"Making pie is a pain in the butt." That's not an uncommon assessment, given the time and skill that go into crafting a perfectly flaky crust, sculpted lattices and a gooey, yet solid, filling.
Coming from Hoosier Mama pie shop owner Paula Haney, who's been recognized by the likes of Bon Appetit and Food & Wine, though, it's surprising — and vindicating — to those (like this author) who have been reduced to tears over a pie dough that just wouldn't cooperate.
Enter Haney's much-anticipated cookbook, "The Hoosier Mama Book of Pie" (Agate Publishing, $29.95). Not only does the book include the recipes for 124 of the Chicago shop's lauded pies, such as vinegar chess and apple, but also a detailed breakdown of the dough-making process, down to the pulses of a food processor.
"It's not voodoo," says Haney of making a perfect pie. "It's just steps you learn. I guess that's what I would like everyone to take away from the book."
We spoke with Haney and Allison Scott, head of Hoosier Mama's savory pies, about the new cookbook. This Q&A has been edited for space and clarity.
Q: You dedicate a lot of space in the book to making a pie crust. How did you synthesize the process to the point at which a home cook could make these recipes?
Scott: We wanted the book to read like Paula or I was standing next to you, explaining how to make it in your kitchen, so we tried to go into a level of detail that would explain what something looked like, what it tasted like, what it smelled like, so that there were multiple tests you could do. … Training staff here, we learn kind of the missteps that people will make on a regular basis.
Q: Where do you see people veering off from the path to a perfect pie crust?
Haney: Overmixing is huge. People are used to mixing something until it comes together. That and just making the assumption that (the pie dough) is always going to be the same. It's hotter. It's colder. It's humid. It's less humid. I think you just have to be open to that very early.
Q: How did you go about selecting which pie recipes to include?
Haney: We put most of them in, actually. The only things we didn't put in were things that were not original to us, recipes that came from someone else and we hadn't changed much.
Q: Were there any unsuspected obstacles when writing this book?
Scott: I usually make 40 or 50 chicken pot pies at a time, and scaling down recipes doesn't work the same way that scaling them up does. We had to redevelop quite a few of the quantities and techniques for the home cook. I'd never made one chicken pot pie before in my entire life.
Haney: Also, just the level of information that needed to be conveyed. Like how to measure the salt, the kinds of salt, which brand of kosher salt. I sat down to write a couple sentences about salt, and 300 words later … we were waking up in the middle of the night with things like that.
Working that crust
Haney's book provides detailed directions for rolling out a dough. Here are some of her tips:
After chilling, let the dough rest at room temperature 30-45 minutes before using.
Before you begin rolling, "pound the dough until it is half as thick as when you started. Don't be timid; it takes more aggression than you think! Pounding the dough flattens it without working the gluten very much and softens it up for the finish rolling you are about to do."
Instead of draping the rough edged dough over the pie plate and trimming the edges, Haney cuts a circle first, 14 inches in diameter for a 9-inch pie. "At the pie shop, we use a series of commercial pizza pans as guides. At home, a pot lid, plate or bowl works just as well. Place your guide in the middle of the dough and gently cut around it with a bench scraper or paring knife."
Before placing the dough in the pan, coat your pie plate with cooking spray, then dust it with flour, tapping out any excess.
Before baking, chill prepared dough at least 20 minutes; then transfer to freezer for 20 minutes, preferably overnight.
Prep: 15 minutes
Chill: 40 minutes
Makes: 1 double-crust pie or 2 single-crust pies
Note: From "The Hoosier Mama Book of Pie," by Paula Haney.
1 ¾ sticks unsalted butter
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
½ cup cold water
2 ¼ cups flour
2 ¼ teaspoons kosher salt
½ tablespoon granulated sugar
1Cut the butter into 1/2-inch cubes. Freeze 5 tablespoons for 20 minutes or overnight; chill the remaining butter in the refrigerator until ready to use.
2Stir the red wine vinegar into the cold water; set aside.
3Combine the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor; pulse 5 or 6 times to combine. Add the chilled butter; mix until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 25-30 seconds. Add the frozen butter; pulse 15 to 20 times, until the butter is in pea-size pieces.
4Add 6 tablespoons of the vinegar water; pulse 6 times. The dough should start to look crumbly. Test the dough by squeezing a small amount in the palm of your hand. If it easily holds together, it is done. If not, add 1/2 tablespoon of the vinegar water; pulse 3 more times. Repeat until the dough holds together.
5Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface; knead together until smooth; dough should never come together in the food processor. Divide the dough into 2 equal parts; roll each into a ball. Flatten the balls slightly; wrap separately in plastic wrap. Let the dough rest in the refrigerator until ready to use, at least 20 minutes but preferably overnight.