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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.

Fuchsia
54 Duluth; 487-3155

Cocoa Locale
4807 Parc; 271-7162

Chantal Houtteman’s Sweet Lures
choutteman@hotmail.com

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