Thursday, June 18, 2015


Monsieur Bensabat - The Chocolatier behind  Excellence Chocolates 

There’s more to Jewish food culture in Montreal than babkas or bagels. Our City's unique Jewish chefs, bakers or chocolatiers have many untold stories, secrets or tips to be shared, which is why I am on a new culinary mission. A mission to finding out what drives these cooks to do what they do best in the kitchen.

Monsieur Bensabat (right) with his son-in-law, Yerucham State. On the table is the only original chocolate box from the 80s.

My first encounter with a chocolatier
Last Sunday, I met Monsieur Bensabat, owner of Excellence Chocolates, the maker of some of the best Belgian Pralines Montreal has to offer – literally the best I've ever tasted – plus they happen to be kosher. Located in the heart of the DeVimy area, I toured the family-run business and understood the complexities of making confectionery chocolate. Making chocolates isn’t as easy as we think, humidity is enemy #1, the tempered machinery is key, and the success of the shine on the pralines depends on timeworn molds used. However, with all this in mind, the true secret to creating fine pralines isn't simply about the high-quality chocolate used, but also about the patience, passion and humility embraced by the chocolatier who hand-makes each one.

About Monsieur Bensabat
Little boys in Morocco don’t dream of becoming Belgian Praline makers, interestingly, this is how Monsieur Bensabat’s career unfolded. He was born and raised in Marrakesh, his love of fine cuisine and traditional Moroccan cooking was homebred. He was a young scout when he began cooking-up salads for his family to enjoy. After living in France for some time, his family moved to Montreal where he became a high school teacher in the public school system. But in 1987, his life changed, a conversation with a colleague led him to  visit a Lasalle chocolate factory. Soon after, in 1989, he seized an opportunity to create a unique line of kosher dairy-free Belgian Pralines for local kosher caterers.

Top right: Both his son, Gamliel Bensabat, and son-in-law, Yerucham State help him run the business

"Chaque fois que j'avais une grande commande, 
j'appeler le mashgiach (kosher supervisor),
et je mettais la machine en marche à 6 h du matin, 
et c'est comme ça que j'ai commencé." 

- Monsieur Bensabat

Soon enough, word of mouth spread, and his clientele expanded. In 2010-2011, he took over the entire chocolate making facility, and transported it to his current facility on Bates, which is opened to the public as well. He works out of two kitchens6, a pareve one and a dairy one in which he develops various truffles such as whisky, passion fruit, caramel and more. 

The White House Chocolatier
Years ago, Monsieur Bensabat's son-in-law Yerucham, was at a food show where he met the official chocolatier of the White House (yes, the White House has its very own chocolate maker.) Point aside, Yerucham asked the White House chocolate maker if he can train them. The WH Chocolatier tasted Monsieur Bensabat's Belgian Pralines and confessed: " with chocolates like that, there is nothing I need to teach you."

Gamliel Bensabat (left)  holding  pistachio, almond, cranberry white chocolate bark. 

Right, pralines start with quality hazelnuts. 

After my visit, I have an entirely new perspective on chocolate-making, but more so, admire the humility of a man, once a teacher, who followed his culinary dream, making the finest chocolates we can taste.

For info visit their facebook page at Excellence Chocolates.

"Sisters and chocolate make life bearable." So true.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Milk Bar Birthday Cake

Recipe by Christina Tosi via Bon Appetit &  photograph by Leslie Perez

Last Sunday was my birthday, le'chaim! Who would have thought that somehow aging can have its perks. As long as the family is healthy, we're surrounded by great people, and  we stay young at heart, age is just a number.

Some believe birthday parties, balloons and sprinkles, are just for kids... I beg to differ. 

I might be over 30, raise two kids, sit in conference calls or parent teacher interviews,  regardless of all this mommy stuff, I think sprinkles rock. These colorful sweet tiny things spark smiles and make cakes look delishy.

All in all, the world wouldn't be the same without sprinkles, and Momofuku Milk Bar totally gets it. This funky NYC bakery chain has 6 locations under the direction of pastry chef Christina Tosi, (and she's young at heart too.)

So, to celebrate my 30+ birthday, I baked their signature funfetti cake. You can't find it anywhere in Quebec, nor order it from any kosher bakery, which left me no choice but to bake it, cream it and assemble my very first Momofuku Milk Bar Birthday Cake

Though my icing may not have fluffed up to Milk Bar standards, the sprinkles sparked smiles and the cake achieved its taste-bud mandate. I look forward to baking my next Momofuku Milk Bar inspired cake. Hopefully this recipe revives the kid in all of  us.


  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons rainbow sprinkles, divided
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • ⅓ cup grapeseed oil
  • 2 teaspoons clear imitation vanilla extract
  • 1¼ cups granulated sugar
  • ⅓ cup vegetable shortening
  • 4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs

  • ¾ cup cake or all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons rainbow sprinkles
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ cup grapeseed oil
  • 1 tablespoon clear imitation vanilla extract

for the frosting & assembly
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ¼ cup vegetable shortening
  • 2 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon clear imitation vanilla extract, divided
  • 1¼ cups powdered sugar
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • ⅛ teaspoon citric acid (or ½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice)
  • ¼ cup milk

special equipment
  • 6" cake ring or springform mold
  • 2 strips acetate (flexible plastic paper), each 3" wide and 20" long


  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line a 13x9" rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and coat with nonstick spray; set aside.
  2. Whisk flour, baking powder, salt, and ¼ cup sprinkles in a large bowl. Combine buttermilk, oil, and vanilla in a medium bowl.
  3. Using an electric mixer on medium-high, beat granulated sugar, shortening, butter, and light brown sugar in another large bowl until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating to blend between additions and occasionally scraping down sides and bottom of bowl. Continue to beat mixture, occasionally scraping down sides and bottom of bowl, until almost doubled in volume and very light, airy, and pale yellow, about 4 minutes.
  4. With mixer on low, add buttermilk mixture until incorporated. Add dry ingredients, beating until just combined, about 1 minute.
  5. Scrape batter into prepared pan; smooth top. Sprinkle with remaining 2 Tbsp. sprinkles. Bake until cake is light golden brown, the center springs back when gently pressed, and a tester inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 30–35 minutes.
  6. Remove cake from oven and cool on a wire rack or, in a pinch, in the fridge or freezer (don’t worry, it’s not cheating).
  7. Do Ahead: Store cooled cake wrapped in plastic in fridge up to 5 days.

  1. Preheat oven to 300°. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.
  2. Combine flour, granulated sugar, light brown sugar, sprinkles, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Add oil and vanilla, and using your hands, mix until no dry spots remain and large clumps form when mixture is pressed together. As though you were making a crumble topping, break mixture up into clusters (some small, some large) and spread onto prepared baking sheet. Bake, stirring occasionally, until crumble is light golden brown and crunchy, 10–12 minutes (it will firm up as it cools). Let cool completely.
  3. Do Ahead: Wrap crumbs tightly in plastic and store at room temperature up to 5 days
frosting & assembly
  1. Combine butter, shortening, and cream cheese in large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium-high until mixture is smooth and fluffy, 2–3 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl and slowly stream in corn syrup and 1 Tbsp. vanilla. Beat until mixture is silky smooth and glossy white, about 3 minutes.
  2. Scrape down sides of bowl and, with mixer on low, add powdered sugar, salt, baking powder, and citric acid until just combined. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until you have a brilliant stark white, beautifully smooth frosting, about 4 minutes (it should look just like it came out of a plastic tub at the grocery store!).
  3. Do Ahead: Store frosting in an airtight container in fridge up to 1 week.

for the assembly
  1. Place a silicone baking mat or piece of parchment on a counter. Invert cake onto mat, then peel off parchment. Use cake ring to punch out two 6" rounds from cake (or, using a springform pan as a guide, cut out 2 rounds using a paring knife). These are your top 2 cake layers (the remaining cake scraps will form the bottom layer of the cake).
  2. Line a sheet pan with a clean piece of parchment. Clean cake ring and place it in center of the pan. Use 1 acetate strip to line inside of cake ring. Place cake scraps inside ring and use the back of your hand to press scraps together into a flat, even layer (you never see this layer, so it’s okay that it’s messy—but since it’s the base of the cake, it needs to be flat).
  3. Combine milk and remaining 1 tsp. vanilla in a small bowl. Dunk a pastry brush in milk mixture and use half of it to generously moisten the base layer.
  4. Use the back of a spoon to spread about 3 Tbsp. frosting evenly over cake. Sprinkle ⅔ cup birthday crumbs evenly over frosting. Use the back of your hand to press them in place. Use the back of a spoon to spread another 3 Tbsp. frosting as evenly as possible over crumbs.
  5. With your index finger, gently tuck second acetate strip between cake ring and the top ¼" of the first acetate strip, so that you have a clear ring of acetate 5–6" tall—high enough to support the height of the finished cake. Top with a cake round (if 1 of your 2 cake rounds is less pretty than the other, use it for the middle layer and save the most perfect one for the top). Brush layer with remaining milk mixture. Repeat frosting-crumb layering process.
  6. Nestle remaining cake round into frosting. Cover top of cake with remaining frosting. Use an offset spatula to form decorative swirls, or do as they do at Milk Bar and shape it into a perfectly flat top. Top with remaining birthday crumbs.
  7. Transfer cake to freezer and freeze at least 3 hours to set cake and filling.
  8. At least 3 hours before serving the cake, pull sheet pan out of freezer and, using your fingers and thumbs, pop cake out of cake ring. Gently peel off acetate and transfer cake to a platter or cake stand. Defrost in fridge at least 3 hours.
  9. Do Ahead: Cake will keep up to 2 weeks in freezer or 5 days in refrigerator

FYI  bake this cake on a Sunday afternoon or when you have time, it's a total building project.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Kosher Uncovered at Atwater Market

I'm such a market nerd.

It feels good to take a break away from a bustling every day life especially to surround myself with beautiful greens at an outdoor market like Atwater Market. I urge all moms to leave their kitchens to explore this place at least just once this season.

After all, tis the season to veggie/ fruit/ flower/plant/seed/ herb shop outdoors; or if you're a market nerd like me :), you can run and jump around amid aisles of lemon thyme or swiss chard; stand under pretty hanging tomato trees, chitchat with smiling farmers, or even better pet a total stranger's poodle; that's living to me. Atwater Market is a farmers' market located in the Little Burgundy area of Montreal. It opened in 1933.

On a mission to finding kosher food at Atwater market, I lucked-out after stepping into Les Délices du Marché. A quaint shop with an array of certified imported kosher products. Products like, citrons marinés (marinated lemons), anchovies, coconut oils, Prana dried fruits, gluten free crackers, Mighty Leaf Marrakesh tea - a favorite- and yes, a variety of hot sauces. For those of you who keep kosher in Montreal, don't think twice about heading to Atwater for a charming shopping experience. Enjoy some pics below, a glimpse of what Little Burgundy has to offer everyone!

Satay Brothers (not kosher)

You can get kosher food at Les Douceurs du Marche...

... so many farm stands, so little time...
... love those blue hydrangeas...
... Simply gorgeous...
... I couldn't resist, I stocked up on thyme, mint, basil...

... wall plants, nice!...

... ice cream anyone...
... in love with lilies.
... Lily of the Valley, love these too.