Friday, August 2, 2013

Easy as . . . something: The Hoosier Mama Book of Pie

Posted By on 08.02.13 at 02:42 PM

hoosier_mama_book.jpg
  • Agate Publishing
It may seem surprising that Paula Haney, proprietor of the Hoosier Mama Pie Company, would want to spill all her secrets by publishing a book of the exact same recipes she uses in the shop. Or so we are led to believe. It is, of course, entirely possible that she leaves out one crucial ingredient in every recipe so that your at-home attempt at pie won't ever taste exactly right.

But if you flip through The Hoosier Mama Book of Pie, it becomes apparent why Haney and her savory-pie guru Allison Scott felt no compunction about sharing their secrets. Take the recipe for chicken potpie, for instance, that comforting cold-weather classic and also one of Hoosier Mama's best sellers, the only pie guaranteed to be in demand on a cloudy day. (For some reason, Haney has discovered, people prefer to buy pie when it's sunny. A theory: pie is a happy thing, like sunshine.) It contains 25 ingredients, not counting the three separate subrecipes for crust, chicken stock, and creme fraiche.

Plus you can't just get home from work and decide that you're going to whip up a chicken potpie for dinner. This thing requires hours of chopping and roasting and braising and chilling. If you have great knife skills, you might be able to finish by midnight. It's way easier to go down to Hoosier Mama's shop in East Village and just buy a damned pie.

"So much of pie is waiting," says Scott, who's responsible for the chicken potpie recipe. "It requires patience."

The Hoosier Mama Book of Pie is less about the product than about the experience of making a pie. "We wanted it to be like us standing in the kitchen with you," Haney explains. "I was distraught when Marion Cunningham died. It took about ten minutes before I realized I didn't even know her."

"We wanted to describe at every step what you should be looking at," Scott adds.

Over the course of the year it took to write the book, the two authors enlisted a brigade of home cooks to test the recipes. "Some of their questions," says Haney, "I was totally blown away by."

For instance?

"Well," says Scott, "with the barbecue pulled-pork pie, the recipe was intimidating in size. For the barbecue sauce [a subrecipe], I'd listed a can of tomato paste in the ingredients. Someone called and said it didn't taste right. It turned out she'd used a very large can of tomato paste. I always used the six-ounce cans. It didn't occur to me to list that. It instilled an obsessiveness to make the recipes more straightforward for the reader and list all the details."

Another tester of that same pie called Haney and Scott 22 times in a single weekend with questions.

Haney
  • Chicago Sun-Times
  • Haney and some of her pies. There's no guarantee yours will look this pretty.
There were times, though, when even obsessiveness failed them. It proved impossible to break the shop's quiche recipe down to a single pie; every time they tried, they ended up with a recipe that called for half an egg. They did blind taste tests to see if the quiche tasted better with four eggs or five. In the end, they published a recipe that would yield two quiches and suggested the baker share the extra.

The first 50 or so pages of the book comprise a long introductory chapter about how to make pie dough, the key ingredient of any pie.

"The most important thing to remember," says Haney, "is do not overmix the dough." In the troubleshooting guide at the end of the chapter, she advises that if the pie dough is overworked (that is, if it springs back when rolled), the baker throw it away and start over.

"We went back and forth about that," says Haney. "But we decided that we'd rather tell people to throw the dough away than to make a pie with a bad crust and be unhappy."

Even though pie baking requires a certain amount of precision, Haney stresses that the recipes in the book are meant to be used as a guide. "You should make the pie the way you think it tastes best," she says. (If bakers want to e-mail her their variations, she says, "We'll take 'em.")

If you've never made a pie from scratch before, Haney suggests you start with the chess pie. Chess pie is a southern staple, sweet and gooey, and requiring not much more than butter, sugar, eggs, and some flavoring. "It's simple," she says, "and hard to mess up—though I've done it." It is also, unlike the chicken potpie, quick. Haney once threw one together in three minutes flat, not counting the crust.

On the savory side, Scott recommends starting with hand pies, which can incorporate leftovers and can also be frozen and baked as needed.

"We tell people to give themselves lots of time," says Haney. "Spread it out over a couple of days.

"When I heard people say that pie is the new cupcake, it alarmed me," she continues. "Pie is the most unpretentious food in the world. It's not about being cute. It's about taking what you have and making something awesome. It shouldn't be a hard thing."

The Hoosier Mama Book of Pie will be out August 15 and on sale at the Hoosier Mama Pie Shop, Target, and other more traditional book-selling establishments. Haney and Scott will be leading a pie-making demonstration at Green City Market Saturday, August 24, at 10:30 AM and running a pie boot camp through Treasure Island in September.

Aimee Levitt writes about books every Friday.

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