A look at the international history and influences that shape this bakery mainstay
December 14, 2021 By Karen Barr
Bakers and pastry chefs long for local rhubarb as the first sign of spring. Once summer comes, kitchens are filled with berries and cherries. More stone fruits make an appearance heading toward fall. Then, apples and pears arrive in bushels. Teams are busy crafting fruit-filled desserts and preserving what remains to enjoy all year long.
“We source fruit from local farmers, from a weekly list that features what they have harvested,” says Marie Ford, pastry chef at Das Lokal restaurant, in downtown Ottawa. “We preserve our fruits in many ways. We freeze or dehydrate fresh berries and make jams and coulis.”
As a nod to the restaurant’s classic German-inspired menu, black forest cake is always a staple dessert. “I cook cherries down in sugar, lemon juice, and Vinea, a grape liqueur from Ontario. Then, I layer it between a cocoa sponge, with Chantilly cream and shaved dark chocolate on top.”
Ford likes pairing any red berry with dark or white chocolate. When combining various fruits with spices, she says, “I love cardamom, cinnamon, and allspice.”
A highlight of the fall and winter dessert menu is the hand-pulled strudel. First, the dough is made and allowed to rest overnight. The next day it is stretched and filled. “I like to use apples or pears cooked down lightly in brown sugar, butter and lemon juice with cinnamon, cardamom and allspice. Then, I mix in some lemon and orange zest, and dried fruit such as cranberries, raisins or blueberries. I also use some rye breadcrumbs that I dry from bread ends and crush,” Ford says.
When the strudels are assembled, each is egg washed and topped with turbine sugar. Once baked and plated, Ford keeps it simple: “I like to serve the strudel with vanilla or stout ice cream or creme anglaise.”
In December, customers can delight in her newest dessert creation, which also happens to be vegan. “The sticky toffee pudding is made with dates, and served with Riesling and spice-poached pears, warm toffee sauce and a saffron banana ice cream,” Ford says. “I like to poach the pears in Riesling with lots of orange zest, cinnamon and cardamom and preserve them by jarring the pears in syrup.”
Pies really shine at The Happy Bakers, in Etobicoke, Ont. Linda Timms, one of four owners at the bakery, crafts these homey creations, freshly baked, and bubbling with fruit. “Everything is handmade using fruit from the farmers market in season. Off-season we buy flash frozen, so the fruit stays in individual pieces.”
Apple Homestyle Pie is a top seller, and only fresh apples are used. “We peel, core, and cut our apples by hand the old-fashioned way. Cinnamon, brown sugar and flour is added to the apples. I like Cortland and Mitsu apples because they always stay crisp. Then, I add a third variety such as Royal Gala, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious or Granny Smith. I stay away from MacIntosh because they bake down and get mushy.”
For the ever-popular blueberry pie, only the wild variety will do. “We add brown sugar and flour to the blueberries, and I always like to add a hint of vanilla.”
During summer when peaches are in season, The Happy Bakers cannot keep the peach pies on the shelves. First the peaches are mixed with brown sugar, nutmeg and flour. Timms and her team may also add fresh blueberries or raspberries. When cranberries are added Timms swirls in both fresh and dried.
And then there is the aptly named Kitchen Pie. “We take all the fruit we have left in the kitchen and measure it out by the handfuls. This is combined it into one delicious pie. Customers love it.”
It isn’t Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie. The Happy Bakers pumpkin pie is made with pumpkin puree, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, molasses, brown sugar and eggs.
All pie varieties are available in nine inches or five inches. For larger special events such as weddings, three-inch mini pies can be custom ordered.
Fruit plays an important role in the dessert creations at Manoir Hovey, in North Hatley, Que. The Relais & Chateau country-side property with just 36 rooms has two restaurants for guests – Le Hatley Restaurant and the more casual Le Tap Room.
“For the most part we source our fruit locally,” says French-born pastry chef Elodie Lariviere, who manages a team of three in the kitchen. In terms of preservation, we use a multitude of different methods such as canning, fermentation and dehydration.”
Lariviere says in the early summer she likes to use strawberries and rhubarb to create a traditional pie, with an elegant plating technique. It is served with homemade fruit sorbet.
As for late summer it’s all about peaches. “We developed a dessert which played on a variety of peach textures and presented it as a peach deconstruction, which was very popular,” she says. “Then for fall, our Compton apple dessert combined with oats, caramelized apple and celery, makes for a lovely seasonal delight.”
For December, the signature dessert is the Blancmange with haskap berries, lavender and almonds. “The Blancmange, once plated, will look like a beautiful floating winter meringue island, infused with local lavender,” Lariviere elaborates. “The egg white is sourced from a local duck egg farm. The yolk isn’t wasted. In fact, we use it to make the custard cream, which will also be infused with lavender. The dish is finished with a delicious, homemade, haskap berry sorbet and topped with sliced almonds.” Then she adds, “All the ingredients, other than the almonds and sugar, are sourced within a 40-kilometer radius of the hotel.”
For the very last bite of the meal guests can enjoy homemade chocolates with real fruit fillings including sea buckthorn, sour cherries and apples.
In the more casual dining Tap Room, guests can enjoy homey desserts such as a chocolate brownie with raspberry compote and maple ice cream.
All bakers and pastry chefs, whether they work in bakeries, restaurants or hotels, know the value of adding fruit desserts to the menu. It’s about embellishing nature’s bounty through the creativity of baking.
Karen Barr writes about arts, culture and cuisine. She is a graduate of George Brown College and is a Red Seal pastry chef.
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