Today, we are heading to Indiana to discover the sugar cream pie. Halfway between custard and crème brûlée, this famous local cream pie is a must. Indeed, it is the semi-official dessert of the state of Indiana. This cream pie is a legacy of the Amish tradition. In fact, many of their pastries have become traditional desserts in North America.
What is the origin of sugar cream pie?
The oldest sugar cream recipe dates from 1816. It is also the year in which Indiana proclaimed its independence as a state. This cream pie was once called desperation pie. Indeed, its sweet taste and aromas of cinnamon and nutmeg was the cure for the hardships of life at the time. But these desperation pies existed long before being published in paper version.
This rich pie could feed a lof people. It could stay outside without melting, spilling or spoiling. That’s why the women of the time started bringing them to the church and village festivals. The sugar cream pie later became the common pie that was brought to funerals in Amish communities.
Sugar cream pie: between flan and creme brulée
The sugar cream pie is baked. It usually consists of a pastry on which is generously spread butter, cinnamon, brown sugar. This pie shell is then filled with a garnish similar to a vanilla custard. It is difficult to accurately describe the consistency of this cream pie. But everyone who has tasted it will converge to the same opinion: it is delightfully surprising!
What is characteristic of the sugar cream pie is that it does not contain eggs. And yet, its consistency is similar to that of a light flan or a more compact creme brulée. Its sweet filling is a kind of vanilla custard. It is topped with butter, cinnamon and nutmeg just before baking.
In the past, sugar cream pie was prepared all year long. The lack of seasonal ingredients such as eggs and some fruits have encouraged traditional communities to prepare such desserts. Indeed, everyone had sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and flour at home throughout the year. So they prepared the sugar cream pies when the stock of apples was exhausted.
Sugar cream pie: an increased popularity in the 1940s
Certainly, sugar cream pie was popular among certain communities. But its popularity began to explode in 1944. Duane Wickersham, a local from Indiana, opened a restaurant in Randolph County that year. He started serving sugar cream pies as a dessert and making 20 pies a day.
Ten years later, demand quadrupled. Faced with this popularity, Wickersham decided to patent the recipe for this cream pie. With the patent of the sugar cream pie in his pocket, he started his business. The production exploded: he was able to produce 10,000 pies in eight hours.
The history of the Amish tradition
It is difficult to talk about the history of the sugar cream pie without dwelling on the history of its creators: the Amish.
The Amish are an Anabaptist religious community founded in Switzerland in 1693 by Jacob Amman. The members of this community are known for leading austere lives and staying away from the progress of the outside world. Today, the Amish community is present mainly in North America. They are present in 31 states in the United States and 4 provinces in Canada.
Most Amish families speak a German dialect also called “Pennsylvania German” or “Pennsylvania Dutch”. People do not speak English in these communities. Indeed, the Amish refer to the word “English” as anyone who does not speak “Pennsylvania German”.
However, in 1864, in Indiana, a schism occurred under the direction of Henry Egli. The movement is slightly more moderate: the community began to speak English. In addition, children were allowed to go to Sunday School, which goes against Amish principles. Usually, religious education was given at home and with the family.
Prohibitions also emerged: ostentatious signs of wealth such as tobacco, jewelry and alcohol are absolutely forbidden. The last census of 2010 counted about 44,000 members of the Amish community in Indiana.
Each Amish community is independent and has its own traditions. There is therefore no regional or national organization.
The daily life of the Amish requires great physical effort. Their physical activity would be six times greater than that of an average adult in North America. Amish cuisine is simple but plentiful. This cuisine is close to the cuisine of northern Europe.
It is known for chicken soups, potato fritters (boova shenkel), and shoofly pie (cinnamon and nutmeg crumble).
The Amish consume a lot of high fat and high sugar foods such as meat, potatoes, cakes and eggs. That said, they are less obese than the majority of Americans and Canadians.
Variants of cream pies and sugar pies
You will find this kind of cream pie under the names of sugar cream pie, Hoosier pie, Quebec sugar pie, tarte au sucre, finger pie. The difference between the recipes is sometimes indiscernible. It’s basically the same dessert.
The Quebec sugar pie, however, introduces maple syrup and brown sugar into its preparation. Its color is browner and it is much sweeter than Hoosier pies.
The non official dessert of Indiana
In 2009, the Indiana locals (called Hoosiers) had this brilliant idea: why not make the sugar cream pie the official dessert of the state of Indiana? Their suggestion, however, never reached the governor’s office.
The cream pie may not be Indiana’s official dessert. However, it is in the hearts of all locals. Moreover, all are firmly convinced that it is the official dessert of the state.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon caster sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ cup cold butter cut into ½-inch cubes
- ⅓ cup solid shortening (Criscor margarine
- 6 tablespoons iced water
- 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon of water
- 1 cup heavy cream
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- ⅓ cup brown sugar
- ⅓ cup caster sugar + 3 tablespoons caster sugar
- ½ cup whole milk
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into small pieces
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon or ground nutmeg
- Mix the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer.
- Add the cold butter and shortening and, using the flat beater, mix gradually until the mixture looks like a coarse mass.
- There should be some small pieces of butter visible.
- Add 3 tablespoons of iced water and mix again several times, in quick pulses. Add 3 tablespoons of iced water again and continue mixing until the dough begins to hold. Do not over-knead.
- Add another tablespoon of iced water, if necessary, to make the dough smooth.
- Spread the dough between two sheets of parchment paper on a diameter of about 10 inches.
- Refrigerate for 3 hours.
Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C).
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the cream, flour, brown sugar, ⅓ cup of caster sugar, milk and vanilla.
- Take the dough out of the refrigerator and roll it on a 10-inch pie pan.
- Spread the pieces of butter over the pie shell, and sprinkle over the cinnamon or nutmeg (with the remaining 3 tablespoons of caster sugar).
- Whisk the cream mixture well before pouring it into the pie shell.
- Bake until the center is firm, about 45 to 50 minutes.
- Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.