DIY: Bagel Tutorial and More History.

How does working from 5AM ’till 10PM, seven days a week, in a remote location, for an entire summer sound? Ten years ago to me, it sounded like a pretty good plan…

Here’s a bit more history for you.

Flashback to 1999 in Northern British Columbia. I’m 19, no serious plans for the summer except slinging food in the mediocre bistro where I am presently employed, wishing to get out of my small town and see some of the world.
I get a phone call from George (same George as in this post but he had since moved to Vancouver) and he has a proposal.

“How would you like to be my sous-chef at a fly-in fishing resort on the BC coast for the summer? Financially, it’s very attractive.”

“What’s the catch?” I ask.

“Well, let’s see, the workload is extremely heavy, there is no contact with the outside world except snail mail once in a while, and once you’re in, that’s it, you can’t change your mind.”

“Hmm, sounds like fun.” I say. “I can be ready in a few weeks”.

And that’s how I found myself on a small floating fishing lodge in a quiet inlet on the Pacific Ocean, cooking three square meals a day for 35 people, and having some of the best adventures of my teenage years. Although the working hours were long and the nights very short, the benefits almost balanced out the hardships: whale watching, crabbing and fishing, sandy beaches and the sheer beauty of British Columbia’s rugged coastline in my backyard.

Life there revolved around one thing: the King Salmon. Clients didn’t pay the big bucks to fly in on a little Otter float plane just to taste my cooking (although luckily for them, it was a big bonus) but for the thrill of reeling in one of these beautiful fish. While they took home anything they caught, we always had plenty of fresh-caught salmon on hand for eating that the staff reeled in. George constructed a smoker and smoked huge fillets of the scarlet fish while I baked the best thing to complement smoked salmon: bagels.

When the guests came in for lunch at 11:30, ravenous from a morning’s work in the fresh sea air, they were treated to a decadent lunch of piping hot bagels, home-smoked salmon and the fixings.
No wonder the staff said that that summer had the best food they had ever experienced–probably no one else put the love into their cooking that George and I did, and everyone knows that’s what makes the difference!
I made enough money in that eleven week job posting to take the next half-year off and travel and that’s just what I did. I bought my first camera-a Pentax- and a one way ticket to….but wait, that is another chapter entirely and not for this post.

My family has been making these bagels for as long as I can remember and to me they are the very best I have ever tasted. While I know they might not be the definition of ‘the perfect bagel’, to me they are just that, and a whole lot more because I grew up eating them. My boys already love them, so things are going to stay this way for at least another generation.

Aimée’s Family Bagel Recipe

(adapted from The Breads of France by Bernard Clayton Jr.)
Makes 16 large bagels

3 Cups warm water

4 Tbsps yeast

1/4 cup Sugar

2 Tbsps Salt

7 Cups All-Purpose Flour (approx)

Toppings to taste:
diced onions, poppy, sesame or caraway seeds, etc…

Boiling Water:
2 quarts water

1 Tbsp sugar

1 Egg white
1 Tbsp water

Coarse salt

In a mixing bowl, pour water and yeast. Stir to dissolve, and leave for 2-3 minutes until yeast is creamy. Stir in sugar and salt. Add 4 cups of flour, and beat at low speed for 1 minute, then turn to high for 3 minutes. Stop mixer and add balance of flour. Stir with a wooden spoon to make a thick batter. When it becomes difficult to stir, remove from bowl and work with your hands on the counter. Knead dough for about 8 minutes. Dough should be firm – add more flour if sticky.

Return dough to clean, greased bowl. Cover it tightly with plastic film and allow to rise for 1 hour.
During the rising period, prepare water in a large 4-1/2 litre pot. Bring to a boil, and add sugar (the sugar will give the bagels a nice sheen when the come out of the water). Cover and leave simmer on low. Grease 2 baking sheets with oil and sprinkle generously with cornmeal. Whisk together water and egg white for glaze and set aside. Prepare toppings of choice and reserve.
Preheat oven to 450F

Turn dough onto work surface and punch down.
With a sharp knife, divide the dough into 16 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball as shown on video above. Allow to rest for 3-4 minutes.

With your thumb, press deep into the cente
r of the ball, and tear open a hole with the fingers. Watch the video above for a complete demonstration on the shaping. Place formed bagels together on the work surface, cover with a towel and leave until dough is slightly raised – about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, bring your water to a low boil. Gently lift bagels, one at a time, and lower into the hot water. Do not do more than 2 or 3 at a time. Cook for about 30 seconds, then flip them over in the water using a slotted spoon, and cook for another 15 seconds. Lift out with the slotted spoon, and place on your baking sheet. Repeat with all the bagels. Brush with egg glaze and dress them up with the topping of your choice and a sprinkling of coarse salt before popping them in the oven.

Bake for about 30 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through. Keep an eye on them so that the bottoms don’t burn. Remove from oven, cool on a rack and enjoy!

These bagels freeze beautifully and toast up well for a perfect breakfast.

DIY: Panettone

I probably should be doing something else right now like packing a healthy snack for tomorrow’s little ring bearer, or ironing his baby brother’s wedding pants. The clock is ticking toward midnight and I’m going to have bags under my eyes and ugly fingernails at tomorrow’s family wedding, because instead of being responsible, I am bringing you this panettone.

I just couldn’t wait to share this recipe; it was so much fun to make, every step of the way! Translated from Italian and meaning ‘big bread’, this panettone was a thrill to make at home. Once I had found the right baking mould (thanks to Ares Cuisine $.99 each), I was set. While there’s nothing particularly exotic about the ingredients, the process of bringing them together–the lemon zest, the rum-soaked raisins, and all those eggs–was an intoxicating rush for a home baker like me. (and it wasn’t because I was sampling the rum, either)

Turns out it was a bit of a photographers dream too…It posed so prettily, even when sliced open to reveal it’s creamy interior. This wedge disappeared pretty fast with my cup of tea. Luckily the recipe makes a big batch, so there’s some in the freezer for Christmas morning.


Adapted from Canadian Living
Servings: 2 large loaves, 24 slices each

1/4 cup (50 ml) brandy or rum
3/4 cup (175 mL) golden raisins
1/2 cup (125 mL) candied mixed peel

1/2 cup (125 mL) candied citron

8-3/4 cups (2.175 L) all-purpose flour (approx)

1 cup (250 mL) granulated sugar

3/4 cup (175 mL) warm milk

2 pkg active dry yeast (or 2 tbsp/25 mL)

6 eggs 6 egg yolks
1 tbsp (15 mL) each grated orange and lemon rind

1 tbsp (15 mL) vanilla
1-1/2 tsp (7 mL) salt

1-1/2 cups (375 mL) unsalted butter, softened

In a glass measuring cup, microwave rum at high for about 20 seconds. Add raisins and let stand until plump, about one hour. Drain and reserve raisins.
In small bowl, combine raisins, candied peel and citron. Add 2 tbsp (25 mL) of the flour; toss to coat. Set aside.
In separate bowl, dissolve 1 tsp (5 mL) of the sugar in warm milk. Sprinkle in yeast; let stand for 10 minutes or until frothy.
Whisk together eggs, egg yolks, orange and lemon rinds and vanilla until combined; stir into milk mixture.
In large bowl, stir together 4 cups (1 L) of the flour, remaining sugar and salt. With wooden spoon, stir in egg mixture all at once. Add butter all at once; stir until blended. Gradually stir in remaining flour to make soft somewhat lumpy dough.
Turn out dough onto lightly floured surface; knead for about 8 minutes or until soft, smooth and elastic, adding up to 1/3 cup (75 mL) more flour if needed. Lightly dust with flour; cover with tea towel and let rest for 5 minutes.
Flatten dough into 15-inch (38 cm) circle; top with raisin mixture. Fold dough over mixture; pinch to seal. Knead for 2 to 3 minutes or until raisin mixture is evenly distributed. Place in large greased bowl, turning to grease all over. Cover with plastic wrap; let rise in warm draft-free place until doubled in bulk, 1-1/2 to 2 hours.

Grease two 2 lb (1 kg) coffee cans or panettone moulds. If using cans, line bottoms and sides with parchment paper to extend 1 inch (2.5 cm) above top; wrap outsides and bottoms with double thickness of foil. Punch down dough; turn out onto lightly floured surface. Divide in half; roll each into ball. Place, seam side down, in can. Cover and let rise in warm draft-free place until doubled in bulk, about 1-1/2 hours.

With serrated knife, cut X on top of each loaf. Bake on baking sheet on lowest rack of 350ºF (180ºC) oven for about 1 hour or until knife inserted in center comes out clean, covering tops lightly with foil if browning too quickly.
Let cool in cans on rack for 1 hour. Remove from cans by gently pulling paper; let cool completely on rack.

Tip: Baking panettone in a variety of can sizes is not traditional but does allow you to share some of this splendid treat with those at the top of your gift list. For small panettone, use 10 to 28 oz (284 to 796 mL) cans. Make ball of dough small enough to fill can just under halfway. Let rise as in recipe; bake for 30 to 40 minutes.

Thankful for…Sweet Onion Rolls and more

By now, my fellow Canadians probably have their Thanksgiving menus all planned out for this weekend. The turkey is relaxing in its briney bath, apple pies grace the pantry, and cranberry jelly is quivering in the fridge. But wait! I’m here to tell you there’s one more item you simply must serve your dinner guests and that is these Sweet Onion and Buttermilk Dinner Rolls.
Granted I’m a little late with the turkey talk, but these are easy enough to whip up on the fly, and if I can’t convince you to make them, at least bookmark the recipe for Christmas!

The amazing smell of caramelized onions with nutmeg and freshly baked bread wafting through the house is reason enough to start whisking yeast and warm water together for these rolls. With their soft dough, tangy from the buttermilk, and the sweetness of the slow-cooked onions, these rolls just might replace the ever-popular cinnamon bun in your home.

The method is exactly like a “cinnabun”: onion filling is spread onto a rectangle of dough, which is then rolled and sliced. The rounds are tucked into a tin and left alone for a second rising.
If you struggle with the ‘slicing’ part, you’re not alone. Who wants to squish and mangle a delicate roll of soft dough with a dull knife that leaves the rounds looking almost unrecognizable?
I give you my solution: dental floss. I don’t remember where I first hear about this, I’ve been doing it ever since I started baking.
To demonstrate what I am talking about, here’s a quick video of me ‘flossing’ my onion rolls:

Happy Thanksgiving!

Buttermilk-Onion Pull-Apart Rolls
(from Martha Stewart Living, November 2005)
Makes one dozen large rolls.

11 tablespoons unsalted butter (1-3/4 sticks), softened, plus more for bowl, plus 5 tablespoons melted
1/4 ounce active dry yeast

1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons warm water (105 degrees to 110 degrees)

3/4 cup buttermilk

1 large egg, lightly beaten

2-3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for surface and pin

2 teaspoons salt

2 pounds sweet onions (1 1/2 pounds cut into 1/4-inch slices, 1/2 pound finely chopped)
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

  1. Butter a 9-inch cake pan using 1 tablespoon softened butter. Butter a large bowl; set aside. Stir together yeast, sugar, and water in a small bowl; let mixture stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Stir until dissolved. Stir in buttermilk and egg.
  2. Mix 2-3/4 cups flour and 1-1/2 teaspoons salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook. Make a well in center. Pour in buttermilk mixture; mix to combine. Add 6 tablespoons softened butter; mix on medium-high speed until a soft dough forms, about 10 minutes.
  3. Scrape dough onto a lightly floured work surface; sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons flour. Knead dough until smooth, about 5 minutes. Transfer to buttered bowl. Cover dough with a clean kitchen towel; let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
  4. Melt remaining 4 tablespoons softened butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions; raise heat to high, and cook, stirring often, until soft, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium; cook, stirring, until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Stir in nutmeg. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Let cool.
  5. Punch down dough, and turn out onto a lightly floured work surface. With a lightly floured rolling pin, roll dough into a 17-by-10-inch rectangle, and brush with 3 tablespoons melted butter. Spread onions evenly over dough. Starting on 1 long side, roll dough into a log. Press seam to seal. Cut into about 12 slices, about 1 1/4 inches thick each. Arrange slices, cut sides up, in buttered pan, and brush with remaining 2 tablespoons melted butter. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 50 minutes.
  6. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake rolls until golden brown, about 35 minutes. Immediately invert and unmould rolls onto a wire rack. Serve warm.

George’s Focaccia and a slice of history

A little over eleven years ago I was working as a nanny of two young boys, oblivious to the future I had in professional cooking and unaware of the wild and wonderful journey into the culinary world that I was about to embark on and never return from.
At the time, my family was fortunate enough to be friends with the owners of the best restaurant in our small British Columbia town. Two heads and shoulders above the Chinese buffets and truck-stop cafes that lined the highway, the Little Onion Restaurant offered succulent dishes such as Smoked Alaskan Black Cod and Jamaican Jerk Rack of Lamb. They were the best for countless reasons, among them being their homemade sorbet and ice cream, and perhaps most impressive of all, daily fresh-baked focaccia.
It usually was just coming out of the oven when the doors opened at 5-o-clock and as soon as clients were seated, it arrived at their table: warm, sliced into generous wedges and served with accompanying olive oil and balsamic vinegar. (remember the oil and vinegar of the 9o’s?)
There was no one in town eating better that night than those guests.

My path crossed with the Little Onion one day when the sous chef walked out on George, head chef and owner, hours before a busy Saturday night service. Over an espresso at the bar, George lamented to my father that he didn’t know what he was going to do and so my father offered:

“My Aimee is pretty handy in the kitchen. Why don’t you have her come in and help out?”
I guess George figured he had nothing to lose and so that evening I found myself thrust into the most thrilling environment I had ever encountered: a bustling, swinging, hot, professional restaurant kitchen.
I loved every minute of it.
At the end of the evening, George poured me a glass of chilled Riesling and spoke three words that I’ll never forget.
“You’re a natural.”
Then, to my delight -and terror- he offered me a permanent position.
The rest is history. George took me under his wing and gave me a crash course in culinary education. It was in that small kitchen where I got my first second degree burn from boiling sugar, left a piece of my palm in the mandolin, and got hooked, really hooked, on espressos.
It was the best of times.

George’s focaccia was something I never got sick of, even though I had it for dinner most nights, stuffed with some caramelized onions and homemade charcuterie. The smell of it baking never failed to make my stomach growl and it was one of the recipes I kept over the years.
It’s simple to make and always a crowd pleaser, whether you are throwing an antipasto party or just dining on a humble lasagna.

George’s Focaccia

400 ml warm water
1 tablespoon dry yeast
½ teaspoon sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
Olive oil
Fresh rosemary
Coarse salt
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine water, yeast and sugar. Whisk quickly with a fork, then leave to sit for five or ten minutes until the yeast starts to dissolve and bubble.
Add half of the flour and the salt to the yeast mixture. With a dough hook attachment, beat batter on medium high until well combined. Add remaining flour and combine slowly, scraping down the dough hook and sides of the bowl as needed, until mixture comes together in a smooth dough. Knead on low speed for 3 to 4 minutes until dough is soft and elastic. You may need to add another handful of flour or two. Dough should still be slightly tacky.
Remove from bowl. Wash bowl, dry well and coat with olive oil. Place dough back in bowl and cover with a towel. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk- about 1 ½ hours.
Preheat oven to 400F
Generously oil two 8-inch round pizza pans with olive oil. Turn dough out onto counter and without punching dough down, divide in two with a sharp knife. Place a round of dough on each pizza pan and press gently with fingertips to flatten slightly and fill out the pan.
Allow to rest 10 minutes.
Drizzle a little olive oil on top of the focaccia and sprinkle with your choice of fresh herbs and a generous helping of coarse salt.
Bake about 15 minutes until bottom of focaccia is lightly golden and the top has a nice color as well.
Cool slightly, then slice into wedges and serve warm.
This focaccia is best eaten the same day it is made, but it does freeze well. To reheat, crisp in oven.

Warm Gingerbread with Cortland Applesauce and Cream

The annoying thing about living in a post-renovated home is that you can never find anything. It’s not like after a move where you know you’ll eventually unpack a box and find what it is you are looking for; it is much more uncertain than that. In the pre-renovation haste, I was just stashing stuff anywhere and everywhere and now I am suffering the consequences.
Please, if anyone finds my Diana Krall Christmas CD, hand it over. I’d like to be listening to it since we seem to be hurling toward Christmas at a breakneck pace.

I always associate this gingerbread recipe with Christmas, although I am not sure why. I can’t for the life of me remember any particular incident that would connect the two together, yet, when I dusted off my Kitchen Aid and started mixing, I said to myself “I guess I’m starting my holiday baking”.

I hope I am not the only person who starts baking a good month early. I tell myself that with a enthusiastic toddler to keep my busy and a baby on the way, I have to be organized and I am–in the kitchen anyway. As for the rest of the house? Forget it!
Where IS that dang CD?

Merci to my MIL for this recipe. I believe she got it from her mother and although we know it is called ‘Prize Gingerbread’, we have no insight into just what kind of prize this cake earned…
I think as far as gingerbread goes, this one is about as good as they get. Moist, flavorful, fragrant, and a lovely dark color from a whole cup of molasses.
Cortland apples are hard to pass up in the market these days, with their blushing bride coloring and sweet fragrance. They make the most delicate-of-pink applesauce that is a must with this gingerbread; however, if you don’t have any apples, a drizzle of lemon icing would be delightful too, and whipped cream is essential.
There you have it! Your dessert for the week.

Prize Gingerbread 2 ½ cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ cup shortening
1 cup brown sugar

1 cup molasses
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs, well beaten
Preheat oven to 325FButter a 9×13 cake pan or two loaf pans and line with parchment paper. Butter the parchment.
Combine flour, baking powder, and ginger together and set aside. Cream shortening and brown sugar until fluffy, then add molasses, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Mix well. Add baking soda to boiling water and mix into molasses mixture. Fold in reserved flour mixture and combine. Add beaten eggs and mix well. Pour into pan(s) and bake about 50 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Serve warm.