Sorry to my gluten-free friends, this one might not be for you.
So… Who else has been obsessed with the Great Canadian Baking Show (GCBS)? Just me?
As an amateur chef myself, I like to watch cooking and baking competitions while picturing myself as one of the contestants. I ask myself what I would do for a certain challenge — and I make sure to tell whoever is watching with me.
But realistically, I do NOT have that kind of skill.
I’m in no way good enough to be a contestant on GCBS, but I like to think that I’ve mastered a few basics that are great gateway recipes to a baking addiction. These tips and cooking guides have allowed me to feel as if I was following along with the contestants. All three “bakes” I am mentioning are done in the show, so now you can follow along too.
These aren’t Linzer cookies like those featured on episode three of this past season, but any cookie is a crowd-pleaser.
Molasses cookies are my unusual favourite — the bitter and rich sweetness from molasses cookies, combined with my favourite seasonal spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger create the deepest fall-flavoured cookie you will ever eat. I will say these tend to be an acquired taste, but I adore them, and encourage you to try them!
To reiterate: I am not talented enough not to use recipes. However, I have gotten good enough to know what I want, and apply my own tricks to the recipes I use. For example, I recommend killing two birds with one stone and turning your baking into a workout routine as well. Simply mix your butter and sugars together by hand, and incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet batter with a spatula, using a “folding” motion instead of an electric stand mixer.
“Folding” motion = folding your batter over into itself and gradually adding in dry ingredients. This slow-motion will stop your dough from becoming too tough — or as the pros would say it — “overworked.” Pour in your dry ingredients in three batches and FOLD to give your cookies a much more ooey-gooey chewy texture.
My favourite recipe to follow is Alison Roman’s rendition on Bon Appétit.
One of my personal favourites to impress your guests — Focaccia bread was featured in episode three of season four.
I find if you dedicate the time and effort (and maybe an entire jumbo bag of flour) to baking focaccia a couple of times, you can perfect it and make a delicious, crispy-but-soft bread that wears more than one hat.
Whenever I make focaccia, I use it for everything. It makes delicious sandwiches — think roasted eggplant, zucchini and roasted garlic hummus smooshed between the two slices of bread — or even toast. To create slices of bread, cut it in half to expose the beautiful air-bubble bread guts — or even that classic student meal of cheese with add-a-lil-jam-to-make-it-fancy and bread.
For this, it’s important to have good yeast. No yeast means our focaccia won’t rise, and you will be left very disappointed… and hungry. To test your yeast, it’s important to bring it to life by putting the required quantity of warm water, sugar and yeast in a bowl, and letting it rise for five minutes.
Maybe this is a baking faux-pas — and to be honest, I don’t care — yet no matter the type of sugar a recipe calls for, I will use honey. Not that plastic bear that has been in your pantry since you moved in; invest in a jar of some delicious, fresh honey. Just a weird bit of knowledge but honey literally does not go bad! Honey has been found in ancient Egyptian tombs! #Honeyfactoftheday.
Some of my favourite recipes to refer to are Gimme Some Oven’s version of focaccia, but if you’re looking for a more advanced recipe try Claire Saffitz’s recipe from the book Dessert Person, or watch this YouTube video.
I will not be attempting a two-tone garden dumpling dough from scratch like the ones featured in the GCBS’s episode five of season four — I won’t even be making the filling.
I could try, and one day I am determined to, but as a contestant Sheldon Lynn said during the garden dumpling technical challenge, “Why make dumpling wrappers when you can buy them?” I like to go a step further, and just get them frozen.
Frozen dumplings are elite freezer food, but you have to know which ones to get. I will never stop recommending that you take yourself down to Chinatown to the G&D supermarket and browse their many options, but if like me you are sometimes too lazy, there are some places to find great frozen dumplings in the Plateau.
My favourite brand of dumplings to look for is O’Tasty. It’s packaging depicts a picture-perfect plate of pan-fried pot-stickers. My all-time favourite is the pork and black mushroom, followed by the chicken and vegetables.
To cook these, I normally get a non-stick pan and a little bit (two tbsp) of sesame oil, or another neutral oil. Next, once I’ve allowed my oil to get hot enough that it moves easily in the pan, I add a dozen dumplings with their seams facing up. I let them get slightly golden brown on the bottom (five-seven minutes), and now comes the fun part: cornstarch slurry! Mix one-quarter cup of water with two tbsp of cornstarch to create a thick liquid, and pour into your hot pan, getting it in between the dumplings.
Cover and lower your heat to medium-low, and let simmer until the top of your dumplings seem cooked (i.e. your dough is soft and shiny). Take off the lid and let the rest of your liquid evaporate — you should be able to tell once your cornstarch slurry turns into a giant crispy chip connecting each dumpling. Flip onto a plate, top with chili oil and scallions and serve.
We all know you can’t eat dumplings without sauce, so try Pickled Plum’s dipping sauce recipe to elevate your dumpling experience.
Feature graphic by Madeline Schmidt