Jakeman’s Maple Syrup

Jakeman’s Maple Syrup

Jakeman's maple syrup

If there is one way in which living in Montreal has changed me, it’s through the development of an undying love for maple syrup. I’ve always liked the stuff, but now it’s pushing the boundaries of an obsession. I put maple syrup on everything. It’s my coffee-sweetener of choice, I use it to flavour oats, and most recently, I discovered that it blends superbly with tomatoes, peaches, and duck confit.

It’s no surprise that when I was offered a sample of Jakeman’s maple syrup, I jumped pounced on it.

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Before using it in any specific application, a taste test was in order. A spoonful of maple syrup helps the medicine go down as they say, right? Voted Canada’s best tasting maple syrup, Jakeman’s tastes like what you’d expect maple syrup to taste like. It sounds like a no-brainer, but it tastes like pure maple. There are no notes of burned sugar, or caramelization, rather it’s light, and sweet, with just the right balance of mapleness (making up words here, I’m sorry). It makes Jakeman’s especially versatile because you don’t have to worry about the maple syrup over-powering other ingredients in whatever recipe you are making. Or, you can just pour it onto fresh, piping hot pancakes, crepes, or waffles and call it a day.

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I opted for a somewhat eclectic Saturday brunch comprised of a Dutch baby pancake, topped with Quebec heirloom tomatoes, Ontario peaches, duck confit, and of course, Jakeman’s maple syrup. I didn’t think I was going to want the additional sweetness on top of the already candy-like tomatoes and peaches, but it brought everything together with salty, savoury duck confit. Sometimes weird can be good.

dutch baby with Jakeman's maple syrup

So whether you are looking for an everyday sweetener that’s a bit more decadent than sugar, or you want to experiment with maple syrup in your sweet and savoury recipes, try Jakeman’s the next time you want to celebrate some pure Canadiana.

**The maple syrup reviewed in this post was suppled by Canada the Store, however the opinions expressed here are my own.

Hummingbird Chocolate

Hummingbird Chocolate

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I’ve said it before and I will probably say it again; Canada has an incredible selection of bean-to-bar chocolate. For a country that is too cold to ever stand a chance of actually producing cacao beans, chocolate makers here sure know how to source the optimal product, and have the skills to pump out bars that can hold their own against any others around the globe. Take for example Hummingbird chocolate out of Almonte, Ontario. They cleaned up at the 2015 International Chocolate Awards, receiving acclaim for both their flavoured and single origin bars. I was fortunate to get to sample their many offerings recently and tended to agree with the verdict from the awards; they’re good, really good.

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Let’s start with a bar I knew I would en”joy” the second I read the description. As the name suggests, Hummingbird’s PB & Joy bar combines the ever-popular flavour pairing of chocolate and peanut butter. But get rid of any preconceptions you have of sugar-laden chocolate peanut butter cups. With this bar you taste both the chocolate and the peanuts to their fullest potential. Not tooth-achingly sweet, it’s a grown-up version of a chocolate pb treat.

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Their Hispaniola bar made from beans sourced from the Dominican Republic is also worth noting. I always like cacao from this region because I love the combined fruitiness and tobacco notes you get when it melts in your mouth. It’s a winner, literally and figuratively.

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The Zorzal bar is particularly interesting, not only because of its lingering notes of apricot and pecan, but because a portion of the proceeds from the bar’s sales go towards supporting a bird sanctuary in the Dominican Republic. The Zorzal is a songbird that spends its summers in Canada, and its winters in the Dominican. It is threatened with extinction so the sanctuary in the Dominican helps to protect it’s habitat.

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I also really liked Hummingbird’s fleur de sel bar (so much so that I devoured it before remembering to take a picture), with salt sourced from Vancouver Island Salt Co. Their other flavours include the spicy Mayan bar, as well as the honey lavender bar, both of which ingredients are sourced locally.

To try Hummingbird’s bars for yourself, check out their online store, or see where you can find their chocolate near you!

Chaleur B Chocolate

Chaleur B Chocolate

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I feel like it is my mission to make a case for Canadian chocolate as of late. If my last piece didn’t sell you on it, I think I’ve definitely got a solid argument with this one. Chaleur B is a family-run operation out of Quebec producing all of the bean to bar chocolate your heart could possibly desire. I was fortunate enough to be able to sample some recently and would be hard-pressed to pick a favourite bar. I did particularly enjoy the Ugandan beans, especially in their 50% milk bar. It was full of rich, caramel notes – the type of chocolate that makes you want to keep eating (and frankly, the smaller 40g format of Chaleur B’s bars makes it easy to justify consuming an entire one in only a single sitting).

The Madagascar bar was also solid (both figuratively and literally, unless you opt to melt it that is). You got all of the red fruit and citrus flavours characteristic of cocoa from Madagascar. Last but not least I tried the Mokaccino, studded with, you guessed it, coffee beans. Coffee and chocolate are a no-brainer combination (how often do you hear coffee described as having chocolate notes, or vice versa?), but so often it’s in the form of cheap chocolate covered espresso beans, or super syrupy mochas. Not with this bar. The makers of Chaleur B actually roast and sell coffee as well, so they know what they are doing on both accounts. All I know is that they are one of my new go-tos on the Canadian chocolate market.

If you are interested in checking out Chaleur B’s chocolate, you can order it online here.

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Sirene Chocolate

Sirene Chocolate

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According to research done in 2012, Canadians consume 6.4kg of chocolate per capita each year. We pale in comparison to Switzerland (11.9kg/capita) which shouldn’t surprise anyone, but it still puts us in the top 10 highest chocolate consuming countries in the world. So it makes sense that the quantity, and quality of Canadian chocolate producers has increased dramatically over the past few years. Enter Sirene, a company out of Victoria, BC. I will start by saying that this is some of the best chocolate I have tasted from anywhere, ever. Even from Switzerland. And I eat what some may consider to be an embarrassingly large quantity of chocolate. Sirene is that good. And that in and of itself is an understatement.

First, I love their concept; each “bar” actually comes with 2 different bars of the same cocoa percentage, allowing you to do a side-by-side taste test of cocoa beans of differing origins. I think this is so smart. Not only are you getting people to eat good chocolate, you’re encouraging them to actually taste and think about what they are putting in their mouth. Until you compare them simultaneously, most people would never take the time to consider how different chocolate from Ecuador tastes compared to chocolate from Madagascar. When they are being tasted in different sittings, it doesn’t allow you to see how distinct they are, but when you go back and forth between them, it’s obvious. This dual-bar concept is something I hope that more companies will start doing.

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The bulk of Sirene’s cocoa beans are sourced from two countries: Ecuador and Madagascar. While the chocolate from Madagascar has notes of citrus and acidic raspberries, the chocolate from Ecuador fills your palate with nuts, specifically the taste of nut skins (think walnuts, hazelnuts, etc.) and dried fruits, like raisins. In comparison, the former is bright and fruity, while the latter is rich and fudgy. Both the 73% and 100% bars offer this Ecuador/Madagascar combination.

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I was first introduced to dark milk chocolate at Rabot 1745 in London. Like it sounds, it’s dark chocolate to which milk solids have been added. Personally I find that it’s the perfect compromise between getting the creamy, melt-in-your-mouth characteristics of milk chocolate, while still enjoying chocolate that tastes like chocolate, and not just a whack of sugar. Sirene’s 65% dark milk showcases bars from both Madagascar and Guatemala. The Madagascar was intensely citrusy, same as the other percentages from there. The Guatemala on the other hand was like no chocolate I have ever tasted; it was nothing short of phenomenal. Both the aroma and flavour are strongly reminiscent of maple, not the syrup per se, but the sap. The pleasantly piney notes, mixed with the subtly of warm spices screams Christmas. Or “wow this is incredible!” One of the two. I should note that this dark milk bar recently one first place at the Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle.

So here’s my suggestion to you. Go hunt down a bar of Sirene chocolate, find someone to appreciate it with, and savour it. Start a dialogue. Talk about what you are smelling, what you are tasting. See that chocolate, just like food as a whole, is an experience. And heck, if I can get Canadian chocolate that is this good, why would I want to go to Switzerland anyways?

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**I’d like to thank Sirene for graciously sending me samples of their chocolate to review here for you. You can find out where to buy Sirene chocolate in your area here.

Nanaimo Bars

Nanaimo bars
Until a couple of days ago, I could not tell you when the last time I had a Nanaimo bar was. In all honesty, it was probably a store-bought one at a piano recital at least 7 years ago. It was the one thing I looked forward to after listening to kids hack away at the ivories for a solid 2 hours, the snacks! It was the same deal with soccer. I would not have gone if it weren’t for the orange slices and Rice Krispie squares. Even as a child my love for food was immense.
What were we talking about again? Oh yes, Nanaimo bars. I am curious, can anyone tell me, can you get these/does anyone make these in the States? I have never really paid attention to whether or not I have ever seen them there. I know that they got their name because they originated in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island but I would be interested to know how far they have spread. As a Canadian, they scream holidays or any get-together where inevitably a grandmother will be baking something.
Ok so here is the Nanaimo bar low-down for those of you who are out of the loop.
1. Crust made primarily of coconut, graham cracker crumbs and cocoa (chopped nuts are optional). Some people bake it, some people don’t. I find that any melted butter/graham crust holds together better when baked so that’s the route I take.
2. Butter icing filling, flavoured with custard powder. Personally, I don’t see what the custard powder adds flavour-wise. I tasted it by itself and it was exactly like cornstarch, blah. However, it does contribute to the eggy, yellow colour. This surprised me as it is bleach white when dry but the minute you add moisture to it, it turns bright yellow. Natural? Perhaps not, but Nanaimo bars would not be Nanaimo bars without a yellow middle layer.
3. Chocolate ganache-like topping. Just melted chocolate with a tablespoon or two of butter, that’s it, that’s all. Unless you are me and then you use Green & Black’s Burnt Toffee chocolate (it was just released in Canada and they sent me a couple of bars to try) to add some crunchy texture and caramel-y flavour. But I guess that is still just melted chocolate and butter. Fancy chocolate, but still chocolate.
Layer it up, let it chill and voila, you’ve got yourself some Nanaimo bars. Eaten right away or frozen for later, they are a nostalgic treat that brings out the kid in any full grown adult. Next thing you know, you will be leaving some out for Santa. Who does that though? You are supposed to give Santa the crappy stuff that you don’t want to eat. The Nanaimo bars, well you keep those all to yourself. It’s worth the risk of getting coal in your stocking.
Nanaimo bars
Nanaimo bars
Nanaimo bars
Nanaimo bars

Nanaimo Bars

Makes 25 squares

Ingredients
Base
½ cup butter
¼ cup white sugar
6 tbsp. cocoa powder
1 egg
1 tbsp. milk
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup coconut
Middle Layer
¼ butter, softened
3 tbsp. milk
2 tbsp. custard powder
3 cups icing sugar
Top Layer
2 bars Green & Black’s Burnt Toffee chocolate (or 200g semisweet or dark chocolate of your choice)
2 tbsp. butter
Instructions
1.     To make the base, combine the butter, sugar, cocoa and milk in a large saucepan. Heat to melt the butter, stirring until smooth.
2.     Remove and add in the graham cracker crumbs, coconut and egg. Stir until well incorporated and pack into a parchment lined 9×9” pan. Bake at 325F for about 10 minutes. Once it is out of the oven, put it in the freezer to cool for 5 to 10 minutes.
3.     To make the middle layer, beat together the butter, milk, custard powder and icing sugar until smooth. Spread this on top of the base and chill.
4.     Melt together the chocolate and butter in the microwave for the top layer. Allow it to cool slightly. Pour this over the first 2 layers, spreading it evenly across the top.

5.     Refrigerate until everything is set, 30-60 minutes. Slice and serve.
Nanaimo bars
Nanaimo bars