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Charmian pours some vanilla sugar over a twisted knot of dough; it’s her homemade pastry. She begins to roll it out. The chilled dough layered with cold, hard butter flattens easily beneath her rolling pin. It’s easy to see who’s in command. “I thought I’d make Palmiers,” she says as she feels the top of the sheet of pastry every so often, gauging the thickness like a medium studying her crystal ball. Like any other skill, “you have to practice to get good at it.” She’s making Vanilla-Scented Palmiers from her cookbook, the little ears of flaky, sweet pastry. She continues to sprinkle handfuls of vanilla sugar over the dough and roll. She shakes her foot as some of it falls to the floor. She laughs, talking about some of her baking disasters then shrugs her shoulders and says, “life is not perfect, baking is not perfect but they’re both pretty good.” When the pastry is ready, she pours more sugar over the top, running her hands over, ever so lightly to make sure it’s coated evenly. She flips the dough over and does it again until the raw dough is covered in coarse vanilla-scented sugar. Like any good baker, she’s anxious for the flavours that will materialize when the pastry and sugar bake together and she can’t wait, “I love the caramel flavour from all the baked sugar.” She trims the edges to carve a perfect rectangle shape on her large pastry board. “It’s my lucky pastry board, it was my aunt Hilda’s and now it’s mine.” She folds the pastry into a long log shape, wraps it in plastic wrap and spins around to put it in the refrigerator. It needs to chill again. The little trimmed bits go into a sandwich bag, “these are the bakers treats,” she says with glee. The Messy Baker cookbook is filled with both sweet and savoury baking, it’s for people who cook and would like to bake if only someone made it easy enough or fearless enough. “I tried to remove as many barriers to baking as possible.” Inside the book are recipes for Chili Cheese Twists and Blueberry-Lime Muffins, Smoky Mushroom Crepes and Boozy Chocolate Torte. “It’s important to make food yourself, (that way) you control what’s in it.”

She begins to clear away all the sugar and wipes down the board. Out of the refrigerator comes another knot of dough that she flattens with ease. She’s now making a leek and mushroom tart. “You can buy the puff pastry dough if you want, just make sure it’s an ‘all butter’ puff pastry. It cooks up with the best flavour,” she advises. Back to the board, Charmian is rolling the dough into another rectangular shape. She trims it to perfection, maneuvers the soft dough onto her rolling pin and maneuvers it to the centre of a parchment paper lined baking sheet. She scores the edge, about an inch all the way around. “This edge will puff up creating sides to the tart.” She pops it into the refrigerator to chill and she turns her attention to the stove. In a large skillet she melts a huge knob of butter and microplanes a garlic clove. The garlic pulp dissolves into the frothing butter and fills the air with the seductive aromas of butter and garlic. Now we’re getting hungry. As it bubbles away, in go the leeks and mushrooms and they cook until they’re both soft and firm. She seasons them with thyme, stirs one last time and tosses them into a large strainer that hovers inside an even larger bowl. She’s draining the mushrooms and leeks, “so they don’t turn the dough soggy.” “If you want to switch the vegetables up for others that you like better, go ahead,” Charmian talks while she wipes down the counters, “the toppings are up to your imagination, it’s the dough that you don’t want to mess with.” Charmian doesn’t remember when she first fell in love with baking, she thinks perhaps she was born

Profile for TodayMagazine

Niagara - Winter/Spring 2016  

Niagara - Winter/Spring 2016