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How to Host a Spooktacular Halloween Porch Party

Growing up in Australia, we didn’t celebrate Halloween. No jack o’lanterns, costumes or going door-to-door collecting candy from neighbours.

Now that I’m teaching at an elementary school in Canada, the growing excitement of Halloween is impossible to avoid, with kids planning their costumes weeks in advance of the big night. Living in a neighbourhood filled with families, it’s fun to see their creative costumes and hand out treats to all the little ghouls and goblins. These days, we make an evening of it – setting ourselves up on the front porch with snacks, drinks and dinner and play host to condo-dwelling friends who don’t have trick or treaters. It’s become an annual event that’s a fun, no-fuss way celebrate Halloween, enjoy time with friends and catch up with neighbours without leaving your front porch! Over the past decade, we’ve got the hosting of this porch party down to a fine art. If you’d like to throw your own front-porch soiree, here are our best tips for a spooktacular evening outside.

Spooky eye bark recipe

The Treats

Arguably the most important part. If you have the willpower buy treats earlier rather than later, you’ll get a better selection. Don’t leave it until 5 p.m. on Halloween night because often by then, stores are sold out or won’t have the treats you want.  Buy treats with the “nut free” symbol on it so they are safe for everyone.

Plan your treats accordingly –  if you’re ok with a few leftovers (i.e. you haven’t already been eating treat-sized candy for weeks!) buy candy you enjoy.  The best way to avoid leftovers is to buy the right amount of treats – if you’re unsure, ask neighbours how many they typically hand out on Hallowe’en.

If you have guests joining your porch party, have them bring some treats too (make sure they buy something different so you have a good selection).

And hey – if you’ve got leftover candy, you can always make this cute candy bark.

Check the Weather and be Prepared

Sometimes, Halloween evening can be pretty chilly, especially after the sun goes down. Make sure you are dressed properly (layers work well here) and have gloves handy. Make sure you have comfortable cushions and lots of blankets for your porch party guests too.

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Don’t Forget the Snacks

If you’re trying to avoid eating the candy before you hand it out (and while you wait for dinner to heat up), make some snackable items in advance. Since you’ll probably be carving your pumpkin anyway, save the seeds and make this spicy lime version.

And popcorn is always a good idea.

alberta-beef-stew

Don’t Forget to Eat Dinner!

If you’re not careful, Halloween dinner might end up being just treats and snacks but if you plan in advance, it can be the highlight of the night. As I rarely make it home before 5 p.m. and by this stage, many of the younger kids have already started trick or treating, there’s no time to prep dinner.  With a little planning, you can prepare a hearty dish that’s easy to reheat in the oven when you get home (or in the slow cooker in the morning) and serve family style on the porch.

A bowl of chili on a chilly night is always a good idea. This one tastes even better the next day so prep it the night before for an easy meal on the night.

Soup is a tasty way to stay warm. How about this hearty winter minestrone? Beef stew (made in the slow cooker) takes the fuss out of dinner in between trick-or-treaters. And lasagna is an easy dish to make the day before so all you have to do is pop it in the oven to warm up while you hand out the treats!

These are all great choices to feed a crowd and are easy to prepare in advance. That way you can pop them in the oven to reheat while you get started handing out treats!

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Thirsty?

It’s always a good idea to have a selection of beverages (hot and cold, alcoholic and non-alcoholic) to serve your guests (and hey, the parents who accompany their kids trick or treating!). On cold evenings, a big slow cooker filled with mulled wine hits the spot! Remember paper cups for those parents who are taking their warm drinks along with them.

What about you – what are your Halloween evening traditions?

vegan-pumpkin-cake

Vegan Pound Cake With a Colourful Surprise Inside

There are so many treats and sweets that vegan and gluten-free have to pass on, why not bake up a delicious Halloween cake everyone can enjoy. Treat your vegan and gluten-free friends to a delicious dessert with a colourful surprise inside!

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Vegan Hidden Pumpkin Pound Cake
Courtesy of Christina Frantzis
Prep Time: 45 min
Cook Time: 95 min

Ingredients:
Cake
8 Tbsp aquafaba (canned chickpea liquid), divided
2 510 g gluten-free pound cake mix
1-1/4 cup coconut or rice milk, divided
2/3 cup vegetable oil, divided
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 tsp vegan orange food colouring

Glaze
1 cup icing sugar, sifted
4 tsp water
1/4 cup pecans, chopped

Note: Aquafaba is the water that canned chickpeas are packed in. Strain chickpeas and reserve for another use and use the water to substitute eggs.

pumpkin-pound-cake-slides

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a loaf pan and set aside.
2. Whisk 4 Tbsp of the aquafaba in a small bowl until foamy.
3. In a large bowl, whisk 1 package of the cake mix with the foamed aquafaba, 1/2 cup of the milk, 1/3 cup of the oil and the pumpkin puree until smooth. Stir in food colouring until no streaks of colour remain.
4. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and smooth top. Bake until a tester inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Let cake cool in pan on cooling rack for 20 minutes. Remove cake from pan and cool completely.
5. Remove ends of cake and slice loaf into 1inch thick slices. Using a pumpkin shaped cookie cutter cut pumpkins out of centre of each slice. Reserve scraps for another use.
6. Preheat oven to 350°F and lightly grease clean loaf pan. Stand the pumpkin cutouts in a straight line in the pan, leaving no space between them.
7. Whisk remaining 4 tablespoons aquafaba until foamy. Stir into second cake mix along with remaining 1/4 cup of the milk and remaining 1/3 cup of the oil until smooth. Pour mix along sides of pumpkin cutouts in the pan and over top to cover, carefully straightening out if row shifts. Bake until loaf is golden and a tester inserted in the middle without piercing through the pumpkin row comes out clean, about 50 minutes.
8. Let cake cool in pan on cooling rack for 20 minutes. Remove cake from pan and cool completely.
9. Stir sugar with water in a medium bowl until smooth. Drizzle over top of the cake and sprinkle with pecans. Allow 30 minutes for glaze to set before serving.

Looking for more delicious vegan desserts? Try these 50 Vegan Desserts Even Non-Vegans Will Love.

black-icing-halloween

How to Make Black Icing for Naturally Spooky Halloween Treats

Using coconut butter and activated charcoal, we’ve created a smooth, luscious dark icing, with no food colouring, that is the perfect addition to any Halloween treat.

Despite its deep, dark hue,  charcoal — which you can buy with coconut butter at health food stores — doesn’t have a funky taste. Instead, this icing is sweet, rich and maple in flavour.
You can feel good serving this to your kids, knowing it’s a fairly healthy recipe. Scroll down to find a fantastic way to use it in spooky, desserts.

Black Icing1

Prep Time: 7 minutes
Total time: 7 minutes
Serves: 4 to 7

Ingredients:
1 cup coconut butter (also known as coconut manna)
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup coconut milk (from a carton, not a can)
1 tsp activated charcoal (in powder form)

Directions:
1. If the coconut butter is solid in a jar, break it up into larger chunks and measure out 1 cup.
2. Place all ingredients except the activated charcoal in a food processor and blend until smooth, about 3 to 5 minutes. You may need to stop and scrape down the side.
3. Add activated charcoal and blend for another 2 minutes until the icing turns black.

Black Icing2

Time to put your spooky black icing to use! Turn cupcakes into a tasty cemetery using black icing to set the scene with this recipe for Pull Apart Graveyard Cupcakes.

Food Network Kitchens Pull Apart Graveyard Cupcakes

Food Network Kitchens Pull Apart Graveyard Cupcakes

Looking for more spooky recipes? Try these Scary-Good Halloween Cakes.

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How to Turn Cooking into a Career

For more than two decades, Xavier Villada had spent countless hours in the hectic film and TV industry. But while the glamorous life of Hollywood North was fun at first, he wondered what a career in the culinary arts would be like. So finally one day he called it quits and turned to his passion, baking, and enrolled himself in culinary training. He hasn’t looked back ever since.

Villada’s decision is one that many food-lovers have probably thought of at one time or another, especially after a tough day at the office. If you have a penchant for preparing delicious dishes in the kitchen or whipping up amazing desserts in your spare time, it’s hard not to get dreamy-eyed when thinking about a potential career-making your passion a reality.

But where does one even start?

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Sure, working in a kitchen gives you hands-on experience, or hocking your goods at a market is instantly gratifying. But if you’re looking for a real culinary career, on the job training is where you’ll learn all of the basics and what it actually takes to take your skills to that next level—whether that be as a chef, a recipe developer, a food entrepreneur or any other gig in the food industry.

“My formal training was geared around the traditional French methods for every aspect of cooking,” Villada says. “So by the end, you are most certainly ready to move on as a professional cook or otherwise. The French method is the standard of the industry and the formal training is to make sure you’re ready for it.”
In the end, Villada didn’t want to work in a professional kitchen right away—he opted to bring his brand of baked goods to a local market over the summer and fall where his speciality cinnamon rolls were an instant success. And now he’s looking to take that venture to the next level, something his formal training allows him to do.

“The training prepared me to be able to have the skills and the confidence to start my career as a baker,” he says. “It has moved my career forward 100 per cent. I went from no career in the industry to now a baker and maybe tomorrow as a cook and the day after that as a caterer… The job potential is ongoing.”

He notes that no matter what aspect of the industry you’re hoping to pursue, it’s important to tackle the basics first and that only a place like culinary training can prepare you for the high-stakes and rewarding future potentially in store.

“I don’t think you can become a chef without the course it,” he says. “I most definitely recommend it to anyone thinking of pursuing a career in the field.”

Sounds like an appetizing first-course career choice to us.

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Brought to you by the Ontario College of Trades.

6 Bakery Hacks That Will Make You Feel Like a Pro

Some say that homemade is best, but to be honest, we think those people have never been to some of the amazing bakeries featured on The Baker Sisters. Sure, some of us know how to whip up the best batch of cookies on the block, while others may boast cake-baking skills that would rival Nonna’s. But at the end of the day, it’s the tricks of the trade that really elevate a baked good to the next level.

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Well, we’re ready to level up, and we’ve enlisted Jean Parker and Rachel Smith’s help to do it. Here are six genius hacks that all next-level bakeries use that will have your home kitchen smelling like a bakery in no time.

1. Make use of your freezer

Perhaps you’ve heard that freezing—or at least refrigerating—your cookie dough before baking is a surefire way to get gooey-but-crispy cookies? As it turns out freezing many of your concoctions in advance is a great way to add extra moisture and ensure a perfect bake.

“Your fridge and freezer are just as important as your oven sometimes,” Jean says. “That and giving yourself the time. For a home baker it’s hard to wait 12 hours for [something], but you do.”

Bakeries certainly seem to have the time, which is why they’ll freeze cakes or cinnamon buns before baking or decorating. Now that’s what we call a cool trick.

2. Enhance with citrus

Peach-Buckle-Proof-Bakery
Proof Bakery’s Peach Buckle recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of lemon zest. 

One of the best ways to elevate the flavour profile of something is by hitting all of those complex layers of seasonings—that’s true whether you’re baking or cooking. But one of the most common mistakes we make is adding too much salt and not enough acidity. Well, it turns out that latter ingredient elevates baked goods, too.

“You’d be surprised how much lemon juice is in a lot of things that you don’t necessarily get that flavour,” Rachel says. “It’s like salt. They can enhance flavours and really change the flavour profile.”

You’ve  seen lemon juice in apple, blueberry or strawberry pies (to name a few) but don’t be afraid to try it in chocolate cake, too.

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Vancouver’s Purebread bakery marries lemon and chocolate flavours in their Lemon Chevre Brownie.

3. Invoke some flour power

How many times have you baked fruity muffins or chocolate-chip scones, only to have the fruit bleed through and sink to the bottom, or the chocolate chips melt into a gooey mess? It turns out there’s a very simple solution to all of those problems: a little flour power.

“Coating chips and berries in flour is a huge one,” Jean says. “It prevents them from sinking or melting. Blueberries, if you toss them in flour first, won’t blend into the batter.”

It’s so simple, yet makes concoctions so pretty. Who knew?

4. Swap flour for cocoa

No, as much as we love all things chocolate we don’t mean swapping out flour for cocoa powder when you’re baking in general. But when you’re coating a cake pan—especially a cake pan being prepped for a chocolaty concoction—that’s a swap the real pros make.

“A lot of the time you’ll see a baker dust their pan with flour to help prevent it from sticking,” Rachel explains. “But if you’re doing a chocolate-based cake, use cocoa powder so it actually doesn’t change the colour of the cake. I learned that at Little Bird in Saskatoon from Tasha and Kim.”

5. Get creative with jam and jelly

Not all Pinterest-worthy projects actually come out like the photos that inspire us—that’s why #PinterestFails were created in the first place. But if you’ve been eyeing a trendy birch-bark stump cake the way the bakers at Saskatoon’s Little Bird were, it’s time to get creative with your decorating to achieve the desired effect. And sometimes that means using creative ingredients like jams or jellies.

Double-Chocolate-Birch-CakeSaskatoon’s Little Bird Patisserie & Cafe makes this gorgeous Double Chocolate Birch Cake.

“I made a birch bark stump [at Little Bird]. It was insane,” Rachel says. “Watching somebody decorate a cake, you learn little tips. [They] took brown food jelly and put holes in the side of the cake, and then smeared it with an offset spatula to create those lines of the birch bark around it. When you see the finished product, you just look at it and wonder how the heck did they do that. It’s actually quite simple, those little details.”

6. Oil it up

Want to know the secret to a moist, indulgent cake? We’ll give you a hint: it’s not an extra pat of butter, despite how deliciously rich that sounds. Nope, the secret to moist cake comes in the form of a more unexpected ingredient: oil.

Chocoalte-Chip-Marscarpone-Cupcakes-Giada-de-Laurentiis
Giada De Laurentiis knows that secret to moist cake, too! Try her recipe for chocolate chip and marscarpone cupcakes.

“Oil doesn’t evaporate because there’s no water in it, but butter is made with water so it evaporates,” Rachel explains. “Butter is great for flavour; it’s not necessarily great for a tender cake.”

Aha. So it turns out butter doesn’t make everything better. Just most things.

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So what are you waiting for? It’s time to get out there and start baking like the pros.

Slime cake

How to Make a Gooey Slime Poke Cake and Win Halloween

Satiate your kids’ need for all things slime with this twist on a poke cake! Dark and delicious devil’s food cake is filled with ooey-gooey neon green slime that is a spooktacular delight for the eyes and the taste buds. Learn how to make this easy, yet eerie cake, just in time for Halloween.

Slime poke cake

Slime Poke Cake
Courtesy of Christina Frantzis
Prep Time: 30 min
Cook Time: 40 min

Ingredients:
Cake
2 boxes devil’s food cake mix

Slime
1 package vanilla pudding mix
3 cups of milk
1/4 tsp green gel food colouring

Frosting
3/4 cups shortening
1/4 tsp salt
4 cups powdered sugar
2 Tbsp black gel food colouring

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Invert the bottom of two 9” springform pans and line with parchment paper. Assemble pans and set aside.
2. Mix cake batter according to package directions. Divide batter evenly amongst prepared pans and bake on centre rack of oven until a tester inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean, 40 – 45 minutes. Remove cakes to a cooling rack and cool completely, removing outer ring of the pan after 20 minutes.
3. For the slime, combine milk and instant pudding mix and microwave for 3 minutes, stir in green food colouring, and return to microwave for an additional 3 minutes. Allow coloured pudding to cool slightly before placing 1/3 of it in a piping bag.

Slime poke cake 1
4. Using the bottom end of a wooden spoon, poke holes through to the bottom of each cake layer.
5. Place the first layer of cake on plate and pipe slime into each hole till it reaches the top of the cake. Spread a thin layer of slime on first cake and top with the second layer. Pipe slime into holes in the top layer of cake.

Slime poke cake 2
6. For the frosting, mix shortening with salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Slowly add sugar to shortening beating on low until fully incorporated. Add in black colouring and beat on high until frosting is fluffy about 5 minutes.
7. Frost top and sides of the cake and smooth using an offset spatula. Top cake with reserved slime and spread to edges to drip down the sides.

slime-cake-icing

Looking for more spooky treats? Try our Scary-Good Halloween Cakes and Cupcakes.

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Food Network Canada Chefs Battle at Défi Culinary Showdown

Sharpen your knives, because Food Network Canada stars are getting ready to battle it out in the kitchen, for a good cause. An all-star line-up of chefs will descend on Montreal on October 29 for the Défi Culinary Showdown, a live competition, dinner and fundraiser for breast cancer research.

Food Network Canada stars Michael Smith, Mark McEwan, Tyler Florence and Danny Smiles will be joined by Kimberly Lallouz for a head-to-head Chopped-style competition. Chopped Canada host, Brad Smith will host the live event, where chefs will prepare meals for an audience of hungry diners. The evening starts at 6:30 p.m. with a cocktail hour welcoming guests and celebrity chefs, then the competition kicks off at 7 p.m.

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But before the knives come out, chefs will spend the day training their team of culinary assistants, made up of the top 50 fundraisers. If you’ve ever wanted to cook alongside your favourite chef, this is your chance to earn your way to this exclusive culinary event. To learn more, visit the Défi Culinary Showdown website here.

Top fundraisers will spend the day learning the tricks of the trade in Celebrity Chef School.  For his class, Mark McEwan is planning to help his team perfect their seafood skills by giving them a hands-on course in preparing fish.

“I find that seafood is something that home cooks are reluctant to tackle alone,” he said, “And teaching them how to properly fillet a fish is a skill that they can carry with them.”

Besides delivering top-notch culinary training, Mark looks forward to raising awareness for the cause.

“I have known many people throughout the years that have unfortunately had to deal with the effects of breast cancer,” he said. “Being able to bring more awareness to the wonderful advancements and continued treatment of this horrible disease is near and dear to me.”

Not only is he glad to support this cause, he’s primed to step out from behind the judge’s table and show off his competitive side.

“Being put under this type of pressure is a challenge for everyone – including myself,” he said, adding that he’s excited to face off against one chef in particular – Danny Smiles.

“Look out, Danny!” he joked.

While only one team will taste victory, the real winners are the Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation and the Jewish General Hospital, who have partnered together to help fund research and initiatives which will benefit breast cancer patients.

If you’d like to join in this one-of-a-kind event, please visit the Défi Culinary Showdown website to learn more about how you can participate.

Anna Olson Halloween Hacks

Anna Olson’s Spooktacular Halloween Hacks

If you ask us, the best food-based Halloween offerings combine a little trick and a whole lot of treat. In fact, one of the best parts about the ghoulish holiday is invoking some kitchen creativity and concocting amazing offerings that look as though they belong at a feast table in the great hall at Hogwarts.

Anna Olson may not have the magic spell that brings chocolate frogs to life, but she certainly has oodles of creativity up her flour-dusted sleeves. Check out these four spooktacular Halloween hacks that not only elevate party-friendly treats but are guaranteed to impress kids and adults alike.

Spiderweb Donuts

Scare up some of these elevated jelly donuts for your next Halloween party or office get-together. All you need is a standard sugar glaze, some jelly donuts, a makeshift piping bag and a toothpick. Easy, peasy. (Spiders not included.)

 

Witch’s Cauldron Instant Ice Cream

Source some dry ice and watch guests’ faces positively light up when you whip up some instant, smoky ice cream in a matter of seconds. Extra points for a colourful spread of gummy worms, crushed Oreo cookie “dirt” crumbs and other sugary toppings to pour over top.

 

Slimiest Green Slime

It only takes three simple ingredients to simmer up some kid-friendly slime that’s not only chemical-free but edible, too. Decorate cakes, cupcakes or other concoctions with “green slime,” or just give it to the kiddies to play with as they see fit for some real Halloween fun.

 

Spooky Kitchen Fun: Halloween Treats

Get the kiddies involved in some good old-fashioned Halloween fun with these simple hacks that won’t just transform snacks into adorable creations, but you’ll craft some life-long memories while you’re at it. From witches hats and pretzel ghosties to blondie Frankensteins and fanged pumpkins, these treats are surprisingly easy to assemble.

 

Looking for more spooktacular inspiration? Try our 18 Orange and Black Halloween Treats.

The Baker Sisters’ Piping Hot Tips for Running a Truly Great Bakery

Bakeries may be a dime a dozen (every neighbourhood seems to have one, after all), but that doesn’t mean they’re all successful. In fact, we’ve been to our fair share of dives and hidden gems over the years, experiencing everything from so-so bread and non-existent customer service to desserts from the nicest bakers we’ve ever met that basically knocked our knickers off.

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Jean Parker and Rachel Smith enjoy coffee and dessert at Proof Bakeshop in Atlanta.

Odds are that if a bakery exists, it’s there for good reason: the bakers involved know their way around a confection oven. But skills are just the first building block to a successful storefront. Here, Canada’s own The Baker Sisters, Jean Parker and Rachel Smith, divulge their top 5 tips that any bakery owner simply kneads to know.

Nail the Environment

Some bakeries are sit-down affairs while others are more about the counter service. Whatever type of establishment you’re running, you want to do it with a warm and friendly face because that’s what’s going to keep people coming back for more.

Just look at those smiles behind the counter at Vancouver’s Purebread bakery:

“(Have) a warm smile right off the bat,” Jean says. “Be really welcoming, because people will want to stay. There should be no rush.”

While you’re at it, it might not be a bad idea to offer a good cup of coffee or a strong pot of tea. Complete with a freshly baked scone or biscotti, of course.

Display Your Goods

Everyone knows that you eat with your eyes first, so that makes playing up the visual aspects of a bakery an important pillar of success. According to the sisters, it’s not just important to display your goods for customers as soon as they walk in, but you also want to share a variety of goods that showcase your awesome selection.

“One of our first trips away, we went to the West Coast in Canada, to Purebread in Vancouver, and this bakery was amazing. You walked in and it was like a bounty of desserts,” Rachel recalls. “Your eyes bugged out from how much of a selection they had, and they were all on different plate sizes. They weren’t hidden under a counter. They were just like, ‘Look at this bounty.’”

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Purebread’s bakery display is a sweet sight to behold.
Photo Credit: Rachel Smith and Jean Parker

Foster Your Clientele

We’ve all heard how the customer is always right, but customer service should go beyond that approach. Making your clients feel welcomed and appreciated will only keep them coming back for more, and in the end, isn’t that the goal? That’s why the sisters feel it’s important to not only get to know the people who frequent your shop on a personal level, but to go that extra mile for them too. Rachel goes back to Purebread as another example of exemplary customer care following a day they happened to be closed to the public.

“Purebread stood at their front door and gave people sweeties for free to say, ‘I’m so sorry we’re closed today,’” she recalls. “At one point, they were giving gift cards.”

Purebread-Vancouver-Display
One more delicious shot of Purebread’s deliciously over-the-top display.

Be a Community Cornerstone

If you want to become a community staple, giving back to that community is probably a good start. Attend community events and get to know the residents, but also donate to local charities and organizations to really stand apart from the other establishments in town.

“Give day-olds to the community, like shelters. That stands out to me,” Jean says. “There were a handful of bakeries that I knew, maybe a lot of them did that, and they become a community cornerstone.”

Sugar-Bakeshop-Charleston
Sugar in Charleston, South Carolina donates its day-old baked goods to community shelters.

Go for Gold

If you’ve nailed the other pillars of bakery excellence, there’s still one pretty big step to keep in mind—making sure you stand out from other bakeries with unique ingredients customers just can’t get elsewhere.

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Toronto’s Nugateau prides itself on using high quality products and no artificial flavourings.
Photo Credit: Rachel Smith and Jean Parker

Have fresh, quality ingredients like chocolate and vanilla,” Jean says. “A lot of the bakers were using Kentucky bourbon vanilla, Madagascar vanilla came up a lot. Himalayan salt.”

“New Zealand butter,” Rachel raves. “It’s like using these ingredients that are really rich and special and luxurious. New Zealand butter has more fat content than regular butter, so it really lends to a buttery sweetie.”

Now that’s a pastry we can get behind.

Beginning October 20th, watch Rachel and Jean indulge in some of North America’s most delicious baked goods every Friday at 10 E/P in back-to-back episodes of The Baker Sisters. Visit foodnetwork.ca/thebakersisters to get the recipes and find all the bakeries Rachel and Jean visit in the series.

Pumpkin swirl brownies

Pumpkin Pie Swirl Brownies Are The Best Of Both Worlds

If you love brownies and pumpkin pie (and who doesn’t?), this recipe is one to try. It’s two classic desserts, fudgy brownies and spiced pumpkin pie, combined into one decadent treat. Such simple luxuries blended together make for a surprising combo that’s hard to beat, especially when it’s pumpkin spice time. Add to that a gorgeous swirled finish, and you won’t believe that something so pretty could be so easy!

pumpkin brownies

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Bake Time: 50 minutes
Cool Time: 3 hours
Total Time: 4 hours 5 minutes
Makes: 24 brownies

Ingredients:
2-1/2 cups granulated white sugar
1-1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly, more for pan
5 large eggs
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1-1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup pure pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Spray a 13×9-inch baking pan with cooking spray or grease with a little extra butter and line with parchment paper.
2. In a large bowl, mix to combine sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla. Stir in flour, salt and baking powder. Transfer 1-1/4 cups of the batter to a medium bowl and to this stir in pumpkin puree, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg until fully combined. To remaining batter in the large bowl, mix in cocoa until fully combined; reserve 2/3 cup cocoa batter and place in a small bowl.

Brownie batters

3. Spread all but reserved 2/3 cup cocoa batter into the prepared pan. Next, spread the entire amount of pumpkin batter evenly onto the cocoa batter. Overtop of batters, dot with reserved 2/3 cup chocolate batter. Use the tip of a paring knife or skewer to drag and swirl cocoa batter dots into the pumpkin and cocoa batter bases below, creating a marbled look.

Brownies unbaked swirl

4. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool completely in pan before cutting into 24 squares. Serve. Freeze brownies for up to 2 months, or refrigerate for up to 1 week. To up the decadence upon serving, top a scoop of vanilla ice cream with cubes of the chilled pumpkin swirl brownies.

Brownie baked uncut

If you can’t get enough of these chocolate-meets-pumpkin pie Franken-treats, you’ll love our chocolate pumpkin Nanaimo bars, too.

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Slow Cooker Root Vegetable Cider Stew From The Simple Bites Kitchen

If your slow cooker has a permanent place on the counter during these chilly fall days, you’re doing things right. It doesn’t get any better than coming in from the cold and sitting down to a bowl of hearty, homemade soup or stew.

A resolution to cook more from my pantry inspired this autumn dish. It combines many ingredients I keep on hand, such as canned chickpeas, tomato sauce, onions and spices, along with root vegetables, into a comforting vegetarian stew. Turnips and parsnips are some of the most underrated fall vegetables. They are not as vibrant as Brussels sprouts or as versatile as butternut squash, but they play nicely with other flavours. I love the earthiness they bring to a dish as well as their robust texture.

In this dish, cubes of turnip and parsnip are simmered slowly in a sauce seasoned with fragrant garam masala. They turn into buttery bites that hold their shape nicely, while a handful of golden raisins plump up to become almost as big as the creamy chickpeas. Nearly a pint of fresh-pressed apple cider adds both acidity and sweetness to the dish and a sprinkling of pistachios completes the hearty stew.

Serve it up as is or add a dollop of yogurt for good measure. It’s even better on the second day after the flavours have had an opportunity to mingle. Don’t forget the basket of crusty bread on the side.

Tip: For a vegan version, simply use olive oil in place of the ghee.

Slow-Cooker-Root-Vegetable-Cider-Stew-recipe

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 4 to 5 hours
Total Time: 5 hours, 15 minutes
Serves: 4 to 6

Ingredients:
2 medium turnips (about 1/2 pound)
2 large parsnips
2 tsp ghee or unsalted butter,  divided
1 medium sweet onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp sea salt, divided
1 can (19 oz) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1-1/2 cups fresh-pressed apple cider (unfiltered raw apple juice)
1 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup golden raisins
Chopped pistachios, for garnish
Full-fat plain organic yogurt, for topping (optional)

Directions:
1. Peel the turnip and cut into 1/2-inch (1 cm) cubes. Peel the parsnips and cut them slightly larger. In a medium saucepan, melt 1 tsp (5 mL) of the Golden Ghee over medium heat. Slide in the onion, then stir and cook for 5 minutes, until softened. Sprinkle in the garlic and garam masala and cook for an additional minute.
2. Push the onions to the side of the pan and melt the remaining 1 tsp (5 mL) Golden Ghee. Tumble in the turnips and parsnips and stir to coat with the ghee. Toss in a pinch of salt and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes.
3. Transfer the vegetables to a slow cooker. Add the chickpeas, cider, tomato sauce, raisins and remaining salt. Stir well. Cover with the lid and cook on low for 5 hours. Slow cookers vary, so check the stew after about 4 hours. The stew is ready when the turnip is tender but not mushy. Serve with a sprinkling of chopped pistachios and a spoonful of yogurt if you wish.

Simple Bites Kitchen cover

Excerpted from The Simple Bites Kitchen: Nourishing Whole Food Recipes for Every Day. Copyright © 2017 by Aimée Wimbush-Bourque. Photos copyright © Tim and Angela Chin. Published by Penguin, an imprint of Penguin Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

For ‘The Baker Sisters,’ Baking Is In Their DNA

Whipping up delectable desserts isn’t just a passion for Canada’s baking duo, sisters Rachel Smith and Jean Parker; it’s basically in their DNA. They were helping their mom whip up butter tarts, cookies and a “green pie” they still rave about to this day, since before they could even stand at the counter, inherently fostering their love of all things sweet and sugary. It’s a love that launched the sisters on a pretty sweet career path, and now, an exciting new TV series The Baker Sisters, premiering October 20th at 10 E/P.

TheBakerSisters1
Rachel reaching for her first birthday cake, made by her mom Heather.

“Our mom, even from the very beginning, really tried to get us to help,” Rachel remembers. “We would make cookies on the floor. She started doing it on the floor because when I was a baby, I fell off the counter. She was like, ‘I’ll put you on the counter in one of those seats,’ and unfortunately I fell off while helping her make cookies.”

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Jean on her first birthday, getting her own from-scratch birthday cake from mom Heather.

Jean jokes that Rachel has never been the same, but it’s obvious that their mother’s love of baking and their fond memories of her concoctions still resonate with their palates to this day.

“The one thing I remember asking for a lot was this cinnamon coffee cake. It was marbled, it was beautiful, it was moist,” Rachel raves, recalling how her mom was always covered with flour and that the house usually smelled like baking, attracting the neighbourhood children. “The cinnamon and butter throughout the cake was thick, so you’d get that buttery piece of cinnamon. We’d always eat it with crunchy peanut butter. Whenever she said she was going to make a coffee cake, I was like, ‘Is it that one?’”

TheBakerSisters11On Rachel’s third birthday from left to right: older sister Brittany, Jean, mom Heather and Rachel.

“My mom would have her bake days and then freeze everything,” Jean chimes in. “The problem is things just taste really good in the freezer. Frozen chocolate chip cookies are up there as one of my favourite things… I remember being a kid, watching the cookies rise was like TV. Sitting in front of the oven with the light on watching the cookies rise. ”

To be fair, there was a period when these sisters thought they were over baked goods… well, for good. They refer to themselves as “broody teenagers” who had little interest in butter tarts and the butter tart business their mom ran at the time, complaining that they’d smell like their mom’s signature treat.  And while they have early memories of whipping up brownies, chocolate chip muffins and snickerdoodles out of spare tart dough (they were given free reign to shape those scraps the way they wanted), they also yearned for regular kid treats like Flakies, Twinkies and Jos Louis.

Jean and Rachel shared a family photo from when their mom started her own butter tart business:

Where it all started.. The original photo from 90's #familyofwomen #maplekeytartco #canadianbakers #canadiantarts

A post shared by Maple Key Tart Co (@maplekeytartco) on

“I never wanted to eat another butter tart again. And now here we are,” Jean shrugs.

Here we are indeed. It’s memories like those that have made the sisters closer and perhaps even unified them over the years as they’ve expanded their own baking skills and launched their own butter tart empire, Maple Key Tart Co.

While some siblings in that situation would inherently bust out the rivalry when asked who was better at the craft, these sisters are nothing but complimentary, pointing out their strengths with affection. Rachel is quick to reveal that Jean is better at nailing the precise measurements and recipes needed to be a successful baker, but Jean says that when it comes to kitchen efficiency Rachel reigns supreme.

“I’m staying at her house right now and at dinner last night she was making four separate meals at one time. It’s (her) speed and (her) confidence in the kitchen,” she explains.

The-Baker-Sisters

Today, Rachel and Jean both try to continue the baking tradition with their own kids. At Jean’s house, cookies are always a safe bet (the kids love anything with chocolate while she likes rolling peanut butter cookies in sugar), but Rachel takes a slightly different approach by sneaking extra vegetables into muffins.

“Muffins, like a carrot cake muffin, because I love jamming vegetables in it. With a carrot cake muffin, I’m grating a whole zucchini in there. Vegetables are tricky. Also, scones or biscuits. You can put broccoli in there and totally trick your kids.”

The kids may be tricked into eating veggies or baked goods for now, but if they’re anything like their moms, baking will eventually hold a strong, familial place in their hearts too.

It is, after all, in their DNA.

No-Bake-Gluten-Free-Pumpkin-Pie

The Ultimate Gluten-Free Thanksgiving Menu

With turkey, ham, brussels sprouts and mashed potatoes as the stars of the show, Thanksgiving dinner is nearly gluten-free already. But if you have gluten-free guests coming to dinner, you want them to be able to indulge in the entire feast. To help out, we’ve created a menu filled with fall-inspired recipes, from light appetizers to a sweet pumpkin finale so you can complete your ultimate gluten-free Thanksgiving dinner with ease.

Gluten-Free Crackers
Having drinks and light appetizers ready to go as guests arrive is always a good idea. These gluten-free crackers made from raw almonds and quinoa flour are crispy and delectable. They pair perfectly with aged cheeses and sweet preserves, keeping guests’ hunger at bay while you focus on cooking the main event.

sweet-potato-macaroni

Sweet Potato Macaroni
Surprise your guests with this alternative macaroni and cheese that incorporates seasonal favourite, sweet potatoes. Celery, tart apples, three types of cheese and a pinch of ground nutmeg bring out the fall flavours in this great side dish.

Gluten-Free Stuffing
Diners on gluten-free diets know to stay away from stuffing unless it’s made with gluten-free bread, which can easily be found in grocery stores now. Chop up a loaf and combine with onion, pine nuts and dried sage for a simple but satisfying accompaniment to turkey and ham.

Creamy Vegan Mushroom Fettuccine Alfredo
Most cream sauce recipes call for thickening with flour, but this versatile sauce, which would pair well with holiday meats or the gluten-free pasta it’s used with here, is made from blended cashews. Hearty mushrooms give this dish a deep, woodsy flavour.

Gluten-Free-Spaetzle

Gluten-Free Spaetzle
Spaetzle, handmade German-style noodles, make a cozy side dish, no matter the occasion. This version is made with brown rice flour, cornmeal, eggs and a combination of potato and tapioca starches. Fun to say, fun to eat!

No-Bake Gluten-Free Pumpkin Pie
Can a gluten-free pumpkin pie be even easier to make than regular pumpkin pie? The answer is, yes! The crust in this recipe is made from a combination of ground raw hazelnuts, cocoa powder, coconut oil and dates; and there’s no need to bake it since all of the ingredients are edible raw. The filling is a decadent mix of pumpkin puree, spices, icing sugar, cream cheese, molasses and butter; again with this component, no baking is required, freeing up valuable oven space.

Have a sweet tooth? Here’s everything you need to know about successful gluten-free baking from pastry-pro, Anna Olson.

Behold The Chocolate Pumpkin Piecaken!

Tender, luscious layer cake with silky buttercream, or spiced pumpkin pie with a flaky crust? Both are equally delicious in my book. Luckily, you don’t have to choose just one. That’s right — this cake actually has an entire pumpkin pie baked right inside! Consider it the “Turducken” of desserts. Yet another thing to be thankful for this holiday season.

Chocolate Pumpkin Piecaken

When you just can’t choose between serving a pie or cake, satisfy your cravings for both with a piecaken! Whip up your favorite cake batter and throw in a pre-baked pie, and you’ll feel like a confectionery wizard in no time. In this recipe, we’ve taken a traditional pumpkin pie and baked it within a classic chocolate cake. The cake is then iced with lightly spiced buttercream, drizzled with chocolate glaze, and decorated with dollops of frosting and chopped nuts for extra flair. The buttercream is meringue-based, meaning it’s silky smooth and not overly sweet like other frostings can be — perfect for pairing with pie! We love the striking contrast in this combo between the pumpkin, chocolate and vanilla layers, but feel free to swap in any of your favourite cake recipes and pies.

Chocolate Pumpkin Piecaken

Chocolate Cake
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Bake Time: 60 to 70 minutes
Total Time: 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours, including cooling
Serves: 10 to 12

Ingredients:

1 pre-made pumpkin pie (7 to 8 inches in diametre)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/3 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup hot coffee

Directions:
1. Pre-heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 9-inch spring form cake pan. Set aside.
2. In a large mixing bowl, sift together all of the dry ingredients, including the sugar.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, sour cream, oil, and vanilla. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry and mix until combined. While stirring, slowly stream in the hot coffee and mix until smooth.
4. Pour about 1/3 of the cake batter into the prepared pan. Place the baked pie on top.
5. Gently spread the remaining cake batter on top and around the pie.
6. Place the cake in the pre-heated oven and bake until done, 60 to 70 minutes. Cool the cake on a wire rack for about 45 minutes before releasing it from the spring form pan. Continue to completely cool before cutting or frosting, 2 to 3 hours total. After the first 45 minutes, you may speed things up by placing the cake in the refrigerator loosely covered in plastic wrap.

Piecaken slice

Vanilla Buttercream
Total time: 25 to 30 minutes

Ingredients:
3 large egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Directions:
1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, add the egg whites and sugar. Whisk briefly by hand until combined.
2. Fill a saucepan with a few inches of water and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Place the mixer bowl on top of the saucepan to create a double-boiler. Stirring intermittently, heat the egg mixture until it reaches 150°F to 160°F on a candy thermometer.
3. Once hot, carefully return the mixer bowl to the stand mixer. Fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg white mixture on high until stiff peaks, about 8 minutes. When done, the outside of the mixer bowl should return to room temperature.
4. Stop the mixer and swap the paddle for the whisk. With the mixer on low, add in the vanilla, cinnamon, and butter, a couple tablespoons at a time. Once all of the butter has been added, turn the mixer up to medium-high and mix until smooth.
5. If the mixture looks curdled, just keep mixing until it is smooth (this could take up to about 5 minutes). If it appears soupy, place the mixer bowl in the fridge for 10 to 15 minutes, then mix until smooth.

Piecaken Chocolate Glaze

Chocolate Glaze
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:
2 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 Tbsp light corn syrup
Pinch salt

Directions:
1. Place the chocolate, cream, and corn syrup in a small saucepan. Heat over medium-high heat until the mixture begins to steam and the chocolate starts to melt. Remove from the heat. Add the salt and stir until smooth.
2. Let the glaze cool to room temperature, about 10 minutes, before dripping over the cake.

Chocolate Pumpkin Piecaken

Assembly:
1. Once the cake has completely cooled, trim the top as needed. Frost the cake with the vanilla buttercream.
2. Chill in the refrigerator until set, about 15 to 20 minutes.
3. Once the buttercream has chilled, carefully drip the chocolate glaze around the top edges. Pour the remaining glaze into the centre of the cake and smooth out with an offset spatula. Decorate the top by piping any remaining buttercream and sprinkle with chopped nuts, if desired.

Looking for more delicious treats? Try our 15 Warm and Cozy Fall Desserts.

3 Sourdough Stuffing Recipes

Move Over Turkey, These 3 Stuffings Are Bound for Thanksgiving Stardom

Holiday meals just wouldn’t be the same without turkey’s best sidekick: stuffing. Soaked in gravy and flavoured with herbs and spices, it’s a holiday essential. Some home cooks follow recipes that have been passed down for generations, while others try their hand at new recipes every year, searching for a modern classic. Here, using one loaf of humble sourdough bread, we’ve created three different stuffing recipes to suit any menu. Try one or try them all, and add something a little different on your table this year.

Sourdough Toast Stuffing Base 
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Tear 1 (454 g) loaf sourdough into 1-inch pieces and divide between two baking sheets, spreading into a single layer. Toast bread in oven until golden and dry, about 15 minutes. Use in stuffing recipe of choice (below).

Date Walnut Stuffing

Date, Walnut and Cinnamon Stuffing
Preheat oven to 350ºF. In a large, deep skillet, melt 2 Tbsp unsalted butter over medium heat. Add 1 finely chopped onion and cook until translucent, about 8 minutes. Add in 1 recipe Sourdough Toast Stuffing Base (recipe above), 3/4 cup torn pitted dates and 1/2 cup chopped walnuts. Add 1-1/2 cups chicken stock, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 cup chopped parsley. Stir everything to combine, transfer to a large ovenproof baking dish, cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, remove foil and bake until crisp on top and heated through, about 20 minutes. Serve.

Sausage Stuffing

Chestnut and Sausage Stuffing
Preheat oven to 350ºF. In a large, deep skillet, cook 400 g Italian sausage (casing removed), breaking up meat with a wooden spoon until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Add in 2 ribs diced celery, 1 finely chopped onion and cook until vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in 1 recipe Sourdough Toast Stuffing Base (recipe above), 2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh sage and 1/2 cup of roasted chestnuts (homemade, canned or vacuum-packed). Add 1-1/2 cups chicken stock, stir everything to combine, transfer to a large ovenproof baking dish, cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, remove foil and bake until crisp on top and heated through, about 20 minutes. Serve.

applecranstuffing

Apple Cranberry Stuffing
Preheat oven to 350ºF. In a large, deep skillet, heat 2 Tbsp unsalted butter over medium heat. Add 1 thinly sliced onion and cook until translucent, about 8 minutes. Add 1 large diced apple and cook for another minute. Stir in 1 recipe Sourdough Toast Stuffing Base (recipe above), 1/2 cup dried cranberries and 3 Tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary. Add 1-1/2 cups chicken stock and 1/2 tsp salt, stir everything to combine, transfer to a large ovenproof baking dish, cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, remove foil and bake until crisp on top and heated through, about 20 minutes. Serve.

Turkey and stuffing are best buds, so we’ve compiled our best holiday bird recipes to pair with these newfangled stuffing centrepieces.

Pumpkin Pie Bars

These Pumpkin Pie Bars Belong on Your Thanksgiving Menu

Pumpkin pie bars take your favourite fall slice and transform it into an easy, yet elegant, three-layer dessert These beautiful baked bars start with a buttery shortbread base, which is then topped with a creamy pumpkin pie filling before being covered with a generous nutty brown sugar crumble. Serve with ice cream, whipped cream or a homemade pumpkin spice latte, and slide into fall.

PumpkinPieBars-10

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Bake Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
Cool Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 2 hours 20 minutes
Makes: 15 to 18 bars

Ingredients:
Shortbread Base
1 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 cups all-purpose flour

PumpkinPieBars-1

Pumpkin Pie Filling
3⁄4 cup granulated sugar
1 (15 oz.) can pure pumpkin purée
1 (12 oz.) can evaporated milk
2 large eggs
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice

Pecan-Hazelnut Topping
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
1/4 cup hazelnuts, chopped
1⁄4 cup brown sugar

Directions:
Shortbread Base:
1. Preheat oven to 300°F. Line the bottom and sides of 9×13-inch baking pan with parchment paper, leaving overhang on all sides.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine butter, sugar, vanilla and salt. Add flour and mix on low speed until everything is combined. Press the mixture evenly into prepared baking pan. Bake for 15 minutes, until dry to the touch. Reserve for second baking with filling.
3. Increase oven temperature to 350°F.

PumpkinPieBars-4

Pumpkin Pie Filling:
1. In a blender or food processor or large bowl, combine all filling ingredients and blend until smooth.

PumpkinPieBars-5

2. Evenly pour filling over the baked shortbread base and smooth top with a spatula.
3. Bake at 350ºF for 20 minutes. Reserve for third baking with nut topping.

Pecan Hazelnut Topping:
1. In a medium bowl, combine nuts and brown sugar. Mix well.

PumpkinPieBars-8

2. Sprinkle pecan hazelnut topping in an even layer over baked filling layer. Bake for a final time for 15 to 20 minutes, until pumpkin pie filling has set.

PumpkinPieBars-12

3. Remove from the oven and cool for at least 1 hour at room temperature. Lift the parchment out of the pan using overhang, and transfer onto a cutting board. Cut into 15 to 18 bars or squares. Serve.

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Of course, pumpkin pie bars are begging for little whipped cream. Master the basic technique (or fix an over-whipped batch) with this tutorial.