Indigenous ingredients inspire a healthier re-invention of baking classics with Canadian flavour.
By Deborah Reid, Recipes by Dawn Woodward
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Maple-Molasses Butter Tarts with Red Fife Crust
With the grassy flavour of Red Fife wheat and the mineral sweetness of maple and molasses, these “two-bite” butter tarts could become a new Canadian classic.
1 recipe Red Fife Crust (see Black Walnut Tart with Red Fife Crust)
1 large egg
½ cup maple syrup
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
½ cup golden brown sugar
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1½ tsp molasses
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt
Preparing the Maple-Molasses Filling In bowl, whisk together the egg and maple syrup. Add butter and whisk in sugar, vinegar, molasses, vanilla and salt. Set aside.
Preparing the Maple-Molasses Butter Tarts Roll out Red-Fife dough to approximately ⅛ inch thickness (¾ cm). Cut out 3-inch (8 cm) circles and line 24 non-stick mini-muffin cups (trim can be rolled again). Place pastry-lined tins on a baking tray. Whisk filling to ensure the sugar hasn’t settled on the bottom and fill the tarts two-thirds full. Bake in 425 F (220 C) oven for 10 minutes (filling will be bubbly and loose). Let the tarts cool in the tin until the filling solidifies and then remove.
Yield: 24 mini tarts
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).
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