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Monday 8 June 2020

Beaver Tails with Maple Buttercream Icing

Sometime after my girlfriend moved in with me, we started introducing each other to things like our favourite movies, books, TV shows and YouTube channels. In the latter category, one of Courtney's favourites is Simply Nailogical - ostensibly a nail art channel which has more recently branched out into a nail varnish brand (Holo Taco) and a stream-of-consciousness/discussion podcast (SimplyPodLogical). This may seem like a strange subject to bring up on what is technically still a food blog (even though it's been without updates in over a year because I started using Instagram for the majority of my foodie output), but there's a connecton, honest.

Basically, one of the recent episodes of SimplyPodLogical was devoted to discussing some common Canadian stereotypes and, during the course of the conversation, Cristine and Ben mentioned a chain of pastry shops called 'BeaverTails'. They are purveyors of what is essentially a flatbread version of the classic fried doughnut, with a variety of toppings on offer, from classic cinnamon sugar to various types of icing, chocolate spreads, crushed biscuits, fruit, etc.

Naturally, I was hooked.

Since they don't have any UK branches (and, y'know, there's the Lockdown to consider anyway) I looked into recipes for making Beaver Tails myself, and realised it was something I could probably manage quite comfortably, despite the fact that I've done very little cooking from scratch in ages, and what little I have done used recipes from Gousto, where all the ingredients came supplied in the proper, premeasured quantities, and the instructions were given in clear, simple stages. I've not bothered writing those up here because it seemed a little rude (not to mention legally shaky) to recreate their recipes, and because it worked better to simply photograph and Instagram the results.

But Beaver Tails... They're precisely in line with the raison d'être for this blog, so I couldn't resist going the longform option... Not least because I can demonstrate how adaptable these fried delicacies can be.


Maple Buttercream
  • Room Temperature Butter, salted or unsalted - I used salted (225g)
  • Icing Sugar (120g)
  • Maple Syrup (120ml)
  • Vanilla Extract (2 teaspoons)
  • Salt (a pinch, only if using unsalted butter)
Preparation Time: 5-10 minutes

Beaver Tails
  • Hot Tapwater (60ml)
  • Sugar (50g)
  • Yeast (7g)
  • Milk (60ml)
  • Butter (3 Tablespoons)
  • Egg (1)
  • Salt (1 Teaspoon)
  • Plain Flour (335g)
  • Oil for Frying
  • Topping (cinnamon sugar being the usual recommendation)
Preparation Time: Approx 2 hours, including resting

Tools Required:
  • Large Mixing Bowl (for the dough)
  • Medium Mixing Bowl (for the icing)
  • Small, Microwave-safe Bowl
  • Stirring Implements, eg. spoon, spatula, whisk (some form of electric mixer is recommended for some parts!)
  • Sharp Knife
  • Rolling Pin
  • Frying Pan or Saucepan (of sufficient size to accommodate at least one portion of the dough)
  • Tongs (because you don't want to burn your fingers with hot oil!)

The Process:
Let's start by making the buttercream, because doing that after making the Beaver Tails could be problematic. Cube the butter and dump it into the medium-sized bowl, then add the icing sugar and start to stir. While I'd heartily recommend some sort of electric mixer (either a stand mixer or an electric whisk), it's best to start this process off manually, either with a spoon or spatula, because the icing sugar will be inclined to puff out all over the place under the influence of an electric mixer. Once the icing sugar is at least partially bound into the butter, it'll be safe to switch over to electric. Add in the Maple Syrup, the Vanilla and, if using unsalted butter, a pinch of salt. Personally, I found it perfectly acceptable to cut out the middle-man and simply use salted butter - the combination of icing sugar, Maple Syrup and Vanilla is easily sweet enough to take the edge off the saltiness of the butter, and vice versa. Keep mixing till everything is as smooth as possible, then set aside.

Note that this mixture will be inclined to separate over time, and may not even bind into a particularly smooth consistency in the first place. This is a common issue with adding liquids to buttercream, but we're aiming for an authetic Maple Syrup flavour, and genuine Maple Syrup is very much a liquid. As long as you're not seeing clumps of butter, it's probably good to go, and will just need a little extra stirring before it's applied to the Beaver Tails.

Making the dough for the Beaver Tails themselves is rather more complicated a process than I've encountered for bread and cakes, largely because I've normally only dealt with ready-made mixtures. I think the only other time I've used yeast anywhere on this blog was in my failed attempt at crafting home-made Cream Soda, but we seemed to have some more recently-purchased yeast in our cupboards.

Start by pouring the hot tapwater into the larger mixing bowl with a teaspoon of sugar (this can be taken from the measured 50g - that still leaves plenty for the remainder of the recipe), add the yeast, stir and set aside for a few minutes so it can proof. What you'll end up with is an off-putting, yeasty-smelling, frothy beige mess. Believe it or not, this is a good thing.

Add the butter, milk, and the remaining sugar to a small bowl and microwave (carefully!) to melt it all together. Stir it up and allow it to cool for a few minutes before adding to the yeast mixture in the large bowl - it needs to be hotter than room temperature, but if it's too hot it could ruin the yeast. Stir the two mixtures together, then crack in the egg, add the salt and whisk together. Start slowly adding in the flour, a little at a time, and keep stirring until a dough is formed. Knead this for a few minutes, adding flour as necessary. The end result should still be quite sticky, but very definitely a dough rather than a paste.

Cover the bowl - if it has a lid, so much the better, otherwise cling film will do the job - and leave it aside somewhere warm to allow the dough to rise. About an hour should be sufficient, but I had to make way for Courtney to take an online cookery class at this point, and only returned to my dough quite late in the afternoon, by which time it was very puffy and smelt strongly of yeast. Beat the dough back down to its original size, then divide into eighths - I rolled mine into a fat cylinder, as that seemed the easiest way to cut it into portions semi-accurately. Roll these out flat, to something in the region of half a centimetre in depth, then set aside for frying. Just for fun, I cut a grid pattern on one side of mine... Not sure why, but the idea had occurred to me, and I was curious to see how they'd end up after frying.

Fill your chosen frying pan or saucepan with cooking oil, just enough that the dough sections will be able to float, then put on what's described as "a medium heat". I gather from the recipes I found online that you'd be aiming for about 180°C/350°F, but it's a tricky thing to judge because hobs aren't marked that way, and they often have different sized burners available, each offering a different range of temperatures. For me, "a medium heat" usually seems to be the lowest setting on the mid-sized burner, but that isn't entirely consistent so your mileage may vary. I ended up tearing off a small chunk of the dough and using that to judge whether the oil was hot enough.

Place the dough pieces into the oil carefully to avoid spitting or splashing. Depending on the size of your chosen vessel, you may have to do them one at a time, or you may fit two or three. Fry each side till golden brown - depending on the vaguaries of the hob and the actual temperature of the oil, this may be anything between 30 seconds to a couple of minutes... though I suspect I may have overdone a couple of mine. Once done, pick them out of the oil (allowing the excess to drain off) and add the topping of your choice while they're still warm.

The Results:
To be honest, this went better than I'd expected, albeit perhaps not perfectly. For starters, I didn't get all my ingredients ready and set out before waking up the yeast, so that was left going rather longer than recommended in any recipes (maybe about 15-20 minutes, while I got everything else together?). I'm not sure if there's an ideal point in the proofing process, after which something can go wrong... but certainly nothing exploded. I actually started the yeast off in a tiny bowl of its own rather than in the large mixing bowl and, by the time I started bringing everything together for the dough, it looked as though it would have overflowed if I'd left it there much longer.

Still, the dough came together very well, but it did leave me coveting those mixers with dough hook options, because mixing what ends up as quite a tough, sticky dough was not fun with a standard spoon. I also had trouble with the dough's stickiness... Sure, it's described as "sticky" in recipes, but how sticky is that? Once I'd mixed in all the flour and started kneading, quite a bit of the dough stuck to my hands. I suspect I should have added a little more flour at that point, but didn't want to overdo it. This is probably something I'd know better if I made bread regularly (and from scratch). Nevertheless, it rose very well in its covered-over bowl... and ended up being left for several hours rather than the recommended "one hour or so". Whether or not this worked in my favour, I'm still not sure. Beating it down and dividing it up was easy enough, so I figure I can't have gone too far wrong. My only concern was that there was a very strong yeasty smell to what was supposed to be quite a sweet dough - or so I thought.

Frying went well, but I'm still pretty vague on hob temperature settings, particularly with large quantities of oil. Plus, the dough had a habit of developing pockets of air underneath, so some of the individual doughnut-things ended up with patches on the underside that looked undercooked. Still, they puffed up nicely, and I was pleased to find that my grid patterns looked pretty good after frying. I tried one 'bare' after letting it cool a little, and have to admit that the yeasty smell persisted after I tore it open. It was light and fluffy, though, so a coating of cinnamon sugar would probably have overpowered whatever yeastiness was left.

I was aiming slightly higher than mere cinnamon sugar, though... and my Maple Buttercream icing made for an excellent topping. However, I'd got a bit of a bee in my bonnet about the icing the day before I started making the dough. I first tried a small batch using a fraction of the necessary ingredients, and that turned out OK... But then I decided to make the full batch late in the evening, because I realised that my time in the kitchen would be interrupted by Courtney's cooking lesson, and I figured getting the icing done ahead of time would help. Storage presented a problem that I hadn't fully considered, though. I didn't want to leave it out overnight, so ended up stuffing it in the fridge. This naturally made it harder to dole out, even after stirring it thoroughly again to undo the separation that occurred, and it never quite became as smooth as one would normally expect of a buttercream icing.

I think I was a little hyperactive for a while after eating a completed Beaver Tail slathered with icing, so I didn't have a second. Later on came the sugar crash, which left me feeling a little unwell and headachy for part of the evening. The four Beaver Tails left after dinner were boxed up and stuck in the fridge, with the excess icing (because there was quite a lot!) scooped into a small plastic tub for storage in the freezer.

Not even the threat of another sugar crash was enough to deter me from having one of the remaining iced Beaver Tails for breakfast, and chilling them overnight certainly took the cloying edge off the icing, though the Beaver Tail itself had become a little dry and hard. They're definitely a dessert to be best enjoyed when fresh.

At Courtney's suggestion, I had another one - topped with three rashers of unsmoked bacon - for lunch, since the concept wasn't too far removed from some of the breakfast/brunch options I've seen available in American hotels. This, too, turned out to be delicious... and I'm not normally one to mix sweet and savoury on a single plate.