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.
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.
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.