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Québec's Classic Maple Syrup Cake

Pouding chômeur was born of the Great Depression—yet it is decidedly rich.
By Published Dec. 3, 2019

My Goals and Discoveries

Separate layers

To keep the cake from absorbing the maple syrup mixture as it bakes, it needs both density and structure (provided by eggs and flour) and enough fat to "waterproof" the batter so it resists mixing with the syrup.

Coarse, rustic crumb

Instead of creaming together butter and sugar, which helps create a light, fine crumb, we use the quick-bread method, which calls for melted butter and creates a coarser crumb.

Tempered sweetness

For a dessert that’s not too sweet, we limit the sugar in the cake to 3 tablespoons and add a bit of salt to the sauce.

Contrasting textures

We bake the dessert in the upper half of a 375-degree oven to create a craggy caramelized layer to contrast the creamy sauce and moist cake.

During the cold winters of the Great Depression, Quebecois found warmth and comfort in dessert. Pouding chômeur (“unemployed person’s pudding”) transformed a few humble ingredients—stale bread, milk, and brown sugar—into a sweet treat. Then, as the economy improved, the frugal recipe evolved into something quite decadent. The sugar was traded for maple syrup and the milk for cream, and an egg-and-butter-rich cake batter (or biscuit dough) took the place of the bread.

I like the cake version. It’s made by spreading a simple batter in a baking dish and then pouring a mixture of maple syrup and heavy cream on top. No matter how slowly you pour, the two layers slosh together and tend to combine. But when the formula is just right, the layers invert during baking and the cake ends up floating atop a thick, bubbling pool of maple-cream sauce. Some of the sauce soaks into the cake, giving it a luscious, gooey consistency. It’s just the thing to tuck into on a snowy winter day or in early spring during maple sugaring season.

For the cake portion, most recipes call for creaming together butter and sugar before adding the eggs, followed by alternating additions of the wet and dry ingredients. This incorporates lots of air, producing a light cake with a fine, tender crumb. But I thought a coarser crumb would be more in line with the dessert’s casual, rustic origins. So I switched to a quick-bread method, first whisking together the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt and then whisking in milk, an egg, vanilla, and melted butter. It worked well: The baking powder gave the cake sufficient volume, and the crumb was indeed coarser. As a bonus, the dessert was now superfast and easy to mix up.

Pouding chômeur is sometimes baked in ramekins, but we preferred the casual nature of a baking dish.

That said, keeping the layers distinct was a challenge: The loose batter combined with the maple-cream sauce, producing a uniformly soggy cake rather than a stratified dessert. To make the batter less likely to blend with the sauce, I made it denser and gave it more structure by adding a second egg and increasing the flour from 1 to 1¼ cups. I also bumped up the melted butter from 4 tablespoons to 6, “waterproofing” the batter so it would remain separate from the sauce. These tweaks resulted in defined layers. And baking on the top rack at 375 degrees produced a lightly crisp, caramelized crust—a lovely contrast to the moist crumb and creamy sauce.

Topsy-Turvy Cake

Pouding chômeur is made by pouring a warm mixture of maple syrup and cream onto a cake batter. As the dessert bakes, the cake rises and sets up, and the maple-cream sauce, which has thinned out with more heat, migrates around the batter to settle at the bottom of the dish. In our version, a craggy, caramelized layer also forms when some of the sauce gets trapped on top of the cake and browns. We invert each serving of the cake so the sauce ends up on top and the caramelized layer on the bottom.

Only one issue remained: The dessert was a tad too sweet. I reduced the sugar in the cake itself to 3 tablespoons, just enough to lend a bit of flavor. Because I needed 1 cup each of maple syrup and cream to retain a fluid base for the sauce, using less syrup to control the sauce’s sweetness wasn’t an option. But I had another fix: salt. Most recipes don’t include it, but just ½ teaspoon in the sauce created balance and contrast, making the dessert even more enjoyable.

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.