Traditionally, Toutons are served with Fancy Molasses and Butter!
This is the iconic Canadian heritage recipe that brought Emily Mardell and I together. Known as the “Touton” since early 1800, though the origin of the word is lost, this crispy puff of Newfoundland fry bread with a dollop of butter and generous drizzle of Fancy Molasses most likely hailed from the Aboriginal people living in the area as fry bread seems to be an aspect of various aboriginal groups throughout North America in assorted forms. Possibly the Beothuk. This is a Valerie hypothesis and based on years of teaching Canadian history, not on actual fact. I imagine the word came from the first people, too. It is my fantasy but makes good sense to me.
The addition of molasses came from the trade of cod around the early 1800’s as “Sometimes the saltfish was exchanged for money and sometimes for goods which could not be produced in Newfoundland and Labrador, such as molasses or coffee.” Molasses was revered and a special treat in the area and grew into a beloved family staple. Drizzling it over toutons and adding butter would have been a natural evolution. I was not too motivated to indulge, but as it is the “traditional way”, definitely dug in. What a lovely surprise. The butter and molasses on this crisp poof of pleasure completely won me over. The bitterness I expected from the molasses did not rear its head and the depth of caramely Canadian goodness bathed in butter provided this taste experience with a definite sense of place. Delicious.
When in Newfoundland in 2014, the only place I was sure to find a touton was the restaurant at The Rooms in St. John’s which is the iconic modern architecture housing a museum and art gallery on the hill overlooking the harbour. Of course I did my research, and only three years ago, could find nothing online about what a touton really was other than a regional heritage bread recipe. When I ordered it, I didn’t even know it was fry bread. Clearly, these have cut out of rolled dough uniformly and proofed like a doughnut. The texture, below, is vastly different than that made with Nan’s bread. Yet, it was tasty enough and enigmatic enough to leave me still curious and yearning to make my own.
Thank you, Emily Mardell, for accepting my invitation to participate in Project 2017: Valerie Cooking in the Kitchen with You! And, for providing me with this fabulous multi-generational opportunity to cook with you, your mom, Joy Burt, and your lovely little daughter, Cela.
Toutons is the second in a series of 4 regional Canadian heritage recipes from Emily’s family, and three that we made together. The introduction to this inspirational day, and to Emily, is in the Partridgeberry Jam article. Of course, we had to have our fresh homemade Partridgeberry Jam on top of our hot fried Toutons. Oh. My.
Above, the driftwood backdrop is a piece of art made by Joy accompanying the Toutons and jam she has made, as well. I am certain this family loves her mommy visits. Food from home awakens one’s sense of self.
Look at the fluffy interior of the above Touton. Mwah!
Newfoundland Toutons: From the family of Emily Mardell @getjoyfull to you!
Above, Cela, Emily and mom, Joy, with a Partridgeberry crowned Touton.
Newfoundland Toutons: Making the Dough and the Story of the Touton
The dough, above, grew the entire time we were making the Partridgeberry Jam. It bewitched us all with the promise of hot Toutons looming in the future.
Joy had made it that morning. Her batch is likely 4 times the batch in the recipe from Emily that I made. Emily and Joy call it Nan’s bread, as the recipe came from Joy’s mom. The recipe is pretty standard for the area. I found it several places when researching Newfoundland white bread, and it was always the same. The isolation so many lived with and the land itself, island-like, is likely why the recipe is another iconic regional heritage Canadian recipe. We had a similar one in the Alberta prairies from my great-grandmother, but so few bake bread anymore, that it has been lost as the once iconic regional recipe it was. I have discovered pockets of the same recipe rearing its head across rural Alberta, but nothing nearly as overt as this white bread recipe in Newfoundland. From Joy to Emily, and eventually, to Cela. Cela is indeed fortunate to have a mama whose mantra is to “fill up on family time”. I did make Nana’s bread at home, later. It is delicious and somewhat reminiscent of our own prairie bread, but just different enough. I would imagine any Newfoundlander would taste a slice and know it. Emily sent me home with dough. Vanja was smitten with Toutons, and when I made the bread, I saved part of the dough to make Toutons for my mom and Ragan. Both were totally infatuated.
Newfoundland Toutons: Shaping the Toutons
OK, Cela! Come make Toutons with grandma!
“Let’s be careful to not let all that beautiful air out of our dough.” Joy guided Cela as together they sunk their hands into its pillowy allure. Pulling up a good amount of dough, using a sharp knife, Joy sliced off a portion.
One for Cela, many for Joy. What fun. She stretched each a bit, shaped them into rustic circles, and let each rest for about 10 minutes as she continued to make enough for us to get our fill.
I believe she made a good amount. Likely 12-14. There were 4 adults and 3 children. Suffice it to say, one will not be enough when fresh from the pan.
Newfoundland Toutons: Frying the Toutons
Traditionally fried with the renderings of back fat from salt pork, we just used a flavourless oil, saving the traditional rendering of fat for frying the cod tongues in. Yes. We also made Fried Cod Tongues in rendered salt pork fat. Above, a little dab of dough is testing the heat so Joy knows when it’s hot enough for the toutons.
Lowering the heat to ensure they are fried on the outside and cooked on the inside is key to the fry. I was mesmerized by how fat and puffy each became shortly after hitting the hot fat. “If you want to be really decadent, some deep fry these,” Joy commented.
I do believe my hands were quivering at this point. Fortunately, as Joy started the next batch, Emily said, “Shouldn’t we eat these while they are hot, mom?”
Newfoundland Toutons: Serving the Toutons
Tradition trumped the freshly made Partridgeberry Jam for me. So much better than I remembered, but the touton served to me at The Rooms was not hot or as tasty as this one. I would say they did not use Nan’s bread. I would also guess that it might not have been freshly fried. This touton was spectacular. Some regional heritage recipes are not very appealing to those not brought up on them. This one would appeal to everyone. Even the traditional molasses version. Yes, I was surprised, too.
But the partridgeberry versions? No wonder Newfoundlanders are famous for their Kitchen Parties. I was moved to dance the very moment my lips smacked of this flavour combination. Heel snapping, knee slappin’ goodness. There is just no getting around it. Why are there not food trucks selling this stuff in Saint John’s? Why isn’t there a Touton Stand? There’s a business idea for someone there. Make it happen. I’m coming back!
It is not so gratifying writing about classic Canadian recipes so many Canadians have never tasted. I recall my first Maple Syrup Candy as an aged woman. My first poutine was only a few years earlier. Our country is so vast. There is yet much to discover within all the regional corners of its landscape.
Newfoundland Toutons: An Iconic Canadian Regional Recipe Passed Through the Generations
From Grandma “Gigi” to Joy, Joy to Emily and Emily to Cela. “Fill up on family time” is Emily’s mantra. Mine is “Make it Happen.”
Little Cela is completely edified in every way a young child should be. Emily has made it happen and my time with her family has been priceless. Thank you so much for fulfilling my Newfoundland dream to make Toutons, as well as the other recipes, below.
Recipes from Project 2017: Cooking with Emily Mardell
Traditional Newfoundland Toutons
- 12 60 gram or 2 ounce slices Nan's Bread Dough, proofed
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup or 60-90 grams Salt Pork Back Fat or Cooking Oil
- 1 tablespoon butter per Touton (times 12)
- 2 tablespoons Fancy Molasses per Touton (times 12)
- Homemade Partidgeberry Jam (optional)
- Scruncheon (optional)
Heat heavy skillet over medium heat until sizzling; if using salt pork back fat, render into “scruncheons”, remove leaving rendered fat behind
If using cooking oil, place 1 inch in bottom of heavy pan; set aside.
Cut 60 gram or 2 ounce slices of dough from proofed Nan’s bread; lightly stretch into disc shapes.
Cover and rest for 10 minutes; heat skillet on medium heat to sizzling (test a pinch of dough).
Add Toutons, 3-5 at a time, depending upon size of pan; do not overcrowd. Toutons will puff immediately. Cook until golden brown on both sides and repeat until all are fried.
Serve warm with lots of butter and fancy molasses and the "scruncheons” if fried in salt pork back fat!