Hello Holidays! It’s kind of hard to believe we’re here already, but we are and we made it. That’s reason enough to celebrate, whatever that may look like. As 2020 comes to a close, we can reflect on how we adapted to change, and discovered that things that are different and new don’t have to be daunting. We can continue our favourite traditions and create new ones, and in the process cultivate new memories and experiences to revisit and relish well into 2021.
Seasonal staples like shortbread, gingersnaps, and mince tarts are plentiful on platters during the holidays, and there’s no harm in stepping outside our comfort zone. This month, we talked to pastry chefs, bakers, and chocolatiers in Calgary and Edmonton to bring you sweet success with holiday baking for yourself or for gifts. Stock up on walnuts, candy canes, and chocolate, and discover how sweet this season can be!
At Edmonton’s Confetti Sweets, it’s all about evolving as the company grows, says owner Kathy Leskow. When the business first started, Leskow baked cookies in her home kitchen and sold them at local farmers markets. Now with a retail bakeshop and an expanded product line, Confetti Sweets treats are starting to appear in grocery stores, too.
Customer favourites are classic cookies like Chocolate Chunk, Coconut, Sugar, and Gingersnap, and they’re made to perfection with premium ingredients. “Each cookie has the perfect balance of flavours with a crisp outer edge and a soft, chewy centre. They taste like homemade cookies,” says Leskow.
For foodies looking to elevate their treats, Leskow suggests adding chocolate. “Dark, milk and white chocolate look beautiful drizzled upon baking. If you want to be really fancy, we love to half-dip our cookies and add a tiny bit of gold leaf or coloured sanding sugar.”
Leskow’s final tip is to get everything ready in November, and freeze it until you need it. She also recommends pre-making variety trays that are sealed and ready for those on-hand gifts, or to add to a table when guests arrive. “Just make sure they’re sealed tightly so you don’t eat it all before Christmas!”
Whether you’re making them ahead of time, or baking them the day of, Kathy Leskow’s Jam Thumbprint Cookies are a perfect pop of colour and sweetness. The recipe calls for raspberry jam, but Leskow assures us that any flavour works. Whatever you decide, they’re sure to make a lasting impression!
Find the recipe for Kathy Leskow’s Jam Thumbprint Cookies here.
Master Chocolatier, Patrick Senior, is part of the team of expert chocolate manufacturers and retailers at Calgary’s Cococo Chocolatiers. There they specialize in artisanal chocolates and fine cocoa confectionery produced from fairly traded cocoa and cocoa butter.
Many of the products at Cococo are made by hand, and Senior points out that customer favourites are as varied as the customers themselves. “Different customers have different favourite chocolates that are special to them, sometimes for emotional reasons,” he says.
Year-round, Senior finds fame in his own home with his pancakes, especially those that are fruit filled. But during the holidays, his thoughts turn to childhood memories, in particular his favourite treat: a Terry’s Chocolate Orange. When the weather turns cold it serves as inspiration, as Senior incorporates chocolate and orange in his recipes.
Keeping miniature candy canes on hand for a tray of goodies or as part of a wrapped gift is a fun and easy way to add a little colour and sweetness, says Senior. And, they work great to add colour and texture. “What could be easier than rolling truffles in crushed candy canes, or coloured sprinkles?”
If you’ve got some extra hands on deck, or kids that are looking for something to do, Cococo’s Best Chocolate Truffles are a simple treat that can be made in any kitchen by anyone. And, it makes everyone involved feel like a star chocolatier. “It’s a little bit messy,” Senior adds, “but it’s a fun family activity.”
Find the recipe for Cococo’s Best Chocolate Truffles here.
Calgary’s Patisserie du Soleil was always the dream of owner Ala Nahal. After working as a chef in Paris, and then later as a pastry chef in Calgary, Nahal was given an opportunity to take over a location of Amandine, another Calgary café. His desire, however, was to “create something different from anyone else,” and in 1999 Nahal founded Patisserie du Soleil.
While they use decades old European techniques, creativity is the backbone of the café. Always eager to come up with new ideas and creations himself, Nahal encourages the same of his staff, and inspires them to “not be afraid of different concepts or using different ingredients. That’s been our goal since day one.”
Still, the most popular item on the menu with the customers is the mille-feuille, or cream slice, a French-driven dessert. “We have over 150 different bakery items, but it’s number one,” Nahal says. And for good reason: Nahal and his team don’t shy away from real butter in the pasty, and custard made from scratch with whole milk, eggs, and vanilla. “When you make it fresh, it’s best.”
A multitude of flavours make up Patisserie du Soleil’s holiday items, such as sweet ginger, candied cranberries, chocolate and liqueur, mulling spices, and eggnog. Nahal does his best to source everything locally, to ensure quality and freshness. If you can avoid cutting corners, Nahal says this is one way to ensure quality in anything you make. “If you make anything from scratch with real ingredients, give people real stuff, it makes all the difference.”
Find the recipe for Ala Nahal’s Cranberry Walnut Sable here.
Ten Degrees Chocolate, on 16th Avenue SW in Calgary, is known for being a bean-to-bar chocolate maker. The team there brings the full experience of chocolate in everything they create, from drinks, to pastries and treats, and savoury eats.
Because they offer such a wide variety of goodies using chocolate, customer faves are varied. Pastry chef Paige Flohr cites the signature S’mores cake boasting layers of decadence with almond-graham streusel, fudge cake, and vanilla bean Italian meringue. And, the Peanut Butter Bombs are an explosion of honey, peanut butter, and chocolate.
When it comes to holiday baking for Flohr, nothing compares to caramel and chocolate incorporated into homemade goodies. “Giving something home-made just hits in a different way,” she says. And, when those homemade treats are made with family and friends, Flohr says it gives way to creating new memories.
To surprise and delight guests, being just a little fearless can make all the difference. When making something like chocolate truffles, Flohr says, “Don’t be afraid to be bold with your flavours – try some fresh herbs or spices to contrast your ingredients.” She also suggests fruit purees, flavour-infused creams, and pairing crunchy texture with smooth truffle ganache.
Keeping things simple, fun, and delicious is the key to a great holiday treat tin according to Flohr. Chocolate bark and ganache truffles are both included in those tins, but the real winner is Flohr’s turtle cookies. Chocolate, caramel, and pecans were just meant to go together. Don’t be fooled by their name: these cookies are sure to quickly disappear!