In the same way that developing a novel's story line and working out plot lines take some time, so too does developing a recipe. When I considered recipes for my new book, That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland, I knew I wanted a sugar cream pie. Why? It's iconic Hoosier, and because the book is published in our state's bicentennial year, I wanted to include it. It even ended up on the cover! One person in my life circle was up to the challenge of creating a pie recipe for the book. He's Blaise Doubman, the talented baker, cook and food writer who writes Chew This! twice a month for my Neighbors section at The (New Castle, Indiana) Courier-Times. You'll love Blaise's enthusiasm. Check him out at https://blaisethebaker.com. Meanwhile, thanks for the guest post, Blaise. Enjoy, everyone, below.
By Blaise Doubman
Hello everyone! My name is Blaise Doubman, although some of you may know me as Blaise the Baker. It's my honor to write a special guest-blog post for my multi-talented friend, Donna Cronk.
It's been my pleasure to get to know her personally and professionally, and as I'm sure you're all already well-aware, she's not only a strong woman in faith, but a strong woman in inspiration, perseverance, talent, editing and writing. She's been a driving force at The Courier-Times for almost 27 years editing the Neighbors section. Her career is well documented and spans into all skill levels and fields.
I'm here to talk about her new book, "That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland." The book (a sequel to "Sweetland of Liberty Bed & Breakfast") doesn't have to be read consecutively to be enjoyed. Her first book was wonderful, and contained several delicious recipes - all of which I tried and enjoyed.
A 'novel' idea
I love how novels include recipes within their covers. It makes me feel even more part of the story. I feel like I'm fixing the food like the characters do, eating like the characters and experiencing almost a "life-like" realness that adds even more to the story line.
When Donna told me she was writing a sequel, I was beyond excited! Grandma Barbra and I discussed the possibility of a sequel after reading the first, but I'm a firm believer in encouraging writers with their current story lines - and not pushing more creative ideas into them - because sometimes a creative person releases what she needs to say the first time.
Grandma Barbra and I discussed what we thought would have happened after the book ended, and earmarked our favorite parts, and placed the book in her kitchen collection of cookbooks. (We decided to keep it in the kitchen with the cookbooks instead of in the living room with the novels because the recipes were all so delicious!)
If you think I was excited when Donna told me about the sequel, imagine my excitement when she asked if I would develop a sugar cream pie recipe for her book! It literally took me an hour to come down off the ceiling ... and then imagine my surprise and excitement when she asked if she could write me into the book! Yes - write me into the book!
Let's start with the sugar cream pie and how it was developed. Donna and I discussed how the Indiana official state pie is the sugar cream pie - so what would be more appropriate? I decided right away that I would call mine "Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie."
I started to work on the development like I do all of my other recipes. I went to my recipe book (a small leather pocket notebook - I have several for recipe developments and ideas) and wrote at the top of the page "Donna's Pie."
I looked at it for a while, and felt extreme excitement, and yet at the same time sadness. I know, you may be thinking, "why sadness?"
I was feeling a little sad because my Grandma Barbra, at the time, wasn't doing well. She was in a rehabilitation center for some health issues. I told myself that this time, I was going to have to develop and research the recipe all on my own. Now don't get me wrong, I had tested and developed recipes on my own several times, but this time it was a pie! How would I do this on my own?
Grandma Barbra is known in my family as The Pie Queen! Would I ever be able to live up to something she would like - and not to mention something Donna would like - and all of her readers of the new novel! The pressure was on. I handled it though.
I talked with Grandma Barbra about it and she said for me to follow my instincts and "just do it," and that's what I did. I immediately went to food-history books, and searched for anything sugar cream pie related. I made notes on what I had learned, its history and how different recipes are different yet very similar in taste and texture.
The sugar cream pie isn't a pie that can be topped with a crumble, nor is it a pie that can be topped with lattice. It's a pie that has stood the test of time, something traditional and familiar. Now I was getting somewhere. This I could handle.
I then searched online for even more sugar cream pie history and searched out some food related message boards. I then conducted a "survey" of sorts as to what people associate "sugar cream pie" with.
The results? Most people selected words such as - custard, vanilla, sweet and nutmeg as what they would associate with the dessert. I wrote everything down, compared recipe techniques online and found that some sugar cream pies are made on the stove top only, some in the oven only and some a variety of both methods.
I would have to try several of each method to determine what would be the perfect pie. I also decided I would absolutely have to use a homemade crust. When I think of pie, I look forward to the crust just as much as the filling.
With my kitchen notes in hand, I spent the next several days testing sugar cream pies. The first thing I had to do was develop a pie crust recipe. I tried several with butter, a few with shortening and a few with both butter and shortening. I found that using shortening only, gave the pie crust the flakiness and the tenderness I was looking for, without incorporating any additional flavor, like the butter did.
The recipe I ended up with is strikingly similar to the pie crust my Grandma Barbra still uses to this day. I took that as a sign that even though she was fighting her own battles at the time of my testing and developing, she was still with me in the kitchen.
After the crust recipe was complete, I wanted to make the instructions as easy to follow as possible. In my experience, people will see, or read, that a pie involves a "homemade crust" and they run the other way!
It upsets me that people think they're so difficult to make, when in reality, they're pretty easy, and so much better than anything you can buy! I wrote the recipe to be pretty self-explanatory, and gave it to a friend of mine who hadn't made a pie crust in her entire life. I wanted to see how she would do following the instructions and I would take the recipe writing from there.
She took the recipe, with worry and concern that she wouldn't ever be able to pull it off, and followed it step by step. And guess what? She made pie crust! The finished pie crust was beautiful and just the way it was supposed to be! She was beyond excited and actually may have jumped up and down, "I made pie crust! I made pie crust!" I knew then that the recipe, and the instructions, were perfect. Now, onto the pie filling. Half way there.
I tested several sugar cream pies using the stove top method, but it just didn't do much for the crust and it had trouble "setting up". It was simply too complicated and too difficult trying to tell people the difference between "blind baking" the pie shell ahead of time, and actually making the pie on the stove top.
I was worried that people would skip the step of making their own pie crust, and I was also worried that people just wouldn't want to attempt the recipe.
I moved on to the method of making the sugar cream pie in the oven only. I didn't care for this method either. These pies had a tendency to burn quickly, and frankly having to wrap the pie crust in foil halfway through baking, just wasn't a step that I wanted to do - and I was sure nobody else would either. I wanted to create something simple and that people wouldn't mind whipping up. Plus, when making the sugar cream pie in the oven only, it changed the texture of the pie from a custard to more of a gelatinous texture which wasn't pleasant at all!
I decided to combine both methods. Why couldn't a person make the pie crust, have it baking in the oven while they're making the filling, and finish it off in the stove? Well, that's exactly what I did!
By making the pie crust first and poking it with a fork there's no need for any extra equipment - no pie weights and no foil wrapped beans. While this baked in the oven, the filling is being mixed up and prepared on the stove top. The addition of butter at the end really brings about a thick creaminess that can't be duplicated any other way.
Once the crust is baked, and the filling done, popping the whole thing back into the oven finishes off the filling by baking it completely as well as warming and thickening the filling - bringing everything together. It also warms up the nutmeg that's sprinkled on top and really incorporates its delicate aroma into the pie.
'It's perfect and ready to go'
I must have made the finished recipe a dozen times before finally saying to myself - this is it - it's perfect and ready to go. My family, friends and taste testers all were great sports about it. Several of the testers said that my pie was even better tasting than a very familiar, locally well-known pie. I was pleased - and thankful.
I sent the recipe to Donna and awaited her thoughts. I just knew she would love it - and I was right! She said she loved the pie, and has actually made it several times since the first initial baking. She was really impressed with the foolproof homemade pie crust, which I found to be the greatest compliment because if I can make something "daunting" a little easier for someone, I've accomplished my goal and that makes me feel good.
My recipe is featured in Donna's new book and I couldn't be any more excited or grateful! And guess what!? I actually make a guest appearance in the book! Well, all fictitiously of course. How and where? You'll have to read it, find out and see where my pie is incorporated into the story.
I'm highly recommending this book in my "Blaise the Baker Book Club" as well as to all of my family and friends. Thank you Donna for asking me about developing this recipe, thank you for including me in your book, thank you for allowing me to join you on this journey.
I highly recommend you buy TWO copies (one for you and one for a friend) of "That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland." Here's a few options...
Have Donna autograph a copy and send it directly to your door! Mail your check or money order for $17.79 (includes tax and postage) to Donna Cronk - 8754 Carriage Lane - Pendleton, IN 46064. Make the check or money order out to "Donna Cronk". Also include to whom you want it inscribed or if you only want Donna's signature.
Local people can get the book for $15 (includes tax and postage) from Donna at the newspaper. Or you can purchase a copy through Amazon.com in print or for your Kindle.
She's also has a new speaking program called "Bloom Before You Are Planted" and is accepting new dates for discussion, book clubs, church and social groups. Congratulations Donna.