Category: bread

Stellar Brunch (Oven-baked french toast with caramel sauce)

Springtime peeked it’s shy little head out to say hello to us Montrealers this week, and I instantly felt excited & inspired. There’s just something about warm weather and sunshine that get me into a crafty mood. Quite a good time to be feeling creative, as I’ve had a lot of decorating to do recently: we’ve officially moved into our new apartment! The perfect way to settle in? A good old-fashioned Sunday Brunch!

Though bagels and lox are generally my choice brunch food, I decided to make something a little more decadent this time. Introducing Oven Baked French Toast, and her bff, Caramel Sauce. Make this for your next brunch if you’re looking for a dish that is surprisingly quick & easy, and as eye-catching as it is tasty. Bonus: the air will fill with a warm, sweet aroma as your guests arrive.

This is a decadent, salty-meets-sweet, stick-to-your-ribs kind of breakfast – definitely weekend food! Tip: to make it extra yummy, you can prepare it the night before so the bread really gets some time to soak up the eggy goodness. This is also a perfect way to use up some stale bread you have lying around – once it soaks up the egg mixture, it’ll come right back to life!

Oven Baked French Toast
an original recipe by allison sklar

NOTE: I’ve included two versions of caramel sauce here. One is a shortcut (no-fail) caramel, and the other is the traditional method that we were taught in pastry school. They yield slightly different flavours, and the shortcut method is a little more rich. If you’ve never made caramel before, I suggest you try the shortcut method first!

what you’ll need

french toast
1 small loaf of your favourite bread, sliced or cubed
(challah bread, or other fluffy, soft bread works best)
6 eggs (8 if using a large amount of bread)*
1/4 cup icing sugar*
4 tbsp milk or cream
1 tbsp vanilla
2 tbsp cinnamon sugar **
1 to 2 tbsp butter, melted

caramel sauce (traditional method)
460g granulated sugar
160ml water
240g light/white corn syrup
125ml heavy (35%) cream
2 tbsp butter
pinch sea salt


caramel sauce (shortcut method)
1 cup packed brown sugar
3 tbsp butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
pinch sea salt

how to do it

french toast
Place all of your bread in a large mixing bowl.
Beat eggs with icing sugar until colour turns light yellow and mixture becomes fluffy.
Whisk in milk (or cream) and vanilla. Pour over bread and toss to coat. Allow to sit until mixture is absorbed, about 10 minutes. This mixture can also be prepared overnight.*

Grease a shallow, oven-safe dish with butter. Preheat oven to 325F. Lay bread mixture evenly into dish. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until bread is golden brown. Meanwhile, prepare caramel sauce.

caramel sauce (traditional method)
In a heavy bottomed saucepan, bring granulated sugar and water to a boil, while stirring with a heatproof spatula. Once mixture boils, stop stirring and reduce heat to medium. Continue cooking, brushing down the insides of the pot with a pastry brush dipped in water to avoid the formation of sugar crystals. Use a candy thermometer to bring the mixture up to 140C(285F). Carefully add in butter, cream and salt, stirring constantly. If mixture feels too thick, add more cream, a little at a time, until desired consistency is reached.

caramel sauce (shortcut method – no thermometer needed!)
In a heavy bottomed saucepan, warm butter over medium heat. Add brown sugar and cream. Stir with a heatproof spatula in figure 8 motion, until sugar is dissolved. Continue cooking, stirring slowly but constantly, until mixture begins to thicken, about 6 minutes. Voila! Caramel!

Pour sauce over hot french toast. Sprinkle with icing sugar or more cinnamon sugar just before serving.

Eat & enjoy!

*If doing this overnight, increase the egg quantity to 8 to 10 eggs and the sugar to 1/3 cup.
** If you cannot find cinnamon sugar, make your own using equal parts of cinnamon to sugar.

Semi-Guilty Pleasures (Baked Donuts with Cinnamon Sugar Glaze)

And so, it begins.

Pastry school, that is!

Courses began this week, and so far we’ve learned some introductory basics on health and safety measures, as well as basic sanitation practices. Many of the unsettling facts made me happy to be vegetarian – a life choice that made me feel almost safe, until I learned that one of the worst outbreaks of botulism came from an infected jar of mushrooms, of all things. Still, the majority of contaminated food items are ones of animal origin, (poultry, beef, dairy, eggs) so vegans, you’re generally in the clear. I say generally, because there are still certain precautions that should be taken, especially when dealing with low-acidity canned foods, and unwashed fresh produce. I’ll be posting more about good hygiene practices in the weeks to come, once I’ve obtained my MAPAQ certification. 

I’m quite excited for today, as we get to go into the Pastry Lab (the name itself excites me!) where we will be learning about basic ingredients, measurement and weight. Every ingredient in classic French pastry is measured by weight (grams and millilitres), instead of measured by volume (teaspoons and cups). This allows for the most accurate reproductions of recipes, as measurement by volume is often skewed due to air pockets. In the future, as I blog certain pastry recipes, I’ll offer approximate conversions from volume to weight, for those of you who prefer one method over the other.

Alright, time for the sweet stuff… Drum roll please…
I introduce to you, the deliciously moist, sweet on the outside, fluffy on the inside, ultimate home baked donut! I won’t go as far as to say that these little babies are healthy, because, well, they are coated in sugar and then rolled in even more of the powdery white delight, but they are healthier than your average donut shop donut, as they’re baked instead of fried. They’re also far tastier, more wholesome, and it doesn’t get fresher than straight out of the oven! You can opt out of the sugar dusting part, though personally, I found that the sugar coating kept them fresher longer, and added a mighty fine taste to them.

Baked Doughnuts (& donut holes!)
recipe adapted from Châtelaine magazine, February 2014 issue.

Note: the original recipe calls for regular milk and butter, but I’ve replaced them with equal quantities soy milk and vegetable shortening (I used Crisco brand). If you want to make this completely vegan, simply substitute the egg with egg replacer. Voila! Doughnuts for everyone. Mmm.

Side Note: There are two spellings of donut (doughnut), and I’ll use both, as you’ll notice, throughout this post. They’re both correct. I’m just really indecisive over which one I prefer.

what you’ll need
1 cup soy milk
8g packet instant yeast
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup vegetable shortening, melted
1 egg (or equal amount egg replacer)
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

4 cups icing sugar
3 tbsp ground cinnamon
5 tbsp water

vegetable or olive oil (cooking spray works fine)
stand mixer with dough hook attachment

how to do it
warm soy milk on stovetop or in microwave. Do not boil! Add yeast and whisk. Pour into bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Let stand about 10 minutes. Add granulated sugar, shortening, egg, vanilla and salt to yeast mixture and beat until combined. Remove paddle and affix dough hook to stand mixer. Gradually add flour, increasing speed until dough forms a ball and pulls cleanly away from the bowl.

Transfer dough into oiled bowl. Lightly oil top of dough and cover with damp tea towel. Let stand in a warm place until doubled in size, about an hour.

Roll dough onto floured surface until 1/2 inch thick. Do not roll any thinner than this, or your doughnuts will become cookies, as I discovered in my first batch! Use a 2-inch cookie cutter to cut rounds out of dough, and a 1 inch cookie cutter to cut holes out of the middles. Pat together excess dough and roll into 1 inch balls, to make doughnut holes. Place on parchment-paper lined baking sheets and cover with damp tea towels. Allow to rise for another 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together 1 cup icing sugar and 2 tbsp cinnamon.

Once 45 minutes has passed, Preheat oven to 350F.
Dip donuts and roll donut holes in sugar & cinnamon mixture.

Bake in preheated oven at 350F for about 10 minutes, or until centers are golden.
Remove from oven and cool immediately on cooling rack.

Give your donuts a delicious glaze by mixing 1/4 cup water with 2 cups icing sugar and 1 tbsp cinnamon. Dunk cooled donuts into glaze mixture. Reserve last cup of icing sugar in separate bowl, and roll sticky donuts in powdered sugar until fully coated. Donuts are best eaten immediately, but keep well at room temperature for about 2 days.

Final Note: this recipe looks lengthy, but it’s totally worth the time, and it’s not difficult at all, just requires a wee bit of patience. Give it a go – impress your friends and family! Or, just make them and then eat them all to yourself while watching the entire 3rd season of Community… whatever works for you.

A Fine Toast (Mushrooms with Thyme)

Dear: Mother Nature,
I would like to formally thank you for the incredible tease that you laid upon our wonderful city this week. You showered us with mild temperatures, sunshine and the smell of dog crap spring in the air, and then proceeded, as you often do, to throw upon us a blanket of snow, slush and cold. What gets me through winter in times like these? Two things: The Nuit Blanche festival, and good food. 

As I prepared myself to spend a night prancing around in the snowy abyss that our city has become, I decided that the best way to begin would be by indulging in a little bit of comfort – food, that is. I’m not talking Kraft Dinner (that was Wednesday), and I’m not talking grilled cheese – I’m talking about something real, something with substance, and something that will keep me satisfied.

Enter Mushroom Toasts!
I now present to you my favourite appetizer of all time.
This stellar simple recipe combines four wonderful things: olive bread, mushrooms, thyme and goat cheese. Oh, and did I mention butter? You can omit the butter, if you’re going the healthy route, but come on, this is comfort food we’re talking about here! You want it to stick to your ribs and warm you from the inside, remember? Now that that’s settled…

Mushroom Toasts with Thyme
an original recipe by allison sklar

what you’ll need
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 tbsp salted butter
5 sprigs fresh thyme, stems removed (about 2 tbsp leaves)
3 tbsp herbed goat cheese OR Boursin cheese
Sliced fresh ciabatta bread or olive bread
how to do it
Coat a medium sized frying pan with olive oil. Add butter and mushrooms. Sauté mushrooms and thyme on LOW heat until softened, continuously stirring with spatula. While mushrooms are cooking, toast bread. Stir 2 tbsp cheese into softened mushroom mixture, tossing to coat. Spread toast with remaining goat cheese, and top with mushroom mixture. Enjoy!

Living With Less (Zucchini Loaf)

What is the most logical thing to do after making a vow to eat healthier? Bake a zucchini cake loaf, obviously. Because, hey! Zucchini is green, and it’s a vegetable, and I’m supposed to eat more green vegetables, right? Thought so. So, what inspired me to make such a loaf today? Alas, I’ve been living in this little town village in Australia for the past few weeks, and well, when I’m not working, there’s not much to do. To give you a general idea, I’ve compiled a list of my daily leisure activities…

Things To Do in the Outback
read my book.
curl my hair.
go running hide indoors to avoid getting attacked by the world’s most venomous snakes.
slingshot pebbles at a road sign.
take photos.
hold a flashlight while a drunk guy shoots kangaroos.
do 5 pushups
recover for a few days from those pushups.
discover that there is a bag of flour in the fridge.

The thing about working in exchange for food and accommodation is that the types of food and ingredients that are kept in stock are more limited than what I’m used to. As are the baking dishes. I’m learning to live with less: I’ve got access to a 9 x 9 pan, a roll of discount parchment paper, a few measuring cups and some mixing bowls. And as for ingredients, well there is definitely no cinnamon. Nor do they keep baking soda on hand. But, they do have self-raising flour, which by the way, is my new favourite discovery. And, there’s this giant container of shredded coconut. What’s more, like all good country folk, we’ve got 4 chickens (called chooks here!), and a whole lot of eggs. I’ve decided that this is plenty to work with, and that I’d make the most of it. I’ve decided even to be thankful for this, as I’ll surely come out of this experience an extremely resourceful baker! Oh… and did I mention that the temperatures on our oven dial have been completely worn away? Disclaimer: the temp that I suggest in this recipe is an estimate based on how far I’ve turned the dial.

Now, you may still be sitting there thinking, zucchini loaf? Why would you do that? Well, you might remember my butternut squash cake, which was a hit all around. So I think you’ve just got to trust me on this one. But, if you’re still thinking, nah, this can’t be good (which is pretty much the look everyone gave me when they saw me making it), hear me out! Zucchini is 95% water. Water = moisture. Moist cakes = delicious. Also, you can play around with this recipe and throw in some add-ins to suit your taste – my suggestions are any of the following: raisins, chopped dates, dried cranberries, lemon zest, cinnamon, or chocolate chips. Oh, and it’s delish with a dollop of yogourt on top (in the name of health, I chose yogourt over ice cream. But I’m sure ice cream would be even more equally as scrumptious.)

Outback Zucchini Loaf
original recipe by Allison Sklar

what you’ll need
2 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup oil
1 cup white sugar
1 cup grated zucchini (squeeze out the excess water!)
1 3/4 cups self-raising flour, sifted
1/2 cup shredded coconut

how to do it
Preheat oven to 325C. In a medium sized bowl, combine eggs with sugar, vanilla and oil. Beat with a fork vigourously until well blended. Add zucchini & coconut, mixing briefly. Slowly incorporate flour, folding it into the wet ingredients. Line a 9” x 9” pan with parchment paper. Pour mixture into pan. Bake for 40 to 60 minutes (ovens differ, so check it frequently after 40 minutes. Once the top is golden and a cake tester or toothpick inserted in centre comes out clean, it’s done. Do not over-bake!)

The Sweet Taste of Blood… Oranges

There is one fantastical creature in the world that has blood running throughout it’s body, and it is still considered to be vegetarian fare. Ah yes, the sweet, the juicy, the refreshing – blood orange. Blood oranges offer a magical pop of colour among the drab whites and greys of winter. They also offer superior antioxidant power compared to their plain orange counterparts, thanks to their anthocyanin content, which is the compound that is also responsible for their distinctive colouring. This peculiar citrus fruit is sweeter than a regular orange, and is about ten times as beautiful when you cut into it. It’s mystical crimson-coloured segments make for lovely dried pot-pourri, and it’s peachy marbled zest makes for an even lovelier olive oil cake!

Inspired by my one of my favorite food bloggers, and by the handful of blood oranges that I had in my fridge, I decided to have a date with my oven last night. I tried to follow the recipe as outlined on the blog that I was reading, however, I was missing one ingredient – yogourt. And, as you may recall from my previous post, I’m trying a buy-nothing week, I didn’t want to have to go get it. Rummaging through my fridge, I found a substitute – which also might just have been the magical ingredient that took this cake over the top – a tropical vanilla YOP! What does the YOP change, you ask? It makes the cake batter smell and taste like a creamsicle. Yeah. That’s right.
Childhood memories anyone?

Blood Orange YOP! Cake
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

what you’ll need
2 blood oranges
1 cup white sugar
½  cup Vanilla YOP!
3 large eggs
2/3 cup light olive oil
¼ cup orange juice
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
¼  tsp baking soda
½  tsp salt

how to do it
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter or line a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.
Grate zest from 2 oranges and place in a bowl with sugar. Using your fingers, rub ingredients together until orange zest is evenly distributed in sugar.
Peel blood oranges with a knife, ensuring that there is no residue left. Peel away membranes. Break up segments with your fingers into small pieces.
Combine YOP! and orange juice. Pour mixture into bowl with sugar mixture and whisk well. Whisk in eggs and olive oil. In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Gently stir dry ingredients into wet ones. Fold in pieces of orange segments. Pour batter into prepared pan.
Bake cake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until it is golden and a knife inserted into center comes out clean.


Got some stale bread? Don’t toss it, toast it!

Then toast it again. Sprinkle it with some sea salt and spices, and boom – you’ve got yourself some fantastic croutons. I must warn you though – you may just turn into a crouton snob. Boxed croutons just won’t cut it after you’ve had a taste of these babies. And, if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to use them to top just about everything off – you can spruce up a salad, turn your mac and cheese into a crispy delight or sop up some soup on a wintry day.

My favorite way to eat them? Naked. (The croutons that is!) They’ll make crackers look like cardboard – and since they’re such a cinch to make, you’ll want to be cooking up batch after batch.

Did you ever think you’d see the day where you wished for your bread to go stale?

Homestyle Croutons
an original recipe by Allison Sklar

what you’ll need
6 thick slices of bread (pumpernickel pictured)
3 tbsp light olive oil
2 cloves crushed fresh garlic
2 tsp sea salt (more to taste)
Pinch chopped fresh rosemary

how to do it
Chop bread and toss with oil, salt, garlic and rosemary. Place evenly on baking sheet and toast in convection oven for 4 minutes. Remove from oven, toss, and return for 3 more minutes.
Note: Watch the croutons – ensure they don’t burn as many ovens cook at different temperatures, so this is just a loose guideline!

A Nutty November

Look out, boy – I am currently infatuated with another. 

Though I hate to admit it, I accidentally fell in love… While I long believed that I hated the nut, our paths crossed one faithful night. It was tough at first to crack him, but once he came out of his shell,  I felt completely satisfied. He was more tender than I had imagined, and though at first a little bitter, he became surprisingly sweet in the end. Lately, I’ve been going to him for a late afternoon pick-me-up…

O, Walnut, how I lust for thee…

My mother used to keep walnuts in our pantry. I’ll never forget them – I don’t know what on earth she used them for, but they were there for as long as I can remember – chopped up and stored in a recycled glass jar that was in the shape of a teddy bear. One day – most likely out of rainy afternoon boredom – I decided to grab a handful out of the jar to eat as a snack. Now, perhaps they had gone rancid, perhaps they were simply stale, or perhaps my palette had not yet fully developed… but all that I can recollect is a vivid memory of my immediate heaving and spitting straight into the garbage pail.

For years afterward, this popular nut remained banished from all that I cooked, baked, and consumed.

Recently, I visited a small Italian resto on St. Denis. I was deep into conversation when the waiter showed up to take our orders. As per usual, I hadn’t yet taken a long enough glance at the menu to know what I wanted – feeling pressured as everyone sounded off their choices, I ran a split-second menu scan, spotted the words “cream,” “mushrooms,” and “pasta.”
Done and done.

Half a litre of wine later, a horrifying plate was placed in front of me:  I received a dish of pasta covered in… you guessed it… walnuts. Now, I do not like handing anything back at restaurants – if you’ve seen the movie Waiting, you’ll understand why. Moreover, I was not going to let my (relatively new) friends think that I, Allison the Foodie, was a picky eater. So – I dug right in, fully ready to paste on a fake smile (all while I prepared a napkin in my lap, for secretive spitting purposes…)

And that’s when it happened. That was the turning point.
I. Like. Walnuts.

Later that week, I attempted to replicate the mushroom walnut cream sauce (which I did, fabulously, by the way), and served it over a spinach and mushroom tart. Sorry to break your hearts, but you won’t be getting the recipe for that today. You can blame the boy, and I guess you can also blame it partially on myself – we polished that sucker off before I could even fathom taking a second photograph. (Or writing down what the recipe.) Oops.

Instead – I bring you something tantalizing – an autumn twist on a year-round staple. You may have been searching for a superior banana bread recipe for years, and just haven’t found one. Or, perhaps you already have your own recipe for banana bread, and you’re wondering why you should switch away from your tried-and-true.  Here are a few reasons why this bread is awesome: three huge bananas, whipped butter, cinnamon and vanilla. And now, here are a few reasons for the health conscious people: fibre(fruits, nuts), protein(nuts), vitamins(fruits), and a ton of added fat-free moisture – in the form of diced apples.

Yeah. That’s right. I put diced apples in my banana bread.
Do it. I dare you. You won’t regret it.

Banana Apple and Walnut Bread
 an original recipe by Allison Sklar

what you’ll need
•    1 cup sugar (½ cup more if a sweeter cake is desired)
•    ½ cup + 2 tbsp softened butter
•    3 mashed bananas (about 1 cup)
•    2 tbsp cinnamon
•    2 tbsp lemon juice
•    2 tbsp vanilla
•    3 eggs
•    2 cups flour
•    1 tsp baking powder
•    1/2 cup walnuts
•    1 tbsp brown sugar
•    3 medium sized apples, peeled and diced

how to do it: bread
•    Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour 10” angel food cake (or bundt cake) pan.
•    Mix sugar and butter together in a medium mixing bowl until completely blended. Add banana, vanilla, 1 tbsp lemon juice and eggs, mixing well.
•    Add flour, baking soda and 1 tbsp cinnamon, mixing just until moist.
•    Coat apples with the rest of the lemon juice, brown sugar and cinnamon
•    Stir in nuts and apple mixture.
•    Spread batter evenly into pan. Bake 50 minutes to 1h.

how to do it: muffins

•    Divide mixture among 12 greased muffin cups. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes.