Canadian favourites

We don’t often think of Canada having a national cuisine, but there are some delicacies on this side of the border that can be very difficult to find elsewhere. Here are four favourites and how to make them.

Butter tarts

Butter tarts are one of the few delicacies that have a definite Canadian pedigree — although when and where exactly they were developed remains a mystery.

2 cups flour
1 cup shortening
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 tablespoon vinegar
2 tablespoons cold water

1 egg, beaten
1 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1/3 cup melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup raisins (optional, or can be replaced with chopped pecans or walnuts)

To prepare pastry: blend the shortening and the flour with a pastry cutter, or two knives, until you’ve created a uniform mixture that is crumbly and pea-sized. In a separate bowl, mix egg, white vinegar and cold water. Add to shortening and flour mixture. Mix all ingredients together, but only until just mixed and no more. Do not over-handle the dough.

Make a ball of the dough, wrap in plastic wrap and place in freezer for 10-15 minutes. Roll out dough onto floured surface to about a half-centimetre thickness. Using either a cookie cutter or something like a jar lid, cut out circles from the dough. Press dough circles into a muffin pan.

To prepare filling: In another bowl, mix well milk, brown sugar, melted butter and egg. Add vanilla and stir in raisins. Spoon filling into pastry shell to just below the rim. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 10 minutes until golden brown.

Makes about a dozen tarts.

Nanaimo Bar Recipe

According to tradition, a group of friends in Nanaimo, B.C., who would later found the Harewood Ladies’ Auxiliary, adapted a recipe from the Vancouver Sun and popularized it under the name Nanaimo bar. Whether it actually came from Vancouver or the town for which it’s named, it remains a delicious treat.

Bottom Layer
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1 egg, beaten
1 1/4 cups graham wafer crumbs
1/2 cup finely chopped almonds
1 cup coconut

Melt first 3 ingredients in top of double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, coconut, and nuts. Press firmly into an ungreased 8″ x 8″ pan.

Second Layer
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3 tablespoons cream
2 tablespoons vanilla custard powder
2 cups icing sugar

Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light. Spread over bottom layer.

Third Layer
4 squares semi-sweet chocolate (1 oz. each)
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter

Melt chocolate and butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool, but still liquid, pour over second layer and chill in refrigerator.


Quebec Tourtière

This classic meat pie is rich with flavour. For a less fatty version, use ground chicken instead of the traditional pork, or use half chicken, half pork. And to simplify preparation, try a prepared pastry dough such as the Pillsbury pie crust available in the refrigerator section of many supermarkets.

Pastry for 9 inch double crust pie
1 1/2 pounds ground pork
1 large onion, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 cup water
1 beaten egg white (optional)

Sauté meat, onion, and spices in a saucepan until meat is browned. Add boiling water. Simmer uncovered for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Skim off any fat. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Roll out one sheet of pastry and line 9 inch pie plate. Place filling in pie plate and cover with the remaining pastry. If desired, brush the top of the pastry with beaten egg white. Prick with a fork. Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes or till golden.


And of course there’s the ever-popular poutine (‘poutine’ is actually a word for ‘mess’!) Which gravy to use for poutine is a matter of some controversy. Many people in Quebec prefer the simple St. Hubert pouch mix, but around Montreal the classic sauce seems to be a chicken-based velouté. I noticed recently that my Ontario location grocery store is now selling a canned “poutine gravy” as well. I include directions for a velouté below, but really any gravy will do – or use a Bolognese for poutine a l’Italienne.

Chicken velouté
1 cup chicken stock (made without roasting the chicken, for the most classic variety)
1 tbsp butter
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper

1/2 bag frozen French fries, prepared according to directions
1 cup velouté or other gravy, heated through
1 1/3 cups cheddar cheese curds

To prepare velouté: Place stock in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn off heat and set aside. Melt butter in medium saucepan over low heat. Whisk in the flour to form roux and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, for 2 to 3 minutes until the roux bubbles and begins to color slightly.

Remove the roux from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Next gradually pour in the hot stock, whisking continuously until smooth. Return pan to heat, bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly.

Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Divide fries into 4 portions; top with cheese curds and then hot gravy, so that it melts the cheese curds somewhat. Enjoy!

Photo © Liza McCorkle

What are your Canadian favourites? Share your ideas in the comments below.