Indigenous ingredients inspire a healthier reinvention of baking classics with Canadian flavour.
Strip fat and sugar from the Canadian diet, and our nation would be doomed. In a country where the weather can dip deep into the minus double digits for five months of the year, those two ingredients, when combined with carbohydrates, make countless pleasing combinations that helped us survive.
For 50 years or more much of our baking has been made with ingredients that, like snow, have been white—flour, sugar, shortening and lard. But bakers are increasingly curious about indigenous ingredients and are giving Canadian sweets a makeover. Black walnuts add an earthy flavour to the one-note gooey caramel filling in the much-beloved walnut tart. Pastry, a mostly bland foundation, is being made with flours with robust flavour like buckwheat, rye and the distinctly Canadian wheat, Red Fife.
Baking with Canadian ingredients is a delicious way to express our mostly quiet national pride. Best of all, it’s just plain good for us. Whole grain flours that have been stone milled retain their unique flavour and nutritional value. There’s more fibre in the flour; they won’t have a talcum-like texture because the endosperm and hull remain after milling.
So gather the black walnuts that fall from the tree in your yard, find a local miller or beekeeper. Discover new ingredients that add a unique Canadian appeal to your baking and celebrate the flavours of this beautiful place we call home.
Red Fife Wheat
Red Fife is a heritage grain that has not been altered in a lab and takes its name from its colour and the farmer first to plant it in Ontario in the early 1800s (David Fife). It adapted easily to the diverse growing conditions in Canada, and many modern wheat varietals derive from it. The flour is a darling of Canadian artisanal bakers because it produces tender baked goods and has a pronounced nutty, grassy flavour. It is available in health food stores or online through Mountain Path (www.mountainpath.com).
Recipe: Black Walnut Tart with Red Fife Crust
Just enough black walnuts are added to give this traditional nut tart a hint of deep earthy flavour. An elegant dessert served with ice cream or drizzled with melted dark chocolate. Substitute English walnuts if black walnuts are unavailable.
Red Fife Crust
1 cup Red Fife flour
1 tbsp granulated sugar
¼ tsp salt
½ cup unsalted butter
1 large egg, beaten
Black Walnut Filling
1 cup whipping cream
¾ cup granulated sugar
⅓ cup chopped black walnuts
1 cup chopped walnuts
2 tbsp rum
1 tsp grated orange zest
¼ tsp salt
1. Preparing the Red Fife Crust In a bowl, sift together flour, sugar and salt. With pastry blender or knives, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse sand. Add the egg and bring dough together quickly. Pat into a square and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before rolling.
2. Roll the dough to line a 10-inch (25 cm) round tart tin. Press the dough into the tin, using scraps of pastry to patch crust and make edges an even thickness. Prick bottom with a fork. Place tart in a sealed plastic bag and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
3. Place chilled tart shell on a baking tray. Line with parchment paper to come up the sides and fill with pie weights. Bake in 350 F (180 C) oven for 15 minutes. Remove pie weights and parchment and return shell to oven for another 5 minutes. Let cool slightly.
4. Preparing the Black Walnut Filling In heavy saucepan, combine cream and sugar. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer gently for 5 minutes, stirring often (mixture will foam slightly and begin to thicken). Add nuts, rum, zest and salt; cook for 5 minutes longer (mixture will thicken and be golden yellow in colour). Pour into baked tart shell, distributing nuts evenly with a spatula.
5. Bake in 375 F (190 C ) oven for 20 to 25 minutes, rotating tray halfway through baking. Finished tart will have a light caramel colour. It can be baked longer if a darker caramel is preferred. Let cool completely in the tin.
Yield: 10 to 12 slices
The fruit from this tree that is native to eastern North America and found throughout Ontario and parts of Quebec has a musky, slightly bitter flavour. The nuts are easy to harvest when the fruit falls from the tree but it takes plenty of skill, labour and muscle to extract the meat from the shell. Two pounds of black walnuts in the shell yields one cup of nut meat. If processing seems daunting or you’re outside the growing zone, black walnuts can be ordered through Forbes Wild Foods (wildfoods.ca).
Recipe: Rye Honey Cake
Heaven is a slice of this cake and a good cup of tea. Similar to a traditional French pain d’épices, it is good plain, spread with butter or topped with a honey glaze.
1 cup unpasteurized honey
⅔ cup brewed coffee
2 tbsp unsalted butter, plus more for greasing pan
1-¾ cups rye flour
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground allspice
½ tsp whole anise seed
1 tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp ground clove
1. Butter 9- x 5-inch (23 x 13 cm) loaf pan and line with a strip of parchment paper.
2. In stainless steel saucepan, bring the honey and coffee to a boil. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter until melted and then ¾ cup of the rye flour. Transfer mixture to a large mixing bowl and let cool slightly. Add eggs to the mixture.
3. In a bowl, sift together 1 cup of the rye flour, baking powder, baking soda, ginger, allspice, anise, nutmeg and clove; add to egg mixture, mixing just to combine. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake in 350 F (180 C) oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out of the centre clean. Let cool in pan.
4. Before eating, store cake in a sealed plastic bag overnight to let the spice flavour develop. Well wrapped, cake will keep five days.
Yield: One loaf
Deborah Reid is a professional chef with a passion for writing and recipes. Dawn Woodward is co-owner, with partner Edmund Rek, of Evelyn’s Crackers and Whole Grain Bakery in Toronto.
A version of this article appeared in the November 2016 issue with the headline, “Home Cooking,” p. 64-66.