When Easter comes, I usually don’t crave chocolate. To me, March and April equals maple season so over those two months, I crave maple products in all their delicious forms. Sugars, syrup, butter, taffy, I daydream of all the delicious desserts these precious sweet natural products can make. To be honest, I think we Québécois have maple syrup running in our veins – or perhaps our mothers have weaned us on it. It’s widely known that aromas are closely linked to memories, and there is indeed no other aroma that intoxicates me as much as maple does. When I smell maple, I’m like a dog hunting its prey, I won’t let go until I find the delicious source.
Although it’s true that maple products are also made in New England, we Québécois tend to be very possessive of the art of harvesting maple sap and turning it into all sorts of dreamy products. Of course I may sound biased if I say that we make the best maple products in the world, but I’ll say that numbers do give us the advantage: Canada produces 80% of the world’s pure maple syrup, 91% of which is produced in Quebec. Canadian maple syrup is exported to approximately 50 countries, including the US, which is the primary importer. In fact, our American friends love our maple syrup so much that in 2007, Canada produced 67.6 million pounds of maple syrup yet exported 67.7 million pounds to the US using the reserve supply from previous years to support the growing export demand.*
Mind you, we don’t just export maple syrup, we enjoy it too. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t grown up going to a sugar shack at least once a year to have the traditional family-style maple brunch and slurp in excessive amounts of tire sur la neige (boiling hot maple syrup poured onto clean snow, then twirled onto wooded sticks and licked until sugar coma ensues). Many of us have someone in our close or extended family that owns a maple-producing farm: there are over 7,400 registered maple businesses in Quebec, but many more maple farms are operated every year, their products sold to close family and friends only.
By now you probably think I’m obsessed with maple syrup and indeed I am. Nothing makes me madder that ordering anything with maple syrup and finding out that corn syrup disguised as maple syrup is served instead. I will push it away, crinkling my nose as a 2-year-old would over steamed broccoli. As I said, we’ve grown up with it, so we’ve gotten pretty good at unmasking impostors. I’ll have pure maple syrup and nothing else, please.
Now, back to Easter. My parents were coming over on Sunday night, so of course, instead of making a chocolate dessert, I decided to go for maple instead. I thought this would be a great opportunity to make a classic Québécois dessert, which is also a favorite of my dad’s: Pouding chômeur. This dessert, which literally means “Pudding of the unemployed”, was very often served at home and on family gatherings when I was growing up. It’s so easy to make that even kids can make it, and I believe it may indeed have been one of the first desserts I made with my Mom. Its name comes from its origins: it is said that the dessert was created by female factory workers during the Great Depression, in 1929. The dessert is made with cheap ingredients most families always had on hand at the time: flour, baking powder, water, brown sugar and shortening or butter. Although it’s so simple, let me assure you it’s highly addictive.
A “Pouding chômeur” recipe from a cookbook published in Quebec in the 70s by a syndicalist organization. The province went through tough times in that decade and this book was published to provide easy, low-cost recipe ideas to unemployed workers. The first recipe yields a double quantity and the asterisk says “For families where lots of people are unemployed”.
When economic times turned for the better, it didn’t take long for maple-loving Québécois cooks to get the idea of throwing maple syrup into the mix to make the pudding even sweeter and better. Some traditional recipes add maple essence to the sauce (boooooh!!!), but true maple aficionados use pure maple syrup in the sauce, forgoing the brown sugar completely. This is the way I chose to make it for Easter this year. The recipe I used, adapted from Quebec’s most popular cookbook author and TV personality, Ricardo, mixed heavy cream with maple syrup in half-and-half proportions, the cream cutting through the sugar a little bit and making the sauce even richer.
Pouding chômeur served with heavy cream. From “La nouvelle encyclopédie de la cuisine” by Jehane Benoit, which is Québec’s answer to The Joy of Cooking.
* In case you’re wondering, I didn’t make these numbers up. They come from the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers. Feel free to peruse their site, which is filled with delicious maple recipes (savory ones too!) but be warned: you may very quickly become as addicted as I am!
Pouding chômeur à l’érable
Poor Man’s Maple Pudding
This dessert is quick and easy to make but spectacular in flavor. The sauce is ready in seconds and the simple cake preparation is mixed together in less than 10 minutes. In other words, in 15 minutes from now, your very own Pouding chômeur could be in the oven, releasing its intoxicating aroma throughout the house. For the sauce, you have two options. Either you go for the maple version (unashamedly rich) or the traditional version (unashamedly sweet). I think both are equally good!
The pudding must be served warm, and many of us think it tastes even better the day after. If you can, make it the night before you plan on serving it, then let it cool at room temperature, cover the baking dish with aluminum paper and refrigerate overnight. To warm the pudding for service, put the aluminum-covered baking dish in a slow oven (250°F [125°C]), for about 30 minutes. You can also simply reheat individual portions in the microwave (medium power level) for 30 seconds.
When I was growing up, we would have the pudding with vanilla ice cream, but I know some people prefer pouring heavy cream over each portion. Now I think the pudding is delicious and sweet enough on its own, so I simply serve it with raspberries or macerated strawberries (quartered strawberries sprinkled with a tiny bit of maple sugar–of course–and left to sit for 15 minutes or up to an hour).
For the sauce – maple version:
2 cups [500 ml] pure maple syrup
2 cups [500 ml] heavy cream (35% fat)
For the sauce – traditional version:
2 cups [500 ml] brown sugar, packed
2 cups [500 ml] water
1 tbsp [15 ml] flour
For the cake:
1½ cups [375 ml] unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp [10 ml] baking powder
¼ tsp [1.25 ml] salt
½ cup [125 ml] unsalted butter, softened
1 cup [250 ml] sugar
¾ cup [180 ml] milk
1 tsp [5 ml] pure vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 400°F [200°C]. Lightly grease a 9” x 13” [23 cm x 33 cm] baking dish.
For the sauce: In a saucepan, whisk the maple syrup and heavy cream (or the brown sugar, water and flour) together. Bring to a boil, whisking occasionally. Turn off the heat and pour the sauce into the baking dish.
For the cake: In a small bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt together. Reserve.
Measure the milk in a cup and mix in the vanilla extract. Reserve.
In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix until incorporated. On low speed, add the dry ingredients and the milk alternatively and mix until the flour is fully incorporated. Spoon the cake batter over the hot sauce.
Bake the pudding for 40 minutes. To serve, spoon the warm cake upside down on individual serving plates and enjoy with ice cream, heavy cream or fresh berries.
Recipe Credit: Adapted from RicardoCuisine.com.