The Complete Canadian Living Baking Book
By Elizabeth Baird & The Canadian Living Test Kitchen
Published by Transcontinental Books, 2008 hardcover $34.95; 352 pages

Maybe it’s our long cold winters, when it makes sense to get cozy in the kitchen and bake something sweet and satisfying for those we love. Or maybe it’s a Canadian rite of passage to learn  to bake that first batch of cookies under the tutelage of a parent or other relative. Whatever the reason, Canadians are among the world’s most skilled and talented bakers, says Elizabeth Baird, the venerable face of Canada’s most reputable recipe source, Canadian Living.

Baird notes that when the French want to impress with a spetacular dessert, they go to the boulangerie where beautifully crafted, always fresh, French pastries make the most difficult part of providing dessert the act of choosing what to have. It’s an expected thing, and with even the smallest French village boasting at least one boulangerie, someone who bakes at home is a bit of an oddity.

It’s just the opposite here. If you must buy dessert, it is with apologies that you didn’t have time to make anything yourself. The first impulse when the thought of something sweet comes up is to go to the kichen and pull out the fresh eggs and butter and other ingredients and a favourite source for fool-proof recipes has been Canadian Living, the magazine and the many books they’ve produced over the years.

This book consolidates and updates many of the “tested till perfect” recipes that have become favourites with bakers plus adds new ones to reflect contemporary tastes and interests. There’s also a good introduction to all the elements of baking, from various types of ingredients to basic equipment to substitutions when you don’t have what a recipe calls for. A baker’s glossary at the back of the book explains the differences between “beat”, “blend” and “fold” and reveals the mysteries of tempering and macerating.

Many of the recipes offer variations and among the many tempting titles are these: Hot Fudge Banana Bundt Cake, Dark and Dangerous Triple Chocolate Cookies and Walnut Mocha Torte. There are plenty of savouries here too: Roast Garlic and Goat Cheese Strudel, Stilton and Walnut Biscuits, mini-Camembert Cheesecakes topped with crispy prosciutto. And a range of quick and yeast breads offer everything from Rum Raisin Loaf to Buttermilk Scones to Potato Rosemary Focaccia.

So be warned: Resistance is futile. Let’s get baking! Here’s a recipe from the book.

Lemon Shimmer Cheesecake

This beautiful tart is something you might see in a Parisian boulangerie. It’s a stunner. I could not find lemon social tea cookies, so used an alternative lemon cookie. Graham or vanilla wafer crumbs would work well, too. Also, double wrapping the springform pan with foil might be a good idea, as taking the pan in and out of the water, as called for in the recipe, may rip the foil and allow water to enter.

23 lemon social tea cookies
½ cup melted butter

2 pkg. (each 8 oz/250 g) cream cheese, softened
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed
1 tbsp. grated lemon rind
2 eggs
1 ¾ cup sour cream

Lemon topping
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp. grated lemon rind
½ cup lemon juice

Grease bottom of a 9-inch springform pan; line side with parchment paper. Centre pan on large square of heavy-duty foil; bring foil up and press to side of pan. Set aside.

Lemon topping: In heatproof bowl over saucepan of simmering water, whisk together eggs, egg yolks, sugar and lemon rind and juice; cook until thick enough to mound on a spoon, about 10 minutes. Place plastic wrap directly on surface; refrigerate until cold, about 1 hour. (Make-ahead: Refrigerate for up to 1 day.)

Crust: In food processor, crush cookies to make 1 ½ cups coarse crumbs; pulse in butter until moistened. Press onto bottom of prepared pan; bake in centre of 325 F oven until firm to the touch, about 12 minutes. Let cool.

Filling: In bowl, beat cream cheese with sugar; beat in lemonade concentrate and lemon rind. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time. Beat in ¾ cup of the sour cream. Scrape over baked crust; smooth top. Set pan in larger shallow pan; pour in enough hot water to come 1 inch up side of springform pan. Bake in centre of 325 F oven until edge is set but centre is still jiggly, about 1 hour. Remove pan from water bath; let cool on rack for 5 minutes.

In bowl, whisk remaining sour cream until smooth; spread over cake. Return to water bath; bake until top is set, about 5 minutes; Turn off oven; let stand in oven for 1 hour. Transfer springform pan to rack and remove foil; let cool for 5 minutes. Run knife between edge of cake and paper; let cool.
Whisk lemon topping until smooth; spread over cake. Refrigerate until firm, about 4 hours. (Make ahead: Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Makes 12-16 servings.

– From The Complete Canadian Living Baking Book