Though Canadian, I am about as French as Rob Ford. But part of being from Toronto, the capital of a province called Ontario, is yearning to replace all things pale, pinched, and British about oneself with Quebec-ness ("Quebeckery?") from the next-door province of Quebec, the Canadian capital of Sexy. Yankees who move to Knoxville will understand this impulse. In my own 10 years here, I have yet to hear anyone celebrate "Northern" cooking.
Pouding chômeur (poo-DANG show-MYHRR), with its outrageous French-Canadian accent, its pillowy depths and decadent pools, could change that. For one thing, it comes on as familiar as a cobbler: crusty contours, sweet sauce, dump-and-stir assembly. Yet with few ingredients—butter, flour, eggs, cream, maple syrup—it's even simpler, and in that simplicity renders its Southern cousins, all those slumps, dowdies, fools and fannies, indistinguishable.
Pouding chômeur, you see, scorns fruit—for what is it, some kind of side dish? Mais non! It is pastry drowned in caramel, made, it seems, not to nourish but to incense.
'Twas not always so. "Chômeur" means "unemployed person," and it's said that female factory workers in Quebec created it—without the eggs and with brown sugar instead of maple syrup—at the beginning of the Great Depression. The economical, easy-to-make dessert took hold during the three ensuing decades of industrialization that followed in Quebec, an era that later became known politically as "La Grande Noirceur," or "The Great Darkness" for the reactionary conservatism of its government under Premier Marcel Duplessis.
As such, pouding chômeur is historically closer to instant pudding or Jell-o than to the wholesome fruit compotes and bread puddings of the agrarian American South. A tenement rather than a farmhouse dessert, it was certainly not to be found in fine-dining restaurants any more than unemployed people were.
Pouding chômeur returned with the end of the current recession to be served back-to-back with artisanal cheeses and tourtière—much older classics, from Quebec's "habitant" past—in Montreal foodie meccas like the famous Pied de Cochon. Bourbon, crême fraîche, brown butter, and dulce de leche substitute for some of the humbler original ingredients.
Poetic justice dictates that pouding chômeur should come full circle and find its way into home kitchens once again. So, I ask you, fellow Anglophones, where better than in the American South? The dish just begs for mini-Mason jars.
I make mine in the same stubby half-pints I use for Elaine's Ice Cream. Speaking of which, for a recipe that yields six holiday desserts as aromatic as black-bottom pecan pie and as unctuous as trifle, this one is absurdly fast and easy to prepare. May I lure you, then, into throwing together an equally excitingly flavored no-churn ice cream to serve on top? Merci! Appreciate ya!
1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup maple syrup
1 cup heavy cream
Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Beat in eggs one at a time, thoroughly.
Stir in flour and baking powder.
Chill this dough for at least 24 hours in the fridge or an hour in the freezer.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Bring syrup and cream to a boil in a saucepan.
Divide the dough into six buttered jars, then fill each with the cream and syrup mixture.
Place jars on a baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes.
Serve topped with Buttery Semifreddo and Spicy Pecans, below.
Buttery Semifreddo and Spicy Pecans
4 egg yolks and 2 egg whites, divided
3/4 cup sugar
1 stick salted (yes, salted) butter
1 cup heavy cream
Melt butter, then cool to room temperature.
Cream egg yolks and sugar until light and fluffy. Slowly add melted butter while creaming mixture.
Beat heavy cream to medium-to-stiff peaks. Gently add to sugar-egg mixture.
Whisk egg whites to peaks and fold into mixture.
Pour into a container and freeze covered for several hours or overnight to set.
1/2 pound shelled pecan halves
1/4 cup melted butter
1/2 cup maple syrup
3-4 tablespoons Sriracha or goulash creme (available at Holy Land Grocery)
Combine melted butter and syrup in a large bowl. Toss the pecans in bowl until coated evenly.
Add Sriracha or goulash creme; toss again.
Spread nuts on a buttered or oiled baking sheet and toast at 325 degrees for 10 minutes at a time, shaking sheet at intervals to redistribute nuts, three times or until nuts are darkened but not deeply browned.
Cool, chop and sprinkle liberally onto semifreddo topping.
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