Tag Archives: christmas

Elegant and scrumptious- Brown Sugar Shortbread (what else r u doing Boxing Day?)

Shortbread Brown Sugar

In case you ran out of Christmas cookies before Christmas (what?  it was only me?) you will have a perfect reason for making more.  I took the opportunity to make–for the first time– a family recipe passed on to me by my friend Marilyn.  Her short bread (and her mincemeat tarts) are now almost as highly anticipated as my own mom’s cookies (almost! I said almost mam!)

Shortbread Final 2

Marilyn’s daughter Emma, also a good friend has posted the recipe on her very fun blog Strolling the City in Heels, where you can learn a little more about their family tradition.  I am posting the step-by-step picture version for my friends who say they “don’t bake”  to give them reason to take a crack at bringing joy to their cookie jar. (Get a cookie jar people).  And BTW while on Emma’s blog, also check out Marilyn’s Tourtiere recipe.

butter shortbread

You only need three ingredients starting with 1 pd salted butter at room temperature.  (I only had unsalted butter so added 1/4 tsp salt per stick of butter for a total of 1 teaspoon salt)

brown sugar

Brown sugar, packed 3/4 cup.

Screen Shot 2012-12-25 at 12.24.26 PM

And then the recipe says, “4 heaping cups flour”.  Which makes perfect sense to anyone who has made the recipe a million times.  But I wasn’t sure if it meant scoop the flour (which packs it more) or fill the cup with a spoon.  So I filled the cup with a scoop and let it heap a bit.

Then I weighed the flour for future reference.  (I used 650g of all-purpose flour for anyone who has a scale and is anal like me.)

cream sugar

Step 1: Cream the butter and sugar.

Shortbread dough

Step 2: Add the flour and combine well. I started with a wooden spoon but finished (as the recipe says) with my hands.  Be really careful to get all the flour integrated well (really get your hands in there!) with the butter/sugar so there are not white streaks in the dough–or (as happened to me) when you roll it out parts of the dough will not stick together.

rolled dough

Step 3: The recipe then says you pat the dough out to about 1/2 inch thick.  Use the base of your hand to flatten for a smooth surface (if you use your finger tips the dough will have many indents).  I finished off with a quick pass with the rolling-pin  (cheater–I know!) and rolled in a couple batches.

Also–my dough was about 3/4 thick which in my mind’s memory is the thickness of Marilyn’s cookies.

Shortbread cookie cutters

Step 4: Now  have a grand old-time cutting out your cookies.   All my cookie cutters stuck to Marilyn’s original size (or slightly under) about 2-3 inches.

uncooked short bread

Place on parchment lined cookie sheets. Prick the uncooked shapes with a fork and sprinkle with white or coloured sugar.

Cooling shortbread

Step 5: Preheat the oven to 300.

Bake for 20 minutes or til golden (says the recipe).  But mine baked for 40 minutes until they were golden-which seems strange–maybe just my oven?  But they turned out delicious and not burnt at all.  So, check them at 20 minutes and add 5 minutes at a time.


Short bread on plate

The Original Recipe (my notes are above)


4 heaping cups all purpose flour

1 pound salted butter, softened to room temperature

3/4 cup packed brown sugar


Cream butter and sugar together.  Add flour, mixing in thoroughly with your hands.

Pat dough out to about 1/2” thick. Cut cookies with cutters. Prick each cookie with a fork and dust with coloured sugar.

Bake at 300 degrees F for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.  Cool thoroughly on racks

PS Just imagine the cookie cutter potential—hearts for Valentines Day, Beer mugs for St. Patricks Day, Dollar Signs for when the US falls off the Fiscal Cliff…..


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Easiest Bestest Shortbread–it’s a breeze. A melt-in-your-mouth breeze.

Shortbread threesome

Shortbread.  Who doesn’t love it?  And now you can make it in no time at all–the most challenging part will be holding the electric beaters.  Honest.   Holiday baking does not have to be hard.

Single shortbread

I spent a day baking with my friend Lianne and we made these at about 9:30 pm–after a long day of sparkles and sugar cookie mayhem with cookie meister Felix.  We almost decided it was just too late–and then suddenly they were done.  And being eaten at a pace where our metabolism didn’t stand a chance.

So thank you Ruth Krohnert, here is the recipe for “Melt in Your Mouth” Shortbread.

Shortbread recipe

Only one additional tip–depending on your oven you might want to check these at about 17-18 minutes.  You want them to remain pale white.

And you can make much cooler sprinkle colours (Martha Stewart cool)  than the store-bought–just follow Ruth’s instructions.

Screen Shot 2012-12-15 at 12.49.01 PM

Now, I’m not saying they are the most beautiful shortbread ever, I am sayin’ they’re bloody delicious.

So now that you have that all set, look at some of our sugar cookies.  Here is Felix making his masterpiece:

Felix works on cookie

And ok, I made these and do think they are kind of cute (yes, 2 out of the 30 I decorated made it to CUTE).

Sugar Cookie Santa and reindeer

Have a great weekend and I have two great posts coming up from Kelsie Parsons…..stay tuned.

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Toast Post: Cheese Wedges to Fill Your Stocking Toe

There’s always too much good cheese and not enough space in my Globe column to include it all so I’ve listed a few other cheesy ideas below (with advice from our local cheese mongers in Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver).

SOBEYS (Ontario)

Fiscalini Ageing Rooms (photo from Fiscalinicheese.com)

Fiscalini, Clothbound Cheddar:

Andy Shay, the cheese buyer at Sobeys has just brought this California cheese into stores within the last week.  Made in traditional English style, this cheddar is a world-class award winner (including “outstanding Cheese of the Year”).  I’ve been looking forward to this one like, well, like a kid at Christmas.  (Also ask for it at Les Amis du Fromage in Vancouver)

Juliet Harbutt’s Line of British Cheese:

(For a detailed list of the whole line see my post on British Cheese)

Specially picked for best quality (and also keeping in mind being stored at a larger retailer) all these cheeses are fairly hardy and can be left out for an afternoon of nibbling.  The Stilton is made by Cropwell Bishop who make some of the most outstanding examples of this product.


Pied De Vent (photo from fromagesduquebec.qc.ca)

Located in the beautiful Distillery District the store carries only Quebec products.  Aside from amazing cheese you can get Quebec honey, charcuterie, preserves and lots of other easy to prepare nibbles.  Suzanne at the store recommended the following:

Pied de Vent

The name of this cheese refers to the sun’s rays peeking through the clouds. It has a copper-coloured rind and buttercup yellow paste. Until recently, Pied de Vent was only available in Quebec. This luscious cheese has a supple paste with a full, meaty aroma. The flavours are buttery, robust and nutty. A great after-dinner cheese all by itself.  (Also at Loblaws Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, and Les Amis de Fromage, Vancouver)

La Tomme des Demoiselles

A hard pressed  cheese aged more than 6 months with salty and fruity flavours.  Made by the producers of Pied-de-Vent and also raw milk.


Chaource (photo from aritisinalcheese.com)

The scoop from Tania and Lydia at this great new (just over a year old) cheese shop in Edmonton is the following:


This decadent double-creme is made in France’s Champagne region and is the perfect pairing for your bubbly.

Gingha Fruit Cheese

This  “Scottish Pear” is made with a mix of Scottish cheddar, cream cheese and pear Schnapps. It is formed in the shape of a pear and covered in wax.  (See how easy it is to eat more fruit?)

They also carry Shropshire Blue and classics like Epoisses, Valencay (so gorgeous on a cheese board), and Robiola (Heaven is a gooey Robiola).


Cropwell-Bishop Stilton

Allison at Les Amis was kind enough to stop and email me some ideas in between the holiday rush.  I’m putting my money on the Ported Stilton– apparently it’s going very fast!

Ported Stilton

The right way to marry your port and Stilton–have a professional do it.  “We pierce the outside of the Stilton and pour Port into the wheel, we start at the beginning of November and give it at least 6 weeks,” says Allison.

Goat Cheeses

They have lots of fabulous little goat cheese with fresh ash, Espelette peppers, aged pyramids, logs buttons, leaf-wrapped and soaked in Marc.

(these types of goat cheese are so lovely they must be seen to be appreciated, go immediately)

Mountain Cheeses

My favourite  cheese category–they’ve got lots reports Allison,  including Abondance from Savoie and Le Marechal from Switzerland.


Blue Juliette (photo from Provincial Fine Foods)

Today’s column, The Spread was based around Stilton and Roquefort and blues in general.  It was quite a struggle to whittle down, and here are a few other blues that you might consider (amongst dozens!  I know!)

Blue Juliette, pasteurized goat, BC

This soft, creamy, shadow of a blue is made from goat milk and hails from Salt Spring Island, BC.  There ‘s no oxygen allowed into the interior of this soft-ripened cheese so the mold only develops in a lace-like blue/green pattern on the rind.  Beautiful on a cheese board and only mildly feisty.

Montbriac (also known as Roche Baron), pasteurized cow, France

If Cambozola’s been your blue cheese compromise, ditch it for a sexy French ally.  A brie-like bloomy rind cheese that gets silky and runny when ripe, its exterior is a striking charcoal colour due to the ash covered rind.  Blue mold is minimal but creates a rich, tangy flavour with a hint of spice.

Erborinato al Cacao e Rum, raw cow, Italy

Tis the season of pampering, and if you’re hoping to indulge your guests look no further than this Erborinato from Italy’s Piedmonte region.  This blue is Infused with 8-yr old rum and coated in cocoa powder.  A hard-to-get cheese with an appropriate price tag, it’s currently available at Toronto’s Cheese Boutique. 

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Screw the Sugar Cookies: Christmas Macaroon Fix in the East End

What could make a better hostess gift? Nothing, don't even try thinking about it.

If Toronto foodies can go west West in search of a good bite, I will traverse the east East.

It was the first “snowfall” (windy wet snowstorm) of the season last week when I set out.  I was looking for a new pastry shop called J’Adore Cakes on the Danforth.  In my hood.  But kind of further east than the east I called home.  I found myself trudging sans hat, with flimsy scarf wrapped around my ears and mascara smudges on my cheeks towards a little window promising shelter and sugar near Victoria Park/Danforth.

The windows of J’Adore Cakes were steamed up from the warmth of the ovens which had been going all morning and I could just make out the hazy shape of a macaroon tree in the window.

Macaroon tree if you've never seen one in the wild.

Once inside I was greeted by owner and pastry chef  Isabelle Loiacono and her very charming mom, who was helping at the counter.  The store is teeny–J’Adore’s first retail outlet.  Cute, charming, cozy are all words that apply.  For lunch, dessert or esperesso it’s a “pop-in” kind of place without even a table to sit down (one little table would be nice!).  But the individual desserts looked artful and mouth-watering while the macaroons were as they should be: crunchy and tender on the outside and chewy, soft in the middle.

They also make beautiful cakes which you can order with a phone call or by visiting the J’Adore website.

I stole the picture below off the site and there are many more examples  (I also stole the Macaroon Tower and Holiday Macaroon photos–full disclosure)

Let me leave you with a list of a few of the macaroon flavours J’Adore features:

There were more, I ate them. Why I should not do my own photo shoots.

 In random order: Lavender Maple, Coconut Dulce, Cashew Honey, Red Velvet, Praline Crunch, Sea Salt Caramel, and Pistachio Rosewater.

Isabelle has been featured on the Marilyn Dennis Show, in Wedding Bells magazine and competed on The Food Network Challenge.

She also grills a mean ham and swiss baguette to comfort you when your eyelashes have frozen to your face.


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Skip the carton, Make a Pitcher of Homemade Nog

One serving appears more ladylike when divided into three small glasses.

Today is the day we decorate our tree.  The Christmas Tree is my favourite part of the holidays.  As unexcited as I am to dig through the pile of boxes in the basement on the annual ornament hunt (why do I have two bins of Easter decorations?  Really?) I am pretty psyched to get the tree going.

Thinking that many of us might be putting up lights, Christmas shopping or lamenting the start of carols on the radio, I figured egg nog and alcohol could settle us right down.  Cursing also helps immensely.

If you’re going out for the weekend grocery shop, you only need  few ingredients to make your own egg nog: eggs, milk, cream, sugar. (I know! Why have you not done this before?)

My friend swears by the Mac’s Milk version (and I too admit to glugging the store-bought) but this is lighter, frothier and fresher and really a cinch to make.


Once this becomes your signature holiday drink–you can move onto your own egg nog serving set.



Make sure you use the freshest eggs possible and have an alternate beverage available for guests like pregnant woman, children or the elderly who shouldn’t consume raw eggs.

Servings: 6

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Ready In: 45 minutes (includes 30 minutes cooling)


4 eggs, separated

1/3 cup sugar (reserve 1 tablespoon)

2 cups whole milk

1 cup whipping cream

fresh grated nutmeg

pinch salt


With an electric beater whisk together egg yolks and sugar until sugar dissolves and yolks are pale and fluffy. Add milk, cream and nutmeg and whisk until well combined. Refrigerate until cold.

Just before serving whisk egg whites (at room temperature) and a pinch of salt to soft peaks. Add teaspoon of sugar and whisk until firm peaks.

Fold into eggnog to make it extra light and fluffy.

If you want to add alcohol you can whisk in 2 to 3 ounces of bourbon or rum before adding the egg whites.

Another opportunity to use my beloved nutmeg grater. (purse size convenience!)


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Woman has no shame: makes Christmas Stollen at Easter

“Merry Easter” Stollen

There’s no time like Easter for Christmas Stollen I always say.

My mom always makes a Czech Easter bread for the holiday called velikonoční bochánek and so I thought I would try a different festive fruit bread. What I discovered just this year (post Stollen making) is that the bochánek  is actually the same bread as the Christmas vanocka–just a different shape!   So can you really blame me for making Christmas stollen in the Spring?  One size fits all holiday breads are in my blood.

Luckily, all’s well that ends in rum-infused fruit bread.  I took my recipe from the The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. (p252) After much grumbling, this apprentice realized that the only right thing to do was to candy my own oranges to make a pure Easter stollen.  So we’ll start there.

Boiling the bitterness from the peel

Truth be told, candying citrus peels is one of those things that seem like a monumental pain (like laundry) but then you realize “Hey, I’m not washing clothes on a washboard in the river one garment at a time, I have a washing machine with steam setting.”  Essentially you peel your oranges, pith on, slice them into strips and then boil them for 3 minutes and drain (repeated 3 x) to remove their bitterness.

Wiping Down Sugar Crystals

Then you melt  sugar and water over medium heat (1 1/2 :1 ratio) essentially making simple syrup. Add your orange peel and wipe down the sides of the pot to flush off any undissolved sugar crystals to avoid crystallization later on.

Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for about 1 1/2 hr or until the syrup has reduced to a quarter of the original quantity.

Candied Orange Peel ready for action

I put these on a rack to dry a bit before I diced them.  This is the point you could also roll them in sugar and dip them in chocolate, or store them in their syrup to use later.  (You can use the syrup to sweeten drinks or pour on fruit).

Let’s get to the STOLLEN (but first some raisin time) :

Candied orange and raisins soaking up a little Cointreau.

Take 1 cup raisins and one cup of the diced, candied citrus and  soak overnight in brandy, rum or schnapps.  I had Cointreau so I used that and eliminated the addition of citrus extract.

Next you make the sponge which will leaven the dough.  A simple combo of whole milk, AP flour and instant yeast.  I didn’t have whole milk so used 2% and a little bit of cream.

The sponge after fermenting about 30 minutes.

When the sponge is ready, you mix together the dry: flour, sugar, salt, orange and lemon zest and cinnamon.

And in a stand mixer on low speed (using the paddle attachment) add the sponge, an egg, butter and some warm water.  When the dough is combined you let it rest 10 minutes.  Then add in the fruit and finish kneading it in with your hands. The liquor-soaked candied fruit actually helps preserve the bread–if soaked a few days in advance it can help keep the bread for weeks. (Perhaps this was the fairy loaf that sustained Frodo in his journeys–those fae are clever with dried fruit!)

Stollen fermenting patiently.

You then cover the dough in a lightly greased bowl and let it sit for about 45 minutes to rise.  Then you can use one of two methods to form the stollen.  The method that looks cooler (and more like the blanket swaddled baby Jesus which the bread is meant to represent) or the easier loaf method which causes less cursing (and who wants to curse an edible baby Jesus) which was my choice.

For either method you flatten the dough into a rough rectangle and cover with sliced almonds and extra fruit.  You can also replace the almonds a layer of marzipan which I would do next time–I think it would add a nice moist core.

Send in the almonds.

Then you let the stollen proof for about an hour.

Proof: I made Stollen.

And finally you bake at 350 F. I baked it about 55 minutes (you can make two small loaves but I did one large) until the internal temperature was 190 F.  (hey, I wanted to get this sucker right!).  But in hindsight I would have probably taken it out sooner knowing it will still bake a little before it cools.

This won’t hurt a bit…

While it’s still warm, you brush the bread with oil and then cover with a sieve of icing sugar.  Repeat again.

Voila! Can I shake the sugar or what.

And then eat!  Lovely with a cup of tea.  Apparently the Germans like to let the stollen sit out and dry up a bit.  But maybe that was just an accident once upon a Christmas and they don’t want to admit it and now it’s a bad, bad tradition.

Or maybe they just like an excuse to “Dunk”.

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