Dessert at Tony’s Bistro & Pâtisserie

Finally! I have been to Tony’s Bistro & Pâtisserie, and it’s totally worth a flight to Moncton. My sister has been raving about it for months. After sampling the goods I completely understand. Let this sink in for a minute.

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Tony’s is located at 137 McLaughlin Drive, Moncton, NB, E1A 4P4. It opened in 2013 and the owner/chef is Tony Holden, who has cooked for Queen Elizabeth II and Emperor Akihito. He has almost 30 years of experience and trained under French pastry chefs. Tony’s is a licensed bistro, with a varied menu, and a pastry display cabinet that will halt you in your tracks.

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We had just eaten dinner with my family, so we ordered dessert; carrot cake, raspberry cheesecake, crème brûlée, chocolate mousse, lemon tart, and coffee. Yes I know. Totally sinful. It all looked so good and I couldn’t decide on just one thing.

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What was it like? Firstly, the presentation was gorgeous. Someone takes pride in their work.

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And everything was delicious. The mousse (paradise in a cup) was so creamy!  The meringue is covering the lemon tart, which was exquisite. And the crème brûlée was impressive!

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How do they get the sugar to glass like that? When I make it, my sugar topping does not look like that! It was like stained glass and you could hear the snap when you broke it with the spoon. I was intrigued to see a tray of the custards in the display fridge, as every recipe I’ve read for this dessert says don’t caramelize the sugar ahead of time or it will sink into the custard. Clearly there is a way to make this work! I must learn this.

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The carrot cake and the cheesecake were both excellent as well. Oh, yum, so glad we went!

Review:

From the street, you really cannot tell what’s inside. I grew up 30 minutes from Moncton and Tony’s is not located in a neighbourhood that screams “delicious high-end food here”. The decor inside was pretty and spacious and bright. It’s a nice shock to find a place like Tony’s in that part of Moncton.

We visited around 6:30pm on a Wednesday. The server was pleasant and efficient.

I was pleasantly surprised to see the variety and quantity of desserts in the pastry cabinet. Some restaurants are pretty bare at that time of day, so it was really nice to see such a gorgeous display, and to get to try whatever I wanted.

The food was sublime, and reasonably priced.

I’ve decided on two new personal goals for myself. The first is that I shall visit Tony’s more often when I am in the area, just once was not enough! The second is that I shall become a person of international acclaim so perhaps Tony will cook for me. God, can you imagine?

Step up your chocolatiering

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So, what is it?  This is a chocolate tempering machine by ChocoVision. Tempering is the finicky process of heating and cooling chocolate to specific degrees to get a glossy product that keeps its shape at room temperature and has a lovely snap.

I really love making homemade chocolates and I make a lot, which takes about 3 days to temper all the chocolate I need. This machine is going to speed up production and ensure results consistency. Or so I hope. Will review it in full after use. Its maiden voyage is tomorrow and I quiver with anticipation.

KitchenAid mixer review

“Thou shall not covet thy sister’s appliance.”

I chanted those words to myself the first time I saw M’s glorious new acquisition. I am not often struck with home appliance lust, but there was something compelling about the mixer. I was so determined to own a KitchenAid that I started buying attachments before I got the mixer.

Their mixers are so shiny. And powerful. And expensive. They have a smooth, rounded design, high gloss finish, plenty of chrome, and a hint of retro. But are they worth the hype?

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Functionality: There are two main types of KA mixers: tilt-head which have a smaller bowl and lots of colour choices, or the lift-bowls which have bigger bowl capacity but limited colour selection. For the hobby baker, the smaller tilt-head is a good choice.

Price: The mixers and accessories get marked down a lot the week after Christmas and Mother’s Day. If you are patient, you can get the one you want for a very good price.

Be aware the prices change a lot. You’ll see a huge variance in pricing (over $200) on the websites for Amazon.ca, Canadian Tire, Future Shop, and Wal-mart. My advice is figure out which model you want first, understand the specialty colours have a price mark-up, and when the one you want goes on sale, go for it!

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This is a KitchenAid Artisan 10-Speed 325 Watt Stand Mixer (model # KSM150PSBU) in cobalt blue.

I purchased my precious on May 4, 2011 from FutureShop.ca for $219.99 and the shipping was free. The after-tax total was $248.59 CAD. It came with a stainless steel bowl (no spout), and four attachments: flat beater, wire whip, pouring shield, and dough hook. For comparison the same model is currently selling for $500 before tax, so the sale price makes quite a difference!

Specs: The details below are from the Canadian KA website and the information is current as of today’s date. Most of the attachments are compatible with all mixer models but do your own research, there are some negative reviews online about people in Europe buying incompatible parts from the North American distributors.

Tilt-head mixers:
Architect series, 5-qt (4.73 L), 5 colours
Artisan series 5-qt (4.73 L), 25 colours
Classic series, 4.5-qt (4.26 L), 2 colours
Ultra Power Plus, 4.5-qt (4.26 L), 3 colours

Bowl-lift mixers:
Professional 600 series, 6-qt (5.68 L), 4 colours
Professional 7-qt (6.6 L), 1 colour

Colour: Obviously the Artisan has the most colour selection. Buying a stand mixer is like buying a car, you can research all you want online but you won’t get a real sense of the colour until you see it in person. Personally I think the cobalt blue is more of a deep rich violet blue, but I love it anyway.

Attachment and accessories: I have the ice cream maker attachment (part # KICA0WH) which I received in Oct 2012 as a gift. It comes with four pieces: freeze bowl, dasher, adapter ring, and drive assembly. It is pretty awesome, and I recommend it.

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I misunderstood the instructions, which indicate that some (not all) tilt-head mixers require the adapter ring to make the bowl fit into the mixer. Mine does not require the ring.

I have a spare mixing bowl so I can make batter and icing without stopping to clean the bowl. I purchased the 5 quart glass bowl with lid (model # K5GB) before I purchased the mixer actually… I found it for $20 at an in-store sale at a Future Shop in Toronto. I’ve noticed that Wal-mart sells the same bowl for $80 but they reduce it to $20 around Christmas.

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I chilled it here to make whipped cream. This is definitely worth waiting for the sale. It’s also a lot wider than the stainless steel bowl that comes with the Artisan, so it’s easier to pour into while the mixer is running.

Buyer beware: As with any mass-produced product, there are lemons and angry buyers. I would definitely recommend you research product reviews before you buy.

A common complaint about KA mixers is that after a time, black grease drips down into the bowl. This is food-grade oil used to lubricate the motor, and KA recommends you run the mixer regularly to prevent this drip down.

You will need to adjust the beater height and tighten the attachment bolt periodically.

When mine was brand new, I’d notice some purple dye would come off when I wiped it down. This has not led to any discolouration however.

You may need to adjust the mixing time on some recipes because the KA mixer goes fast, so flour-heavy mixtures may become over beaten until you get used to the high speed. My first attempt to make whipped cream was a disaster.

Was it worth it? I think so.

I use my KitchenAid mixer in almost everything I bake. Before I got one, I used a little plastic stand mixer which bounced across the counter as it ran, unless I stood there to hold it in place. I don’t have that problem anymore, the KA mixer is solid, so I can start it and walk away to work on something else. I’ve had it for 22 months and so far everything has run smoothly.

I’m not going to lie, what initially attracted me was THE SHINY and the beautiful colours. It is my trusty tool to make lots of delicious goodies. I’m glad I bought it.

I asked Boyfriend Unit to provide his unbiased opinion, “Was Nemo a good purchase?”

His response? “I can’t provide an unbiased opinion. Since you bought it, I get to eat so many good things.”

Lemon tarts at Le Papillon!

Ah, lemons. Today I hit up the St. Lawrence Market with Hobby Victim. I was looking for some pure vanilla extract by the Saffron Imports Co. (my supply is dangerously low but alas, none was to be found).

After checking out the lower level of the market, we took a stroll to find a nice restaurant for lunch. We stopped at Le Papillon.

I’ve walked by Le Papillon many times but never ventured inside. We both ordered the Crêpe du Marché, which is a galette containing St-Laurent bacon, cooked apples, and cheddar cheese. The apples had a flavour I cannot identify, but it was quite tasty.

Choosing dessert was so hard. I just could not make up my mind, but after several agonizing minutes we narrowed it down.

Hobby Victim ordered the Gâteau au Chocolat, and I ordered the Tarte au Citron (French lemon pie).

How was it? From the first bite, as I felt that elusive afterglow feeling creeping over me, my taste buds sang. I could not stop smiling. It was truly delicious. So tart, so good.

Whoever does the desserts at Le Papillon is an artist of the highest calibre.

I know what I’m going to learn to make on the weekend.

Visit to Canada’s Baking and Sweets Show

Yesterday I visited Canada’s Baking and Sweets Show, with my friend Hobby Victim. The show brings together a variety of bakers, artists, vendors, and suppliers, and is sponsored by my favourite sugar refinery Red Path Sugar.

I had a great time, and got to see lots of different vendors and products, but a few things about the show really surprised me.

The entrance

A large table of cakes (dummy cakes I think), marked with numbers. I looked but found nothing to explain who had made these cakes. Most were done in a Halloween theme.

I wish I had a clearer picture. it looked like a castle made of bones.

This giant Fabergé vase was topped with birds, the decorations were very intricate.

Next was an Alice in Wonderland cake, and a white cake with blue accents.

I’m pretty sure this is Alice. On a very complex tree and chair.

I admired the beautiful shades of blue and the lace string work here. You can’t really see the details at all, lighting wasn’t the best but this was a lovely cake.

A very eclectic mix of style and talent on display. I was impressed.

The vendors

I got to meet some very nice vendors, and see and try some delicious things. I also saw some vendors acting very strangely.

The shortbread cookies at Sprucewood Handmade Cookie Co. and Mary Macleod’s Shortbread were delicious. We purchased apricot shortbreads and raspberry shortbreads. I brought some home for Boyfriend as a surprise.

I saw extremely beautiful artisan chocolates at Mercury Chocolates. I don’t know how chocolatier Darren Johns makes those beautiful creations, but his chocolates look like perfect jewels, a variety of colours and flavors. I didn’t get to speak with him much because there was a woman who would not stop talking to him, so I moved on and viewed the gorgeous truffles at Old Firehall Confectionary. At Nadia Chocolates there were beautiful chocolate butterflies, very thin and pretty.

I saw some interesting cakes at Dessert Trends and beautiful custom cakes at La Casa Dolce’s booth. There was a tree of sugar ornaments at the Canadian Society of Sugar Artistry.

I saw an interesting presentation on fondant by Virgin Ice. They gave out cards which say: visit our website for vendors at libertygroupsugar.com but that URL does not work for me.

At the Bonnie Gordon College booth I met Susan Trianos! She was making gum paste chrysanthemums, and she was very friendly. She answered lots of questions and we talked about baking TV shows. It was cool to watch her make petals and assemble the flower.

I got to see a real Agbay at the Icing Inspirations booth. They had two Agbays and an airbrush booth.

I spent a lot of time in the Golda’s Kitchen booth. I wanted to buy 80% of their inventory, but limited myself to one item; the Fat Daddio’s sloped chocolate mould. This booth was very crowded. People could not navigate the aisles, and it was jammed with merchandise and customers. I suppose they wanted to show as much product to as many potential customers as possible but it was just too much.

What about the show surprised me?

1. The amount of vendors who did not give out samples. Of the vendors without samples, some were offering a discount if you bought their product at the show, but others didn’t. Wow.

I visited every booth at the show, and I know there were several cupcake bakers, but the only one I remember is Glady Cakes, because they had friendly staff, and they offered me a sample. I was happy to try one, but they insisted I try three flavours: Lemon Heaven, The Nut Bar, and Cafe Dulce de Leche.

As for the other vendors, what were they thinking? They had high prices, and no samples.

I realize that the profit margin on custom baked goods is not great, and the high price is a combination of quality ingredients, overhead, profit, and mostly time/labour. Nobody wants to work at cost or for free. But really? This is a trade show. I thought the point was to demonstrate your wares and get new business.

Adult tickets to this show cost $12 so why would a person spend another $20 to buy your product without tasting it, when the vendor beside you is letting them try a sample for free?

2. There were 5-6 vendors who did not seem very interested in being at the show at all. I walked up to their booths, waited a few moments to be acknowledged, but they were too busy texting. They never looked up from their cell phones. I walked away. If you can’t be bothered to put your phone away and greet people who are at your booth, why did you come?

Three vendors were loudly discussing their displeasure with the amount of teenagers in the crowd. They made a few unpleasant comments.

I am not a “customer is always right” person. I have worked in customer service, and I know that a lot of customers are assholes. Or pretentious morons. Or both. But it seems to me that if you are a vendor at a trade show, standing around insulting the people at the show is in poor taste.

3. Lack of food and drink available for purchase. I skipped lunch to get to the show early, and walking the entire floor made me very thirsty, it would have been nice to find a place that sold cold drinks and sandwiches.

Have you ever been to a baking show? Tell me about it.

Vanilla review

I’m going to talk about vanilla. Partly to educate you, and partly (okay mostly), because I love the sound of my own voice. Narcissistic baker is narcissistic.

One of the most valuable spices in the world, with outrageous pricing, vanilla adds that je ne sais quoi to your baked goods. A good artist needs good tools, and the quality of your vanilla can be tasted in the finished product. Arranged from left to right in order of my favourites:

  • Bourbon-Madagascar vanilla beans, by Rodelle
  • pure Tahitian vanilla extract 120 mL, by Vanilla, Saffron Imports
  • pure vanilla paste, 60 mL, by Saffron Imports
  • pure Madagascar vanilla extract 59 mL, by McCormick Gourmet Organic
  • pure vanilla extract 46 mL, by Club House
  • artificial vanilla extract 235 mL or 1L, by No Name

What is vanilla?

The tiny vials of vanilla extract found in stores are a flavouring derived from orchids of the genus Vanilla, a vine native to Central America.  It takes around 3 years before a vine bears fruit, and the beans take 9-10 months to ripen.  Beans are picked before they ripen.

The beans are cured in 4 steps: killing, sweating, slow-drying, and conditioning. Afterwards they are sorted by grade, commercial value is determined by the length of the bean, the highest quality are over 15cm in length, and as the beans get shorter, their worth drops.

Vanilla is classified by cultivar: Madagascar, Bourbon-Madagascar, Tahitian, Mexican,  and West Indian are the major ones I know of.

Review & price comparison

Before you buy a vanilla product check the label. Organic and pure may not mean what you think they mean. A good vanilla will not contain added sugars, caramel colouring, synthetic vanillin (a byproduct of the pulp industry), or corn syrup.
 

Product: Bourbon-Madagascar vanilla beans, by Rodelle
Price: 10 beans for $11.99 at Moncton Costco, (2 tubes of 5, or $1.20 per bean), purchased winter 2011
Review: My sister sent these to me in the mail. These are the best beans I have found so far. The label reads Kirkland Signature (Costco house brand), and also Rodelle, who is a supplier of premium vanilla. The label does not specify the cultivar but Rodelle’s website says “the majority” of their products are Bourbon-Madagascar beans. I’ve noticed that Tahitian beans are thinner and shorter than Madagascar, and these Rodelle beans are long and plump, so I am willing to bet they are from Madagascar.
 

Product: Bourbon-Madagascar vanilla beans, by Tosca
Price: 2 beans at Loblaws / Superstore for $7.99 (in 1 tube, or $4.00 per bean), purchased Jan 2011
Review: These were decent. Tosca products are imported by National Importers and you will get a much better deal buying one case (24 beans, 2 per tube) for $59.88 which is $2.50 per bean from the supplier instead of the store. The beans were okay length, a little on the thin side, with a pleasant flavour and aroma. Tosca sells premium (grade A) beans from Papua New Guinea, but the packaging does not classify the cultivar. However, their extract is made from Bourbon-Madagascar so I assume the beans are too.
 

Product: “organic” vanilla beans and Tahitian vanilla beans, supplier unknown
Price: approx. $6.00 for one organic bean, $2.00 for one Tahitian, at Domino’s Foods, St. Lawrence Market, purchased Nov 2010
Review: I have mixed feelings on these. I was excited when I bought them because I love buying stuff at the market, and they were priced better than the grocery store. The Tahitians were really skinny. The organics were a bit plumper. They both dried out quickly. I recall that my impression after using them for the first time was that considering how long it takes to get down to the market, and the cost of the beans, it’s not really worth it for me.
 

Product: pure organic Madagascar vanilla beans, by Sun Rise Brand
Price: 2 beans for $5.99 at No Frills, summer 2011
Review: Haven’t tried these. Noticed the bottom of the gold label says puresaffron@rogers.com and that seems weird.
 

Product: 120 mL of pure Tahitian vanilla extract by Vanilla, Saffron Imports
Label: vanilla bean extractives, alcohol 35%, water, no sugar
Price: $11.99 at Domino’s Foods, St. Lawrence Market, purchased Nov 2010
Review: Don’t be fooled by the plain packaging. This is amazing. Out of all the extracts I have tried, this has the best flavour and is well-worth the money. Unfortunately they will only ship products to Canada if there is no alcohol, and this contains alcohol, so you’ll have to find a re-seller which gets pricey. :[
 

Product: pure vanilla paste, 60 mL by Vanilla, Saffron Imports
Label: contains vanilla beans
Price: $6.99 at Domino’s Foods, St. Lawrence Market, purchased Nov 2010
Review: Flavourful and interesting product, a nice change from using a liquid extract. Difficult to extract from the bottle, the paste is thick.
 


Product: pure Madagascar vanilla extract 59 mL, by McCormick Gourmet Organic
Label: water, organic alcohol, extractives of organic vanilla beans, organic corn syrup
Price: $8.38 at Toronto Wal-mart, purchased Aug 2010
Review: I am a little confused, what is organic alcohol? What is so “pure” about adding corn syrup to vanilla? Their product info says this is “the highest quality” and I have to disagree. The flavour was not to my liking.
 

Product: pure vanilla extract 46 mL, by Club House
Contains: water, alcohol, sugar, vanilla bean extractives
Price: $3.94 at Toronto Wal-mart (also at $3.93 at No Frills), purchased Aug 2011
Review: This is okay but I wouldn’t buy it again.
 

Product: artificial vanilla extract 235 mL and 1L, by No Name
Contains: water, alchohol, caramel colour, artificial flavour
Price: $2.89 for 235 mL at No Frills ($3.49 at Loblaws), and 1L for $6.99 at No Frills, summer 2011
Review: I only use this stuff when I make cookies. My inner snob did not want to admit that.
 

Conclusion:

The beans are cheapest at Costco, $1.20 per bean to get a package of 10 is pretty awesome. Very nice quality. Hopefully you have a relative with a membership that you can harass.

I would love to find a cheaper source for the extracts from the Vanilla, Saffron Imports company.  Hey there, you guys at Vanilla, Saffron! If you have any extra 32 oz. bottles I would be happy to take them off your hands.

I’m not sure why my favourite extract is Tahitian when my favourite beans are Madagascaran.

What is your favourite vanilla product?

Playlist: Beethoven – Moonlight Sonata