When exploring the realm of America’s famous regional desserts, Louisiana often brings to mind the iconic New Orleans donut. However, limiting your Louisiana dessert experience to these French-influenced donuts means you’ll miss out on a hidden gem: the much-underrated Gâteau de Sirop, a Cajun syrup cake.
If the donut is rightfully entitled to its fame, the Syrup Cake remains an essential dessert, offering a unique twist to the way syrup is usually used in cakes. Unlike the conventional practice of dipping a cake in syrup for extra fluffiness, this specialty of Louisiana country cooking incorporates the syrup directly into the batter. The star ingredient is rich, flavorful sugarcane syrup, which imparts decadent sweetness and creates a moist, dense texture that elevates this cake to a whole new level. The Syrup Cake is a culinary delight for lovers of rustic Southern recipes, showcasing Cajun cooking’s mastery of simple yet timeless and comforting dishes that rely on local ingredients.
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What goes into the syrup cake
As far as cake recipes go, Gâteau de Sirop has a pretty standard list of ingredients, most of which you probably already have in your pantry. Starting with flour, baking soda, eggs and milk, most Syrup Cake recipes use vegetable shortening or oil instead of butter as the fat source. The cake is usually flavored with traditional warming spices like those found in pumpkin pie, which often includes cinnamon accompanied by ground ginger and/or nutmeg. The main sweetening ingredient is of course 100% pure cane syrup. Although you can use any type of cane syrup you have on hand, many Syrup Cake recipes recommend Steen Pure Cane Syrup by name, perhaps because of its long and iconic history as one of the largest cane syrup brands in Louisiana.
Cane syrup, made by boiling raw sugar cane juice, gives Syrup Cake a distinctly rich flavor with undertones of butterscotch, caramel and molasses, which pairs extremely well with warm spices to a delicious blend of flavors. This comforting flavor profile combines with the moist, dense texture to make Syrup Cake an unforgettable comfort food experience that can be enjoyed on its own, with a side of frosting or icing, and/or with tea or a coffee.
Why is it called Syrup Cake?
French speakers may notice that the name Gâteau de Sirop, while not technically incorrect, sounds quite strange. The preposition “de” is normally used for foods that contain an irreplaceable ingredient that makes up the majority of the dish itself. For example, orange juice is called “orange juice” because there would be no juice without the orange. Dishes like cakes, which incorporate several different ingredients with one or two defining flavors, would instead use “à” or “au”, as is the case for something like “chocolate cake”, which means chocolate cake in French. To a standard French speaker, “Gâteau de Sirop” may imply a cake made entirely of syrup.
This little grammatical quirk is completely unique to this Louisiana specialty and sets it apart from other French syrup cakes. Searching online for the more grammatically conventional name “syrup cake” yields many results for a Quebec syrup cake. Sometimes called cake à l’érable, meaning “maple cake,” Quebec syrup cake highlights the region’s abundant maple syrup as “syrup.” French-American culture in Louisiana and French-Canadian Cajun culture in Quebec both originated in the same 17th-century French colony, Acadia. It is therefore interesting to note that the two regions independently created a syrup cake containing a locally abundant sweetener as the main ingredient.