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Holiday week on the Great Canadian Baking Show

There was garland, there was eggnog, and there was yuletide cheer. You guessed it: it was Holiday Week on the Great Canadian Baking Show.

This week’s episode had possibly the best host introduction yet — Daniel Levy and Julia Chan start the show by walking away from the bakers tent to go on vacation, after mistakingly assuming that “holiday week” was a break from the show. Cheesy? Yes. Did it make me laugh? Also, yes.

Both hosts were particularly delightful this week. The puns were less forced and Levy again proved he had the best job in the world as the baker’s taster.

The first challenge was to create a yule log, or a Buche De Noel, a traditional French dessert that involves rolling sponge cake with layers of cream, with a chocolate coating. The desert should have an equal spiral of cream and sponge, which is difficult to achieve because it requires the baker to tightly roll the cake without breaking it.

Vandana’s classic chocolate yule log with chocolate cream and raspberry flavours was a crowd pleaser. Linda’s pumpkin rendition with caramel cream cheese icing and chocolate bark looked absolutely gorgeous. James tried something different and instead of covering his log in chocolate, he created a bark patterned log — twice as he forgot butter in the first batch. The outside was impressive; however the inside looked a bit squashed, as per typical James style.

The technical challenge was Rugelach, a Jewish cookie that looks a bit like a croissant and has an apricot and chocolate filling. I had a few issues with this technical challenge, but my primary concern was that everyone’s dough was undercooked. I guess even the Great Baking Shows are not exempt from the typical “reality television” mantra that something has to be more challenging so as to create unnecessary drama. For example, not including how much time a treat takes to cook will ensure that absolutely no one gets the task right. Sure, leave them to guess ingredient measurements or how to assemble a dessert, but the time it takes for something to cook is a fact any baker would need to know. It sets the tone for everything else they do. I felt so bad for all the bakers who did the best they could  with the information they were given.

The final show stopper challenge was a gingerbread structure. Notice the word “structure” and not house. Bakers were given free reign of what they wanted to create, and it resulted in some truly unique gingerbreads. Vandana’s treehouse for her so was the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. She had so many small details and the fact that the house sat on a gingerbread tree stump really set her apart. Linda also created a truly stunning barn with stained glass windows and an iced roof.

Terri’s animal sanctuary was a brilliant idea. Unfortunately, her windows melted and she overdid it with decorations. Sabrina also didn’t have a great week – her Rockefeller Center was a bit simplistic, despite it being one of the tallest structures.

At the end of the day Terri, who wowed us with her family-themed desserts on a weekly basis, was sent home this week. Vandana was named star baker for the second week in a row!

Next week will be the semi finals. I am beyond sad this show will be ending soon. I’ve grown to love each one of these bakers. Everyone should be incredibly proud of their accomplishments. I’ve loved Terri since day one – she loves to add little fun details to her bakes that make her treats stand out.

But, someone has to go home each week, right?! Next week should be a crazy whirlwind.

Canada Week with the Great Canadian Baking Show

Oh Canada!

It was baking week on the Great Canadian Baking Show, which meant lots of delicious, patriotic, treats!

The first challenge was a Tourtière, a French-Canadian meat pie. The bakers were asked to make a flaky pie crust with a meaty centre, and pair it with a condiment. I am a huge fan of Tourtière. My mother makes it for the family every Christmas Eve, pairing it with Russian gravy, so I know what goes into making this rich and decadent meal. Each baker used a different meat combination, with some airing on the lean side. Fat is necessary in order to keep the filling juicy and tender.

I have to admire James Hoyland and Verdana Jain for making a vegetarian pie instead. They stuck to their beliefs, regardless of the challenge, and shocked the judges with their delicious pies. James used beets to give the pie a meat-like colour while Verdana used cashews as a base.

**Also, I need the goggles James uses to cut onions!!

The technical challenge was a maple cookie. While many of the previous technical challenges have been foreign to the bakers, this one was well known to all. The only thing bakers struggled with was the amount of maple butter in between the cookies.

The showstopper challenge was donuts, which was a little odd considering this treat actually originates in the United States. Sure, Canadians enjoy a good donut with our double double, but that doesn’t mean it is a national treat. Bakers could have been asked to make butter tarts, nanaimo bars, blueberry grunt, or even a Made In Canada cake — all much more Canadian than a donut. Hopefully, these items will be included in other challenges.

The origins of the donut aside, there were some bakers who tried to “canadian-ize” their treats. Linda made some beautiful maple bacon and double-double flavoured donuts and Verdana used Saskatchewan berries as her inspiration. Julian created some fun canoe-shaped donuts and Sabrina made donut poutine! This was a challenge that allowed the bakers to be creative and have fun. It also made me want to try to make donuts!

I’m going to dedicate some time to talk about James — who I firmly believe is my spirit animal. The way he cooks is the way most of us amateur bakers cool: with a messy flare. At the end of the day, no matter how many bags explode on him or how many glazes bubble on to the stovetop, his food always tastes good (at least according to the judges), and that’s all that matters! I feel a weird connection to him as a messy baker myself. When I first started baking, nothing turned out right. I once served a neon orange pumpkin pie to friends. It tasted great…it just looks like something out of a cartoon. But, that’s the beauty of this show. While presentation is really important, at the end of the day it’s all about the taste.

I’ve mentioned the camaraderie of this show so many times, but it presented itself in a different way — goofiness!  So many puns, so much cookie stealing, and lots of fun in the rain. It gets harder to see bakers go home every week — but alas, that’s the reality of the show. This week James won star baker for his delicious vegetarian pie and his peach stuffed donuts (yay!) and the whimsical Jude Somers from Victoria, B.C., was asked to leave.

Baking Minute: dessert week with the Canadian Baking Show

This week was dessert week on the Great Canadian Baking Show – and that meant pies, tarts, and meringue. By the end of the 45 minutes I had this intense craving for something super sweet.

The first challenge was to make an elegant pie or tart. The word “elegant” was key in this challenge as the judges expected dainty presentation. Most bakers used the “blind bake” method for their crusts, where they cook it prior to putting the filling inside to ensure the bottom doesn’t get soggy. I had never heard of this method, and will definitely try it the next time I make a pie.

The bakers really put their all into these desserts. Linda Longson from High River, Alberta, made a beautifully decadent raspberry chocolate pie that captured the audience and made the judges’ mouth water. “I want to dive into that pie,” Bruno Feldeisen said, and rightly so. The pie was decorated with white chocolate curls.

Every pie showcased a little bit of the baker’s personality. There was a pie representing the northern lights, a rustic apple pie, a mile-high lemon meringue, and a pi pie (that turned out to be more of an ode to chaos theory – poor messy James).

The best part of this challenge was watching the bakers. Linda, who I can only assume is a speedy baker as she is always hanging around helping others, points out that Terri Thompson’s pie crust is starting to rise. “You may want to poke some holes in your crust Terri, it’s starting to rise,” she says. In no other baking show, at least that I have witnessed, has a competitor been so kind to another. Her piece of advice probably saved Terri’s pie from disaster.

The technical challenge was a fondant fancy. This involved a dozen equally-sized sponge cakes with jam in the middle. The icing was a cream fondant that had to be evenly spread on the top and four corners of the cake. Bakers had to top it off with a small flower. This challenge was particularly difficult, and many bakers had a hard time with the icing. The icing can’t be spread, so it must be drizzled on top so that it overflows down the sides. But, if you don’t have enough or you have too much, it can cause a mess. The bakers did well enough, at least when compared to last week’s disastrous Montreal Bagel.

The showstopper challenge was a pavlova, a meringue-based dessert named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. This meringue is then topped with a whipped cream and fruit. It’s a tricky dessert because the meringue can crack, especially if there isn’t enough time to cool the base before applying the cream. There were quite a few excellent pavlovas. My personal favourite was that of James D’Entremont from Halifax. He may have struggled with the first few challenges, but his pavlova had beautiful swirls in it and was beautifully decorated with blueberries and a sugared berry leaf. I was also impressed with Verdana’s yogurt whipped cream.

At the end of the show, the bakers sat side by side, holding hands as the hosts revealed the names of the star baker, and the person leaving the competition. The star baker of the episode was Linda, while Corey Shefman from Toronto, Ont. was sent home following a few mishaps with his pastry and meringue.

What was your favourite baking minute? Let us know in the comments below!

Baking Minute: bread week with the Canadian Baking Show

The second episode of the Canadian Baking Show focused on one of my favourite things — bread! The bakers were challenged to make some of the most difficult and technical kinds of bread, while still including a unique and personal flare on their creations. I was excited to watch this episode as bread is, unfortunately, not something I have mastered.

The first challenge was to make Focaccia, a fluffy Italian flatbread seasoned with oil, herbs, and various vegetables, meats, or cheeses. It’s a delicate bread — the dough must have even air pockets and too many toppings can turn this dish into a pizza. I was enthralled with Julian D’Entremont’s baking this week. His use of Nova Scotian dulse, a kind of seaweed, was really inspiring and representative of his hometown of Halifax. I loved that other bakers were trying it out while their breads cooked. At the end of the day, I think the unofficial winner of this particular challenge was Sabrina Degni, whose Focaccia was inspired by her Italian grandmother, and Linda Longson, who used rosemary-infused oil and sea salt for an absolutely gorgeous and simply delicious bread.

The technical challenge was, of course, the Montreal-style bagel. I thought this challenge would be easier, but I’ve since learned that bagels are deceiving. First you have to kneed the dough, but not over-kneed it. Then boil it in honey water. Then dry it. And then FINALLY you cook it. There are so many ways it could go wrong, even the bakers from Quebec had a hard time. The judges wouldn’t even try James Hoyland’s bagel as it was raw. Poor guy.

The showstopper challenge was to create a bread centrepiece with a sweet filling. I have to say, there is a huge difference between how these bakers performed last week and this week. Maybe it took them a while to get used to the cameras being in their faces or to get used to the tent-in-a-field atmosphere, but the final products of this challenge were a lot more put together and clean than the cake challenge in the premiere.

What was even better than the final product was the reaction of the bakers. When the judges cut into the bread and they saw how it looked in the inside, whether a bunch of even layers of filling or swirls of fruit. They were so proud! While there were a lot of amazing creations, my personal favourite was Julian’s, who made some mouth-watering cinnamon buns with a Kraken in the middle. Oh, and he also had fried bread as tentacles!

There has been some criticism about the judging of the Canadian Baking Show, and I do agree that at times it can get repetitive, especially during the technical challenge where they just keep repeating the words “crispy”, “soft”, and “chewy”. But, I was rather impressed with the commentary in the Focaccia challenge. The judges gave advice to the bakers, patiently explaining what went wrong and what went right. I’m hoping the judging gets a bit more creative as more contestants leave and there is more television time for this part of the show.

The winner of bread week was Sabrina, who rocked all three challenges and created a really unique centrepiece with a weaved bread basket. The person who left this week was Sinclair Shuit of London Ont. (hometown of Winnipeg), whose centrepiece pear puff pastry wasn’t cooked enough to please the judges.

Next week is dessert week…God help me!

Let us know what you thought of the episode in the comments below! In the meantime, I’m going to go and eat a muffin…or some french toast…or maybe just a whole loaf of bread.

VIDEO: Who else is excited for the Great Canadian Baking Show?

Tonight is the premiere of the Great Canadian Baking Show, the Canadian spin off of the U.K. television show of the same name.

Ten amateur bakers from across the country will gather in a tent in the middle of nowhere and compete for the grand title of Great Canadian Baker. In each episode, the bakers will compete in three rounds: the Signature Bake, the Technical Bake, and the Show Stopper.

Why should you watch this show? I’m a huge fan of the original show — the Great British Baking Show — and in the video below I explain why it is the best cooking show on television right now. I’m extremely excited for the Canadian spin-off and hope they keep the essence of the original series in tact.

Every week, I will be reviewing an episode from the show, going through my favourite desserts, talking about challenge winners, and perhaps discussing the cuteness factor of the goats (or other woodland creatures that may pop up). Here is the introduction to our new series, “A Baking Minute”, or in this case, a minute or two.

Are you excited for the Great Canadian Baking Show? Let us know in the comments below!

Recipe: mouth-watering eggplant and cheese pie

Eggplant and Cheese Pie

Sometime people crave something a bit lighter for a delicious summer dinner, or maybe you are interested in a vegetarian alternative to a delicious cheese bake. The eggplant and cheese pie is the perfect meal with just the right amount of ingredients that make this meal rich, yet simple to prepare and enjoy for you and your family.

Ingredients:

• 2 small eggplants, peeled and diced
• 1 cup of shredded cheese of your choice (a smoked cheese like gouda adds a burst of flavour)
• 3 eggs
• 3 tbsp milk
• 1 medium yellow onion
• 1 glove garlic, crushed
• 1 package phyllo pastry
• ½ tsp salt
• olive oil
• ½ tsp black pepper

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Celsius

1. Using a 25 cm quiche dish, gently layer sheets of phyllo pastry, ranging from 3-5 sheets, depending on the desired thickness of the crust. Brush each layered sheet with a small amount of olive oil

2. Wash the diced eggplant with salt and leave to soak for ten minutes, then rinse with cold water and dry thoroughly.

3. In a large skillet, heat up some olive oil, lightly brown the onion, garlic and add the eggplant, toss on medium heat for five minutes and sprinkle with black pepper.

4. In a separate bowl, combine the eggs with milk and whisk lightly

5. Add your sautéed eggplant to the quiche dish and distribute evenly, pour the egg mixture and then generously add the shredded cheese

6. Place uncovered on the top rack of your oven for 20-25 minutes

Once completed, slightly leave to cool and serve your delicious and cheesy eggplant pie. Enjoy with a serving of fresh cherry tomatoes or even a lightly tossed garden salad. If you would like to make this meal even richer, feel free to add other vegetables or even plump tomatoes to add a colourful and delicious burst to your meal. Enjoy!

4 things to swap for a healthier kitchen

Even though it can be a bit of an annoyance, making your food from scratch is always healthier than purchasing pre-made processed meals. But, what ingredients are you putting into your household goodies? Your first tip — the days of using lard and bleached white flour to bake homemade cakes are behind us. Let Women’s Post stock your kitchen with ingredients full of nutrients and vitamins that will make your dishes taste delicious and healthy!

The first thing you should do is rid the kitchen of white flour. It has very little nutritional value, is full of high fructose corn syrup, and is easy to replace with a healthier alternative. Whole wheat flour is a reliable option, but even go a step further and opt for a blended flour with flax seeds and other nutritional elements. Brown rice flour, coconut flour, and amaranth flour are all high-protein flours and also happen to be gluten-free. The best part is when you swap out your flour for a healthier selection, it will make your baked goods taste even better and more full-bodied.

Coconut oil

Another item to get out of the kitchen is canola oil. It is a genetically-modified product and is hydrogenated, filling it with false chemicals that are refined, bleached and degummed. Instead, go for a more natural option for your cooking and baking needs. Swap it for coconut oil. This superfood can be used in place of any oil, butter, or vegetable shortening. It is pure magic. Other healthy oils include avocado oil, grape seed oil, pistachio oil, and hemp oil.

Chia Seeds

The addition of seeds or nuts to a meal will automatically add extra nutritional value. My suggestion: always have ground flax seed on hand and add a spoonful into almost everything you make. It is virtually tasteless and adds a much-needed dose of fiber to meals and treats. It is especially delicious in smoothies. Chia seeds are beneficial to add into salads, baked goods, and smoothies as well. They are full of fiber, omega-3 fats, protein, calcium and vitamin A, B, E, and D, as well as other antioxidants.

Maple syrup

One of the most addictive, delicious, yet unhealthy ingredients found in the cupboard is refined sugar. This ingredient causes a host of issues including diabetes, bad teeth, heart disease, and issues with the liver. I can’t stress this enough! Get rid of sugar! Once the kitchen is purged of the toxin, the other options will make you feel better and are healthier for your body by a long shot. Alternatives to sugar are honey, maple syrup, cane sugar, and brown rice syrup. Molasses is rich in nutrients including calcium, zinc and is strong source of iron. Brown rice syrup is one of the only sweeteners that doesn’t have fructose, but all of the alternatives are going to be a better option that regular sugar.

Replacing key ingredients in the kitchen is one of the simplest ways to bake healthy, homemade foods. It will make your meals taste better and will increase nutrients with very little effort needed. Being a responsible consumer and purchasing healthy ingredients instead of processed foods will lead to a healthier and happier life. So get to the kitchen, and begin your healthy eating kitchen swap. The change will definitely not be regretted.

Holiday baking: peppermint skor bark

Tis’ the season to be jolly…and that’s exactly what holiday baking is all about! For the next month (or two!), Women’s Post will be featuring our favourite holiday recipes. First of all, it gives us an excuse to bake — which is always necessary during the holiday season — and second of all, it allows us to share our traditions and hear yours!

Enjoy!

*Note: Women’s Post does not claim that any of these recipes will be healthy or good for you. We can, however, claim they will make your soul happy.

Peppermint Skor Bark

My friends and I call this the “crack” of desserts. You can’t just have one. They taste similar to skor bars — essentially they are chocolatey, sugary delights. I tend to think they are worth the calories. They are also incredibly easy to make, and require very few ingredients.

What you’ll need:

1 cup of butter

1 cup of brown sugar

24 salted soda crackers

chocolate chips (about 1 cup)

candy canes

Preheat the oven at 350.

Start by grabbing a handful of candy canes and placing them unwrapped inside a ziplock bag. Use a rolling pin or a hammer to break the candy canes into small pieces. Try to get a variety of sizes, including a fine powder to provide a garnishing effect. Be careful when doing this. It will be a loud exercise and may disrupt kids or pets.

Candy Crush: Don’t forget to take the wrappers off before mashing!

After you are done with the candy canes, put them aside. Find a sheet bake pan or a cookie sheet (depends on how steady your hands are, I prefer the bake pan) and layer it with parchment paper. This is really important, or else you won’t be able to get your skor bar off the pan. Layer your soda crackers evenly on the pan.

Grab a pot and melt your butter. Once melted, stir in the sugar and boil for two minutes until it creates a thick caramel sauce. Pour the sauce on top of the soda crackers and place in the oven for five minutes or so. Remove from the oven and cover the dessert with chocolate chips.

The soda crackers may move around during cooking. Don’t worry about it!

Place back in the oven for a minute or two until the chocolate chips are melted. Using a spatula, spread the chocolate around until it completely covers the dessert. At this point, take your crushed candy cane and sprinkle it on top of the melted chocolate. Place in the fridge or freezer for over an hour before breaking the bark into pieces.

This recipe is great because you can change up the toppings to create a few fun recipes. Try pretzels for a saltier taste or m&ms for a fun kid-friendly treat.

If its not crunchy, put it back in the freezer!

 

What are your favourite holiday recipes? Let us know in the comments below!

Oh My! Homemade vegan banana pudding pie!

Sugary cravings are only normal around Christmas time and as a vegan, there are many delicious dessert options with hidden health benefits to choose from. This week, I craved a classic banana pudding pie.

I decided I wanted to use a cookie crust with a banana pudding to suit my own taste buds. Here’s the recipe:

Cookie Crust:

  • A box of white Oreo cookies
  • 3 tbsp. vegan earth balance butter

I purchased a box of white Oreo cookies (which are vegan!) and blended them with vegan butter until they were the consistency of sand granules. Then press them into a pie shell container until even. Refrigerate for one hour while making the rest of the pie.

Blending white oreo cookies with earth balance butter to create a pie crust. By Kaeleigh Phillips.
Blending white oreo cookies with earth balance butter to create a pie crust. By Kaeleigh Phillips.

Banana pudding pie mixture:

  • 4 ripe mashed ripe banana (about 4 bananas)
  • 2 cups of almond milk
  • 1/8 tsp salt and tumeric
  • 2 tbsp pure maple syrup
  • 2 1/2 tbsp coconut butter or buttery spread
  • 1/2 cup almond milk of choice
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Mash four bananas together in a bowl and add the almond milk, salt, turmeric, maple syrup and coconut butter and blend together. Once blended, warm up and add cornstarch and additional almond milk and bring to a boil. Once boiling, stir with a whisk consistently for two minutes while the mixture thickens. Remove from heat and cool.

Heating up the banana mixture with cornstarch. By Kaeleigh Phillips
Heating up the banana mixture with cornstarch. By Kaeleigh Phillips

Once cool, pour on top of the cookie crust and refrigerate for two to three hours until it is solid. Enjoy!

Vegan desserts use top-quality ingredients and that usually makes it takes a bit more authentic than the typical pudding pies you see in stores.  Try adding a bit of flax seed and vanilla protein powder for a hidden nutrient kicks (especially if feeding to kids).

What kind of pie would you like to see Women’s Post make? Let us know in the comments below.

 

vegan-banana-pie

Baking midnight treats makes for the best date

Last Saturday was quite possibly the best date I’ve ever had, knocking a date I had on a boat when I was 17 out of first place after seven years at the top.

I met the boy after his family dinner on Friday night around 10:30 p.m. with a plan to watch movies and keep it relaxed and easy. We didn’t manage this for even half an hour before tackling each other – come on, we hadn’t seen each other for a whole week! After that we decided to walk over to the grocery store in search of brownie ingredients and breakfast fixings.

There is something about grocery shopping with a man that is so deliciously domestic and different for me. I’m rarely at home, so the food I keep there is limited to alcohol and condiments. My breakfast is usually limited to a coffee on the way to work, so the idea of waking up to a real breakfast, that isn’t needed to cure a hangover, was too tantalizing to pass up.

Returning back to his loft, I unpacked the groceries I needed to bake some heavenly gluten-free brownies and he put away what would be breakfast the next morning and the ice cream he’d insisted on buying.

As I mixed and stirred and poured he fed me ice cream on a spoon, which was actually cute rather than disturbing. I’m a fiercely independent woman and I can say confidently I’ve never had a man feed me, not even when I was sick and my ex was taking care of me in the hospital, but there was something sweet and intimate about being in his kitchen, cooking, and sharing dessert.

As the loft filled with the smell of chocolate, I curled up next to him on the couch to watch the movie and wait for my midnight treats to be done.

I’ve never been the kind of girl to curl up next to someone. I don’t bake unless I’m stressed out and I never let people feed me; I have my own hand, thank you. But this particular guy has me wrapped up in him. He’s brilliant and funny and challenging and he makes me want to be domestic, at least a little bit.

Maybe I’m growing up. He’s away for the next week on business and I find myself wanting to tell him everything, wanting to share my stories, and wanting to have him around; it’s a strange feeling to want someone just to be here. To be honest, I’m a little freaked out; the idea of an honest and open relationship that isn’t completely centered on the sexual chemistry is foreign to me. The sex is wonderful, but I had completely forgotten how amazing all the other pieces of a relationship could feel.

So, after seven years of wandering through relationships, stopping for one that broke my heart into a million little pieces, I have a real date with someone I actually enjoy being around with my clothes on. It’s about time.

Follow Shannon on Twitter at @Shananigans.

Follow Women’s Post on Twitter at @WomensPost.