Friday, November 30, 2012

How does she keep her girlish figure?

Clockwise from top: Cheerio bar, Nanaimo bar, butter tart
I love the way Canada is just slightly different from the United States. At first it all looks the same and then you start to notice the differences, which are many and subtle. I'll limit myself here to the differences in Canadian baked goods. The abundance of bakeries, tea rooms, and cafes in Victoria made it easy to do my research yesterday.


-Shortbread is the chocolate chip cookie of British Columbia. It's everywhere. I did not sample any shortbread as I would be unable to stop eating it and I already know what shortbread tastes like.

-British Columbians do not malign the fruitcake. I saw numerous home-baked fruitcakes for sale and bought a marzipan-topped cake at a popular bakery called Bubby Rose's. I asked the woman at the counter how long it would last and she considered for a minute and said, "June?" I'm going back to the Dutch Bakery (thank you Anonymous) to buy one of their fruitcakes today.

-I noticed lumpish agglomerations of Cheerios and mini marshmallows at several bakeries before I realized this was a trend. I bought a Cheerios bar and discovered that it contained not just the evident Cheerios and marshmallows, but also peanut butter. I liked it, but was able to stop eating without struggle. It's no Rice Krispie treat.

-I was unacquainted with the Canadian butter tart until yesterday afternoon, but now we are dear friends. Generally sold as muffin-size pies, a butter tart consists of a flaky pastry crust that holds a golden and very gooey raisin filling. It's like a bright, sunny pecan pie, but with raisins instead of/in addition to nuts. I'm going to try baking the bar version of this lovely sweet.

-The ubiquitous Nanaimo bar involves a chocolate crumb crust topped with a layer of vanilla custard/buttercream topped with a thin, firm coat of melted chocolate. Because quests make everything more fun, I decided to find the best Nanaimo bar in Victoria. I would be in the hospital now if I'd actually tasted every bar in town, but I did sample quite a few and can say with some assurance that in Victoria you want to buy your Nanaimo bar from Bond's Bond (the best vanilla filling) or the cafe at the Royal British Columbia Museum (the best crust).

There are some vile Nanaimo bars out there. The filling in one seemed to be made with canned frosting, but the worst was a raw, organic pretender made with dates, brazil nuts, and coconut oil. I'm not going to malign the coffee house where I bought it, but can offer a warning: An earthy cafe that employs young hippies to ladle up the lentil soup will, as a rule, serve Nanaimo bars you don't want to eat.

I had dinner at Re-Bar on Wednesday night -- thank you Anonymous! It was great.

I bought breakfast at Devour yesterday morning -- thank you to another Anonymous. Devour is a tiny, bright place and along one wall are shelves of kitchenwares and cookbooks.

I spent a few minutes studying the collection. A lot of familiar titles, but a handful of others I'd never heard of, like a gorgeous book by Neil Perry, an Australian chef who is much adored by commenters on amazon. The collection was just slightly different from what you find back home.
 Vij's cookbook is there.


  1. You really don't have butter tarts down there? I can't imagine a holiday without them. Glad you discovered them! (BTW they don't all have raisins, pecans or plain are also very common)

  2. I agree with Stephanie. Eat a butter tart for me! They're amazing! My favorite is the plain or the pecan.

  3. You are troublesome, because every time you go somewhere I am so enthralled with your descriptions of the food that I feel I cannot be happy until I have tasted it. I must have a Nanaimo bar.

  4. I am so glad to hear that they admire fruitcake. I am a fruitcake lover, although I admit I am somewhat of a fruitcake snob. It cannot contain any citron or a lot of candied fruit. IMHO, it should contain dried fruit soaked in brandy, and pecans. My mother made the most divine fruitcakes every year in October and soaked them in brandy until Christmas. I honestly never saw anyone who didn't love her fruitcake. I think fruitcake is like Nanaimo bars. There are lousy ones, and there are sublime ones. Those butter tars sound fabulous. Let us know how the bar version turns out. Hope you are having fun!

  5. Glad you have enjoyed eating some of our fabulous treats. The Dutch Bakery is one of my favourite shops. They make the most decadent khuala cup. If you have time you should try them. There is also a chocolate shop called Purdys which is worth your while also. Thanks for enjoying some of our Canadian traditions.

  6. Mmmm...Nanaimo bars. I forgot those existed. I spent a lot of time on Vancouver Island as a kid and those were always around. They also have the best dairy products. I still get at least a double scoop of chocolate ice cream any time I'm there.

  7. I agree with beckster about the fruitcake. My recipe, which I got from my mother and then modified, has lots of dried cherries and chopped candied ginger and goes perfectly with very old Cheddar.

    I'm so glad you've met the butter tart. I remember reading somewhere that Alan Rickman was filming here and was overheard on his phone saying, "and they have this thing here called a butter tart and it's so good I don't even know what they put in it...".

    I also admire sugar cream pie (which is Quebecois, so you wouldn't see it in BC) and real poutine. I am not big on low-fat food.

    One of the differences I've heard about is that you can't get fries with gravy or fries with vinegar in the States. Is this true?

  8. Where I grew up in Eastern Ontario, close to the Ottawa Valley area, butter tarts WITH shortbread crust are traditional (double whammy!). My grandmother's recipe call for "one good-size piece" of butter in the filling :)

  9. Tipsy, what are your thoughts on Kouign amann? I have been making my irreverent version (read: I have no reference to base it on.) Your butter tart sleuthing has made me think of this. I have been adorning it with frangipane and seasonal fruit, but wonder if it should remain pure and unadulterated, and if I may be tarting it up unnecessarily.

  10. @ lissia: absolutely not true! Many people enjoy gravy or vinegar with their fries. You won't find these condiments at fast food chains but if you go to the local independently owned joint or a restaurant where they serve comfort food, you can get vinegar or gravy with your fries.

  11. Hey! I want to know where I can get gravy with my fries! That sounds delicious. I don't think I've ever seen fries with gravy, at least not in the San Francisco Bay Area. I don't think most restaurants here even know what gravy is.
    Mayonnaise with fries, though, that is definitely good and you can ask for it.
    Kristin - I do not know the pastry of which you write, but am going to google it right now.

  12. Me,either, Jennifer! I have never seen gravy with fries anywhere in the states. I have seen vinegar with fries when the item is fish and chips, based on the UK dish.

  13. Interesting. Fries with gravy is good, but fries with gravy and cheese curbs (aka poutine) is my single most favourite thing to eat in the whole world, and that includes foie gras and icewine and butter chicken. I've heard of cheese fries, but don't understand them, because for me fried potatoes and cheese need some kind of sauce with them, like curry, or gravy, or chili.

    Really? Restaurants in San Francisco don't do gravy? How odd.

  14. Oh my gosh, poutine was the highlight of our whole trip to Quebec City a few years ago. I think it might be my favorite food too.

  15. Hmmm, I'm not sure if gravy and fries are a regional thing or not. I live in Maryland so there may be some southern influence even though we are a northern state (debatable, I know). Diners around here usually offer gravy since they serve gravy with other menu items. Soul food places, too. However, if you go to a place like Bob Evans or IHOP, you could probably request gravy on the side if it's not an option on the menu.

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  17. Quick question about a recipe from your book- my oven's lowest setting is 200F, and I was wondering if you think that would work to make clotted cream, or would the extra 25 degrees wreck it?

  18. My grandmother homesteaded here in Canada. I think the reason we invented butter tarts was; we had a pig for lard (for the crust) and a cow for butter (for the filling) but were too poor to have much of anything else. Hence the sparse filling. If you had raisins you were pretty well off.

  19. Lissla -- I would try it. It will probably work. Do you think if you insulated it that would keep it slightly cooler? Or would that just make it hotter? Let me know. Anonymous -- Yes! It is very like the way chess pies were developed in the United States.

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  21. Not sure if insulating will help. I'll try it sometime when I think I can keep my toddler and babies from sticking their heads in the oven. Probably overnight, unless it freaks my husband out too much. I would love, love, to give people clotted cream as a gift. After I've eaten a few cups of it myself.

  22. TIPSY! Kouign Amman is totally your kind of dessert (read: decadent, no chocolate, a baking project ...). Here, make David Lebovitz's version, STAT:

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