This week, I decided to draw inspiration from another French-speaking country I have travelled to: Canada!
In May this year, I was lucky enough to be able to go on a 30-day cruise to Canada for free (more on that here) and while I was there, I made sure to seek out the two Canadian staple foods: poutine and Beaver Tails (queues de castor in French…perhaps French Canadians aren’t quite as smutty as the French, because this name certainly made me laugh). While poutine is definitely delicious (gravy = good, cheese curds = good, chips = good), I decided that it was probably too simple a recipe (though difficult to replicate in the UK – where does one buy cheese curds?) to bother translating, so I opted for Beaver Tails. I had them a couple of times throughout the month and they were absolutely heavenly and, looking at a few recipes, they seemed fairly easy to make. Little did I know…
If you’re wondering where they get their names from, apparently it is because they are meant to be the shape of Beaver Tails. Don’t worry, no beavers were harmed in the making of this delicious pastry.
Firstly, I kept both the English and French, as in the original, in the recipe title to showcase Canada’s status as a bilingual country, but I inverted them: Beaver Tails (Queues de Castor).
This recipe tauts itself as being ‘bon marché’, which literally translates as ‘well marketed’, but is often translated as ‘cheap’. In my experience, there is no true translation for the word ‘cheap’, which is usually rendered in French as ‘pas cher’ (literally: ‘not expensive’). However, in this situation, I would suggest that ‘cheap’ sounds a little pejorative and in fact the recipe is trying to market this as a positive aspect, so I chose the more neutral ‘low-cost’.
In a previous week, I brought up Hannah Translates’ discussion on butter in one of her #ThatTranslatorCanCook posts and my research this week led me to believe that there may be a similar disparity in how different nations handle flour.
I noticed that, in both this recipe and the recipe I chose for Kouign Amann, the recipe just calls for ‘farine’ (‘flour’) and doesn’t specify which kind. After some digging, I discovered that this is because flour in France (and presumably French-speaking Canada, given the origin of this recipe) and England is catagorised in different ways. In England, we mainly think of flour in terms of whether it is self-raising or plain, although sometimes we talk about flours made from different grains (corn and rice spring to mind) or flours suited for different purposes (bread flour, for example). However, in France, as far as I can determine, it seems that flour is labelled based on its ash content after it has been in incinerated and is given a number in accordance with this (see here for more detail). Presumably Type 45 (designed for pastry, as per the link) is the most common and therefore the recipe’s author deemed it unnecessary to specify. That or French people are more knowledgeable about what flour to use when! Also, it seems that self-raising flour (or ‘farine à levure’) doesn’t exist in France, as I found several forum posts from confused habitants of France asking where they could buy it!
On a slight side note, it also seems to me that we have somewhat adopted this system. In the last 5-10 years, 00 flour has become more and more readily available in the UK (perhaps due to the popular of making your own pizza at home on a pizza stone) and I always wondered why it was called ’00’ – now I have the answer!
This recipe, like the Kouign Amann, was a little bit time consuming, but possibly worth the results if you can perfect the techniques!
The first step was to mix my ingredients together to form a dough before leaving it to prove (once again in our airing cupboard, but this time covered in a damp tea towel). The recipe didn’t specify how much cinammon to add, so I opted for a teaspoon, but my husband and I agreed it probably could have done with more!
The recipe called for you to mix the dough in a bowl until smooth. However, this did not seem possible when just using a wooden spoon (the recipe did suggest using a food processor, but I don’t have one!), so I added an extra step. I put the (very sticky) dough on a floured surface and kneaded it until it formed a smooth ball.
Once the dough had proved, it was time to shape them. The recipe said to stretch them by hand into the correct shape, which was honestly very difficult to do in a what that meant that the dough was an even thickness all the way through. Then came the frying. The recipe itself didn’t specify what temperature to fry them at, although the author had commented that it should be 180. As I don’t have a cooking thermometer, this wasn’t that useful for me and high/medium/low would have been useful. I definitely think my Beaver Tails suffered for this, as they browned very quickly, but were quite doughy in the middle, perhaps because the oil was too hot.
Final Verdict: I would give these a 6.5/10 (although the Beaver Tails I tasted in Canada were definitely a 100000000/10!). As I said, I think the oil was too hot and also I had to substitute lemon juice for water, which may have affected the taste and consistency. In my opinion (and my husband’s), they could have done with a little more cinammon and sugar.