Baking to lighten the dark

Christmas joy in the High Arctic

The community of Arctic Bay in its dark season lies under the stars. (Photo by Clare Kines)

By Clare Kines
Special to Nunatsiaq News

It is the dark season.

And Christmas is at the heart of it here in the High Arctic. A busy season, filled with play, and community.

 When people who only have just met me, ask how one endures the dark season, or why would I choose to live in the High Arctic, community and beauty are often interwoven into the answer.  And both of those answers are interwoven in the dark.

 The dark is never complete here; this is not an endless night three months long. As a photographer, I find light is everything, and here the light is ever changing. Even at the height of the season, which falls at Christmas, stars disappear at noon, and the horizon is painted most exquisitely with incomparable hues.

And the dark, this dark, is glorious. The stars are closer here; their ancient light seems to lie just out of reach. Step just out of town and you’d be excused for believing there are twice as many stars here. And now, as the north magnetic pole moves ever further towards Russia, those stars are often painted with the aurora—a dance that no one ever tires of. 

And the dark season here has brought community together for play and laughter since time began. Now it falls (not by coincidence) at Christmas. Beyond love, what has made this place my home is the sense of community. For weeks at this time of year the entire community gets together to play.

Every night, games and laughter fill the hall, even in those times you’d think tears might dominate. After the games, there is dancing, until early morning. And there’s a Christmas feast of southern fare, and a New Year’s feast of country food. The dark season passes quickly.

 We eschew the Christmas feast, as our family tradition includes a big family meal, which you may remember me writing about before. It is a busy time, to be sure, but baking is one of the things that relaxes and grounds me. And there are plenty of opportunities to bake. Here are a couple of our favourite desserts of the last year, to help you pass your dark season.

Chocolate cashew tart (or pie)


  • Single-crust pie crust, either in a 9-inch tart pan or a 9-inch pie pan. 

Ingredients for filling:

  •  3/4 cup corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 tbsp melted butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup cashews, mostly coarsely chopped, but reserve some whole cashews for decoration
  • 1 package of chocolate chips


  • Preheat oven to 325 F.
  • Cream together the syrup, sugar and butter, and then mix in the vanilla and eggs.
  • Add cashews and chocolate chips, but reserve some whole cashews and two tbsp chocolate chips for decoration.
  • Pour into pie crust and bake for about 50 minutes.
  • Cool completely before slicing.
  • Decorate each slice with whipped cream and a whole cashew dipped in melted chocolate.

A tempting chocolate cashew tart made by Clare Kines.(Photo by Clare Kines)

 Tahini brownies

 This is based on a Milk Street recipe


  • 4 tbsp butter, plus extra to butter the lining for the pan
  • 6 oz semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 3 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup tahini
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp flour


  • Preheat oven to 350 F.
  • Line a 9-inch square pan with two pieces of foil, or parchment paper, with the excess hanging over the sides of the pan, (I use parchment) and butter the lining to prevent sticking.
  • Melt butter and add the semi-sweet chocolate and cocoa powder, then set aside. 
  • In a different bowl, make batter as follows:
    • Mix together the eggs, sugar and salt until creamy and smooth.
    • Mix in tahini, then fold in 1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp of flour until just mixed. 
  • Reserve a 1/2 cup of batter and then fold in the chocolate mixture until just mixed.
  • Pour into pan, add the reserved batter and swirl it into the chocolate batter with a butter knife.
  • Bake for 30 minutes until edges have set
  • Cool for at least half an hour in the pan and then remove the brownies using the parchment paper or foil lining.
  • Cool completely before cutting into small squares.

Tasty tahini brownies baked by Clare Kines. (Photo by Clare Kines)

 Ancient light

We paused,
my son and I
Before turning to the house
and warmth.

Clear skies
have not come
This dark season, ‘til now

our eyes against
The street lights. And the stars
reach down.

 We talk how
the Big Dipper
Points to the North Star, Polaris,
α Ursae Minoris

And how
looking to stars
Is looking to the past, ancient light
reaching us

come quickly
The answers take longer, such is
my way

Lowering now
our hands
To let the street and light back in
and turn

Back in
to warmth
And the solidity of now and here,
our light

Clare Kines, who lives in Arctic Bay, is a frequent contributor of photos to Nunatsiaq News. His images have also appeared on Canada Post stamps and aircraft.

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