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Quebec sugar pie (tarte au sucre) is a classic French Canadian dessert with a smooth, rich, creamy filling. This version is made with both brown sugar and maple syrup. It’s super cheap and easy to make!
Happy Pi(e) Day!
If you’re from, or are familiar with, Quebec, you probably know that at this time of year, cabane à sucre, or “sugar shack” season is in full swing. Sugar shacks are cabins where maple syrup is produced. In Quebec, many are open to the public during the season, and serve family-style meals full of traditional Quebecois delicacies, including tarte au sucre.
Late winter/early spring is when maple syrup production begins in Quebec. So what better way to celebrate Pi(e) Day than with a classic French Canadian sugar pie – known fondly to French Canadians as “tarte au sucre”!
This is my all-time forever favorite version of this wonderful classic treat!
What is Quebec Sugar Pie?
There are MANY different recipes for tarte au sucre, and they vary quite a bit between families and regions of Quebec. It is hard to say what the original versions are. The core components of the filling in most cases are brown sugar and heavy cream.
Many versions of tarte au sucre filling contain butter, but this brown sugar pie recipe does not. Many versions also contain egg, either a whole egg or just an egg yolk, but not this one.
The filling is usually thickened with all-purpose flour and/or cornstarch. Some recipes have a filling that sets completely (usually those recipes contain egg) and slices cleanly, and others, like this one, have a softer, messier, filling.
Tarte au sucre doesn’t always contain maple syrup. Some versions are made with maple sugar or brown sugar only, and others with maple syrup only (often called maple syrup pie instead of sugar pie). This version has both brown sugar and maple syrup.
What does tarte au sucre taste like?
If you’ve never had Quebec sugar pie – or tarte au sucre – it has a smooth, rich, creamy filling that is pretty sweet, but not as cloying as you might expect.
Depending on the recipe, the sugar pie filling can sometimes have a grainy texture, but I’ve deliberately avoided that in this recipe by fully melting the sugar in the filling.
It is different from regional American version of sugar pie, which is more of a custard filling and is usually made with white sugar, or some combination of brown and white sugar. Tarte au sucre has a golden brown filling, while American sugar pie has a light yellow, cream-colored, filling.
It is somewhat reminiscent of the American holiday classic, pecan pie, but is made without corn syrup or, obviously, pecans.
Tarte au sucre is often served warm and messy, plain, or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. (My husband was quite scandalized that I chose to top mine with whipped cream for the photos!)
Tarte au sucre originated in the north of France and was brought over by French settlers in Quebec. Here’s a brief history lesson if you’re interested!
Sugar pie is usually a single crust pie, but I added a top crust since I love the combination of a flaky, buttery pie crust with this sweet, creamy filling. I also like the top crust with this version because the filling is on the softer side and the top crust helps contain it. Consider the top crust optional!
And speaking of crust, if you’re intimidated by homemade pie crust, here’s my full post on how to make an easy pie crust by hand with the ultimate flaky texture, with no food processor and only four ingredients.
Ingredients for making sugar pie
- Combine flour and salt in a large bowl with a whisk. Using a pastry blender or your hands, cut in the cold butter until it is in pea-sized pieces. You can use a food processor if you like, but be very careful to only pulse until the butter is still in small but visible chunks before adding the water.
2. Mix in the water gradually just until the dough can be shaped into a ball. If using a food processor, test the dough with your fingers periodically to see if it is holding together and stop adding water as soon as it does.
Important: Avoid using too much water, since this will result in an elastic dough that will turn out tough when baked.
3. Divide the dough equally in two, wrap the halves in plastic wrap, and shape and flatten them into disks. Refrigerate for at least an hour.
When the dough is almost done chilling, prepare the pie filling.
- Preheat the oven to 400 F. Mix the brown sugar, flour, cornstarch, and salt together in a medium saucepan using a whisk.
- Add in the heavy cream and maple syrup and whisk to combine.
3. Turn the heat up to medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil. It will be thin at first, but as the corn starch and flour are activated, it will thicken.
Boil for 1 minute, whisking continuously to prevent the sugar from burning on the bottom of the pan, then remove from heat and set aside to cool. It can still be warm when you pour it into the pie shell, but not piping hot.
While your filling cools, it’s time to work with the crust.
- Roll out one disk of chilled pie crust on a lightly floured surface with a rolling pin until it is large enough to fit a 9-inch standard (not deep-dish) pie pan, with a 1/2 inch overhang. Leave the second disk in the fridge until you’re ready to roll it out.
2. Cut the second disk into strips for a lattice crust if you wish. You can brush the strips with a little milk to give it a golden color as it bakes.
3. Pour the filling mixture into the pie pan, and then starting from the center with the longest strips, weave the strips of dough on top to cover the pie.
4. Trim excess dough dough so that it hangs over by an inch. You can use your fingers or a fork to crimp the edges.
5. Bake the pie for 35-40 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the crust is brown and the filling is bubbling.
This happens to be one of my favorite pies, both for nostalgic reasons and because it is just really really delicious. Like most traditional Quebec desserts, it’s also cheap and extremely easy to make!
Sugar pie is popular year round and is a diner staple in Quebec, but it’s also an indispensable part of every holiday table here.
So if you’ve never had a real Quebec sugar pie, I would urge you to give it a try! It’s a real taste of the sugar shack at home.
(But if you’re more into fruit pies and are looking for a great holiday dessert, this simple apple cranberry pie should do the trick!)
Quebec Sugar Pie (tarte au sucre)
Tools for This Recipe
All-Butter Pie Dough (Makes one double pie crust)*
- 2.5 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup ice water
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons corn starch
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1.5 cups heavy cream
- 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
- In large bowl, whisk the flour and salt together. Cut in the cold butter with a pastry blender or your hands until the butter is in pea size pieces.
- Gradually add the water in, mixing until the dough can be formed into a ball. Be careful not to add too much water as this will result in a tough dough, once baked.
- Form two balls of equal size, pat them into discs, and wrap with plastic wrap. Chill for at least 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 400 F.
- In a medium saucepan, whisk together the brown sugar, flour, corn starch, and salt. Add the cream and maple syrup and whisk to combine.
- Turn the heat up to medium high and bring mixture to a boil. It will be thin at first, but boiling will activate the corn starch and flour and it will thicken. Boil for one minute, whisking constantly so the sugar doesn't burn on the bottom of the pan, and remove from heat. Let cool while rolling out the pie crust.
- On a floured surface, roll out one pie dough disc until it is large enough to fit a 9 inch (not deep dish) pie pan.
- Place the dough into the pie pan, and put in the refrigerator to keep cold while you roll out the second disc. Cut the second disc into strips for a lattice crust. Brush the strips with a little milk if desired. This will give the crust a golden look.
- Pour the filling into the pie pan and weave the strips of dough on top to cover the pie. Trim the excess pie dough to leave a one inch overhang. Crimp the edges with your fingers or a fork.
- Bake the pie in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes until the pie is golden and the filling is bubbling. The filling will set as it cools, but this pie is often served warm and messy!