As I’ve mentioned before, the past few months have rekindled my interest in foods of the Great Depression. Many of these dishes—like peanut-butter-stuffed onions and tobacco-seasoned Mulligan stew—I have no desire to experience for myself, but occasionally I come across a winner that I can’t wait to try. Such is the case with grandpères, a simple French Canadian dish of dumplings simmered in maple syrup meant to bring joy to the most terrible of times. And what is dessert for if not to make us feel a tiny bit better about the world?
I was positively smitten after tasting classic grandpères for the first time, but as for aesthetics, well... this is possibly the ugliest dessert I have ever seen. There’s never been a simmered drop dumpling known for its beauty, though, and there’s never been an ugly dessert that couldn’t be saved by a hearty dollop of whipped cream, so that problem got solved quickly.
However, there was another problem that I felt needed addressing: the maple syrup. I made the grandpères with true maple syrup as the authentic recipe required—I’ve always been a maple syrup snob and have never dared substitute anything for the real thing. Depression-era French Canadians had easy access to the stuff because, for them, it literally grew on (or in?) trees. But for those of us who don’t have tree taps set up in our own backyards, real-deal maple syrup is a bit pricey in the 21st century, and un-humbling this humble dessert with expensive ingredients is something I find unacceptable. We all deserve nice things, and there’s nothing wrong with making do with what you’ve got.
I decided to take another stab at the recipe, swapping my grade B maple syrup for a $2.50 bottle of pancake syrup; as I expected, these grandpères were not as good as the original batch. So what do you do when something doesn’t taste as good as you’d like it to? You add more stuff to make it better. I remembered I had stashed few bags of blueberries in the freezer back when they were on sale a few weeks ago, so I decided to throw a few in to give the grandpères a pancake sort of vibe. And it worked! The berries did somehow manage to make the dumplings look even more unattractive, but who really cares what stuff looks like when it tastes good?
I topped the ultra-sweet grandpères with a slightly tangy cream sauce, which covered up the hideousness underneath while balancing the flavors nicely. I sprinkled the whole thing with some toasted sliced almonds; you can substitute just about any kind of nut, and if nuts aren’t your thing, you can swap them out for another crunchy topping you enjoy. I like cornflakes, but go ahead and get creative! What matters in the end is that we’re happy. That’s what dessert is meant to do.
Makes 8 dumplings
- 2 cups pancake syrup or maple syrup
- 3 1/2 cups water
- 1 bag frozen blueberries, or 2 cups fresh
- 1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted in a dry skillet or the microwave
- 2 cups cake flour
- 2 3/4 tsp. baking powder
- 1/4 tsp. baking soda
- 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg, cinnamon, or pumpkin pie spice
- 4 Tbsp. (1/2 stick) butter, chilled in the freezer for 15 minutes
- 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
- 3/4 cup milk
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
- 1/3 cup powdered sugar
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla
In the widest saucepan you have, combine the syrup, water, and one cup of the blueberries; put over high heat. Set the remaining blueberries aside in a bowl to thaw.
In the meantime, make the dumpling batter: in a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg. Use the large holes on a box grater to cut the butter into small pieces, then gently toss the butter in the dry ingredients. Add the Greek yogurt, milk, and vanilla, then gently stir until everything is just combined.
When the syrup comes to a boil, turn the heat down to low, then use a large spoon or food disher to drop four or five large scoops of dumpling batter into the syrup, giving them ample space to expand. Cover the pan, cracking the top just a bit to allow steam to escape, and allow the dumplings to cook undisturbed for 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a dumpling pulls out clean. Use a slotted spoon to move the grandpères to a plate, loosely cover with a sheet of aluminum foil, then repeat the process with the remaining batter.
While the second batch of grandpères are cooking, make the sauce: whip the heavy cream, Greek yogurt, powdered sugar, and vanilla together in a large bowl until it’s thick enough to hold soft peaks—about 2 minutes.
Divide the grandpères, two to a bowl, then equally divide the blueberry syrup between them. Top with the remaining blueberries and the cream sauce, then sprinkle with toasted almonds. Serve immediately.