Hoosier Mama's Haney offers secrets in 'Book of Pie'

"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 Co. 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-and-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 where 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.

Q: Are you at all concerned about sharing your recipes?

Haney: I wouldn't be here if people hadn't shared their recipes with me and shared techniques when I went into kitchens. I don't think (keeping them secret) is a good model for anything. I don't think I do anything that people couldn't figure out with just some time and some effort.

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