My friends, I must introduce you to Traditional French Canadian Sugar Pie (or tarte au sucre) as it was introduced to me. Get your sweet tooth ready.
There is something so unapologetically decadent about French Canadian desserts. I had grown up on the east coast and lived in Ottawa for years, but until I met EJ and moved to Sudbury, I had never actually experienced French Canadian cuisine.
Discovering Sugar Pie and French Canadian Cooking
“Dominic made dessert, Marie”, my darling says to me, ever so innocently. “Tarte au sucre. Want a slice? “
Pie of sugar?
That’s how that French phrase translated.
Whatever that was, I certainly wanted to try it. How can you go wrong with “pie of sugar”?
So far my sojourn into French Canadian cuisine had been wonderful, with Pork Hog stew (I swear, no matter how often I told my father-in-law that we say ‘pork hocks’, he said ‘pork hog’ for his French Canadian Pork Hock Ragout) and some delicious pork pate (so much pork).
Traditional French Canadian cooking is amazing. But sugar pie? It’s like heaven in a slice.
A rich and creamy filling with a caramelized crust, a perfect balance of sweetness and butteriness. (Is butteriness a word? It should be.)
Now, my mother is a good cook but this was unlike anything I’d tasted before and I was hooked.
Dominic said it was their father’s recipe. Ray, in turn, said that it was his mother’s recipe and he was willing to share it, handwritten and in French.
French Canadian Sugar Pie is easy to make and uses ingredients you probably already have on hand. Perhaps you don’t have cream in your fridge, although you should. It’s so useful.
If you’re looking for authentic Canadian recipes, you can’t get more authentic, more French Canadian, or more memorable than tarte au sucre. It’s a classic treat that will impress family and friends.
Ingredients and Substitutions
Sugar – We’re using regular white sugar in this plus a bit of molasses. Did you know that brown sugar is just molasses plus white sugar (1-2 Tb:1 cup) and they store much better apart than when mixed? OR if you have it on hand, you can use brown sugar. (I suspect that you could also use maple sugar, but that’s pricey and I haven’t tried it)
Cream – This is not diet food. Do not approach French Canadian desserts with a dieting frame of mind. Use heavy cream – the kind that says 35% MF on the carton.
Egg – The recipe doesn’t work without the egg.
Unsalted Butter – I have never tried making this with margarine and I probably won’t unless we have a catastrophic butter shortage. The real butter + brown sugar mixture is what makes the wonderful taste in this pie. In my opinion, this is not one of the recipes where you can get away with a substitute.
Flour – You won’t need much, but you want all-purpose flour.
Pie Shells – You can use full sized pie shells, if you like, and cut the pie into slices. Or you can use little tart shells.
These are all what my grandfather called ‘good, wholesome farm food’ – molasses, cream, eggs, butter, and flour. These are ingredients that remember where they came from.
It’s Not Authentic Because ………
I’ve had a number of people tell me that this recipe isn’t authentic “because”.
One person argued that it should have only maple syrup instead of sugar.
Maple Syrup Sugar Pie is a whole different pie. Definitely something to try eventually. This isn’t it.
Another disapproved of the egg. None of the recipes I found makes French Canadian sugar pie without egg. Not a single one.
There’s a French (like, from France) version that even uses extra yolks *and* yeast, which makes it a completely different recipe. I found one that uses sweetened condensed milk instead of cream, which I imagine works just fine when the cow wasn’t in milk – canned milk has been around since the 1800s. They all use eggs.
Another said it had to have brown sugar, a complaint that had me checking my recipe because … wait, isn’t that exactly what I use??
As I note in the ingredient list, white sugar + molasses = brown sugar. Yes, when you pay extra for brown sugar, you’re just paying the factory to pre-mix for you. And the best part of not premixing is that both sugar and molasses store far better than store-bought brown sugar.
My father-in-law was born in the 1940s and passed away last year. This was the recipe he gave me, which he got from his mother, and which my husband translated because it was written in French. The only change I made was mixing up my own brown sugar.
The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.Julia Child
Is Sugar Pie the Same as a Custard Pie?
While both are delicious, no, they’re not the same. If you make Banana Cream Pie, for example, you will make up a custard filling in a saucepan, then pour it into the crust with the bananas and let it firm up in the fridge.
Is It the Same as Pecan Pie?
A pecan pie is a type of sugar pie. But of course, there are differences – like a whole lot less gooey filling and whole lot of pecans.
Pecan pie also uses corn syrup (at least in every recipe I can find), which would make my father-in-law turn in his grave.
French Canadian Desserts … oh, my
There’s a myth that all the French Canadians are in Quebec.
The opposite to that myth, which I’ve also heard from people, is that everyone in Canada is French.
If you’ve heard that there are some amazing Canadian desserts – that’s not a myth at all.
Yes, we have two official languages in Canada – French and English – but truthfully, most of the French spoken in Canada is in New Brunswick, Quebec, and northern Ontario.
EJ’s family is from northern Ontario, a town called Sudbury.
When we were living there, I saw a car with Florida license plates and joked that he was a very long way from home.
He said, “I’m from here and I usually come home in the summer. I was busy that week, though.”
That about sums up Sudbury. A pleasant winter day is -18C (around 0F), and summer is incredibly short. No wonder the French have amazing desserts like Sugar Pie that are made with very simple pantry ingredients.
So What Is Sugar Pie?
Again, it’s NOT Sugar Cream Pie. Also delicious, but not the same thing.
This incredible pie is basically a mixture of brown sugar (or white sugar and molasses), cream, vanilla extract, and eggs. Thickened with just a tiny bit of flour, it’s poured into a single pie crust and baked.
And by single crust, I mean no topping. This recipe uses two single crusts and makes two pies.
OR (as you can see in the photos), it can be use to make about 3 dozen mini tarts!
The ingredients are simplicity itself, and you probably have them all in your pantry. It’s really the perfect pie to make when you want the appearance of decadence without all of the work (or cost!)
Making Sugar Pie
Time to learn how to make a sugar pie … and you don’t need to speak French because I translated my father-in-law’s recipe for you.
You will need to mix sugar with molasses in a medium bowl.
You COULD be all non-thrifty and buy store-bought brown sugar. I have always found that that is too expensive and it doesn’t store well. Just mix your own. It’ll taste exactly the same. No one believes me when I tell them, but it’s true – 2 tablespoons molasses in a bowl, then 1 cup white sugar, and stir until combined, and there you have it – dark brown sugar.
To that, mix in milk or cream. I strongly recommend heavy cream unless you’re making this in the middle of a blizzard and there’s no cream to be found. In a recipe like this, counting calories is just silly.
Use either a wooden spoon or whisk to mix in the eggs, melted butter, and flour. (Could you use cornstarch? I don’t know … and this isn’t a recipe I plan to fuss around with). If there are teeeny lumps of flour, I promise no one will notice.
Hey, my Home Ec teacher taught me years ago that if it says ‘2 tablespoons melted butter’, then you melt the butter and THEN measure it. If it says ‘2 tablespoons butter, melted’, then you measure the butter before melting. In this case, you want to melt it first and then measure.
And then you … well, that’s it for the filling. I’ve heard there’s a version of this that uses maple syrup – something I’ll need to look into.
Now dust uncooked pie crusts well on both sides with flour. You shouldn’t need much – a teaspoon or so. This keeps the dough from totally disintegrating into the filling.
Well, it helps anyway. The filling sort of soaks into the unbaked pie shell, but the flour slows that down a bit.
You can definitely make your own pie crust, but I have to admit I like the disposable ones, especially since I usually only make these for “bring a dessert” occasions. I’d hate to leave a pie plate at someone’s house. Part of the appeal of this recipe is how decadent and amazing it is with very little effort.
As soon as you’re done, preheat oven to 400F. That’s going to seem a bit high, but you’ll have to trust me.
Divide the pie filling between the two pie crusts (or the little tart shells) as evenly as you can. Unless you’re entering this into a contest, no one will notice if the pies are a little uneven. They’ll be too busy eating.
I strongly advise that you line a couple of baking sheets with foil or parchment and place your pies on those. A spill isn’t likely (unless you misunderstand the written-in-French instructions and use just one deep dish pie pan … guess who did that the first time she made it?), but if it happens and this goes all over your oven, you’ll cry. The baking sheet will catch any “oops”.
The pies go in the oven for about 30 minutes. Don’t quote me on that – watch your pie. There is no doubt when this is cooked – it will look firm and cooked. The top will be an incredibly delicious looking golden brown. You shouldn’t have to reduce heat while it’s cooking.
Just don’t take a nap while baking the pie – watch it.
Let your pies cool completely.
The last time I made this French Canadian Sugar Pie recipe, we were heading to visit my family for New Year’s Day dinner and I really wanted to impress everyone. This is definitely one of those Canadian desserts that impresses!
So I put the pies out in the back porch so they can cool to room temperature.
After all, the children don’t often go out there during the winter – it’s too cold, just a place to pass through on your way to the house.
So as we’re getting ready, getting coats and boots on … and not once do I think that I just sent the little girls into the porch to get their boots.
Luckily I have an understanding family. No one minded the fingermarks in the pie – they were too busy eating it.
There you have it. Go impress people with your French Canadian desserts and create a new family favorite, but don’t blame me for any weight gain.
Don’t forget to cut it in small slices. (If cut in 16 slivers, each one is only 140 … or so … calories!)
Can Sugar Pie Be Frozen?
I will be honest – I’ve never tried. Never, not even once, have I had sugar pie last long enough to make it to the freezer. I’ve even made extra, thinking that one would maybe maybe last … nope.
However, all of the experts agree that cream pies and sugar pies can be frozen for up to three months. And I’ve successfully frozen lemon meringue pie, which I thought would be even more delicate.
Let the pie cool completely, then wrap it up airtight in plastic wrap, and freeze. When you want to eat, place the wrapped pie in the fridge and let it thaw completely.Print