How Sugar Pie Became A Québec Staple

Whether you're dining out with your family at a traditional Québécois restaurant or you're celebrating a holiday with family in the province, there are a few staple dishes you're likely to see during your visit no matter what the occasion. Everyone is familiar with the iconic Quebec-invented snack food, poutine. Squeaky cheese curds and savory gravy poured over French fries are hard to pass on, even for the more health-conscious. Montreal-style bagels are also a must-try if you're in the city. 

If you're lucky enough to experience a home-cooked meal, when supper rolls around, pea soup is not uncommon to find at Québec tables. Part of the culinary tradition descending from France, this often homemade dish is a holiday staple. Bouilli du Québec is another well-known dinner. Once considered a dish for peasants, most families have their own versions of this comforting stew-like meal made from beef and various vegetables.

And, when it comes to Québécois dessert, sugar pie is a go-to treat for after-dinner indulgence. Sugar pie, or tarte au sucre as it's called in French, is a popular dessert across the province. For holiday spreads or casual get-togethers, sugar pie makes the perfect nightcap. This pie is incredibly sweet, as the name would suggest, and the texture is gooey and smooth. With a filling mainly made from brown sugar, this rich pie is not likely to disappoint many. And its history dates back centuries. 

History of sugar pie

Sugar pie has long been a tradition in the province, and, like many of their culinary staples, sugar pie's lineage can be traced back to France. Specifically, this dessert hails from the northwest region of France. This is likely because many of the Québécois that eventually settled in North America came from this part of France.

If you know much about Québec history, you'll know that it has seen control from both British and French influence. The two cultures, along with the Indigenous people who were already settled, deeply influenced the province's present and past food culture, and sugar pie is no exception. This pie was brought over during colonization, and variations of it have since spread out across North America.

Pennsylvania's shoofly pie, Indiana's sugar cream pie, and even the South's chess pie are all very similar in taste and texture. Although, nothing tastes exactly like the unique mapley goodness that is sugar pie. Like many Canadian foods, the ingredient here that separates this dessert from others is maple syrup.

Today, sugar pie is a culinary staple, and it is often enjoyed during holidays or celebratory gatherings. And it's simple enough that anyone can make it at home.

Ingredients in sugar pie

A traditional Québec sugar pie has plenty of brown sugar, which gives it its signature taste. Alongside the sweetener, there are often eggs, butter, flour, milk, or cream. Dashes of some salt and vanilla extract are also essential. The flour acts as a thickener in this recipe and creates the perfect soft yet sturdy consistency in the filling. However, recipes can often vary, especially if it's one passed down in a family.

As mentioned earlier, sugar pie often gets confused with sugar cream pie, often called Hoosier sugar cream pie. The latter dessert is a popular treat in the Midwestern U.S., and it's the state of Indiana's unofficial state pie. It can be traced back centuries to the Shaker and Amish groups in the area. While both pies use similar ingredients, sugar cream pie is filled with custard that tastes subtle of vanilla and nutmeg. However, sugar pie's filling is more firm, and the flavor tastes of maple syrup and, of course, brown sugar.

How sugar pie is made and where to get it

This pie is very easy to make, and you likely already have all the ingredients stocked in your kitchen. The first step is to simply beat the brown sugar and butter together, eventually mixing in the eggs. The consistency should be smooth and thoroughly combined before moving on. Then, dashes of the salt and vanilla extract can be added in along with the flour and milk. The filling will become thickened yet still gooey. This mixture is simply poured into the pie crust (homemade or store-bought is fine) and baked. The top will get crusty and golden, creating the perfect dessert experience.

The pie can be decorated on top however you see fit. Often the classic lattice top is displayed on sugar pies, but maple leaf designs, simple hearts, or nothing at all are also some of the many options.

However, if you're not planning on making this dish yourself, plenty of restaurants, like the province capital's Aux Anciens Canadiens serving traditional Québec food, and grocery stores sell the iconic dish. Even some fast food and casual dining chains, like the famed rotisserie chicken joint Saint Hubert, dish out plenty of cold or hot sugar pie.