Friday, March 27, 2009

Springtime Day-cation

The past few weeks in Toronto have been a lovely sigh of relief for me, as I shed my winter coat and boots and enjoy the extra sunlight hours later into the day. SPRINGTIME is here! And I LOVE IT!

So to celebrate this awesomeness, my friend Courtney and I decided to explore a part of the city that neither of us were previously very familiar with. As we're both studying pastry arts, lots of sugar was consumed as we walked down Queen Street East, through Leslieville and Riverside. I took a few pictures to photojournal-ize our day. ENJOY!

We started at Coxwell Avenue and walked west along Queen. Very close to the beginning of our walk we saw this:

I first heard about Kakayo Chocolate Company when I met the owner -- and chocolatier -- at a trade show I worked. She seemed really nice, and I later read (multiple times) that her product was amazing, but since I hardly ever go to the east side of the city I'd never made it here until now.

AMAZING chocolates! I got the Salted Caramel, the Chai Masala (which, incidentally, is vegan) and the Pumpkin Pie. The Chai Masala was interesting and tasty, but the Pumpkin Pie truffle blew me away! It had such a wonderful custardy texture, surrounded by beautiful, snappy chocolate and with the perfect intensity of pie spice. Guh...I want another right now!

We sauntered past Red Rocket Coffee, as neither of us needed more caffeine at that point, but we did catch a glimpse of this awesome old-timey streetcar in the TTC yards across the street:

Next stop on our sugar high was:

Here we see Courtney examining the wares of Altitude Baking's homey bake shop. I really enjoyed the atmosphere, and the Neiman Marcus cookie that I purchased has put me on an oatmeal and chocolate chip rampage since then.

Plus they gave us these adorable, springtime appropriate, mini-tulip sugar cookies:

We also wanted to try Sweet Bliss Baking Company, but it was not open on weekdays for the month of March. I found this strange, but as I longingly peered through the windows I vowed I'd be back to try it on a day it would be open.

We did, however, come across this lovely vintage shop instead.

I could have spent hours poking around, but more sugar was calling! And we found it at It's the Icing on the Cake, an incredibly friendly and cheerful shop. Our stomachs were getting the better of us at this point, so we decided to split a vanilla cupcake instead of cramming a full one into each of our mouths. As demonstrated below, we destroyed it in the process:

The cake was nice, with good, not-too-sweet flavour and a fluffy texture. The icing on the cupcake (ha... get it?) was fine, but it still hasn't swayed my best cupcake in Toronto vote from The Cupcakery in Corso Italia.

But, while enjoying our cupcake we did get to meet a new friend!

This is Sam. We took care of Sam for a bit while his friend went in to buy some cake. He was lovely and shook hands very politely. He also kept us very aware of all people and canines approaching with friendly shout outs. What a nice guy!

I have to say that Leslieville is definitely one of the friendliest areas of Toronto that I have ever been. Everyone in the shops and on the street were so happy to exchange a few words and a smile. It was a very cozy feeling neighbourhood, whose inhabitants clearly support the local businesses, and the businesses support the community and each other.

For instance, while browsing the beautiful clothing and accessories at Nathalie-Roze & Co. the cheery and casually chummy shopkeeper pointed us toward two more foodie must-sees in the neighbourhood: Brick Street Bread (where Courtney was ecstatic to find Hot Cross Buns) and Leslieville Cheese Market (where we gawked at all the delicious cheeses and sandwich options, and I left with some chevre and a bag of cheese curds).

Continuing west we emerged from beneath a train overpass and arrived in Riverside. When you enter Riverside from this direction the first street that you hit is this one:

Unfortunately The Zits weren't hanging around, but we did find the following sweet little birdie prints just below our feet:

Riverside was really pretty and had some great architecture. I thought that this old bank building was particularly interesting:

Riverside brought us to the two last edible stops on our adventure. Ambiance Chocolat, where Courtney indulged in a few more chocolates (which she said were very tasty), and LPK's Culinary Groove, where I sampled the spicy chevre shortbread that I can't get off my mind. I've been scouring the Internet for a similar recipe, so if anyone can point me in the right direction please do!

All in all, it was a fantastic day and I look forward to exploring even more neighbourhoods through the upcoming warmer months! Bring on the sun!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Cupcake FAIL

Sometimes you come across a little gem of fun and you think, "This is the perfect place for me to flex my skillful muscles, be creative, and practice my craft." That's what I thought when I came across this, in celebration of Toronto's 175th Birthday. I brainstormed, consulted friends, took the required trips to the bulk store, and when push-came-to-shove... I procrastinated.

What resulted was me waking up 4 hours before the deadline and slopping together these beauties:

Not my finest work. And honestly, not my worst either. But definitely not something I would say I was ecstatic about. To help explain my motivation, here is the blurb I sent in with the photo:

"With this cupcake I've taken the red velvet cupcake on a detour to Toronto, where it decided to have a change of hue -- to our ubiquitous Toronto blue. Topped with frosty white marshmallow frosting it conjures images of skaters at Nathan Phillips Square, and tastes like a yummy cup of hot chocolate. Enjoy!"

To check out the worthy winners you can go here. Also, congratulations to my friend John who made the honourable mentions list, with probably the most edible looking (and delicious sounding) of all the cupcakes featured on the page, the Mill Street Coffee Porter cupcake! Yum!

So we take this as a learning experience, and note that attention should be given to my decorating, photography and time management skills. But that's what mistakes are for... right? And despite all that, those who ate the cupcakes said that they tasted pretty darn good. I think Toronto would forgive me my mishaps and embrace the tasty-goodness, so to that I say, "Happy Belated Birthday Toronto! Enjoy my mess!"

For those wishing to improve on my cupcake decorating fiasco, here's the recipe I developed, with inspiration from Cupcakes Galore by Gail Wagman:

makes approximately 18 cupcakes

For the cupcakes:
2 C all-purpose flour
2 TB cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp each baking soda, salt, vanilla extract, white vinegar
1/2 C unsalted butter
1 1/2 C sugar
2 eggs

1 C plain yogurt
about 1/2 a bottle of blue food dye and 1/4 bottle of red...or whatever you like as my colour was still more teal than I wanted but I gave up in frustration....

Whisk together dry ingredients, set aside. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add vanilla, white vinegar and eggs (one at a time) to butter & sugar mixture, combining well. Alternate adding the flour mixture and yogurt, both starting and ending with yogurt. Mix in your food colouring until you reach the desired colour. Spoon into lined muffin tins until about 2/3 full. Bake for 20-25 minutes at 350 F. Remove from oven and let cool completely before decorating.

For the frosting & decoration:

2 egg whites
pinch of salt

3/4 C sugar
1/4 C dark corn syrup (gives a molassesy flavour, but doesn't affect the colour, if you use light corn syrup or a simple syrup I would add a tsp of your choice of flavour while the mixture is whipping.)

sanding sugar
silver dragees

Combine whites, salt, sugar and syrup in a double boiler over simmering water and whisk until the sugar has completely dissolved (about 3 minutes). Remove from heat and whip at high speed for 7-10 minutes. A this point you should have stiff peaks, and the frosting should be spread ASAP, before it begins to set and is harder to spread. Decorate with suggested items, or whatever the heck you want!

Monday, March 2, 2009

A little mood music (to get things started).

Some coveted items:

*click on images for sources.

Darling "Swiss Chalet" serving bowls.

Tea-time tea-towels.

A whimsical butter dish.