By Mary Ann Lienhart Cross
County Extension Director
Recently I had the wonderful opportunity of tasting and also judging 16 sugar cream pies as a part of the Indiana Bicentennial celebration for open class exhibits at the Saint Joseph County 4-H Fair. For those of you who enter baking contests you know that there are certain baked products and fillings that are not typically part of a baking contest, such as sugar cream pie. So I took an educated risk being the judge and I have had no side effects from the judging other than being very full from all of the water I drank between each tasting of pie.
I was asked beforehand, and I shared with the audience of forty or so watching, how I would judge. I would first judge with my eyes; I wanted to see a golden-colored pie with a light brown pie crust. I would also be judging with my nose as I lifted a small bite to my mouth for a real tasting. I learned a long time ago to take a very small taste. In case the taste is not pleasant, you can use your napkin or quickly swallow and drink water. The challenge is when you have something that is rancid which could be the fat/shortening in the pie crust. Once you get that rancid taste in your mouth it is very hard to get rid of it.
Back to the judging – so I looked at each pie. If it is was baked in a glass pie pan I looked at the bottom to see if the crust looked done. I then cut a small piece and turned it over so I could see if it was done and then tasted both the crust and the sugar cream. The crust needed to be done and have a pleasant flavor. There were many different crust recipes; several had vinegar and one had vodka. Both of these ingredients keep the gluten in the wheat flour from forming so the crust is flakier. In case you are wondering you can’t taste the vinegar or vodka as it is baked away.
Now to the main part of the sugar cream contest: the filling or the sugar cream pie. I did not take the time to compare if there were any of the exact same recipes but I will share there was a variety of them. Many recipes had the 5 basic ingredients of sugar, cream, vanilla, flour, and cinnamon, but others had ingredients like eggs, cornstarch, nutmeg, half and half, milk, and vanilla flavored sugar.
What I wanted to taste was a sugar cream that was all blended together and nice and smooth. I didn’t want it to be overly sweet, nor dominated by any specific flavor be it cinnamon, nutmeg or vanilla. The pie needed to be firm and hold its shape but not stiff from too much flour or cornstarch.
For scoring purposes I had a grid and gave the pies numbers, tasting my way through all 16 of them. Some were fresh baked and some had been refrigerated so their flavors were improved as they became room temperature. There were many great pies and I narrowed the judging to 9. I tasted them a second time and I brought forward 5 pieces. I knew which pie would win as I had written ‘WOW’ on my score sheet. This is what I am wanting for the winning sugar cream pie.
I re-tasted and selected second and third places. They were also very good pies, just not a ‘Wow! This is sugar cream pie at its best!’ The pies that didn’t make the finals had either unbaked crusts, too much nutmeg or cinnamon, an off flavor, or were too stiff or too soft.
So thank you to the pie bakers of St. Joseph County for this bicentennial sugar cream pie experience. I hope we have this many at our contest on Saturday July 23. Check-in is from 11 to 11:45 a.m. with open judging beginning at noon. Here is the winning recipe from Mary Ann Millar that you can try and enjoy. I am ready for another piece and it has not been a week since I did all that tasting. Enjoy!