The Hoosier Mama Book of Pie: Recipes, Techniques, and Wisdom from the Hoosier Mama Pie Company

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Release Date: 
August 6, 2013
Agate Midway
Reviewed by: 

For all the pie books out in recent years, most people can probably name only one or two friends, at best, who approach pie-making without fear. The terror wrought by pie crust is overblown—truly, a decent crust is not that hard—but still, something keeps most bakers away from pie.

For the eager and wary alike, Paula Haney’s Hoosier Mama Book of Pie offers useful and soothing photos, a confident tone, enough detail to answer nearly every question—and terrific fillings for those crusts.

Ms. Haney opened her tiny Chicago pie shop in 2009 to the great concern of some fellow chefs, who were sure she needed to offer cakes or cupcakes as well—a fear disproved by the 100,000 pies her shop has sold since. She realized along the way just how few pie bakers remain, partly, she says, because city dwellers had no need to use up a farm’s ingredients, and because pie got tagged as old-fashioned, putting an end to the passing down of pie-baking traditions and techniques.

But beyond that, she says frankly, “making pie is a pain in the ass. You have to make the dough, peel the fruit, rest the dough, assemble the pie, and then bake it for an hour or more. . . . I can make 100 cupcakes in the time it takes to make a single apple pie.”

She wrote her book, then, as encouragement—“so that pie knowledge can once again be taken for granted but never again forgotten.”

Ms. Haney doesn’t quite cover it all—readers might wish, for example, for an explanation of why she chooses various thickeners, and they should approach some of her timing with caution, from the amount of time dough ingredients get mixed in a food processor to baking times—baking a peach pie at 400 degrees for 80 minutes can scorch a crust.

But she generally gets it right, from big concerns to small. She anticipates questions, encouraging and discouraging experimentation as needed, such as warning against substituting foil for her recommended coffee filters or parchment paper to line pie dough when blind baking. (And note Ms. Haney’s use of that term—she takes an admirable stand against dumbed-down recipe instructions, instead using the traditional terms of baking, such as “creaming” butter and sugar.)

Bakers who follow Haney’s lead will create some beauties: a perfectly textured chocolate cream pie, rich but balanced; just-juicy-enough peach pie; quick and easy coconut custard pie; and classic pantry-ingredient “desperation” pies that don’t give even a whiff of despair, just delight, such as sugar cream, buttermilk, vinegar, and maple-spiked oatmeal pies.

Organized first by season (fruit and vegetable pies), then by type, Hoosier Mama provides plenty of options for year-round pie baking, most of it straightforward and generally quick, at least post-crust. Recipes tested for this review focused on summer options—peach, blackberry, chilly chocolate cream—and the buttermilk and oatmeal “desperation” pies. When fall arrives, multiple apple and pear pies, cranberry chess, orange cream, pumpkin, and sweet potato will take their turn.

Those classic choices could keep most bakers, and certainly most eaters, content for some time, but Ms. Haney also offers a chapter of “over-the-top” recipes. Some go overboard just in flavor, not prep time, such as blackberry and passion fruit chiffon meringue pie, or a fairly classic peanut butter pie. For patient bakers, Haney offers such longer recipes as s’more pie, Almond Joy-inspired pie, and “Fat Elvis” pie, rich with chocolate cream, peanut butter filling, and bananas in a graham, peanut, and pretzel crumb crust.

Throughout, she throws in plenty of tidbits, discussing “crust dust”—a smart mixture of flour and sugar to keep on hand for sprinkling in the bottom of juicy fruit pies, napkin-fold pie rims, some of her suppliers, and why canned pumpkin is more than acceptable.

After 150 pages of sweetness, Hoosier Mama moves on to savory pies, brimming with hearty options for cool nights and a few lighter choices. French onion soup pies include the intriguing technique of shredding pie dough, mixing it with Gruyere, and scattering it over the pies in place of a top crust. Chicago-style pie puts peppers, onions, and homemade Italian sausage in a double crust; chicken tomatillo pie offers a twist on traditional pot pie.

Another chapter makes versatile, hearty quiches easy, including spinach-gruyere with caramelized onions; asparagus with homemade lemon ricotta; sausage, escarole, caramelized onion, and smoked mozzarella; ham and brie; and a summer squash quiche using squash sautéed in browned butter. (But pay attention to the headnote—the custard base recipe makes enough for two quiches, while the fillings/flavorings added to the custard make enough for just one quiche.)

Sweet and savory turnovers round out the recipes for patient bakers ready to tackle a fussier but tasty cream cheese dough.

With its attractive photos, thorough index, authoritatively warm tone, and mix of recipes that covers all the bases without claiming to be comprehensive, Hoosier Mama should help do just what its author intends: Bring bakers back to pie, not as followers of the latest trend, but as lifetime makers of simple, seasonal, satisfying fare.