This classic Québécois maple pudding is rich in flavor, easy to make, and utterly comforting. Learn more about the dessert’s origins, then bake it and enjoy a bowlful with ice cream!
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When Easter comes, I usually don’t crave chocolate. To me, March and April equal 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, from fudge to maple pudding to cookies. 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 than 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. Pouding chômeur is 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 pouding chômeur 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 workers’ union. 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. To make the sauce thicker and more indulgent, I combine the maple syrup with heavy cream, which cuts through the sugar a little bit but makes the maple pudding truly indulgent.
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!
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