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A Slice of Goodness: The condensed history of bread in Alberta

Brio Bakery owner and baker Todd Barraclough spent 15 years working as a dental technician in Edmonton before moving into the world of yeast, flour and dough. The journey was a circuitous one. He quit his day job in 2006 when his children were born, so that he could stay at home and take care of them. Then, he began searching for bread, good-quality bread to feed his family.

When he couldn’t easily find what he had in mind, he started making homemade sourdough, first for his family and, then eventually, his neighbours. When the neighbours begin paying him for his creations, he knew he had the makings of a new career. He studied bread at the San Francisco Baking Institute, and he took a business diploma at NAIT. In 2019, he opened Brio Bakery, offering everything from croissants to sourdough. “I have just always loved bread. I love the smell of it, the taste, the texture,” he says. There’s just this feeling when you get a really nice loaf of bread. There’s nothing else like it.”

Brio Bakery, Edmonton

He’s not alone, of course. Bread in its many forms is found in myriad cultures and countries around the world. French baguettes. Middle Eastern pita. Danish rye. You get the picture.

And Canada, of course. For generations, the Canadian prairies have played a major role in getting bread on tables around the world, and the key ingredient is wheat. We’re the world’s fourth-largest producer of wheat, with about 21.7 million tonnes grown on 22.8 million acres, according to Statistics Canada in 2021. And we export a ton of that — some $8.3 billion, in fact — but when it’s in your own back yard, you use it, too.

Barraclough says he turned to France and California for his much of his bread-making technique, but his yeast (all wild) and his grains come from his own back yard. (Well, almost.) “What the prairies do offer is fantastic wheat and other grains,” Barraclough says. “We can make beautiful breads here, and we have a lot of variety to choose from.”

Depending on the bread, he uses a range of different flours: whole wheat, spelt, kamut, rye, Red Fife wheat, too. Some, he makes just occasionally, while others are regular features on the Brio Bakery menu.

And a few of the flours come from just outside of Edmonton, in St. Albert, from a farmer who grows his own grain and mills his own flours. “It’s really nice to have someone so local who can supply us with such good flour,” he says. Then he pauses. “Actually, he’s stopping by today with some fresh flour for us.”

Aviv Fried, Sidewalk Citizen, Calgary

Like Barraclough, Aviv Fried gets his flours from local farmers. The co-owner and founder of Sidewalk Citizen in Calgary, Fried started making bread when he couldn’t find something with the hearty texture and sourdough flavours he had found in other places. He met a guy who was growing and grinding his own grains, including one of Fried’s favourites, Red Fife, and the rest is history.

In 2009 and 2010, Fried began delivering his homemade loaves to customers around the city and, by 2011, he had opened his first bakery. Also like Barraclough, Fried never intended to become a baker when he finished university. The baking life found him almost accidentally. He had just finished a master’s degree in biomedical engineering and planned to move to Toronto for a job.

But in the months between school and the new job, he began working at a local cheese shop. They had great cheese, but no bread, so he tried to make some and, by that fall, he decided bread was his path, not Toronto. "Baking is an experiment where the variables are always changing,” says Fried, and that was a similar situation he had faced in the lab at school. “So, I knew how to work in this environment and used these skills to become a better baker.”

As for Barraclough, he says his dental tech skills also helped him reinvent himself as a baker. “Both are about following a whole set of processes, a set of steps, and then you have your product at the end. And every time you make an error, you know you’ve made an error,” he says with a chuckle. “But making bread is so much more fun. I get to stand and meet customers all day and I get to make bread — and I get to eat it, too.”

Bread around the world

From French baguettes to Lebanese pita, myriad cultures and countries have famous breads. Here are just a few eateries to consider next time you have a craving:

Bonjour Bakery, Edmonton — Baguettes

The new Bonjour Bakery location is just four blocks from its previous incarnation and offers up all kinds of French breads, including baguettes that could compete with anything you’d find in Paris. There is also a massive selection of cheeses to go with that bread.

Cafe Caribbean, Edmonton — Buss Up Shut, also known as Paratha

“Paratha is synonymous with Buss up Shut, a layered, tender and buttery flatbread which is shattered or beaten to pieces, while still on the griddle or immediately after it is cooked, to resemble a torn shirt,” says Nadine Ross, co-owner of the cafe. (Buss Up Shut is vernacular for busted-up shirt.)

In 1926, Leo Sheftel moved from Russia to Calgary with his family and then, in 1968, he and his wife Goldie, along with their family and fellow investors, opened the The Carriage House Hotel & Conference Centre. Every Friday, they sold Goldie’s famous challah, kosher Jewish bread eaten on Shabbat and other religious holidays. You can still buy challah on Fridays in the hotel lobby. “It’s a tradition,” said Sheila Gurevitch, Goldie and Leo’s daughter, in an interview in 2022. “We all love challah. We grew up eating it.”

Doughlicious, Calgary — Pita

From the family behind Cedars Deli, this small northeast Calgary bakery makes pita, which it wholesales to eateries and shops across the city, including Basha Foods and Calgary Co-op. Brothers Samir and Mohammed Omar are behind the business, which is also a big supporter of the Calgary Food Bank and other local charities.

Foster’s Bakery/Oguraya Bakery, Calgary — Shokupan (Japanese milk bread)

This soft, sweet bread is rectangular in shape, with a milky, rich flavour. “I eat it almost every morning with Japanese nori — seaweed — on top,” says Kaori Shimobayashi, whose family has owned the bakery since 1980.

Italian Centre Shop, Edmonton and Calgary — Colomba di Pasqua

For Italians, a meal isn’t complete without bread, notes Angelo Antonucci, the Italian Centre Shop’s Director of Bakery Operations. At Christmas, Panettone is legendary but at Easter, it’s all about Colomba di Pasqua. “The dove-shaped Colomba di Pasqua is a sweet bread similar to Panettone but traditionally topped with a crispy merengue and toasted almonds,” Antonucci says. “We import many varieties from Italy and produce hundreds of our own version in-house which can be found at all of our locations.”

Tee Pee Treats, Edmonton — Bannock

From Whitefish Lake First Nation, Chef Curtis Cardinal says his culinary journey began with his mom, who taught him how to cook. The bread to try here is bannock, a quick bread made with flour, baking powder and butter and then typically cooked in a cast iron pan. Tee Pee Treats offers a few variations, including bannock tacos, bannock burgers, bannock donair, and even bannock fries. Or just enjoy a slab of it warm, with butter and jam.

Masala Bhavan, Calgary — Naan and Dosa

Thanks to the special naan oven in the middle of the restaurant, you can watch the naan being made while you eat at Masala Bhavan. The flat Indian bread is a favourite amongst customers who use it to sop up the deliciously spiced sauces on their plates. But for Masala Bhavan’s chef and owner Karthikeyan Stalin, dosa has a special place in his heart. He’s been eating the flat soft gluten-free bread — made from lentil and rice flour — since he was tiny. “I eat dosa every day,” he says. “It’s my favourite.”


What’s the deal with Red Fife wheat?

If you hang around with sourdough fanatics, you’ve probably heard of Red Fife wheat, considered by aficionados to be one of the finest, if not the finest, wheat for making bread. According to GrainsWest magazine, the wheat gets its name from David Fife, a Scottish immigrant who moved to Canada as a teenager and farmed northeast of Ontario in the early 1840s. A friend back home in Scotland mailed him a package of wheat, reddish-coloured grains that many now believe came originally from Poland or Ukraine. Fife planted it and it thrived, showing great resistance to disease. It made great flour, too.

Despite the lack of social media to spread the word, Fife’s discovery caught on quickly and by the late 1800s, it was considered the premium wheat to grow in Canada. While eventually faster-growing wheats took over its number-one position, Red Fife is back in favour amongst indie artisan bakers for its rich, almost nutty flavour.

Bread for special occasions

Many cultures make special breads to mark special religious holidays.

- Christians will celebrate Easter on April 9 this year. In Mexico, you may be offered Capirotada, a Mexican bread pudding. There are many variations but most contain cinnamon, nuts, raisins and perhaps cheese. Greeks will serve Tsoureki, a sweet brioche-style Easter bread decorated with eggs (typically dyed red) baked into the braided dough. You’ll find a similar bread in Italy at Easter, along with Colomba di Pasqua. Ukrainians may celebrate with Paska, a sweet bread made with raisins, candied fruit and spices. And in Germany, you may be served Osterbrot (literally “Easter bread”), a sweet jam-glazed dome covered in almonds.

- The evening of April 5 to the evening of April 13 marks Passover, or Pesach, in the Jewish calendar. Matzo, an unleavened (no yeast) cracker-like bread is traditionally eaten during the eight days, especially during the Seder, the ritual dinner that takes place on the first night or two of Passover.

- This year, Muslims will celebrate the holy month of Ramadan from Mar. 22 to April 20. Turkish Muslims may eat Pide, a round flatbread used to break the fast at the end of the day. And Khaleat Nahl is a sweet bread found in Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries. Because of its bubbled bun-like appearance, it’s sometimes called honeycomb bread. It can be stuffed with cheese or left plain, and typically has sesame and nigella seeds on top.


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