Canada 150 – Of butter and tarts

How fitting that the inaugural post for the July 2017 series, Canada 150, falls on Sugar Saturday. Just as well I made mini Nanaimo bar doughnuts and butter tarts for the occasion. (Oh and for something healthy, I cut watermelon in the shape of maple leaves.)

So what is Canadian cuisine anyway? Clay figurines?

Canadian cuisine, like Canadian identity, is hard to pinpoint to an iconic word or phrase. Like the land and its people, Canadian cuisine is diverse, regional and seasonal. It makes use of local and imported ingredients and has been influenced by the Indigenous population and the many immigrants from various places around the world who have been coming here from the 1600s onwards. A Jamaican patty (usually made with toned down spices) is as much a part of the Canadian culinary experience as maple syrup on pancakes with blueberries. And even when we can agree on what is classically Canadian, ie the butter tart, we can’t agree on what it should be like. Raisins, pecans or plain? Corn syrup or maple syrup? Lard in the dough or vegetable fat? Runny filling or firm? There’s even debate as to who has the real butter tart trail: Wellington north or Kawartha Lakes? And agreement on the origins isn’t unanimous either. Was it created by the filles du roy (daughters of the King) who were sent to help populate the new France colony of Québec, developed from a pecan pie recipe brought here from the Americans or concocted by early pioneer cooks? It’s likely the recipe for the butter tart most well-known today has been around since the 1900s.

The butter tart is an individual tart made with flaky pastry and filled with a cooked mixture of egg, butter, vanilla, salt, vinegar and two types of sugar, wet and dry. Much like many Canadians, it is said to be a fusion of diverse origins, makes use of a local ingredient (maple syrup) and is oft associated with Ontario. From butter tart festivals to butter tart innovations there is no shortage of butter tarts in the Canadian narrative.

For the quintessential go-to butter tart recipe, I’m going with my girl Anna. Feel free to omit the raisins and pecans. I do. And for some creative renditions of the butter tart, see 20 Great Canadian Butter Tart Recipes.


Sugar Saturday – I’m missing all the fun!

Apparently the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival is “recognized by the Guinness Book of Records” as “the World’s Largest Single Day Maple Syrup Festival” according to their website.

Release the sap!

It is around this time every year that the maple trees in eastern Canada are tapped for their watery liquid which then gets turned into maple syrup in a sugar shack or cabane au sucre. For more on this process, check out the following link:

While I didn’t make it to Elmira today, I’ve decided to have my own festival of maple syrup this week. Here are just some of the desserts that benefit from the addition of maple syrup:

scones, cookies, crepe cake, parfait, granola, chocolate truffles, butter tarts, pumpkin pie, hot chocolate, cheesecake, ice cream, fudge, candied walnuts, icing, caramel

Though popularly poured on pancakes (and snow) maple syrup is not just for breakfast anymore.

Because life is a little sweeter with some maple syrup in it. Indulge sensibly. 

And there are health benefits to maple syrup?!

Sugar Saturday – Let me eat cake!

I’m giving up Lent for cake.
Into everyone’s life a little cake must fall; especially on one’s birthday weekend. With my birthright of self-indulgence coming up soon I have decided to forgo my ‘Lent’ challenge for the weekend and bring back the sugar!

Because life is a little sweeter with some sugar in it. Indulge sensibly.

The cake gluttony starts with a chocolate cupcake with Irish cream icing and sugar shamrock on top. It continues tomorrow with a vanilla cupcake and pistachio icing and then culminates in my homemade chocolate stout cake with Irish cream icing and matcha white chocolate shamrock to be eaten on my actual birthday.

Cupcakes are amongst the perfect indulgence food. They can be bite-size or large while still remaining an individual portion. Some portions, though, are excessively large with an extraordinary amount of buttercream icing. I would argue that these are actually two servings of one serving for two people.

Cupcakes allow for a lot of creativity in flavours, are quick and easy to make and loved by just about everyone. Here are some healthy cupcake tips:

  • It takes less than one hour to make cupcakes from scratch. Allow around 15 minutes to measure and mix ingredients and about 20 minutes to bake. Let cupcakes cool at least 5 minutes in the baking pan before removing them to cool completely on a wire rack.
  • Buttercream icing can be made while cupcakes are baking. Make sure the butter/vegan buttery spread is soft when you are ready to mix with the icing sugar,  flavouring (eg. vanilla; citrus zest; peppermint extract) and liquid (eg. milk-dairy/non-dairy; alcohol; orange juice). Before icing the cupcakes, make sure they are completely cooled.
  • Mix wet and dry ingredients separately. When combining, mix until batter is uniform. Be careful not to over mix as it will cause the cupcake to be dense and bread-like.
  • Make sure all ingredients are at room temperature so they will combine better.
  • You can usually reduce the sugar amount by one-third for a lower sugar cupcake. Texture and taste-wise the cupcakes still turn out fine.
  • Use whole wheat pastry flour for a little extra fibre. Anything that helps slow down the blood sugar spike is a welcome thing. And speaking of fibre…
  • Balance the sugar with a generous serving of greens and beans. As always indulging sensibly means treating yourself occasionally with small portions and counter balancing with a healthy diet.

For cupcake fanatics in Toronto, check out Prairie Girl bakery.

I dream of Crave! What started it all for me was Crave cupcakes. So popular they have branched out from their originating city of Calgary. People in Edmonton, Alberta and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan can also satisfy their cupcake ‘Cravings’ locally.

And my go-to cookbook for vegan cupcakes: Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.

What’s your favourite cupcake flavour, shop or recipe?