LPK’s Culinary Groove

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To say food science has come a long way would be an understatement. There have been so many recent advances in the way that food is engineered, that it makes it possible for those with allergies and/or dietary restrictions to indulge in items that would have once been forbidden.

A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to serve as one of three judges at Cupcake Camp TO. I spent close to 3 hours eating 50+ cupcakes, and inevitably ended up in a sugar coma. At the end of the day, the cupcake that, in my eyes, took the top prize was one that had neither gluten, nor sugar in it. If I hadn’t read the description on the card, I wouldn’t have believed it.

On a recent trip to Leslieville, I stumbled upon LPK’s Culinary Groove, an award winning pastry and chocolate shop that caters sweet treats that are a combination of organic, vegan, gluten-free, nut-free, sugar-free and even dairy-free.

I picked up one of their Brownies (No Gluten, No Soy, No Nuts), a Coconut Lime Cupcake (Vegan, No Dairy, No Gluten, No Nuts), and an Orange Caramel Truffle Tart (Vegan, No Dairy, No Nuts).

You’ll just have to ignore all the “No’s” in parentheses, because at no point while I was consuming these desserts did I feel like I was missing anything. The brownie was chewy, chocolaty, and delectable. My favourite, the Coconut Lime Cupcake, was tender and moist, while it’s airy light frosting laced with an edge of lime complemented the richness of the coconut cake.

My mind was baffled when I dug into the tart. How was it possible to create a fork tender crust, and chocolate ganache without the addition of butter? Fools me, but well into these treats I decided it was probably best to stop asking questions and focus on consumption instead.

LPK’s Culinary Groove is located at 718 Queen St E.

The Cupcake Shoppe

If you want to get in my good books, all you’ve got to do is show up with cupcakes. That’s what I’ve decided recently.

I don’t know where this love sprung from. I think it may have started quite some time ago while watching Victoria Gotti scarfing down cupcake upon cupcake on her A&E show (now cancelled) “Growin’ up Gotti”. Or it could have been during day camp when I was 6 years old while frosting a Betty Crocker chocolate cupcake with straight-from-the-can rainbow sprinkle vanilla icing. Those were the days.

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Liège Waffles

Belgian waffles are universal. You can find them in your local cafe, at the hotel restaurant when travelling, and they are very easy to recreate at home. It’s fair to say that one need not be in Belgium to experience a good Belgian waffle.

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However, if you do happen to make your way to this European destination, this sweet treat is plentiful and come in more variations than you can count on your fingers. Nutella, honey, strawberries, chocolate, bananas, whipped cream…you name it, and it’s on it.

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They are light, crispy, and just melt in your mouth. A small dollop of chantilly cream and some macerated strawberries just take the entire experience to a whole other level. Their simplicity is such that you can easily recreate them at home.

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Indulgences

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I have an inherent fear of consuming a “whole” something. A whole bag of chips, a whole cake, a whole tub of ice cream, a whole pizza. When I go out grocery shopping, rarely do I ever pick up a snack or sweet treat unless I know that it is going to be shared. The only exception is when they come in small packets or portions that I can label “reasonable”. Reasonably fit to consume, reasonably in my range of caloric intake, reasonably nutritious.

A few days ago I found myself in an unreasonable situation when I decided to make a favourite standby crepe recipe. Did I have anyone to share with? No. Was it within my range of caloric intake? No, given that it served 4 people not 1. Was it nutritious? Sure, if you call white flour, sugar and eggs nutritious.

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I hadn’t made this recipe in a long time, and craved the bittersweet edge of homemade caramel. Moreover, I don’t divulge quite often, so a little slip off the wagon wouldn’t be too bad.

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This crepe recipe is from the banks of the wonderful Alton Brown. It is a tender, delicious crepe that is scented with vanilla.

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/crepes-recipe/index.html

You can find the recipe for caramel anywhere online, because they are all prepared the same way. Heat sugar until it caramelizes (never stir the pot to avoid crystallization) and pour in some heavy cream. Instant caramel.

In Search Of The Perfect Croissant

There are two types of bread that I adore. One of them is  the croissant, which I was exposed to at a very young age. I share with you an anecdote of how my affinity for this flaky, multi-layered delight began.

Among watching cooking shows when I was a kid, I also liked being on television shows. When I was 7 years old and in grade 2, I called into a local Canadian television studio to be on a show called “Video and Arcade Top 10”. I had no clue how to play videogames, and found myself playing  Kirby  with 3 other (male) competitors. What’s important is not the outcome of the game (I lost), but the events that took place in between episodes and commercial breaks.

In between episodes, all the kids would be escorted to the studio audience where their parents sat. To get the crowd going production assistants would play games with us kids while parents watched on. However, my parents caught me being less interested in the games being played and more interested in the croissant the lady a couple of seats down from me was eating. To make the story short, a couple of minutes later a large bag of croissants was placed in front of me. Although the excitement of being on television was quite thrilling, I believe that it was definitely that bag of croissants that made my day. Heck, I think it made my month!

I have had a lot of bad croissants in my life, and only a handful of good ones. So this fall, when I went to Europe, I realized that my quest for the perfect croissant would be fulfilled. I had, within my itinerary, noted all the boulangeries and patisseries I had wanted to go to during my stay. However, what I quickly came to note was that 90% of the croissants that I ate in Paris were out of this world. They were light, flaky, crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, and had a heart stopping buttery aroma. The buttery strands of perfections not only melted in my mouth, but they melted my heart.

One of the best croissants I had during my time in the city was at the world famous ice cream shop Berthillon. They are known to have some of the finest ice creams and are critically acclaimed for their quality of product. In addition to their delectable ice cream sundaes, they serve the most perfect croissant. When tapped one could hear the crack of the croissant as it unveiled the beautiful layered, buttery shards of bread that lay underneath. It was simply divine.

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Another croissant that I happened to pick up while at the train station one morning was at Paul, a boulangerie with locations all across the world. Here I picked up a croissant, and a gourmandise. The gourmandise was made of the same dough as the croissant but was shaped differently and filled with chocolate chips. It made for the perfect breakfast! If only TTC stations were able to fulfill my hunger pangs the same way.

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One of my last boulangerie visits was to the infamous Poilâne. Poilâne is considered an institution in Paris. It is a critically acclaimed bakery, and many restaurants in the city use and serve their bread. The place is so famous that Giada de Laurentiis visited it in an episode of “Tasty Travels” revealing their awe inspiring bread chandelier that they replace every few weeks. They also have an online business that ships out 40 Euro loaves pretty much anywhere across the world. So this place had a lot to live up to when I got there.

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There were a number of things to note about my visit to Poilâne. Firstly, after I placed my order for tarts, croissants, chocolate croissants, and pain au raisin, they rung up a total that was at least 15 Euro more than the total tab…good thing I noticed. Secondly, the girl that was helping me was quite nice but not knowledgeable when it came to the bread and what they were made of. Moreover the fact that she consistently scratched her head and bit her nails made my stomach turn, as she used those same hands to pack my treats. Lastly, and most importantly, those croissants were not the best, as many have claimed them to be.  The croissants were tiny compared to competitors, and they lacked the necessary buttery punch that usual sends me to cloud 9. There is way too much hype surrounding Poilâne.

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Needless to say, with the exception of my Poilâne experience, I was pretty satisfied with my croissant encounters when I packed up and flew back to Toronto. My only plaguing fear was how I was going to fulfill my desire for proper croissants when I got back.

Fortunately for me, through a lot of research, I found a lovely bakery around the Bayview/Eglinton area that was known to make Parisian inspired delights. When I sunk my teeth into a croissant at Rahier, I immediately knew that this was a product I could thrive off of until my next visit to Paris. At $1.50 each, these croissants are worth every penny. They also prepare excellent baguettes, cakes, and tarts that come close to rivalling their French counterparts.

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The next time you are in the Bayview/Eglinton area check out Rahier. You’ll be in for a “treat”.