If you’re in Ottawa, The Urban Element holds very nice, high-quality cooking classes set in a beautiful converted fire station. There’s pretty much nothing I love more than a cooking class (which you will have noticed here, here and here). I love the spaces, the expert cooking equipment, the chefs, the like-minded nerds. True to form, this bread-baking class was a lovely mix of bearded stay-at-home dads, public servants, and the woman who casually mentioned that she hand made eight dozen croissants over Christmas.
This class was five hours long, so we made a lot: iced lemon loaf, herbed biscuits, gingerbread waffles, challah, raisin bread, grissini (aka breadsticks), lavash, and these dougnuts. It took three whole hours before I could think about carbs again. I was almost sure that my leftover doughnut dough was going to waste away in my freezer, like deep frying was “hard,” but need I remind you that it is January and outdoor temperatures have been hovering around -20. The dough is a little precious, yes, but it mostly just involves waiting and using your stand mixer. And yes, a stand mixer is probably going to be necessary, for reasons you shall see in a second…
Brioche Doughnuts (adapted from Anna March at The Urban Element)
The measurements look a bit loopy because they had been converted back from grams. Just know that if you have to choose between dough that is slightly too dry or slightly too wet, choose to keep it on the wetter side. Oh, and one of the most interesting discoveries from this class was that flour can be quite different even between Canada and the U.S., especially with pastry flour. So you needn’t bother with any special bread flour here, all-purpose is fine.
- 3 1/2 cups + 3 tbsp flour
- 1 tbsp instant yeast (quick-rise)
- 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp salt
- 3/4 cup + 1 1/2 tbsp milk, warmed to 75°F
- 2 eggs
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract, or 1 vanilla pod, scraped
- 2 ounces soft butter, cut into small cubes
- canola oil, for frying
- cinnamon sugar/powdered sugar for tossing your doughnuts
- Place the flour and yeast in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix for about 15 seconds to distribute the yeast. Add all remaining ingredients except for the butter and mix for about four minutes.
- Increase the speed a bit and slowly start adding the cubes of butter one piece of a time, waiting until one piece is incorporated into the dough before adding another. Mix for another 15-20 minutes (see?) until the dough is smooth and soft.
- Scrape the dough onto a very lightly floured surface, shape it into a rectangle and fold it in like a letter.
- Grease a glass or plastic bowl and put your dough into it, seam side down. Spread with a bit more oil, cover with plastic wrap and let it rise for an hour at cool room temperature (ideally 20-22°C).
- Using a spatula, release the dough from the bowl and again pat it into a rectangle and fold it like an envelope.
- Now you want to proof the dough by putting it back into the bowl, covering it and letting it rest in the fridge overnight.
- The next day take it out and roll the dough out into an 11-inch round, which should be a couple centimetres thick.
- If it’s hard to work with, put it in the freezer for 10 minutes. I had no problems, though, so I just went on to slicing. With a round cutter, stamp out as many doughnuts as you can. If you’re going to fill them after (with jam, custard, lemon curd, you name it), leave as is. If you want your doughnuts to have little holes, then you can find a smaller cutter or do as I did and just use a sharp knife.
The final stages:
- Put your formed doughnuts onto baking trays greased with canola oil and set aside to proof for 60-90 minutes. They should be roughly doubled in size. Now, you can cheat with the first proof, but not this. They will puff up quite a bit in the oil, but you do want to make sure they’re looking risen and fluffy at this stage.
- Now heat your oil to around 300°C. Conventional wisdom is to go to around 350-375, but that was making my doughnuts burn, so 300 seemed to work better. Keep in mind that frying in oil on the stove is never going to be as fool-proof as with a deep-fryer; on the stove the temperature regulation just isn’t there.
- Keep a wire cooling rack and your powdered sugar nearby and start frying! You’re looking at about 30 seconds each side, depending on how big your doughnuts are. When they’re browned, take them out and put onto your cooling rack. You want to roll the doughnuts in the sugar while they’re still hot. As you may have gathered, these are best eaten soon after frying.
Although I am technically from Ottawa, I haven’t actually lived here in eight years. When I graduated high school I thought I might never live here again–it was too small, too conservative. But it’s actually quite pleasant to be back for now, if only to get away from Moscow’s hellish commutes. I can’t wait to rediscover Ottawa, and I’ve been busy making some leisure-time plans: first, some serious bike buying; second, learning to drive some, ahem, ten years after I got my learner’s permit. As for the winter, I will attempt to skate on the Rideau Canal for the first time in, you guessed it, over eight years.
Ottawa’s kind of a cool city. As the capital of Canada, it occupies a distinct place, both geographically and politically; while it’s technically in Ontario, the “national capital region” encompasses Gatineau, Quebec on the east side of the river. With Gatineau Ottawa has a population of just over a million, making it the fourth largest city in Canada (after Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver). It’s about five hours north-east of Toronto and about the same latitude as Montreal. But things are different in Quebec: all the signs are in French, and the drinking age is eighteen. Quelle horreur.
On the one hand, Ottawa had very traditional, very English beginnings. It was founded in 1826 as Bytown, after Colonel John By. (This is also why the downtown core is called the Byward market, and why my old high school is called Colonel By.) But on the other hand, there was plenty of French influence, most notably through Étienne Brûlé and Samuel de Champlain. In my view, Ottawa’s a nice mix between French and English, both in spirit and in food.
Some of the places below are old favourites, and some are new finds courtesy of my sister, friends, and Urbanspoon. I’ve tried to keep it fairly Ottawa-specific. You probably don’t need me to tell you to go to Tim Hortons.
BeaverTails: This is as real an Ottawa thang as it gets. These pastries are awesome, and I definitely just penciled in “eat BeaverTail” to my FiloFax for tomorrow. Yay! Essentially, a long strip of fried dough (the “beaver” “tail” in question) is covered in the topping of your choice. The classic Killaloe Sunrise is cinnamon sugar and lemon juice, but you can also get nutella, maple butter or garlic butter on yours. Apparently they now even have a license to sell in Saudi Arabia.
Bridgehead: An independent, Ottawa-based coffee shop with healthy snacks, a bazillion brews and fourteen branches. What can I say? They do it better than Starbucks, and infinitely better than Second Cup.
Chateau Laurier: I’m a sucker for a good afternoon tea, and this one was lovely. OK, it’s been five years, but I still remember that the cutlery was super fancy. I mean, it’s a chateau! Things here probably haven’t changed much–my friend had lunch here last week, and the cheese plate was apparently delicious. An interesting bit of history: founded in 1912, Chateau Laurier opened with rather little ceremony, as the commissioner (and president of Grand Trunk Railway) Charles Melville Hays, died aboard the Titanic.
Chip Wagons: Ottawa’s 10 minutes from Quebec, so it’s totally acceptable to get some traditional poutine in the nation’s capital. Poutine, for the uninitiated, is the deadly combo of french fries, gravy, and cheese curds. Sure, you could stop by New York Fries in the mall, but to that I say NO! Go to one of the chip wagons, and you will not be sorry. Sasha’s Chip Wagon in the Byward market is a classic, but there are many more ideas here and here. Oh lordy, there’s even a whole Tumblr devoted to the search for good poutine!
La Cabane a Sucre: Did you know that Quebec produces 80% of the world’s maple syrup? I definitely did, because I am addicted to the stuff. The “maple sugar shack” was a spring tradition when I was young, where we’d eat bacon and cracklin pork and pancakes and tarte au sucre! I’ve been to the cabane as late as June, but it’s more of a March/April thing, so you get to the trees before they’re tapped out (hah). There are plenty of locations, so this list here is a good start.
Lois ‘n’ Frima’s: Some top-notch homemade ice cream right next to the Beavertails joint in the Byward Market. Convenient, non? I just remembered that they have a fabulous chocolate-peanut butter.
Ottawa Farmers’ Market: I was all, “like the one in the Byward market?” but no, not the market downtown, but the one at Brewer park. It happens on Sundays from 8AM – 3PM until mid-November. It’s really big, with about every kind of food-y thing imaginable: vegan ice cream sandwiches! Homemade apple butter! Pattypan squash! Piles of kale!
The Scone Witch: My mum, who lived in London for four years, swears that these scones are better than any she had over in England. They are pretty damn good; just the right size, with the perfect amount of flakiness. I like oatmeal and lemon poppy-seed the best.
Town: I went here just this past weekend to celebrate my upcoming birthday with some friends. Apparently Elgin Street is a thing, and I couldn’t be happier about it. And I love creative desserts like the sweet-salty popcorn ice cream served here.
When it’s cold outside there’s nothing better than curling up with a festive film (Die Hard, in my family), a hot cuppa and a buttery shortbread biscuit. At the moment it’s nearing -15 in Ottawa, so I intend to do exactly that this whole weekend. Have a happy Christmas and a great weekend!