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Lost classic desserts from our wide and varied past.

American Classics: Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie

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[Photograph: Alexandra Penfold]

Emboldened by recent pie success recreating my great aunt's favorite Lemon Chocolate Pie, I decided to tackle a classic beloved by many of my Midwestern friends—the Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie. Not only is it the easiest pie I've ever made, it's also one of the tastiest.

The name pretty much says it all: sugar + cream. Add in the Hoosier and you have a nice nod to the thrifty Indianans, likely Amish or Shaker farm folk, who created this pie in the pioneer days. Sugar Cream Pie is what's known as a "desperation" pie, the kind of dessert you could make on a farm when you didn't have fresh fruit on hand.

The Indiana Foodways Alliance calls the dish "Indiana's come-home-to dessert" and they've created a "Hoosier Pie Trail" with must-stop eateries for visitors looking to try their state pie. Their descriptions of mom and pop joints like Stories Restaurant in Greensburg, Indiana or the famed Mrs. Wick's Pies in Winchester would make any pie lover want to jump in the car. Fortunately, if your travels won't take you to Indiana in the near future, the Sugar Cream Pie is easy enough to replicate at home.

Recipes vary from family to family but the basic ingredient list is fairly simple: you need cream, you need sugar, and you need something to bind those ingredients together—be it flour, cornstarch or in some cases, eggs. Some recipes have you cook the filling and pour it into a pre-baked pie shell while others cook both at once. I consider the version that I've adapted to be a foolproof custard. Pie and filling are baked together so there's no risk in a lumpy, bumpy crust from a failed blind-baking attempt. And unlike egg-based custards which can be fussy and temperamental, this flour-thickened filling only requires a bit of stirring to cook up to a rich, creamy and jiggle-free consistency. Like all recipes with few ingredients, the secret is making sure that everything you put into the pie is the best available. Imagine you're on a farm and are making this pie from the fresh cream you just skimmed from that morning's milk and you'll get the picture.

Typically served at room temperature, this pie has a cozy and familiar taste even for those of us who aren't born and raised Hoosiers. My husband likened it to manjar blanco, a thick, slow-cooked Colombian treat that he grew up with. Sweet, but not overly so, this is American comfort food at its best.

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Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie »


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About the author: Alexandra Penfold is mild-mannered children's book editor by day, food ninja by night. Never one to skip dessert she's the Brownie half of Blondie & Brownie and a Midtown Lunch contributor. You can follow her on Twitter at @blondiebrownie.

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