Backseat Adventure - Sidewalk Citizen Bakery

Down a street lined with offices, carpet stores, and body shops you can find, arguably, the best bakery in Calgary. It isn't so large that the smell of fresh bread comes through your air conditioning. But the line of cars and bikes outside the nondescript entrance on a Saturday morning, opposite the line of smashed up cars, is your giveaway that you've arrived.

Then you step in the door. It all seems so sterile and clinical because you walk right into the kitchen. There are bags of flour, sometimes loaves being kneaded, large ovens, and racks of trays. Then you see Aviv and his partner. The warmth emanates from them before they've even smiled a greeting. Before you've finished saying hello a hunk of bread, buttered and salted, is placed in your hand. And before you've finished that bread you're already calculating just how much of the other goodies you can fit in the paltry one shopping bag you brought.

If you're lucky you arrived at the bakery location early enough to grab a danish, cinnamon bun, and a cheese stick. Or maybe a scone is more your speed. Or, if you are my family, all of the above, plus a brioche, some bread, and a macaron from M for Macarons (They share the commercial kitchen space).

If you're really lucky, and you are my husband, and you ask nicely for raspberries there will be danishes covered with a crabapple and maple syrup cream topped with raspberries waiting for you when you arrive. And you will buy 4 of them.

Taking a weekend trip to see Aviv has become such a family ritual for us that it is the first thing the Evil Genius asks about once her Saturday morning cartoons are on. Sadly, for her and us, she does not sleep in that much, so we have a few hours to wait until the 10 am opening. My kind of bakery - it's not open ridiculously early. But don't wait too late or you might find yourself fighting over the last baguette and that's it. Sidewalk Citizen Bakery is only open 10-2/3 on Friday and Saturdays.

If you can't make the weekend trip to the bakery there are still options for gathering the incredible goods. In fact, you can find their stuff all over town! I first met Aviv when he started out delivering bread to offices off the back of his bike. My office all became addicted to his bread and I've been following him since. He still does office deliveries. He's also got a pop-up cargo cart that sets up downtown (check out his Twitter stream for times and locations) as well as selling at the Hillhurst Sunnyside Market on Wednesdays in season. For a full list of locations that sell his amazing products check out his site.
We are still making the journey as a family to the bakery. We love the chance for a visit, to buy more bread that one should eat in a day, a journey that takes us away from the manufactured markets and yuppie food we're used to finding. This is honest food, served by enthusiastic and kind people. It is kneaded and baked with love, full of the best things that can be found around Calgary (from Silk Road spices to crab apples from down the street). And damn, it's all so good.

Sidewalk Citizen Bakery
5524-1A Street SW

Mmm, Pizza

One of the first things I got off my butt to make after my knee injury was pizza dough. I was facing a deadline and needed to work my hands a little. Mostly I needed to work my hands. It is amazing what forced exile from the kitchen can do to a cook. I might have gone through a bit of withdrawal, shakes and all.

Yes, I know you can make pizza dough in a food processor, or easily in that 5 minutes a day way. But sometimes you need to pile up flour, make a well for your liquids, then scream for your husband to clean it up when the walls break and floury liquid is running down the front of the counter. With the next batch I used a bowl.

This dough is totally inspired by David Rocco. I watched a lot of Food Network when I was laid up. But I couldn't remember the recipe exactly, but I loved that he made pizzas and calzones with it. So I made it up in my head when I did get to the kitchen. Turns out it is pretty damn close to his recipe. So, thanks David. Now go kiss those adorable twins of yours. (Seriously, could you make the Italian countryside more beautiful?)

An easy dinner in our house is now calzones made with this dough. All that means is you fold over the dough, roll the edges, and bake at high heat. Homemade pizza pocket. And when you do make it as a pizza, it is a lovely, thin crust. But calzones now rule because, according to The Monster, the Pizza Man makes the pizza, not Mama. I need to rectify that situation ASAP.

Pizza Dough
Makes 8 hearty calzones or 8 individual pizzas*

2 cups warm water
1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
4 cups flour
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp olive oil

1. Stir together water and yeast. Let sit for a few minutes until it is foamy, or the yeast has bloomed.
2. Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl. Create a well in the center of the flour. Pour the water, yeast, and olive oil into the well. Start incorporating the liquids, using a wooden spoon or sturdy spatula. You will likely have to switch to mixing with your hands. Once it has come together as a dough, dump it out on a floured countertop. Knead for just a few minutes until the dough is smooth.
3. Divide into four equal portions. Cover lightly with a lightly damp tea towel and let rest for an hour.
4. Preheat oven to 500 degrees F.

For calzones:
5. One portion at a time roll into a rectangle about 8 by 6 inches. Cut in half at the 4 inch mark.
6. Top each half with a tablespoon of tomato sauce, leaving an inch without sauce all around the edges. Add a half cup of shredded cheese and toppings of choice.
7. Fold each calzone in half, pinching and rolling over the edges to seal. Brush the tops with a beaten egg.
8. Bake for 10 minutes. Let cool completely before eating as fillings will be very hot.

For pizzas:
5. Roll each portion into a rough circle about 8 inches around.
6. Thinly cover with toppings of choice.
7. Bake for 8-10 minutes until cheese is bubbly and crust is golden.

*I usually freeze half the dough for another day. After the dough has rested, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and place in a  freezer bag. Let thaw completely and use according to recipe.

Babka is a Family Affair

It's only fitting that I felt compelled to make Babka on the day of the bake sale at my parents' church. They would have sold Babka by the hundreds there. Not surprising since every single recipe I had seemed to make enough to feed an entire Ukrainian village. 10 eggs! 3 packages of yeast! 10 cups of flour! Oi vey.

So I did what any good Ukrainian would do. I called my mom. Unfortunately, she was at that bakesale, but my dad totally came through for me. He referred me to another cookbook in the family collection, where we found a recipe that could easily be adapted for a normal family size. And he said it looked a lot like the Babka that he was familiar with.

Did I mention that I've never made Babka before?

Traditionally served at Easter, and part of the required items in the Easter basket to be blessed at church, Babka is a sweet, eggy bread. Our family likes our studded with raisins or currants. A lot of descriptions  online call it something between a cake and a bread. Not so in my world. I always think of Babka as a sweet, rich bread, baked tall and best with creamy butter. Keep your cinnamon and chocolate and your Jerry Seinfeld, Babka is for spring, with a touch of citrus.

So the girls and I gathered our ingredients, put on our aprons, and set about to make a big giant mess. The good thing about making Babka is that it needs a lot of eggs, perfect for little hands. And what gorgeous little hands. I adore watching my girls' attack dough in their attempts to knead it. The Monster even has the push - turn - fold technique down now. And so long as we can keep Smilosaurus from snitching bits of raw dough we end up with a nice piece set to rise. And rise. And rise again. Be forewarned, from start to finish this is a full day affair.

This recipe starts out quite wet, what with all those eggs, milk, and a juiced orange. You will have to play with the flour, adding as much as necessary.  Just go slow, adding a few tablespoons at a time. Your dough is ready when it is smooth, aside from the raisins, no longer sticky, and relaxes a little, just a little, when you stop kneading.

Babka is traditionally made into a tall, round loaf. You do this by baking it in cleaned out cleaned tin cans. You could bake it in a loaf pan, but that doesn't seem quite as fun, or traditional. If, like me, you don't have a lot of cans in your house you can ask a neighbour. Failing that, make plans to make sauce later and use the cans from some tinned tomatoes. Just make sure they are washed well. Then buttered quite well. If you are worried about the bread releasing from the can, line it with a strip of parchment paper, and more butter. 

And when you are all done, make sure you call your parents to share your success. Then butter some slices for the next generation and enjoy with tea. Church blessings optional.

Ukrainian Babka
Makes 5 large tin size loaves, more or less depending on the size of container

1 tsp  plus 1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup warm water
1 package Active Dry Yeast
3 whole eggs
5 egg yolks
1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup warm milk
1 tsp salt
1 orange, zested and juiced
1 tsp vanilla
4-5 cups flour
1 cup golden raisins or currants
1 egg, beaten

1. Dissolve 1 tsp sugar in warm water.  Add yeast and let stand 10 minutes.
2. Soak raisins in warm water. Drain well.
3. Beat eggs and yolks until light - 4 minutes with stand mixer, about 8 minutes by hand. Stir in remaining sugar and beat 30 seconds more. Add melted butter, milk, salt, orange juice and zest, and vanilla. Mix well.
4. Mix the wet ingredients to the 4 cups flour in a large bowl. Mix together well.  Add flour, if necessary, 1/4 cup at a time until you get a wet dough. 
5. Turn out onto a floured countertop and knead.  Add flour in small bits until the dough is smooth.  Knead for 4 minutes or so. In two batches knead the drained raisins into the dough. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. Place in a clean, buttered bowl, rub a bit more butter on the dough and set in a warm, draft-free spot to rise.
6. Let rise until double in size.  Punch down and let rise again.
7. Butter cleaned tins, dish, or pans. If preferred, line with a strip of parchment paper, then butter that as well. Form dough into balls that will fill container of choice to 1/3. Place in container and let rise again.
8. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Brush the tops of the babka with beaten egg.  Bake for 20-30 minutes, depending on the size of your container. It should be nicely browned and have a hollow sound when you tap it.


A line of dancers - men dressed in red pants and white, puffy sleeved shirts and women in embroidered velvet vests with flowers and ribbons in their hair - stand in a semi-circle.  With one hand on theirs hips the other stretches to the side, beckoning your eye to a gap in the line. From that gap emerge two women holding nothing but salt and an elaborately braided bread in their hands.  In contrast to the energy of the dance that proceeded them these women exude calm and warmth. They present the salt and the bread to the audience in a gesture of welcome and the performance continues.

If you've never been to a Ukrainian dance performance this must seem odd. For us Ukrainians though, the welcome gesture of bread and salt is ingrained.  By nature Ukrainians are generous and love to introduce a party. Performers have merely taken the tradition that is well known in any farm town or village and adapted it for their audiences.

The bread in question is called Kolach.  Traditionally it consists of three wreathes of dough, braided intricately and stacked.  Centered in the middle of the wreathes would be a candle and the bread would be offered with salt for the home. Kolach is also one of the twelve traditional dishes of Ukrainian Christmas Eve.

I must be in a Ukrainian kind of mood this week with borscht and now this. But when our new neighbours moved in on Friday my first thoughts went to baking bread.  It should be noted that The Monster thought we should bring them cookies and Hubby settled on wine. Rather telling, don't you think? So I baked bread yesterday and we delivered a warm loaf, along with the cookies the girls and I made.

The recipe is one I pulled out of the family's go-to Ukrainian cookbook - The Alvena Homecoming Cookbook. In case you aren't from Saskatchewan, Alvena is a dot on the side of the road that is literally made up of three streets and a hundred farms.  And it happens to be my mom's hometown. The cookbook is 30 years old, published with a collection of recipes for the 75th anniversary of the Province. It includes such clear directions as "Knead well and let rise," as the first instruction and "Bake the same temperature as you do your own bread." I think I need to try the recipe again before I share a modern version.

In the meantime, I'm toasting our new neighbours - a couple under the age of 40 is still a novelty on our street - with my own Kolach.