Pouding chômeur can also be called pouding au chômeur or pouding du chômeur, and translates to “poor man’s pudding” or “unemployment pudding.” It consists of a basic white sponge cake baked on top of a sweet syrup mixture made from brown sugar, water and sometimes milk. The cake batter is poured on top of the warm syrup and baked, the cake rises on top of the syrup and when the cake part is done it then left at room temperature to soak the remaining syrup which stays at the bottom of the pan. The final result is a three layers dessert of moist white cake, soaked cake and syrup.
The pudding is made up of a classic cake batter using basic and cheap ingredients. As an economical recipe, the batter does not contain eggs, and so does not rise much. Occasionally, eggs would be added to the batter in times when cooks could afford them. The syrup can be made from brown sugar, white sugar, maple syrup or a combination of these. Generally, brown sugar was used in urban areas and maple syrup more used in rural areas, depending on which was easier to access. During the Great Depression, beginning in 1929 and lasting into the 1930s, stale bread was also used instead of cake batter.
Pouding chômeur is part of the traditional cuisine of Quebec and it is believed that the recipe has been passed down orally. Originally, it was made without exact measurements. This dessert was created by Georgette Falardeau, wife of Camillien Houde, mayor of Montreal, during the start of the Great Depression. Georgette wanted to bring something sweet to soothe the souls of poor and unemployed people. The pouding chômeur was an urban dessert at first since most poor and unemployed people were living in Montreal. It quickly spread throughout the province with some adaptations; some used butter or lard (instead of vegetable shortening) and maple syrup because it was easier to find and cheaper if you were living on a farm or in a remote location.
The pouding chômeur still remains at this day a classic and popular dessert in Quebec, especially in French-speaking households. It is no longer a dessert associated with poverty, but a staple of the local cuisine. Each family has its own recipe, slightly adapted to their tastes and budget. Nowadays it is often associated to the maple season and served in sugar shacks.