In Grand Coteau, Louisiana, stop first at The Kitchen Shop, presided over by Nancy and Jesse Poinboeuf along with her mother, Miz Eloise, and hope and pray that Nancy is just pulling a tray of her special sweet dough pies out of the oven and that the fresh-made lemonade has gotten plenty cold. She is likely to have pastries filled with sweet blackberries picked along her own fences or savory crawfish pies that are just irresistible.
Sweet dough pies are a specialty of this region, and every cook has their own variation. Nancy, who did a stint as a pastry chef in New York before returning home, learned at her Grandmother Doucet’s knee. Her pastry is lighter, richer, and less thick than any you will find in Acadiana. “I don’t think we invented much new food,” says Nancy, reflecting on our local culinary heritage. “We just adapted old, remembered recipes from France. The Breton tartes had all that good butter and cream, but the Cajuns were on a budget, so the dough was coarser and heavier. I’m somewhere in between.”
The Kitchen Shop is full of every gadget imaginable, selected with such a discriminating eye that most of it is almost as irresistible as those sweet dough pies. For an aspiring chef, roaming through the 19th-century store can absorb a whole morning, but be sure to save some time for exploring the rest of the town, with its graceful Creole houses and incredibly enormous live oaks.
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- 6 cups blackberries, divided
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 5 tablespoons water, divided
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2 tablespoons butter
- Cajun Sweet Dough, recipe follows
- ½ cup all-purpose flour, for rolling
- 1 large egg
- 1½ tablespoons turbinado sugar
- In a medium saucepan, combine 2 cups blackberries and sugar over medium heat. Slightly muddle blackberries, and stir until mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, stirring frequently, until sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes.
- Combine cornstarch and 3 tablespoons water in a medium bowl. Whisk cooked blackberry mixture into cornstarch mixture. Return blackberry mixture to pan, and add zest, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture boils 1 minute and thickens. Remove from heat; add butter, and stir until melted.
- In a large bowl, add remaining 4 cups blackberries. Gently stir in cooked blackberry mixture. Set aside, and let cool to room temperature.
- Preheat oven to 400°. Cut 12 (5-inch) circles from parchment paper, and set aside.
- Divide Cajun Sweet Dough into 12 equal pieces. With floured hands, roll each piece into a ball. On a heavily floured surface, using a floured rolling pin, roll each dough ball to a 5-inch, ⅛-inch-thick circle.
- Place each circle of dough onto a parchment piece. Gently fit dough and parchment into 5-inch pie pans. (Edges of dough will look ruffled.) Fill each pie with ¼ cup blackberry filling. Fold dough edges in toward the center of each pie.
- In a small bowl, whisk together egg and remaining 2 tablespoons water. Lightly brush dough with egg wash. Sprinkle turbinado sugar equally over each. Place 6 pies on each baking sheet, and bake until lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Let pies rest on baking sheet 5 minutes. Transfer to wire racks, and let cool completely. Repeat process with remaining pies.
- ¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
- 2 tablespoons lard
- ¾ cup sugar
- 1 large egg
- 2½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ⅓ cup whole milk
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- In a large bowl, beat butter, lard, and sugar at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Add egg, and beat until fluffy.
- In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. In a small bowl, combine milk and vanilla. Add ⅓ flour mixture alternately with ⅓ milk mixture, beating just until smooth, scraping bowl occasionally. Be careful not to overmix. Dough will be soft and sticky.
- Scrape mixture onto a lightly floured surface, and work into a disk. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate 2 hours or overnight.