'A gift': In Louisiana, sweet dough pies create lasting memories
Terri K. Fontenot did not grow up eating sweet dough pies. She learned about the Southern Louisiana treat when she married into a Cajun family. But Fontenot, who runs Terri Bakes Academy cooking school, has mastered the local pie dough, which is a cross between a traditional pie crust and a sugar cookie. When she competed for the first time in 2018 at the annual Sweet Dough Pie Festival in Grand Coteau, she took first place with her blackberry pie and second for her custard.
In Cajun Country, sweet dough pies are part of the culture and worthy of a festival in their honor. For those who grew up in South Louisiana, sweet dough pie represents the holidays and sweet childhood memories.
"Everyone has their own recipe," said Fontenot, who lives in Moss Bluff. "Some people make the dough so soft you have to pat it into the bottom of the pie pan. Some people's is firm enough that you roll it."
Fontenot herself has two different sweet dough recipes, one for straightforward fillings like blackberries or custard and one for spiced fillings like fig or sweet potatoes.
Like many dishes in South Louisiana, sweet dough likely originated in France. David Harris, pastry chef for Chef John Folse & Company in Gonzales, believes it derives from traditional French pâte sucrée, literally "sweet dough.”
"Pâte sucrée is the French term for a sweetened, butter-based pastry dough that is traditionally used for tarts," Harris said. "This is a shortcrust dough, which means that the fat in the dough shortens the gluten strands by interfering with the process that elongates them, such as in bread dough."
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In Cajun Country, the dough has slightly different proportions of fat, eggs and flour than French pâte sucrée. Milk also sometimes shows up in the Louisiana version.
As a child growing up in Lafayette, Lynore Harding would sneak out of her room looking for her favorite treats: tea cakes and sweet potato pie in a sweet dough crust. After her mom died, Harding was raised by her uncle, Jack Tallmore, and aunt. Tallmore's father was the baker who made the treats Harding loved so dearly.
Those childhood moments sparked a passion for bringing that same joy to others. Throughout her youth, she baked for her family to perfect her favorite sweets.
"The experience is kind of magical because they would just throw a little this and a little that and next thing you know it's a sweet dough pie," she said.
Even when she became a nurse, Harding, now 51, was known for her baking skills. In 2016, she decided to bake full-time and opened Divine Cakes and Sweets Boutique. Now sweet dough pie is one of her best-selling items year-round.
"I often hear customers say these pies take them back to childhood, and that's a gift," Harding said.
At Fontenot's baking school, students often want to learn how to bake sweet dough pies. They grew up eating them, but they never learned how to make them from their moms or grandmothers. Fontenot, however, does not think sweet dough is endangered. In fact, she sees a bright future for this Louisiana treat.
"There are so many young people that have started to compete in the Sweet Dough Festival because baking is so much more on the forefront than it used to be," she said.
Sweet Dough Pie Crust
Terri K. Fontenot of the Terri Bakes cooking school shared her prize-winning recipe for sweet dough pie crust.
This dough is soft, which is typical for sweet dough. It can be pressed in the pie pan or rolled between two sheets of parchment paper. When Fontenot makes this recipe, she divides the dough into 3 equal parts to make 2 crusts and uses the third piece for lattice tops.
She rolls each piece of dough out to about ¼ inch thick, puts it on a sheet pan, then into the freezer until the dough is very cold but not frozen solid. This makes the dough easier to work with when putting it into the pans and cutting the lattice. Once the dough is in the pans, she puts them (unfilled) in the freezer while the oven is preheating.
1½ sticks unsalted butter
1½ cups sugar
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup milk
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
Note: All ingredients should be at room temperature
In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add spices and mix until well blended. Add the milk, eggs and vanilla, and mix well.
In a medium mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add this to the butter mixture, mixing with a wooden spoon (as not to overmix) until combined.
The dough is soft and slightly sticky. Form dough into a ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour before using.
This dough recipe makes 3 9-inch pie crusts, a couple dozen hand pies or lots of tea cakes.
Add your favorite filling; sweet potato, custard or fig. Bake at 350 degrees until crust is golden brown.