In Alberta, we like our pies with fruit. Apples or berries or rhubarb or all of the above.
Travel 3,000-or-so kilometres to the east and you find yourself in a magical place where they fill the pies with sugar.
I shouldn’t oversimplify. There is also whipping cream.
Looking for a winter getaway, I had hopped on a plane bound for Ottawa where celebrations of Winterlude overlapped with my daughter’s celebration of Reading Week. In between checking out the ice sculptures (before they melted), checking out the canal skaters (before it closed) and wandering the charming streets of Hintonburg (should have brought rubber boots), Erin and I spent lots of time in her tiny kitchen celebrating our mutual loves of wine, conversation and cooking.
Scouring through her copy of Ottawa Cooks, a book of 82 recipes from 41 of the Ottawa area’s top chefs, we had no trouble choosing our first project: Sugar Pie, a specialty from the Bank Street diner, Wilf and Ada’s.
It’s believed that the origins of sugar pie (tarte au sucre) go back to Quebec’s early settlers who came from northern France or Belgium where these types of puddings were common. Quebec’s original sugar pies used the plentiful maple sugar, but modern versions use plain golden sugar.
Erin didn’t really need to rustle up a kitchen castoff but she gamely played along, locating a six-month-old pie shell in the freezer. As well, we made a big dent in a surprising household oversupply of cornstarch. Most significantly, we gave Ottawa Cooks its maiden voyage off the bookshelf and into the kitchen.
We were going to a Family Day dinner, so we doubled the recipe to make two pies — one to take with and one to stay home. No lie, it is a bit heart-stopping to mix five cups of whipping cream with four cups of brown sugar.
Sometimes you just gotta take one for the team.
Dear Rest of Canada,
You should make Sugar Pie.
Therese and Erin
Kitchen castoff used
One frozen pie crust
This is how we did it
While Erin and I made two pies, the measurements below are for one 9-inch pie. We also strongly encourarge making Wilf and Ada’s crust; it has a cookie-like quality that is worth the extra effort.
For the crust
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup white sugar
- 7/8 cup cold butter (a little less than ½ pound)
- 1 egg
- Pinch of salt
For the filling
- 1 ¾ + 2 tbsp packed golden brown sugar
- 2 ½ cups whipping cream (35 per cent)
- ½ cup cornstarch
- 1/3 cup water
For the crust
In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar and salt. Add the butter and, using a pastry blender, two knives or your fingers, cut the butter into the dry ingredients. Add the egg and knead into the dough (either in the bowl or on a clean counter) until it forms a ball. Then wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 10 – 15 minutes.
The recipe instructions then suggest rolling the dough into a circle about 1/4-inch thick, before placing the dough in the pie plate. This makes a fair bit of extra dough, so you can fold the extra back into the plate for a thicker crust.
Our kitchen experience was slightly different in that the dough never nicely kneaded into a ball — it was a bit of a crumbly mess. In the end, rather than wrestle with the rolling pin, we pressed the dough directly into the pie plate and that worked just fine.
For the filling
In a pot, combine the sugar and cream and cook slowly while stirring over low heat until it reaches a simmer. Once it is simmering, let it bubble gently without stirring for three to four minutes. This should dissolve the sugar, reduce it slightly and concentrate the flavour.
Meanwhile, mix the cornstarch and water together to make a slurry. After the sugar and cream has simmered, add the cornstarch mixture, turn the heat up to medium-high and whisk continuously until it starts to boil. Remove it from the heat, whisk for a few more seconds, then let cool for about five minutes. Don’t let it completely cool down.
For the pie
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Pour the filling into the pie shell, then bake for about 20 minutes or until the crust is golden.
Our pies stayed in for about 24 minutes, then at the very end, we turned on the broiler for about one minute before bringing the pies out of the oven. We could actually see the filling boiling at this point, but it helped give the tops a bit of colour and touch of crunch.
Let the pies cool completely at room temperature. The filling should still have some jiggle but still slices cleanly.
If you made it this far, here’s an extra special treat: The Red Hotz, a band I was in a few years ago, performing I Can’t Help Myself by The Four Tops. Sugar pie, honey bunch, you know I love you. Enjoy!
Curious about my “Kitchen Castoffs” concept? Here’s the explainer describing my 100-day project.
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