When I was not in boarding school, one of my fondest memories growing up in Quebec was eating my mom’s heavenly pies. She was not your typical 1960’s housewife, but baking pies was her moment of glory in the kitchen and her best-kept secret.
To this day, I have a very sweet tooth and crave sugary desserts. The image I provide is a recent sugar pie I baked last month (Tarte ‘o’ sucre ‘a’ creme, in French-Quebecois). My mother finally shared this simple delight’s ingredients in 1990. It contains five elements: using three for the crust and three for the filling.
How to make the Old French Canadian Sugar Pie
Time needed: pastry crusts 1 hour, filling 15 minutes, baking 50 minutes.
Preparing the Pie Crust
In a large bowl, measure and pour the flour. Cut the lard into the bowl and use your fingers to break it into pea-sized bits while mixing it evenly with the flour. Next, add the icy cold water and use a fork to moisten the mixture. Once moistened, gently fold over the dough with your hands to incorporate the dry and wet components. Be careful not to overwork the dough, as this can result in a tough crust. Work as quickly as possible to maintain the flakiness of the pastry.
Shape the dough into a disc and cover it with plastic wrap. Allow it to cool in the refrigerator for about 40 minutes. This resting time helps the dough become more manageable and ensures a tender crust.
Preparing the Filling
In a medium pan over low heat, combine the cream and brown sugar. Simmer the mixture, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is melted and the mixture becomes evenly glossy. This process should take approximately 10 minutes. Once done, set the filling aside to cool on the stove.
Assembling the Pie
Remove the chilled dough disc from the refrigerator and cut it in half. Roll out one half into a circle between two layers of wax paper on a table, ensuring the thickness is consistent throughout. Carefully peel off the top layer of wax paper, place your hand under the dough, and flip it into a 9-inch pie plate. Slowly peel off the remaining wax paper layers, ensuring the dough is laying flat against the plate.
Add the tablespoon of white flour to the filling and whisk briskly to incorporate it. Pour the filling into the pie plate lined with dough.
Roll out the second half of the dough in the same manner as the first, but to a smaller diameter. Remove the top layer of wax paper and cut long, narrow strips, about half an inch in width, using a butter knife. Starting in the middle of the pie plate, place the longest strips of dough on top of the filling, vertically and horizontally, interweaving them gently. Continue this process until you’ve covered the entire filling, and then fold the bottom dough over the top layer of strips. Even out the thickness as you go around the edge of the pie plate and crimp the dough with your fingertips to create a decorative edge.
Baking the Pie
Place the assembled pie on the middle rack of the oven preheated to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. The pie will bake for approximately 50 minutes, during which time the filling will thicken, and the crust will turn a dark golden brown. Keep an eye on the pie, and if the filling is bubbling up in the center after 50 minutes, it should be ready. You do not need to place anything underneath the pie plate while cooking.
Can I use butter instead of lard for the pie crust?
While traditional recipes call for lard, you can substitute it with cold unsalted butter if desired. However, keep in mind that the texture and flavor may differ slightly.
Can I use a different type of sugar in the filling?
While medium brown sugar is traditional and imparts a distinct flavor, you can experiment with other sugars like muscovado or demerara for unique variations.
Can I use a pre-made pie crust?
Yes, you can use a store-bought pie crust if you’re short on time. However, making your own crust from scratch adds a personal touch and enhances the overall taste.
How long can I store the pie?
The pie can be stored at room temperature for up to three days. However, for optimal freshness, it’s recommended to consume it within the first two days.
Old French Canadian Sugar Pie
For 2 pie crusts:
- 2 cups of regular white flour
- 2/3 cup plain lard
- 1/4 cup icy cold water
- 2 cups 10% pure cream with no additives if possible
- 1 cup loosely filled medium brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon regular white flour
- The time needed: pastry crusts 1 hour, filling 15 minutes, baking 50 minutes.
- In a large bowl, measure and pour flour and cut lard, use fingers to break and mix together till evenly textured with pea-size bits of lard. Add some icy water, use a fork to moisten the whole mixture, then use hands to smooth evenly by folding over gently, incorporating dry and wet components. Do not overwork, this will result in a tough dough. The faster you can do this the better.
- Shape in a disc and cover with plastic wrap, let cool in the fridge about 40 minutes. In a medium pan at low heat, simmer cream and sugar till sugar is melted and evenly glossy, about 10 minutes. Cool on the stove.
- Take the cold dough disc out of the fridge and cut in half. Roll out the half in a circle between 2 layers of wax paper on the table with a rolling pin, make sure it is the same thickness all around. Carefully peel the wax paper off the top, place a hand under and flip into the pie plate, peel other layers off slowly while making sure dough is laying flat against the 9-inch plate. Add flour to filling, whisk briskly and pour into dough in pie plate.
- Roll out the second half in the same way as the first but in a smaller diameter. Peel the top wax paper off. Using a butter knife, cut long narrow strips about half an inch in width. Starting in the middle of the pie plate use the longest strips of dough and place on top of the filling, from top to bottom and from side to side, interweave and gently interlace more strips by gently lifting and placing back. When done all the way to the edges, fold the bottom dough over top layer of the top strips end, evening out thickness as you go around the edge of the pie plate. Crimp up edge of dough with three finger tips.
- Place on the middle rack of the oven at a 375 degree Fahrenheit temperature. The pie will bake while the filling thickens, the dough becoming a dark golden brown. After 50 minutes, if filling is bubbling up in center, it should be ready. I find no need to place anything underneath plate while cooking.
These simple ingredients should be as fresh as possible with the least amount of additives or other chemicals. The taste depends on this. It is a very subtle sweet light fudge sensation with the crunch of two plain flaky pastry layers to balance the sugar. Like a good stew, the flavor deepens and improves over time. Keep the pie loosely covered and leave on your counter or shelf. Do not refrigerate. You can freeze for a future occasion if needed.