Making and breaking bread with Atlantic Canadians

(Caroline Clarke for CBC)

People who live on the East Coast of the country have a lot in common. But look a little closer and you’ll see the people who make up Atlantic Canada are as varied and diverse as a Thanksgiving potluck.

The proof of that is in the puddling. Or to be more accurate, it’s in the bread.

Here’s just a sample of some of the delicious breads that make up Atlantic Canada — and the people who bake them.

Polish Babka

A traditional polish Easter babka. (Submitted by Peggy Ryba)

In the words of Elaine Benes on the ’90s sitcom Seinfeld“you can’t beat a babka.”

The traditional Polish bread takes center stage whenever the parishioners of St. Mary’s Polish Church in Sydney, NS, get together for a celebration. And when Peggy Ryba makes this ornate Easter babka, you’re guaranteed a full belly.

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 ¼ cup cold water
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • 6 tsp. or 2 packages yeast
  • 8 cups of flour
  • 2 tsp. jump
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 4 large eggs well beaten
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • Zest of one lemon

Scald milk then add cold water. Measure one cup of the combined liquid and test that it’s lukewarm. In measured liquid, dissolve sugar and yeast and let it stand for 15 to 20 minutes. Sift together the flour and salt and set aside. In the remaining liquid, add butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla and zest. Add the dissolved yeast. Mix wet ingredients into dry then knead dough for 10 minutes on a flour board. Place dough in a greased bowl and allow to rise for an hour and a half. Punch the dough down then divide into pans. Let dough rise until doubled in size. Bake at 375 F for 50 minutes.

Ursula Melski and Peggy Ryba adorn their traditional Easter babka with a cross and a braid. (Holly Connors/CBC)

Wabanaki acorn cornbread

Before settlers introduced wheat to North America, many Indigenous people used corn to make bread. Cecilia Brooks, an elder of St. Mary’s First Nation in New Brunswick, says her traditional Wabanaki cornbread also uses acorns.

  • 1 ¾ cups cornmeal
  • ¼ cup acorn flour or cornmeal if acorn flour isn’t available
  • 2 tbsp. baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup oil
  • 1 cup milk
  • ¼ cup sugar or 1 can cream corn (if using cream corn, reduce milk to ½ cup)

Preheat oven to 425 F with a 10-inch cast iron skillet in it. If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, you can use an 8-inch cake pan, but don’t preheat. Mix dry ingredients separately from wet. Then add wet to dry and mix to blend. If using cast iron, take the hot skillet out of the oven and pour in a tablespoon or so of oil and coat the bottom before transferring the batter into the skillet. If you are using a cake pan, just oil the pan before pouring batter in. Bake for 20 minutes.

Cecilia Brooks, an elder of St. Mary’s First Nation in New Brunswick, with her take on acorn cornbread. (Viola Pruss/CBC)

mauritian farata

Rolled farata, a type of Mauritian flatbread, from The Dodo Mauritian restaurant in Charlottetown, PEI (Submitted by Jesh Ramloll)

Farata is a rolled flatbread that’s traditional to Mauritius, an island country in the Indian Ocean. It’s also the specialty of Charlottetown’s first Mauritian restaurant, the Dodo.

  • 2 cups white flour,
  • 3 tbsp. melted ghee or oil
  • 1 tsp. jump
  • 1 cup of water

Sift flour in a flat container. Add half the water, mix well and knead into a soft dough. Knead until it forms a big ball, gradually adding the remaining water and alternatively pressing and folding the dough. Sprinkle with one to two tablespoons of water. Or add everything to a kitchen mixer and run it on medium for five to seven minutes. Cover with a moist kitchen towel and set aside for 10 minutes. Divide the dough into six equal parts and shape them into round balls. Flatten and roll into a flat disc about 12 centimeters in diameter. Smear a little melted ghee or butter on the flat disc and fold it over into a semi-circle. Smear some more melted ghee or butter over the upper surface and fold a second time. Double fold it lengthwise, press it gently with your fingers and roll into a round circle making the edge thinner than the center. The secret is in the layering, with a smear of ghee or butter in between the pastry sheets. The more layering, the flakier the farata will be. Place on a hot griddle, turn over once and smear with melted ghee or butter again. Cook for a few seconds, turn over again and smear the other side with melted ghee or oil as well. Cook for a further few seconds until the farata is light golden brown on both sides. Serve hot with a curry of your choice or eat with butter for breakfast.

Serbian Slava bread

A beautifully ornate slave bread just before it goes in the oven. (Submitted by Lori King)

During the Serbian tradition of Slava, families share an elaborately decorated bread to honor their patron saint. Lori King of St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador spends hours in the kitchen every November to help her Serbian partner celebrate his saint’s day.

  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 3 tbsp. flour
  • 2 cups. warm water
  • 1 tsp. jump
  • 1 cup butter (softened)
  • 3 eggs (lightly beaten)
  • 1 lemon, juice and zest
  • 4 tbsp. spoons sugar
  • 6 to 7 cups flour
  • 1 egg (beaten with one tbsp. water)

Dissolve yeast, one tablespoon of sugar and three tablespoons of flour in half a cup of warm water. In a large bowl, combine remaining water, salt, butter, eggs, lemon zest and juice and sugar. Add the proofed yeast and about four cups of flour and beat well. Add remaining flour gradually, beating well, until dough is stiff. Knead 10 minutes by hand or five minutes by kitchen mixer. Put dough in a greased bowl to rise. Once it’s doubled in size, knead again briefly. Reserve a handful of dough to decorate the top, then make a round loaf out of the remaining. Place in a well-greased 9-inch round, 3-inch deep pan. Decorate the edge of the loaf with a braid and a cross to the center with four backward Cs in each quadrant. Let rise until it’s doubled (about one hour). Heat oven to 350 F. Brush bread lightly with eggwash. Bake for one hour or until nicely brown. When cool enough to handle, remove from the pan and cool on a wire rack.

Lori King spends hours in the kitchen each November making an elaborate braided bread to help celebrate her husband’s Serbian tradition of Slava. (Submitted by Lori King)

Innu donuts

Elizabeth Penashue’s traditional doughnuts. (Regan Burden/CBC)

When Innu Elder Elizabeth Penashue sets up her portable wood stove and hauls out her frying pan, people all over central Labrador start to line up. Her traditional donuts from Ella lure in people from thousands around. If you want to try and make your own however, don’t expect a precise recipe. Like grandmothers everywhere, Penashue doesn’t measure a thing.

(Caroline Clarke for CBC)

Mix flour, molasses, raisins, baking powder, brown sugar and water together in a large bowl. When the ingredients are combined, flour your hands and pick up a handful of dough. Pat it flat, make a hole in the center and fry in the frying pan.

(Caroline Clarke for CBC)

Mi’kmaw Luskinikin

14-year-old Kaleb Francis of Elsibogtog, New Brunswick. (Khalil Akhtar/CBC)

Luskinikin, a type of baked bannock, is traditionally served with fresh fish in New Brunswick’s Elsipogtog First Nation. If you’d like to try it yourself, here’s a recipe from 14-year-old aspiring chef Kaleb Francis.

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tbsp. baking powder
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. jump
  • 1 tbsp. oil
  • About 1 cup water

Preheat oven to 375 F. Mix dry ingredients together. Add liquid and mix to form a dough. If the dough is sticky, add more flour. If the dough doesn’t hold together, add more water. Shape dough into a round ball. Place on a baking sheet. Bake about 30 minutes until golden brown.

(Caroline Clarke for CBC)

Jamaican coconut bread

Because of its folds, coco bread is perfect for stuffing. (Cindy Grant/CBC)

Chef Shane Parkinson learned to make this coco bread from his grandmother growing up in Jamaica. Now that he lives in New Brunswick, he makes it once a week to remind him of home.

  • 3 ½ cups flour
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 4 ½ tsp. active dry yeast
  • 1 ½ cup of milk warmed to 120F
  • ¼ cup of milk warmed to 120F
  • 2 tbsp. coconut oil
  • 2 tbsp. melted butter for brushing

Mix wet ingredients into dry. Knead dough for four to five minutes on a floured surface. Shape into 10 balls and let rise for about 10 minutes. Roll each ball into a circle and brush each side with melted butter. Fold into a half-moon shape. Butter each side again and fold in half to make a triangle. Let rise again for 10 minutes then make four light impressions on each triangle with your fingertips. Bake at 350 F for 20 minutes.

Chef Shane Parkinson says the trick to making perfect coco bread is coating the dough in butter every time you fold. (Cindy Grant/CBC)

CBC Radio Specials49:23breaking bread

Whether you eat babka or bannock, bread is a cultural staple in every Canadian kitchen. This Thanksgiving, tune in to Breaking Bread as host Khalil Akhtar learns about the many bread traditions in Atlantic Canada, and the people who bake them. 49:23

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