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These Christmas treats will take you back to sweet memories of holidays past
Growing up, my mother wasn’t as much into baking as she was into eating baked goods. We had bags of Dad’s Oatmeal Cookies in the cupboard and fresh doughnuts from the bakery on Fridays, but anything made at home usually came from a mix. It wasn’t until my 20s that it occurred to me that banana bread didn’t come from a box.
But Christmas was the one time of year when that changed. Thanks to my friend Louise’s Scottish grandmother, my mother baked homemade shortbread for the holidays. With four cups of flour, a pound of butter and a cup of brown sugar, this was a labour-intensive recipe without a KitchenAid mixer. Thankfully, I now have a mixer to make it quick work to whip up multiple batches of these family (and friend) favourites.
During the holidays, sweet treats consume us as much as we consume them. And as a country of immigrants, we are rich in so many tantalizing, culinary holiday traditions.
BCLiving asked six local chefs to share some of their favourite family holiday recipes…
Minami Restaurant‘s lead pastry chef Nikki Tam grew up in Hong Kong where her family celebrated Christmas in a big way food-wise. Every year, we would bake and build our own gingerbread houses, decorate them with all sorts of colourful candies and chocolates, and display them throughout Christmas at home.
Tam still makes the recipe for gingerbread cookies that her family baked at Christmas when she was growing up in Hong Kong. We would make these soft-baked gingerbread cookies to enjoy while admiring our own works [of gingerbread houses].
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
Gizelle Paré, head chocolatier at East Van Roasters, and her family may have had frozen profiteroles when she was a child, but now that she’s all grown-up, she makes her own. She tried to get her mother involved in baking with her as an adult, but it didn’t quite work out as she envisioned.
A couple years ago, I decided to teach my mom how to be a more efficient baker. I was so excited to teach her the tricks of the trade, how to streamline, and how to work fast and clean, Paré explains. By the end of it, she was so stressed out that she accused me of not baking with love. It was pretty funny. Now she just wants me to do it all because she sees how easy it is for me and she tells me I’m the better baker.
? cup whole milk
¼ cup unsalted butter
Note: Extra sauce can be refrigerated or frozen and used later on waffles, on a sundae or as a fondue. Simply reheat in a microwave in 20-second intervals or on a stovetop over medium-low heat.
Chez Christophe chocolatier Christophe Bonzon’s love affair with chocolate began early. As a child in Switzerland, his family made chocolate truffles to give as gifts. His best childhood Christmas treat memory is the chocolate cake his mother created—similar to a molten cake with shredded coconut on top. Plus, a simple chocolate frosting.
He still makes a number of traditional Swiss holiday cakes and cookies—like Biscôme, a traditional Swiss gingerbread made of honey, spice and flour—and some of those Swiss favourites are available at his bakery.
This peppermint chocolate bark is similar to a recipe that Christophe used to make with his mother in Switzerland. This year, the shop is carrying a DIY kit version, but if you can’t pop by the shop, here’s a super easy, at-home version to make.
I grew up in Hong Kong, says Betty Hung of Beaucoup Bakery. Whenever they celebrated a holiday, they would make these old-school, fruit-flavoured gelatin treats coated with shredded coconut. I would look forward to eating these colourful treats every year.
Moving to Canada, Hung began a new holiday tradition of baking cookies. The first ones were peanut butter with the crisscross pattern on top. With the release of her first cookbook, French Baking 101, it’s clear that Hung’s repertoire has significantly expanded.
Kugelhopf is a light, festive Alsatian bread. There are many versions of this delicious bread; my favorite is studded with plump raisins soaked in kirsch, coated with almonds, soaked in a rum syrup and dressed in sugar, she says. She adds that a Bundt pan works well for baking the bread, unless you a Kugelhopf pan
Prep time: 1 hourMakes one 8½-inch (22-cm) round bread
Tip: Use the leftover vanilla-bean pod from another recipe to make vanilla sugar. Just place it in your sugar and let the flavor infuse for a week.
Reprinted with permission from French Pastry 101 by Betty Hung, Page Street Publishing, 2018
For Russian-born Elena Krasnova, owner of Mon Paris Pâtisserie, it’s the Russian Napoleon Cake that is still at the top of her Christmas sweets favourites—even after training as a pastry chef in Paris.
It is a traditional Russian cake to have during the holidays, Krasnova explains. Six to eight layers of puffed pastry dough are filled with vanilla custard. It is supposed to be made 24 hours in advance to allow the layers to be moistened by the cream
my mouth still waters when I think about this cake.
Traditionally in Russia, we celebrate New Year’s more than Christmas, so all of our family festivities get moved to New Year’s Eve, she explains. We make Napoleon cake as a family in celebration.
Mario Pelletier, pastry chef at Railtown Cafe and Railtown Catering recalls watching his mother, over the weeks leading up to Christmas, preparing the holiday food.
I will always remember these little Christmas cookies and old-fashioned potato doughnuts that my mom used to make when I was a kid, Pelletier says. I’ve never had anything exactly like them again.
His mother, he says, has been a great inspiration to him and has greatly influenced his career as a chef.
Christmas is all about traditions, he says. I love making new traditions with my family. At our Christmas dinner, we have tempura prawns for an appetizer and either pecan pie or brioche and butter pudding for dessert.
Slices of Pelletier’s pecan pie is on the menu at all four Railtown Cafe’s four locations in Vancouver throughout the holiday season, but you can also make it yourself.
Makes two pecan pies