01 August 2015

Food Day Canada: Mmm..Canada Blackcurrant Buckle

150719 Blackcurrant Buckle 2

The first Saturday in August means different things to different Canadians.  For many of us, it's the start of a three-day weekend.  Although different parts of the country call it by different names, for most of Ontario, it's the Civic Holiday long weekend (with Monday being the Civic Holiday).  I say most of Ontario as Burlington calls it Joseph Brant Day,  Ottawa calls it Colonel By Day, Toronto calls it Simcoe Day, and Vaughan calls it Benjamin Vaughan Day.

But the first Saturday of August is also Food Day. Over the past dozen years or so it has morphed from a beefy barbecue to support the Canadian beef industry to a nationwide celebration of Canadian food.

Personally, I think it's a fitting combination of celebrations. It's a reminder of what, traditionally, it is to be Canadian: keeping an eye out for one another, and doing the right thing, and welcoming new people and ideas.  It's also about celebrating Canadian food: from farmers who grow our food, to chefs who work with amazing local ingredients, to cooks who adopt and adapt foods to feed their families and friends.

My offering for Food Day Canada is a very homey blackcurrant buckle--a lumpy-bumpy cake topped with fruit and a sweet topping.  Depending upon where you are, you may call it a crumble.

I've posted buckles recipes before, but they were both blueberry-based: peach-blueberry and lemon-blueberry.  This one features locally-sourced blackcurrants.  More tart than sweet, the small onyx orbs paired nicely with the tangy, lemon-scented buttermilk cake.  Of course, if the cake is *too* tart for your palate, you can drizzle an icing glaze on top, dust the cake with icing sugar or snuggle a billowy cloud of ice cream or chantilly cream along side your slice.

150719 Blackcurrant Buckle 1

Blackcurrant Buckle

Yield: One 20cm/8" cake


For the topping:
65g  85ml  0.33c   sugar
50g  85ml  0.33c   ap flour
40g  45ml  3Tbsp  cold butter

For the cake:
100g  125ml  0.5c    sugar
55g      62ml  0.25c  butter
20ml  2dspn   4tsp    flavourless oil
2 eggs
Finely grated zest of half a lemon (optional)
165ml  0.66c  buttermilk (plus more, if needed)
265g   440ml 1.75c ap flour
10ml 1dspn  2tsp baking powder
1.25ml  0.25tsp   salt
210g  500ml  2c blackcurrants

Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Butter and paper the bottom of an 20cm/8" high-sided springform pan.

Rub the zest into the sugar, infusing the lemon oils into the sugar. Set aside.

Sift together the flour and baking powder and set aside.

Start with the topping by rubbing together the sugar, flour and butter so everything is combined, but in varied pebbly sizes (from grains of sand to no bigger than a pea). Set aside.

To make the batter, cream together the sugar, butter and oil. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Mix in the flour and buttermilk in the usual way (dry-wet-dry-wet-dry), scraping down the bowl's sides between each addition.  If necessary blend in more buttermilk until the batter reaches a dropping consistency.

Pour into prepared pan and level the batter. Tumble the blackcurrants on top, so they are evenly distributed on the batter. Cover the fruit with the topping.

Bake for 60-75 minutes, or until an inserted skewer comes out with cooked cake crumbs clinging (it can be hard to tell as the skewer will have to travel through the cooked currants). The cake will begin to pull away from the sides and the crumble will be a light golden colour.

Allow to cool to room temperature before serving.

Serve, if you wish, with ice cream or chantilly cream.

  • Taste your blackcurrants before baking with them as they can range from tart to sweet.  If they are tarter than you’d like, then you can
    • Drizzle an icing glaze overtop the cooled cake
    • Dust the cooled cake with icing sugar
  • You probably wouldn't go wrong with adding more fruit than the two cups listed.  You'll get more of bursted, somewhat jammy fruit top, and I can't think of how that could be a bad thing.

Previous Food Day Canada Posts:

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26 July 2015

My Darling One...eight years later

06 01 29 Embrujo Flamenco Tapas Bar Toronto JM & MV1

Some years are less difficult than others.  Some days are less difficult than others.  Every year I pause to remember The Fussy Eater, who died eight years ago today.  Our time together was as long as The Fates saw fit.

Today I remember him via food and film.  A marathon viewing of The Hobbit trilogy in the TV Temple -- his TV Temple -- and supper of some of his much-loved foods.

My versions of some his much-loved foods.

Pizza with pancetta, mushrooms, roasted aubergine, black olives, sundried tomatoes, artichokes, roasted peppers, and onions with chicken wings on the side.  Dessert is a Victoria Sponge, made the old fashioned way.

His pizza would have seen the aubergines, olives, sundried tomatoes, artichokes and roasted peppers substituted with pepperoni, sausage, ham, bacon and maybe either salami or chicken. I'm not entirely certain he'd have had the pancetta, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

He'd have approved of boxed frozen wings that were injected and covered with who-knows-what.

The cake would be passable, I think.  He would have whimpered at the lack of chocolate, or that it wasn't the squidgy chocolate loaf he always not-so-secretly wanted.

The films would have met with his approval.

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15 July 2015

On My Rickety Shelves: Edible Atlas by Mina Holland

Thanks to the lovely people at Canongate Books who supplied me with a copy of this book.

Note to readers: I am reviewing the original UK imprint. The American version, The World on a Plate: 40 Cuisines, 100 Recipes, and the Stories Behind Them, is published by Penguin Books.

By Mina Holland
Canongate Books Ltd.
368 pages; £9.99

Mina Holland, editor of The Guardian’s Cook supplement and the newspaper’s food and drink writer, guides readers through 39[1] “key cuisines” in 29 countries and regions in her book, The Edible Atlas. Some countries such as France and Italy receive multiple spotlights while some regions such as the Levant and Scandinavia are lumped together as one cuisine.  Store cupboard lists and recipes follow each culinary discussion.

Wisely, Holland does not presume to provide readers in-depth and definitive treatments of each food culture.  Instead, each entry is meant to springboard the reader into the various cuisines, or to be a “go-to guide for anyone with a fledgling curiosity about the building blocks that make up some of the world’s key cuisines.”

I must start this review by admitting to an error, which may or may not nullify this review:  If it’s possible to read a book incorrectly, I have done so with The Edible Atlas. 

I tackled it as I do all books: I read it cover-to-cover. About one-quarter through I realised my folly.  Given the breadth of subject matter, I should have thought of these as a collection of short stories or essays, tethered by foodways and often--but not always--by personal travel.  I should have approached it as dim sum – grazing over perfunctory mouthfuls, each with different flavours and  cookery techniques, as opposed to gobbling through a multi-course dinner, where each bowl and plate work harmoniously together.

But gobble I did.

And in said gobbling, I found myself of two minds about this book. 

On one hand, Holland’s understanding of food as living and adaptive permeates the pages and invited me to note choice lines.  While she states it’s impossible to recreate exactly a dish “since food is subject to the quality and provenance of ingredients, the preferences of its creator on a given day, the water, heat and equipment available,” she invites interested readers to try to capture the flavours and histories of various food traditions.  One of my favourite lines, declaring cuisine “the edible lovechild of both geography and history,” is revisited over and over through high-level overviews of these intersections: Catalan separatism and its influence on art, architecture and food; the impact of China’s occupation of Vietnam on the people, and the role of small-scale agriculture in Ethiopia.

I like Holland’s use of well-selected literary quotations to introduce each essay.  Every region is captured in a few lines and cosy the reader into a new culture: Like Water For Chocolate introduces Mexico; The God of Small Things begins South India; The Hàvamål greets Scandinavia. Cute little maps, evocative of 1920s travel posters, also accompany each quotation.

On the other hand, Holland’s leap from short form (much of what I’ve seen in her newspaper writing) to long form, is less-than-graceful at times, and makes the individual essays feel less secure than they should. In distilling interesting, factual and personal information into difficult-to-write hearty but snackable lengths, her voice vacillates from objective journalist report to schoolgirl’s vacation blog.  At times I feel her words want to be written by Elizabeth David, Nigella Lawson or Tessa Kiros, but they fall short.  I only notice this when Holland’s words strain to be breezily knowledgeable, but instead are aped authoritative bluster, of the ilk found in college essays. Occasionally the author reminds us she’s young and hip—getting jiggy with ingredients means you’re still young and hip in 2015, right?

Infographics about specific topics, such as fried foods, the spice route, and grape varietals are interspersed in the text.  Many are interesting, but one in particular caused knitted eyebrows and quizzical looks amongst my (Canadian) friends: while the “melting pot” of the Americas mashes together a wide range of colonial and immigration movements, the North American map doesn’t seem to accurately reflect the Canadian tossed salad’s colonial or immigration experiences. To someone unaware of the impact of the Seven Years’ War on the New World, it’s as if the Treaty of Paris (1763) never happened. But then again, Canada, appearing to not be a pet set of cuisines[2], is omitted, so this oversight isn’t crucial as her focus is what’s below the 49th parallel. 

Each section’s store cupboard lists are good ways to broaden a kitchen’s scope. In my battle against time, I haven’t tried any of the book’s recipes, so I cannot pass on my experiences. A warning to readers who want "authentic" recipes: some are of questionable provenance and are the author’s or her family’s interpretation of a particular dish.  Then again, attaining authenticity in a cuisine where most ingredients are imported or may simply be unavailable is a tall order, and adaptations are reasonably expected.

When I read this book, I kept asking myself, “for whom is this written?”  To be truthful, my first response was a certain subset of boorish foodies who would use this book as a sort of dinner party Coles Notes or to otherwise impress someone on a first date[3] (heaven help the rest of us).

But really, it’s those who are at the beginnings of expanding their food experience who should take a look at this book. Holland’s ability to tie together socio-political events combined with issues of terroir provide a good introduction to the development of food cultures.  This, combined with what appear to be easily accessible recipes should help those wanting to broaden their palates.  Just don't read it cover-to-cover.

[1] The American text is different from the original UK text in the usual ways (assuming), and has been altered to include a new chapter on UK cuisine.

[2] As former Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Joe Clark said, Canadian cuisine is a cuisine of cuisines.  

[3]And before you ask, I’ve had experience with wannabe suitors doing this sort of thing, in hopes I’ll be impressed with their knowledge of any particular subject. Yup. Still single.

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