Sweet SensationsPublished on November 30, 2008

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  • Check out the Cake Shop's scones recipe.

  • At the Buttercream Bakery, owner Stephanie Haddad has created an elegant, yet down-home vibe. Photo by Etienne Ranger

  • At Three Bakers & A Bike, Lule Bajraktari bakes up a storm each day, while also taking time out to chat with her loyal customers. Photo by Etienne Ranger

  • Faye Kaplan of The Cake Shop says they're proud to be the only completely nut- and gluten-free bakery in Ottawa. Photo by Etienne Ranger

Sugar, butter, flour. Three simple ingredients that come together to form many of life's sweetest pleasures. Whether it's warm-from-the-oven cookies, a fragrant wedge of pie snuggled up against a melting dollop of ice cream, or a cake slathered in delectable frosting, nearly everyone has a favourite dessert. These days taste seems to trump all as many consumers seek out the flavours and memories of their childhoods. And with the art of home baking falling by the wayside for some, Ottawa's bakeries are satisfying our sugar cravings while catering to dietary concerns and keeping their customers wanting more. Meet three of the city's sweetest bakers and try out their favourite recipes in your own kitchen. Instant gratification

Entering Buttercream Bakery is akin to sensory overlaod. After you inhale the sugary aromas, your eyes will likely sweep across the confections nestled in the glass display case and then take in the side-by-side treat jars on the antique counter marked "Dogs Only" and "Kids Only." But the lasting impression will likely be of meeting owner Stephanie Haddad, whose beaming smile and love of baking has turned her into a pied piper. In fact, after only its first year, the Bank Street bakery has garnered legions of loyal followers. "I think people have quickly come to realize that we are friendly and love to consult with customers," says Stephanie. "I take pleasure in hearing about their dinner menu and helping them pick the perfect dessert - it's something I really enjoy." The B.C. native learned to bake as a child and decided when she was 10 that she was going to work in the food industry - perhaps to satisfy her love of Nanaimo bars and New York cheesecake. "My mother took cooking classes which was a little unusual at that time; she served up a lot of very interesting cuisine and that really fuelled my interest in food," says Stephanie, adding that she started working as a dishwasher at 14. In the years since, she has never looked back. As the owner of a bakery, Stephanie says one of the most satisfying parts of her business is seeing people giving themselves permission to enjoy a sweet treat. "People seem to have a real appreciation these days for what many consider to be old-fashioned items, like our pies, squares and loaves, but when it comes to dinner parties, people want sophisticated. Our chocolate p‚té is a great example - it's a huge seller, and I think that's because people now value quality over quantity when it comes to sweets." Society's shifting tastes in baking are reflected in two ways, says Stephanie. "We now receive many requests to bake for people with dietary concerns. Nut- and gluten-free are the most predominant and we accommodate whenever possible. Also, we are now a much more multicultural society and many people have been exposed to such a range of foods, much more than a generation ago. Our pumpkin tiramisu is a great example what people's broader tastes are ready for." While Stephanie's elegant, elaborate wedding cakes could never pass for homemade, customers do try to fool people with some of her products. "One day a woman rushed in just as we were about to close," she says. "She selected a number of things then asked us to wrap them in foil to look like she'd made them herself. We were happy to oblige, but had quite a laugh about it afterwards."

Traditional ties

"To me, baking equals joy," says Lule Bajraktari, who operates Three Bakers & A Bike with the help of her two sisters, Patricia and Lisa. "There is a little boy who visits just about every Saturday with one of his parents. We have a ritual where he comes into the kitchen, gives me a hug, and then holds out his hand. I proceed to pipe it full of icing and top it with sprinkles, and he walks out with a huge smile on his face. Moments like that remind me why I am a baker - his visits make me so happy." After almost four years of running the Westboro bakery, and many more years in the food industry, Lule's enthusiasm for creating sweets of all sorts hasn't dimmed. "It's been great to learn that it's best to focus on doing a smaller number of things really well," she explains. "For example, when we first opened I was selling regular-sized cakes, but quickly realized that most people were looking for something smaller, hence our bestselling babycakes were born. People love picking up a smaller-sized cake and not having leftovers to feel guilty about. I firmly believe we should enjoy all things in moderation - it's not good to deprive yourself of the things you love." Lule, who learned how to bake from her older sister Patricia, says she still loves her childhood favourites - apple pie and sugar cookies with sprinkles. She agrees that there seems to be a renewed appreciation for homestyle baking these days. Lule began offering baking courses last fall and winter, covering bread, pastry and scones, and she describes the response as phenomenal. "It seems that many people were not taught how to bake when they were younger so they are really eager to learn and experiment," she adds. "Most people are leaning towards more traditional desserts," says Lule, adding the most popular products at Three Bakers & A Bike are cranberry scones, brownies, cinnamon buns and traditional cookies including ginger, lemon and chocolate chip. "We used to make things like fancy mousse cakes, but the old standbys were doing better so we decided to stick with them. We find that cupcakes and babycakes are huge sellers, except during the holidays when pies rule, and at Christmas when people love our dark fruitcake."

Family affair

Faye Kaplan began baking at the age of five when she made her first Granadilla (passion fruit) cake. She fondly recalls how much she enjoyed going to the local pastry shop in her native South Africa to buy meringue mice with licorice tails. Little did she know those confections would one day lead her to more than 40 years of professional baking. Nowadays, Faye says she feels very fortunate to share her love of sweets with her daughter, Nadine Hecht, owner of The Cake Shop, and her daughter-in-law, Debbi Arnold, who is responsible for marketing. Faye believes baking isn't a lost art; it's just that a lot of people prefer cooking to baking because baking is a science. "You have to be more exact with baking or things can flop; it's not like making soup where you can throw in a bit of this and that and it always turns out well." Faye says many people tell her how pleased they are to just focus on making the meal and let her take care of dessert. "We do have a lot of customers who know how to bake, but either don't have time, as is often the case with young working mothers, or those who don't have as many mouths to feed so they can't be bothered baking, like many of our older customers." She adds that The Cake Shop, located in Nepean, has responded to the dietary concerns of its customers by becoming the only store of its kind in Ottawa to be 100-per-cent nut free. "With the ever-increasing incidence of nut allergies amongst children, parents are relieved that they can purchase our products with peace of mind," she explains, adding they also bake delicious sugar-free cakes and cookies, as well as gluten-free cakes. Having developed a strong following for her cakes, which are satisfyingly inventive in both flavour and appearance, Faye notes that many customers tend to favour her petite cakes, likely due to smaller family sizes. "The bigger ones tend to be for functions and things like fruit flans seem to be very popular for potlucks or hostess gifts. We try to guide people to choose dessert that suits the dinner they are making - some people appreciate this, but others are determined to pick up that chocolate cake they've been craving, even if it doesn't quite go with their menu." In her many years as a baker, Faye has had thousands of wonderful experiences with customers. "Things happen all the time that really make me chuckle," says Faye, "like when customers arrive at The Cake Shop toting their own cookie tins, ready to pack purchased goodies for holiday cookie exchanges. I guess that's pretty high praise for our baking."

THE CAKE SHOP'S SCONES (thebestcakeshop.com)

Faye Kaplan says this recipe has quite a history as it was used for more than 50 years at the Oceana tea lounge in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. "Oceana was a tea room manned by different charities and the recipe was printed on a sheet of paper on the kitchen wall, so that all the ladies would make the scones the same way. It has now closed but the recipe is now used all over the world by ex-pats from South Africa." Ingredients: 2 cups cake flour ľ cup (60 ml) unsalted butter 4 tsp baking powder 1/2 tsp salt 1 Ĺ tsp sugar (optional) ĺ cup (200 ml) milk 1 egg (optional - makes a richer dough) Method: Preheat oven to 425 F. Sift all the dry ingredients into a bowl. Rub in the butter by hand until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. If using egg, beat lightly and add to milk. Add liquids to dry ingredients, stirring quickly and lightly with a fork until blended. Do not overwork dough. Place the dough on a floured board and pat lightly to Ĺ inch thickness. Cut into 8 to 10 triangles (depending upon the size you want) or use a round cutter. Place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, brush with a little milk and bake in preheated oven for about 12 minutes. Let cool and serve with jam and whipped cream.

BUTTERCREAM BAKERY'S CHOCOLATE PATÉ (www.buttercreambakery.ca)

Chocolate paté is intensely flavourful and satisfying, says Stephanie. "People enjoy taking home our chocolate paté and garnishing it in various ways; we always warn not to serve large portions as even the most ardent chocolate lover will find it very rich." Ingredients: 1 ľ lbs (20 oz) good chocolate (such as Callebaut 56%) 1 cup (8 oz) butter ĺ cup (6 oz) Grand Marnier or Cointreau 6 egg whites at room temperature 6 egg yolks (make sure to remove the chalaza which is the white "cord") 1 cup (8 oz) 35% cream, whipped Method: Line two 3x5 loaf pans (or four small pans) with plastic wrap. Coarsely chop chocolate and melt with butter over double boiler; let cool when completely melted. Beat egg whites to stiff peaks. Whisk yolks with Grand Marnier; add to cooled chocolate mixture. Add half of the egg whites to chocolate and stir in. Gently fold in the remaining egg whites. Fold in the whipped heavy cream. Pour into lined pans and tap on counter. Pull up plastic wrap until it is wrinkle-free; fold edges of wrap lightly over top and freeze. Note that the paté can be kept in the pans for up to two weeks in a clean, odour-free freezer; if storing longer unmould and wrap well, then continue to freeze. Ganache: Heat 1 cup heavy cream until simmering and pour over Ĺ lb (8 oz) good-quality chopped chocolate (Callebaut). Let sit a few minutes, then stir very gently to avoid bubbles in the ganache. Remove chocolate paté from pan. Use your hands to warm the outside of the pan if necessary. Pull plastic wrap away from paté and place paté on a serving platter. When ganache is cool to touch, use a large spoon to pour ganache over paté. You can reserve some of the ganache, let it set completely and then beat it with an equal amount of unsalted soft butter for a quick buttercream frosting if you wish to pipe for some extra garnish. Keep well refrigerated until serving time. When serving, soft sweetened whipped cream and fresh red berries are a perfect choice. Cut through paté with a sharp hot knife in slices no larger than a half-inch.

THREE BAKERS & A BIKE'S CHEWY GINGER COOKIES (613-729-6236)

Lule says these cookies are a bestseller at her bakery. They are moist and chewy and reminiscent of old-fashioned favourites. Not only do they taste wonderful, your whole house will smell good when these are in the oven! Ingredients: 2 eggs 1 1/2 cups butter 1 cup brown sugar 1 cup white sugar 2 tsp vanilla 1/3 cup molasses 2 tsp cinnamon 2 tsp ginger 2 tsp ground cloves 3 1/2 cups unbleached flour 2 tsp baking soda Method: Cream together butter, sugars, eggs, vanilla, molasses, cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Separately sift flour and baking soda together. Blend dry ingredients with creamed ingredients. Chill dough for an hour - it will be sticky. Using an ice-cream scoop, portion cookies on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. Don't put more than 6 cookies per sheet as they will spread. Bake in a preheated oven at 325 F for about 7 minutes, turn pan around on rack and bake for another 5 minutes. Remove sheet from oven and let cookies cool completely before lifting off sheet. Makes several dozen, depending upon the size of cookie you make. If making smaller cookies, reduce baking time by 2 to 3 minutes. Written by Paula Roy




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