him, he gifted me with cookbooks, or baking pans or little gadgets and utensils. Many of these he’d pick up at thrift shops and yard sales, treasures that he couldn’t pass up but likely knew he’d never need.


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Chicken Math (With Some Physics Thrown In)

The question:

Sheryl has a deep freezer full of food, which includes 4 frozen chickens. She needs to make room in the freezer for for 5 bags of Christmas cookies. She removes 1 chicken and cooks it, resulting in 8 servings of meat, 4 of which are eaten and 4 of which are placed in containers to become part of a chicken pot pie. If she returns the 4 uneaten portions of meat to the freezer, along with the chicken carcass to use for stock at a future date, how many bags of cookies will fit in the freezer? Note – Show your work or points will be deducted.

Students unable to complete the question through standard mathematical formulae are welcome attempt to solve the problem using physics. Those wishing to attempt to find a solution using Freezer Tetris™, please contact the professor to book an examination date.

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Apple Pissybeds

I’ve written before about learning to cook at the side of my Grandmother. I’ve also written about the revelation that this same Grandmother, who has been responsible for preparing 3 meals a day, for a varying number of hungry mouths, for the past 70 years, actually hates to cook. My cousin and I always assumed that the fun things she let us do while helping her prepare food were meant to be, well, fun. For us. As it turns out they were often ways for her to make the process more interesting for herself, and if she was able to take a shortcut or two in the name of “fun” then all the better.

The “pissybed” is really just a free form pie. In France, it would fall under the header of “galette” if galette meant “shit, my pastry is crap today and isn’t going to roll out properly!” Because this kind of pie is usually what you end up with, albeit unintentionally, if your pie crust is crap. You can make them if your pie crust is fine, as was my Grandmother’s – and mine – but know that unless they get to taste it, people will think this is because your dough is a no-go. My Grandma wouldn’t know a galette from a whosit – there weren’t a lot of fancy French people in rural Nova Scotia. Well, there were once but the English shipped them off to Louisiana to become Cajuns.


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Bounty Bar Cupcakes

Working on the theory that everything is better with coconut, I came up with these the other day. They’re meant to resemble an inside-out bounty bar. Flavourwise it works, but next time I’ll incorporate more coconut right into the buttercream frosting.

Bounty Bar Cupcakes

1/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Cream butter and sugar until smooth then add egg and vanilla. Beat until light and fluffy. Blend flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and cocoa in a separate bowl. In a measuring cup, mix milk and coconut milk together. Alternate small amounts of  the flour mixture and the milk until fully incorporated and smooth.

Line a cupcake pan with papers and fill each approximately 3/4 full. Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Allow to cool completely.

Coconut Buttercream

1/4 cup butter
2 cups icing sugar
coconut milk

Combine butter and icing sugar and enough coconut milk to create a thick but spreadable icing. Spread onto each cupcake and then sprinkle with toasted coconut.

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The flavour combination of dark chocolate, dulce de leche and sea salt is not new. You might even say it’s a bit passé, but it could also be one of those things that become a classic, like chocolate and mint.

I had wanted thimble (aka. thumbprint) cookies, but I was also craving chocolate. And when my pal David at Circles and Squares Bakery tweeted about making dulce de leche brownies, the idea hit me.

This first batch is really a prototype – I made one pan and put the caramel into the thumbprints first, before baking, as you do when making the regular version with jam. This created a big oozing mess of melted caramel. Filling the prints as soon as the cookies come out of the oven works better – it melts just enough to smooth out, without creating too much of a river.

I also used 100% cacao chocolate, because that’s what I had on hand. It’s not readily available, but I don’t think I’d go below about 80% or the cookie will be way too sweet – otherwise the amount of sugar would have to be adjusted. And, I cheated and used dulce de leche from a jar, but the caramel is not hard to make.


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Proof of My Insanity

Go big or go home. Not my life’s philosophy, but apparently one I follow when baking.

See, I got a freezer, right? And not eating meat, I needed something to put in it. I filled it up somewhat with summer delights; fiddleheads and berries and pesto and tubs of peach chutney. But my original plan for the thing included cookies. I could start making Christmas cookies in September! Thus saving me from running around frantically in November to get everything done.

It was a great theory, but what actually happened was that I had all that extra time on my hands and so made more… much more. Ironically we found homes for most of it and now have a happy postman, building superintendent, co-workers, friends and relatives.

Cookies: clockwise from the top: chocolate coffee crinkles, zimsterne (a rolled meringue cookie with almonds and hazelnuts), white chocolate cranberry and pistachio biscotti, honey sand balls (a shortbread sweetened with honey and studded with walnuts), pfefferneusse, chocolate orange icebox cookies and eggnog shortbread squares. In the centre: zesty lime and coconut shortbread.


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Follow the Scent of Cookies to the Happiest Place on Earth


Mary Macleod’s Shortbread
639 Queen Street East

Some people say Disney is the happiest place on earth. I’d say those people are wrong. I have proof that the happiest place on earth is on Queen Street East, just past the Don River, where Mary Macleod and her small team of bakers make the very best shortbread ever.

Don’t believe me? Take James’ Beard’s word for it – on a visit to Toronto in the early 80s, the acclaimed chef declared Macleod’s shortbread the best he’s ever tasted.

Mcleod emigrated to Canada from Scotland in 1955 when she got married. She shares a story of meeting her mother-in-law for the first time; her reputation for being a great cook had preceded her, and her mother-in-law had asked that she bake an apple pie. Not used to the differences in North American flour compared to the softer, more delicate products used in Europe, Macleod’s pastry was a disaster, and she set about researching the different flours and how she could add other natural ingredients to manipulate the dough to work more like the European products she was used to.


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Frangipane Tart

I’ve been making variations of this little beauty all summer. Pretty much any fruit goes well with almonds, so all it takes is some fresh fruit and about 125mL of jam in a similar flavour.

The crust is a Martha Stewart recipe, although I’ve tweaked it slightly because it’s pressed into a pan, not rolled out. The frangipane itself is a recipe featured on a BBC food show called What to Eat Now. I’ve tweaked this a wee bit as well since I found the batter to be so soft that the fresh fruit added on top sunk into the batter before it could cook and firm up.

I’ve used plums here, but I’ve also used raspberries, peaches and it would work with apples or pears as well.


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Margaritaville – Where Cupcake and Cocktail Collide

Here’s why purging your belongings every now and then is a good idea. Greg and I have been meaning to cull our bookshelves for a couple of years now. We live in a small apartment and shelf space is at a premium, which is to say that we’ve completely filled the four standard bookshelves in our living room. While I try to live with the rule of “something in, something out”, the husband is a bit more of a collector and the old bookshelves were beyond the point of full this past spring with stacks of books on beer piled in corners and selected food politics titles jammed in wherever they might fit.

So we started filling a box, looking at every item on the shelf, assessing whether it should stay or go. You get to keep that Clive Barker novel if I get to keep my dog-eared Nabokovs, you can keep the Michael Jackson beer books if I can keep those Marion Nestle tomes… but I can live without the Gordon Ramsay biography if you’ll part with all those old Wired magazines…

One of the things I refused to part with is my collection of 50s and 60s era cookbooks – not because I’ll ever use any of them, but because they’re cool in their own “gallery of regrettable food” kind of way. But in beside them I discovered a cupcake cookbook. Relatively new (maybe a year or two old), I remembered purchasing it but could not for the life of me remember why it got banished to the Siberia of books I never look at but must keep.


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Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Bush

Everybody on the intarwebs has been all over the serviceberries this past week or so. Also known as Saskatoon berries (we called them Indian berries growing up in Nova Scotia), they became the meme of  local food foraging junkies and everybody had to have the things – right NOW! Except that it seems that nobody actually knew what a serviceberry looked like because they’re actually all over the place, and by the time most people had discovered that they did indeed know the whereabouts of a serviceberry bush, the birds had gotten to most of the berries and devoured them.

Another local berry popular with the birds and overlooked by people (until some local food expert points out that they’re tasty) is the mulberry. Similar in shape but slightly smaller than a blackberry, the mulberry is a popular tree in Toronto neighbourhoods – except during actual berry season when the berries fall off like small purple hailstones and turn everything in their vicinity purple. Beloved by both birds and squirrels, any sidewalk or paving stones underneath a mulberry bush get stained doubly so – once from the berries themselves and again from the bird crap.

It was this telltale purple sidewalk that alerted me to the mulberry bush in the front yard of a house along my regular dog-walking route. The tree was loaded, the sidewalk was covered in the things, and I figured if the owners were just going to let the berries go to waste on the ground, they wouldn’t mind if I helped myself to a few that were hanging over the sidewalk.

I picked about a pint’s worth (didn’t want to be greedy, and the birds were becoming increasingly unimpressed with my presence); not enough to make jam, but definitely enough for a batch of mulberry scones.

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It Is Done

No, there are no photos. Not that I couldn’t take photos, it’s just that every surface in the house is covered with gobs of chocolate, and I just don’t have the energy.

Christmas baking, I’m talking about, in case you were confused.

3 kinds of fruitcake, 4 types of cookies, 4 flavours of truffles, plus coconut creams, peppermint patties and candied nuts. And despite the fact that it all fits nicely into tins to ship, it doesn’t feel like I did enough. Nevertheless, the box of presents is honkin’ big and it needs to go to the post office tomorrow before we get any more snow (it’s too heavy and unwieldy to carry so it’s gotta go in my old lady shopping buggy and thus must go before there is more snow on the ground because – huh – wouldn’t that suck?), so I’m done with all the stuff to be baked for other people.

Next year I start in September and make better use of the freezer, which is part of the reason why I bought the freezer, if I recall correctly.


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The Gingerbread Village


Mad Batter Bakers
133 Jefferson Avenue

People strolling through Liberty Village can often be seen stopping mid-stride, lifting their noses to the air and taking in huge whiffs of the spicy gingerbread smell that fills the air here. It’s not the smell of bread from the nearby Canada Bread factory but the sweet fragrance of gingerbread and sugar cookies from the Mad Batter Bakers on Jefferson Avenue.

Tucked away along a strip of restaurants, Leona Knaup and Mary Young’s bakery can turn out roughly 3000 fully decorated gingerbread and sugar cookies every day during the peak season. And with gingerbread as a specialty, peak season is now, in the last few weeks leading up to the Christmas holidays.


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Where Can I Find – Rugelach


My first encounter with rugelach was in the early 90s when I worked for a company owned by a Jewish family. During the Jewish holidays, they’d bring in platters of treats to share with the staff and the little rolled cookies had me coming up with all kinds of reasons to wander by the break room.


Yiddish for “little twist”, rugelach was originally made with a yeast dough, but American Jews introduced a dough made with cream cheese. The pastry is rolled around fillings such as chocolate, raisins, nuts or preserves such as apricot or raspberry.




Rugelach are supposedly easy to make at home, but while I consider myself an accomplished baker, I’ve never been able to get the cream cheese pastry to work well for me, despite trying a variety of recipes. As such, I’m always on the lookout for places that sell the things, because rugelach are quite addictive.


And while I’m sure there are any number of Jewish bakeries and delis in the north end of the city that make fantastic examples of this cookie (please feel free to share your favourites in the comments), I’m sticking to what is accessible to me, a car-free downtowner.


Note that as rugelach is considered a seasonal item, not all the places listed may have it at all times. While it should be readily available for the next week or so until the Jewish High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah have passed, I’d advise calling ahead if it’s out of season and you really need a fix.


Future Bakery (93 Front Street East, St. Lawrence Market) – cream cheese or raspberry filling.


Harbord Bakery (115 Harbord Street) – offers a variety of flavours with chocolate being the most popular.


Wanda’s Pie in the Sky (287 Augusta Avenue) – a variety of flavours, likely seasonal as they don’t show up on their website.

What a Bagel
(421 Spadina Road, and others) – carry the cookies year-round, with 4 flavours plus a sugar-free version.

Whole Foods
(87 Avenue Road) – offers rugelach seasonally, sold pre-packaged, by the kilo.


Yitz’s Deli (346 Eglinton Avenue) – sold singly or by the kilo, there’s usually a nice mix of flavours including cinnamon and walnut.


I’ve also bought rugelach at Benna’s (135 Roncesvalles Avenue), but the person I talked to on the phone for this piece didn’t know what I was talking about, so I can’t guarantee they have them all the time.


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Where Can I Find – Red Fife Flour?

multipleflourThe “Where Can I Find?” column is a new bi-weekly feature here at TasteTO starting this week. We’ll research and track down hard to find items and let you know where they’re available. Got a question for the “Where Can I Find” lady? Drop us a line.

I see red fife flour showing up on restaurant menus that have a local food theme, but where can I get this product to bake with at home?

The hot ingredient this summer is most definitely red fife flour. Restaurateurs and bakers from Jamie Kennedy and Marc Thuet to St. John’s Bakery are using this wholly Canadian product, and articles about the history and near extinction of the grain are popping up in a variety of publications from MacLean’s and Toronto Life to Edible Toronto.

The short version – red fife wheat was first planted near Peterborough in 1842 by David and Jane Fife, and it became the backbone of the Canadian wheat industry, giving Canada the nickname “granary of the world”. Immigrants were given free seeds to encourage them to settle on the prairies and become farmers. Over the years, red fife fell out of favour as other varieties derived from the red fife strain became more popular because of shorter growing times and higher yields. The original strain was on the verge of extinction by 1988 when a seed-saver activist named Sharon Rempel got her hands on a pound of seed and planted it in Keremeos, British Columbia.


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