Posts Tagged ‘baking’

Chocolate Almond Toffee


buttercrunch 014

I met my BFF while we were in college in Montreal.  For a period, we were inseparable.  We could spend seven hours a day in school, enjoy a fishbowl margarita over happy hour at some pub on the way home, and then phone each other and talk for longer still.  I remember we would watch the best TV show at the time, Twin Peaks, and call each other every single commercial break and discuss:  ‘oh-my-god-can-you-believe-what-just-happened?-I-can’t-believe-she-did-that!-okay-it-started-again-call-you-back-later.’  Seriously.  It was amazing.

So he lives in New York now and I live in Toronto.  He travels a lot for work and he loves sending me little packages gathered from locations like Paris, London, Hong Kong, and Tokyo.  Popular items are sticky notes from Muji (no storefront yet in Toronto) and unfamiliar confections in cryptic packaging.  They’re always much appreciated and treasured.

When I can, I like to return the favour.  Unfortunately, with New York as his hometown and a job that takes him around the world, it’s difficult finding something unique or special.  He does have one weakness, though, and it’s for something that you can only find in Canada:  Laura Secord’s Buttercrunch toffee. 


Laura Secord is a Canadian chocolate shop named, ironically, after an American-born war heroine ingrained in Canadian folklore.  They have 190 shops across Canada and none on U.S. soil.


The image above is taken from the Laura Secord website and pretty much tells you all you need to know about it.  It’s crunchy and chocolaty and nutty and buttery and perfect.  I try to send him a box of it once and again.  My neighbourhood store didn’t always carry it when I wanted to send him some.  But how about actually making the stuff?  This, of course, was a challenge I could not resist; if it was so simple and basic, how hard would it be to recreate?  I mean, home-made should beat store-bought any day, right? 

Unfortunately, and despite all of my culinary savvy and daring-do, candy is my Achilles’ heel.  Anything, actually, that involves a certain amount of alchemy to occur at a precise temperature has defeated me too many times to count.  Even jams tend to alarm me and, never one to trust “the set”, I often dump a crap-load of pectin in the pot to absolutely guarantee I won’t end up with jars of strawberry soup.  Go figure.  And it was because of this handicap that I wasn’t keen on tackling such a seemingly simple treat.

Then wouldn’t you know: hair stylist to the rescue.  My friend, Mark, who works so hard to make my hair look its best had also trained as a chef and is a fellow foodie.  And every Christmas, he delights his loyal customers with a satchel of the most delicious version of buttercrunch toffee that I’ve had.  Yum and yum.  I finally worked up the courage to ask him for the recipe and he passed it along without hesitation. 



The recipe is from the cookbook Spago Chocolate, written by the pastry chef at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago restaurant and certainly has a life of its own in the virtual world.  I apologize for cluttering up the blogosphere with it but couldn’t resist because it was actually a success for me.  I was loyal to the recipe but added some tips in italics throughout.  Trust them.  No shortcuts.  It will make your life (at least for the duration of this recipe) that much easier.

And the verdict?  I didn’t bother coating both sides of the toffee like Laura Secord does, but I rationalized that as a calorie-saving measure.  Even still, it was scrumptious.  And I liked knowing exactly what went into it.  Funnily, we preferred it straight from the freezer…so even that one step towards self-control went out the window.  But it’s not like I’ll be making it every week, right?  Although the holidays are nearly upon us.  And it’s nice to have a sweet little treat handy for an unexpected guest.  Oh, and I do have that block of Callebaut chocolate waiting to be used up.  And don’t I have some more almonds…?

For the recipe, read on… Read the rest of this entry →


11 2009

Trifle, Italian style

Lemon Blackberry Trifle

Lemon Blackberry Trifle

This recipe comes to me by way of the priestess, nay, the goddess of the kitchen, Nigella Lawson.  I’ve been a fan and fanatical advocate of the raven-haired Brit since her show Nigella Bites, with her impeccable style, spot on palate, and slightly subversive humour.  And no one can make love to a spoon the way she can.  I did meet her once and we had a little chat.  To be perfectly accurate, I met her along with maybe 3000 other fans at a book signing.  Despite the mob, she remained regal and warm in her chartreuse twin set, offering a genuine smile to all.

Nigella LawsonI must admit her cookbook prose have had a profound inspiration on my own desire to write.  I’ve savoured each and every one of her publications, reading them more like novels rather than as a resource.  I enjoy her informative preambles mixed with the regional vernacular (splodge, nubbled, blitzed) and simple recipes with inspired flavours.  She blends cultures and style with no apology.  One region she loves to explore is Italy, from crostini to dolce.  …Hence, this recipe, slightly modified, from her publication Forever Summer…

jam sandwiches

This is everything a trifle should be:  rich, oozing, cool, and creamy.  It’s also easy to make (please forgive the ready-made ingredients) and best if made well ahead of serving, rendering it perfect for easy entertaining.  The Italian inspiration comes from the ingredients: crunchy amaretti biscuits, sweet and puckering limoncello, and standing in for custard is a silky mascarpone mousse with blackberries providing a blistering contrast. 


The measurements are offered more as a guideline, with the size of your trifle bowl influencing the proportions.  For these photos, I used my oval porcelain casserole dish that I usually employ for mac and cheese, although it is most presentable in a glass trifle bowl (my own having disappeared after attending a potluck and not to be seen since).

Recipe on following page… Read the rest of this entry →


07 2009

Honey Crackle Granola

Ryan's Honey Crackle Granola

Honey Crackle Granola

I love granola.  It connects perfectly with my preference for crunchy things.  I fondly look back at one of my favourite childhood breakharvestcrunchfasts and remember a bowl of Quaker Harvest Crunch with some cold milk poured over the top.  Not being one for mushy foods (don’t get me started on over-ripe bananas), I especially enjoyed how the cereal retained its special crunchiness, truly living up to its name, right to the last bite.  For any non-Canadians who might be reading this, the cereal is essentially crunchy nuggets of rolled wheat and oats with brown sugar, coconut, almonds and honey.

As an adult with an expanding waistline, however, one pays slightly more attention to the nutritional value and calorie count on boxed cereals.  I was interested in making my own crunchy granola with a dream-list of ingredients, throwing in some heart-healthy additions to boot.  After much consulting and many attempts, I am pleased to present a recipe that has grown to be much-requested.

 Of course one can use any ingredients available in the pantry, and indeed every time I make granola, it’s different in subtle ways from the previous batch.  So feel free to experiment with different ingredients like hazelnuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, pistachios, wheat flakes, bran flakes, or anything else that catches your eye at the health food store.  And while you’re mixing things up, play with the ratio of sweetness to your own liking, or swap out the honey with an amber maple syrup for a deeper sweetness.  

Granola Recipe

 But if you can, please use the Maldon salt.  It counters the sweetness and brings out the flavour of the nuts and seeds while the white flakes almost burst on the tongue in the most satisfying way.

Read the rest of this entry →


06 2009

Welcome to Crispy Bits!

Welcome to Crispy Bits.   This blog is devoted to all things food.  From recipes to restaurants, from ingredients to implements, all aspects of the sweet and savoury will be explored on these pages.  Enjoy your time here and I hope you find something that whets your appetite.


06 2009