Now is the time of year when Toronto’s patisseries and food shops offer a tremendous selection of goodies that cater to the most specific tastes. To make sense of this yearly embarrassment of riches, we found some delicious items that are sure to be crowd pleasers and ideal gifts. Here, 12 ways to avoid the dreaded (and regifted) Pot of Gold.
Two years ago, Marc Thuet, mixed a plum base with three different kinds of raisins, blackcurrants, almonds, walnuts and suet, then steamed it for eight hours and placed it all in a refrigerator. Now properly aged, he is selling the pudding to home chefs, who re-steam the pudding, then top with a brandy butter, then flambé to oohs and aahs. Serves eight to 10. $52. Brandy butter, $5. Petite Thuet, 1162 Yonge St., 416-924-2777, petitethuet.com. (Photo by Paula Wilson)
The glistening white sugar finish on these gingerbread snowflakes stimulates the visual sense as much as the taste buds. The popular hand-crafted cookies make excellent casual table-top decor—while they last. $1.95 each or $13.75 per dozen; gingerbread star tree, $29.95. 1101 Yonge St., 416-928-3330, All the Best Fine Foods, allthebestfinefoods.com.
Carl Stryg’s artisanal shortbreads are based on a recipe inherited from his Scottish great-grandmother. His one-man operation’s savoury line features four delectable flavours, including cheddar and chipotle, spicy asiago and garlic, stilton and rosemary, and our favourite, gorgonzola and pistachio. The made-to-order approach guarantees quality control. Normally by appointment only, the bakery will be open to the public for three open house dates this year, on December 12, 19 and 22. Sweet shortbreads, $9.95; savoury shortbreads, $10.95. 416-778-4207, Coach House Shortbread Company, shortbread.ca; or at Dinah’s Cupboard, 50 Cumberland St., 416-921-8112.
Celebrate tea’s surge in popularity with the Big Box of Tea—12 sample-sized tins of classics, flavoured, herbals and rare reserves—or the limited-edition Winter Collection, which contains 25 grams each of After Midnight, Glitter and Gold, Orange Julep, Toasted Walnut, Mulled Chai, Tiramisu and Lemon Bombshell. Those gifting remotely should note that shipping is free within North America for on-line orders of more than $50. Big Box of Tea, $25; Winter Collection, $29.50. 336 Queen St. W. (plus two other locations), 416-506-0653, David’s Tea, davidstea.com.
Fruitcake’s primary role does not have to be as a doorstop. For proof, look no farther than this intensely flavoured version, made by Barrie’s own Debbie Weston and aged for months in rum-soaked cheesecloth. The cake is a favourite of retailer Harry Rosen, who invited Weston to be part of the Saturday tastings he gives to his customers in December (find her at the Yorkville store on December 12). One-pound loaf, $20 (with marzipan, $28); two-pound family cake, $40. 416-785-9100, Pusateri’s, 1539 Avenue Rd., pusateris.com; or purchase on-line at grandmadebs.com.
The seasonal Celebration Blend from this famed Chicago coffee dealer has a nostalgic element, evoking classic Christmas aromas like candied orange peel, juniper, hazelnut and baking spices. For an extra jolt of caffeine, pair the brew with a Black Cat chocolate bar—it contains caramel and spices from Intelligentsia’s famous espresso. Celebration Blend, $9.50 per half-pound; Black Cat chocolate bar, $7.50. 426 College St., 416-966-3888, Manic Coffee, maniccoffee.com.
Rahier Pâtisserie’s holiday selection includes these multi-component yule logs, which run the gamut from almond–white chocolate mousse with cranberry compote to coffee-tinged sponge cake wrapped in moka buttercream. Our favourite is on the far right—a dark mousse with red velvet chocolate coating, gooey soft caramel and cocoa-soaked sponge cake. Available from Dec. 15 to 31 in four-, six- and eight-serving sizes, $19.50–$36. 1586 Bayview Ave., 416-482-0917, Rahier Pâtisserie, rahierpatisserie.com.
Aged 30 years in wooden casks, this one-of-a-kind balsamic’s complex balance of sweet and sour beautifully sets off grilled fish, sliced meat or any fruit. True aficionados have been known to sip shots of it as an after-meal liqueur. Short of coming with a golden spoon, each box and bottle is numbered, sealed and signed. And if that’s not enough, there’s also a certificate of authenticity. $135. 1101 Yonge St., 416-928-3330, All the Best Fine Foods, allthebestfinefoods.com.
Chris McDonald’s cheeky experiments combining savoury with sweet have borne delicious results, striking for their originality. Our favourites include milk chocolate–enrobed bacon toffees sprinkled with Maldon salt and caramel corn spiked with chipotle. Maple bacon toffee, $9; Cava spiced caramel corn, $3 per cone or $8 per 85-gram bag. 1560 Yonge St., 416-979-9916, Xococava, cavarestaurant.ca.
For this seasonal classic, Wanda packs an impeccably tender and flaky trans fat–free crust with a mixture of apple, raisins, walnuts, spices and candied citrus peel. Aged up to a year, the vegetarian-friendly filling is moist and rich enough to massage even the most bourgeois of tastes. Six-inch pie (serves two), $8.25; 11-inch pie (serves eight to 10), $34. 287 Augusta Ave., 416-236-7585, Wanda’s Pie in the Sky, wandaspieinthesky.com.
Xococava combines two holiday favourites—liquor and truffles—filling various high-quality chocolates with eggnog, amaretto, Lagavulin, oloroso sherry or bourbon. Best served after the kids are put to bed, these boozy truffles would be most appreciated by Bay Street dwellers still running the rat race on December 24. Individual truffle, $2; holiday selection of 10, $20. 1560 Yonge St., 416-979-9916, Xococava, cavarestaurant.ca.
James Beard once declared this the best shortbread he’d ever eaten. That was 30 years ago, but lineups still form outside Mary Macleod’s east-end shop for her traditional and chocolate crunch cookies. Other sure-to-please flavours include the cocoa-rich Dutch chocolate, hazelnut crunch and aromatic rolled coconut. Available by the dozen, $16.00; in decorative tins, $25–$49; in translucent packaging, $10–$75; or as single shaped cookies, $3. 639 Queen St. E., 416-461-4576, Mary Macleod’s Shortbread, marymacleod.ca.