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Sweet Christmas spots: Sweetness and light

Sweetness and light

Hot chocolate: Cocoa Locale's Reema Singh

High notes to sweeten your palate during the holidays

Comfort food is in around this time of year. There’s little light, lots of stress, plenty of sociable gatherings to juggle. We need a bit of sweetness in our late Decembers.

Unfortunately, there’s a paucity of down-home baking in Montreal. You can’t toss a croissant without hitting a French patisserie, but pies, simple cakes, cookies and those dreamy little bijoux of childhood bake sales, cupcakes, are rare indeed. Happily, a few enthusiastic bakers are turning the sweet tidings.

Binky Holleran has crafted a niche of floral goodness with her petal-sized space on Duluth. Everything she bakes at Fuchsia includes flowers. I fell for the thick toothsome heart-shaped date-rose cookies, and then was swept away by the lavender shortbread. Other cookies use calendula and apricot, ginger or pistachio.

The holiday season has clearly put Holleran in a creative mood. When I visited Fuchsia, she was putting out a homemade lip balm made crimson with beetroot. She showed me her flavoured vinegars, as well as a gorgeous looking chocolate-lavender sauce. "Tomorrow I’m making an orange-caramel one," she told me.

I was sure her jars of salt and rose petals or lavender were for bathing, but people grind them on meals and use them in baking. "Lavender salt really draws out intense chocolate flavours," she lets on. She was delighted to recently hear that in Iran, rose salt is sprinkled on plain yoghurt.

Mornings at Fuschia are filled with the scent of chai redolent with cardamom and ginger. Locals pop by for a steaming cup or for her daily vegetarian meal. She also does catering and private dinners, and embraces challenges like a recent vegan cake request.

Cake boutique Cocoa Locale is as cute as a cocoa nib. Owner Reema Singh (who used to work with Binky at Soupe Soup) is a busy baker these days after a sweep of local press has helped put her offerings on the map beyond her Mile End stomping ground. To keep sane, the nocturnal baker isn’t taking extra orders this season. First come, first served for her daily output of 25 to 30 cakes and pies, and roughly six-dozen cupcakes.

The pretty little petal-decked cakes have flavours like chocolate-chai, lemon coconut, and her fave, vanilla. Singh also makes thick homey ginger cookies, and good ole chocolate chip. The cakes run the sweet gamut from chocolate variations to banana-maple-cinnamon.

I brought in two companions to taste the wares: "Oh my God this is so good I could cry," one said over a chocolate cupcake, then explained she was particularly hormonally charged that day. Our friend had tears in her eyes as she tasted a spicy brownie: "I never knew chocolate could taste like that!"

Chantal Houtteman sells her gooey dense cupcakes for special events. She’s new to the baking scene, but sugary things run in her blood, thanks to her Belgian dad who used to be a pastry chef. Houtteman wants to experiment wildly with her cakelets. "All the flavours in truffles, I want to do in cupcakes," she says.

Currently she’s experimenting with rosemary, sesame, bergamot and ginger. "Cupcakes are the sushi of baking. They’re little morsels of craziness." But the kind of crazy that helps keep us sane.

54 Duluth; 487-3155

Cocoa Locale
4807 Parc; 271-7162

Chantal Houtteman’s Sweet Lures

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  • by Heath Abram - December 22, 2005, 3:17 pm

    The holidays are the time to let yourself go and indulge in all the delicious treats. These places sound like the baked goods are amazing and it’s always nice to pick up a little something for the hostess when you’re invited somewhere. Forget abot the extra poundage for now. Bathing suit season os a long time away!

  • by Maria Cecillia Silva - December 23, 2005, 4:34 pm

    They sound very delicious for sure but unlike other times you write about these food places , you did not give us an idea on the price of such sweet things. Your hoping we get surprized ? Maybe it is so good we will pay any amount for them. I wonder if they will ever come up with cupcakes that will actually get you high. Anyways I will look this place up the next time I am up there , It sounds really amazing!

  • by Meghna Patel - December 23, 2005, 6:51 pm

    I saw a Cocoa Locale article in The Gazette just a few days ago, and i’m quite shocked to see it here so soon. Singh’s creations seem one-of-a-kind and have a touch of her Indian heritage baked right into them. I am Indian and would love to try her Chocolate-Chai cakes or anything with ginger in it! I definately will be hunting down this place during my 3 or 8 hour breaks in between classes next semester for some good eats.

  • by Martin Dansky - December 26, 2005, 10:58 am

    I think the success of a certain dish or cake revolves should not only revolve around being creative with what you know but to be daring and try out something new. This can especially be said for adding a spike to a flavor with spices that one usually doesn’t find in cupcakes albeit there has to be a certain rule of thumb. Not that I’m a chef or anything but one would want to experiment with spices that complement and enhance the flavour of what you’re eating. I’m applying my beer tasting experience to this even though there’s no spice there. Making an analogy between the use of spice in cupcakes and malt in beer, then using a different type of malt can bring out a different flavour in the beer being brewed. Using a poor choice of malt can often cause an undesirous tasting beer.
    I am a lover of ginger and sesame, the true and tried spices to tea and breads but I’ll try out the rosemary which I used to use to bake my potatoes with!

  • by Basil James - December 27, 2005, 4:15 pm

    This week’s food column is very appropriate given the holiday season. I have not heard of either of the places described in the article, however, after reading the article I am definitely receptive to checking out the offerings of both places (especially Cocoa Locale because I really like chocolate). Both eateries offer unique and interesting flavour combinations that are truly intriguing. So get out there and enjoy the season…just don’t over do it.

  • by Em Hutchison - December 28, 2005, 1:05 pm

    I am really glad that Montreal finally has some unique bakeries. New York City is filled with them and it is good to see that Montreal is branching out. Baking is one of my favourite things to do but there are times when you just have to have someone else’s freshly baked cupcakes. There is no end to what you can create when baking. A simple cupcake or cookie can look completely different with the way it is decorated. Baked goods always make good gifts and will surely bring a smile to anyone. Cocoa Locale is our very own version of Billy’s Bakery or Magnolia Bakery in NYC. It’s the end of the year, some indulgence is well needed.

  • by Karima H Chiali - December 28, 2005, 5:19 pm

    I love food…let me rephrase that,I love “good” food!!! I look forward to trying it. Everyone I know has only had good things to say about that place. Gimme some sugar honey…Lol!!! ;)

  • by Ellen Reid - January 3, 2006, 6:14 pm

    Montreal is full of cake. Horrible American cakes, the fluffy, gaudily-iced variety available in any supermarket, full of crap to please the child in all of us. It is not until we have had the pleasure of real homemade cake (and I don’t mean the kind from a packet) that we realise the absolute delights we have been missing out on. It is easy to make cake but sometimes inspiration can be lacking, which is when places like Fuschia or Cocoa Locale come into their own.
    What better than a thick, wholesome slice of cake, bursting with flavour, to dispel the winter blues? What better way to get the snow out of your mind than with some flower-infused feasting? These two ladies’ creations sound amazing, tantalizing the tastebuds so that you always want to go back for more. I will be exploring both places in the coming months to enjoy some sweet treats to keep me smiling and dreaming.

  • by Joyce Stemkowsky - January 4, 2006, 12:18 pm

    I have been baking partycakes for over 15 years now and love to read about others creations and successes. I definitely have to check out fushia as I love to see baked goods with flowers, and I have tasted lavender shortbread and it is to die for. I am also copying and printing the other two locals as I am as insane about chocolate as any full bodied woman with hormones gone nuts. Thank you so much Maeve for your wonderful article.

  • by Zachary Masoud - January 28, 2006, 8:08 pm

    Seriously, I cannot get through this article on an empty stomach. As I read this article, I was literally drooling, imagining all of these delights in my stomach.
    Yes, there is no denying that if you’gar lover, this is the place for you. I was truly waiting to read that maybe Willy Wonka was one of the people who put this thing together. I mean, chocolate, cakes, muffins, cookies, and all kinds of other sugar-delights. Yes, this is the place that I want to go to.

  • by Louise Lacroix - April 2, 2007, 9:30 am

    I have read all the comments on this place and it sounds like a good place to go and get your sugar fix. I miss that very much as I have been diagnosed with diabetes and will not be able to enjoy trying it hard. But I can still dream and pretend.

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