Few experiences in life compare to the pleasing waft of a freshly baked apple pie. Or, stepping into the home on a cold dreary day that is filled with the luscious aroma of a homemade soup that’s been simmering for hours. The holiday season often arrives with a natural inclination toward decadent dinners and mouth watering desserts to brighten the soul. As home cooks can attest, the pleasure in mastering a challenging recipe is often as gratifying as the experience of eating the dish itself.
We reached out to two of Canada’s most celebrated chefs for recipe inspiration and insights on the joys of cooking from scratch. A leader in contemporary Canadian cuisine, award-winning Chef David Hawksworth has been wowing diners with the intricate and refined dishes served at his Vancouver restaurants, Hawksworth and Nightingale. In his recently released book, Hawksworth, he shares the artfully developed recipes that have brought him tremendous success over the years and challenges readers to recreate these dishes for an unforgetting dining experience. Sharpen your culinary skill with two recipes provided here, from his cookbook – a delicious tomato soup and an exquisite risotto.
No dinner is truly complete without a sumptuous dessert and, who better to turn to than baker extraordinaire, Anna Olson? Her book bestselling books feature delightful recipes for all skill levels. Put your baking skills to the test with the Triple Gingerbread Bundt Cake recipe – a perfect holiday dessert for all ages taken from her book, Bake with Anna Olson.
Q&A with Chef Dave Hawksworth
For home cooks who want to improve their cooking skills, what tool do you recommend as essential?
A Japanese mandoline is a life saver for me, it saves time and provides the ultimate consistency. I’ve used it for so many things, from sliced apples for pies to veggies for salads and everything in between – be careful though, the blade is super sharp! And, of course, a set of high quality kitchen knives is essential for every home and professional cook.
For home cooks who want to elevate their dishes, do you recommend they develop certain skills to help them along?
Try mastering some classic sauces like beurre blanc, béchamel or tomato sauce – and focus on perfecting common dish components such as steamed rice or al dente pasta. Once you’ve mastered the basics you can incorporate them in to many styles and preferences of dishes.
What do you feel we may be missing out on when we treat meal preparation as simply a chore to get over with?
For me it’s meditative, therapeutic and calming, at home it is anyway. It can be a little pressured at the professional level but home cooked dinners are simply the best and taste so much better for the time and effort that has gone in to their preparation. It’s fun to search for the best ingredients and to get the rest of the family involved cooking too. And I just love when the house is full of the smells of home cooking, there’s nothing like the aromas from a sauce simmering gently on the stove or the waft of a fresh pie baking in the oven.
Do you believe people’s relationship with food changes when they become more involved in the preparation of the food they eat?
Sure, you waste less, you learn to respect the ingredients and you become more engaged with what you eat. You see it with kids all the time; some of them can be such fussy eaters and don’t like to try new things. But get them involved in the preparation and show them the raw ingredients and they pretty much always end up trying it and liking it!
What do you, personally, love most about cooking?
I love to feed people and love when people get excited about food. I like to cook at home and of course I love to see people out enjoying our restaurants and cafes; whether they’re taking pleasure in a great coffee and a buttery croissant at Bel Café or celebrating a milestone over dinner at Hawksworth or Nightingale. Good food has the power to bring people together in a special way.
What can cooking teach us about ourselves, our relationships, and even the earth?
The food we eat is deeply connected to nature and our environment and to our traditions and heritage. The best recipes are often those that are passed down through generations and the best dishes are always those that are inspired by seasonality and locality. At the restaurants we are lucky to work with a network of suppliers who forage, fish and farm locally bringing us the highest quality, pristine ingredients. Every dish should tell story and it’s important for all of us to eat seasonally and to respect where our food comes from.
What will you be serving for your family Christmas dinner this year?
Christmas is usually a very busy time for us at the restaurants with both dine in and to-go turkey dinners being served alongside other festive favourites. So, I expect to be hard at work! At home I always look forward to my mum’s traditional English Christmas pudding, especially the part where you pour brandy over it and set in on fire! It’s so decadent and boozy!
Q&A with Anna Olson
Everyone can tell the difference between a melt-in-your-mouth baked treat and one that’s just ‘meh’. What ingredients make or break a baked treat?
While a treat’s deliciousness is purely subjective, there are a few ingredients that do help add a certain “wow” factor. Baking with butter (versus shortening or lard) is definitely one of those, and in the case of Vienoisserie (croissants, puff pastry, etc.) using higher fat cultured butter really does make the item more delectable. I am also a fan of pure vanilla extract over artificial. The price of vanilla has soared in recent years due to supply issues, but we’ll slowly see that improve. In the meantime, I prefer to use pure vanilla in baking, but less of it than artificial. And lastly, when making fruit treats, using fruits in season is key for optimal flavour.
What have you found to be the toughest recipes/desserts for home bakers to master? And how does one eventually master them (before giving up completely)?
Bread making is a skill all unto its own. It does take practice because you really have to feel the dough to know when it’s been kneaded enough. When starting out, it’s easy to be tempted to add too much flour when you knead, ultimately making for a dense loaf of bread. It simply takes repetition to get a sense of the dough consistency; and I recommend holding back some of the flour that is mixed into the dough to use for kneading…then you know for certain that you won’t add too much. The other recipe that can be a challenge to master (for pastry chefs, equally) is macarons. Simple ingredients, yet a challenge to master.
Christmas time gives everyone an excuse to indulge in decadent desserts. What are your favourite holiday desserts?
I love classic flavour combinations at Christmas: orange and spice, dried fruits and spice, chocolate and spice. Basically, take any flavour and add a mix of spices (cinnamon, ginger, clove, nutmeg, allspice) and I’m happy. I find that tiramisu-inspired recipes are always a favourite, so my Tiramisu Tart is a holiday winner.
After baking for so many years, clearly you haven’t grown bored of it. What is it about baking that you find so rewarding?
Even though repetition is the key to growth in baking, I never find the task of baking repetitive. Even when I’m making a recipe I’ve been baking for years, I always am looking at why and what I do, to see if there is a way it can be improved. That said, I also find a Zen space in my head when I bake. It takes just enough concentration that it pulls me away from the day’s concerns and I can focus myself and regroup. I think perhaps that is one reason that baking has become so popular this year. A task that can take us away from the daily news cycle and deliver us something sweet and delicious, with a sense of accomplishment, has to be a positive thing.
This holiday season, what dessert will you be serving for the Christmas dinner?
I suspect our holiday celebrations may look different this year, but we likely will look to some traditional dishes to give us comfort. We always do a roasted prime rib for Christmas dinner, and I love having a baked ham for Christmas morning, along with tons of baked goods. I’ll probably do up Christmas care packages of these items to drop on doorsteps for family members we can’t celebrate with in person. And of course, I’ll still do cookie tins!
Recipes and images excerpted from Baking Day with Anna Olson by Anna Olson. Copyright © 2020 Anna Olson. Photography by Janis Nicolay. Published by Appetite by Random House®, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved