Celebrating the Sweetness of the Season
We love it when the holidays come round - there’s always so many things to suit the sweet tooth!
From confections to cakes, cookies, and beyond, the options are endless when it comes to the finish of holiday meals and New Year celebrations. Some are seasonal favourites, some are family or cultural traditions, and some may even be new additions to our holiday menus.
This month’s Chef’s Tips features chefs from Calgary, Edmonton, and Banff, showcasing recipes from all of these elements: favourites, traditions, and new additions that highlight how sweet it is to live in a province as diverse as Alberta, that can bring us all together in so many ways.
Growing up in Iran, Kamran Mousavi worked in bakeries where he familiarized himself with traditional recipes for pastries and other baked goods. His education would eventually lead to a master’s degree in chemical engineering, but his love of baking endured and he is now one of two bakers at Buddy’s Bakery in Calgary.
He loves to share his baking experiences and encourages others to try their hand at creating sweet treats in their own kitchens. “Many of my recipes are quick and easy and bring family together for a fun home baking activity,” says Mousavi.
With just five ingredients these Walnut Puff Cookies come together in a pinch, and they’re gluten-free, too. Mousavi encourages a bit of experimentation: “I use a finely ground walnut, but you can choose to use a coarser ground walnut. To decorate, you can set aside some larger walnut pieces, and gently press a piece of walnut into the top of each cookie before baking.”
“These cookies remind me of when I was a child and my mom and aunts spent the afternoon baking before Nowruz (Iranian New Year),” adds Mousavi. “As a little kids, I would sample these fresh and hot from the oven!” And though Nowruz is celebrated in March,
these cookies are fit for a gathering of loved ones any time of year.
Find the recipe for Chef Kamran Mousaiv's Walnut Puff Cookies here
Baking is something Ilynna Lam has always loved, beginning as a small child growing up in Regina, Saskatchewan. Moving to Edmonton for university, Lam majored in chemistry and minored in food nutrition science, subsequently working in the oil and gas industry for a few years after graduating. She always held a second job related to food however, which led her back to school at NAIT. Lam is now a Red Seal Baker at Eleanor & Laurent in Edmonton’s Garneau neighbourhood.
“My baking is inspired by all things delicious that bring joy to those who partake,” explains Lam. Her biggest influence is Chef Amaury Guichon, and she has a deep respect for his creativity and finesse. “I strive to understand the hows and whys of various techniques and methods,” says Lam. “With knowledge comes endless possibilities to create, and perfect your creations.”
Nougat, which originated in the Mediterranean, is one of Lam’s favourite holiday confections. “Even though it can be found year-round, I tend to make it during the holidays as it is a more decadent confection loaded with nuts and dried fruit best saved for those special occasions.”
Find the recipe for Chef Ilynna Lam's Soft Nougat here
Saïd M’Dahoma is a self-taught French Comorian baker in Calgary. Born in Paris and raised on pastries, he earned his PhD in neuroscience and came to Canada to do research. Finding there was a lack of French pastries, he decided to try making his own. He spent hours reading books and blogs, and combined his knowledge with his background in science. M’Dahoma is now The Pastry Nerd, providing online classes to novice bakers, and selling his goodies at pop-up events in Calgary.
“I am mainly influenced by ingredients,” says M’Dahoma. “I believe that even the simplest dish can shine if the ingredients used are amazing, and Canada is full of them.” His French and Comorian backgrounds also play a big role, which is why he’s sharing a recipe for a simple but elegant Yule log.
“A Yule log is the traditional cake everyone has at their table for Christmas in France,” he explains. “The sponge is moist, the cream is delicious and the whole dessert is super easy to make.” As his grandmother was a vanilla farmer in the Comoros, M’Dahoma prefers using the vanilla pod and beans as a way of expressing his heritages. He adds, “You can make the vanilla ganache with vanilla extract but the taste will never be as good. It’s Christmas, so go crazy and buy an actual vanilla pod!”
Find the recipe for Saïd M'Dahoma's Chocolate and Vanilla Yule Log here
Having worked in and staged bakeries in Canada, England, and Scotland, Red Seal Baker Sheena Howdle developed an interest of baking from other cultures. Her current role as Lead Baker at Wild Flour Bakery in Banff, allows her to “meet and work with many people from abroad and also to gain experience in a Canadian ‘from scratch’ bakery.”
For Howdle, the job of any great baker is to use local ingredients and present them in the best way. “While abroad, I was most impressed with people who were able to capture the importance of using local flours and products in their day-to-day production.” As a result, Howdle strives to use whole grains and Canadian flour as often as she can, and highlight seasonal produce wherever possible.
Her White Chocolate and Orange Tart with Cranberry Orange Compote allows for the use of local options. “Cranberries are a beautiful, seasonally appropriate fruit to use in small quantities. You can find low-bush cranberries in certain areas in Alberta and they are always a treat.”
To save time, Howdle suggests making things the day before, and assembling the tart just before serving. And don’t worry about it being picture worthy. “Don’t feel that your desserts need to look perfect,” says Howdle. “The taste is what really matters.”
Find the recipe for Chef Sheena Howdle's White Chocolate and Orange Tart here