Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Fabulous Boys from Baked

Last week I, along with other devotees of a certain Baked brownie, crowded together at Omnivore Books on Food in San Francisco to hear Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito entertain us with stories of the founding of their now famous bakery, Baked, in Brooklyn, NY.

Much has been written about these two – yes we all know that they and their baked goodies are included in Oprah’s list of favorite things and we know they write for Bon Appetit and then there is that hipster tag that they and their shops are getting but really – what this writer found the most refreshing is that after all this acclaim and about five years of being in business which isn’t made up of all Oprah type moments:


Sorry, didn’t mean to shout but it is so refreshing to listen to them speak about their passion for baking. They are truly having fun with it. And it appears they still enjoy being in business with each other – also not something to take for granted.

Lewis and Poliafito are not just passionate about baking, but also passionate about preserving the classic American desserts that most of us (Americans) grew up eating.

As Lewis put it, “many classic desserts are no longer part of our heritage. It is almost easier to find an authentic croissant in America than it is a good brownie or piece of pie.”

He continued, “and if you do find a good brownie, it just might be from Costco or made from 98 ingredients.”

He cracked up the crowd when he said, “I guess you could say that our bakery was founded on anger!”

Their goal was to not have a bakery focused solely on production but a bakery filled with the love of baking.

They focus on “old-school” desserts but they put their own spin on them. For example, a basic chocolate cake becomes milk chocolate malt ball cake. The classic whoopie pie becomes a pumpkin whoopie with cream cheese (instead of the traditional shortening) filling.

And how about their most requested cake that has now become their signature creation: the sweet and salty cake, which mixes salted caramel with rich chocolate.

The recipes for these creations plus many more can be found in their best-selling cookbook, Baked: New Frontiers in Baking.” I love that title – it so aptly describes their baking mission.

Next up from Lewis and Poliafito is a cookbook focusing on regional desserts – they contend that despite what we all hear about the world becoming homogeneous with a Starbucks and McDonalds on every corner in America, baking is still very regional.

Their examples include the passion New Yorkers have for the black&white cookie and the banana cream pie often found in Los Angeles and of course, Boston’s claim to fame – no, not the Red Sox, Boston cream pie.

They also cite as evidence the very regional differences in tastes between their bakery in New York and their second bakery in Charleston, South Carolina.

“Charleston dessert lovers crave all things boozy and sweet!”

They hope to have the book out in October 2010.

I couldn’t get them to commit to including a recipe for that Indiana classic and my hometown favorite, Indiana Sugar Cream Pie.

Maybe they aren't aware that on January 22, 2009 the Indiana General Assembly passed a bill introduced by State Senator Allen Paul to have sugar cream pie become the official state pie of Indiana?!

So, of course, I had to bake a few test recipes of Indiana Sugar Cream Pie.

Although you can find many conflicting opinions on the origins of sugar cream pie, all purists (ok, I’m biased) know that Indiana sugar cream pie shouldn’t be confused with the brown sugar pie generally thought to be created by the Amish. There is also another version that is sometimes called Quebec Sugar Cream Pie, which calls for maple syrup.

I even saw a recipe for sugar cream pie in a recent issue of Metropolitan Home magazine. They elevated this humble pie by using golden syrup and serving it with baked peaches.

What most of the recipes have in common though is that the pie can typically be made with ingredients found on hand. That is why this pie is sometimes called “desperation pie.” Certainly this pie was commonly found on most dinner tables in the Indiana farm country.

Grandma Kline lived on a farm in northern Indiana. She used lard for her piecrusts because they raised pigs on this farm but also because most bakers commonly used lard at that time.

The basic ingredients for the filling are sugar, flour or cornstarch for thickening, milk, cream or half and half, butter, vanilla and nutmeg or cinnamon dusted on top.

This pie may have the consistency of custard but none of the recipes for a true sugar cream pie will include eggs on the ingredient list.

I dug out Grandma Kline’s Indiana Sugar Cream Pie recipe. But I wasn’t sure about the crust that called for lard, which sounds much better when you call it by its Spanish name, manteca.

Matt Lewis encouraged me to try the lard. He is a big fan of manteca but it has been a hard sell to customers.

I was up for the challenge but disappointed by the results. My house smelled like carnitas! The resulting pie filling was delicious but the crust was dark, crisp and porky tasting.

The next pie I made I used the modern equivalent of lard – good old Crisco. I grew up eating shortening piecrusts. I routinely turned my nose up at butter crusts. But now, I must admit, I have compromised and have been using a combination of butter and Crisco for my piecrusts in order to obtain that holy pie grail of a tender and flaky crust that melts in your mouth.

But no butter or butter/shortening compromise for a true Indiana Sugar Cream Pie!

Cosmetically the second finished pie was a beauty. The crust was lightly browned and tender. The filling was set but had just the right amount of jiggle in the middle.

That first bite was a cool, creamy, tender, flaky, cinnamon induced mouthful of goodness! (I think I just murdered the English language!)

Grandma Kline’s Old Fashioned Sugar Cream Pie

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

One pre-baked piecrust

1 cup sugar

¼ cup cornstarch

2 cups milk

½ cup butter (one stick)

1 teaspoon vanilla

dusting of cinnamon

Whisk together sugar, milk and cornstarch in saucepan.

Cook over medium heat until thickened.

Remove from heat and add butter then vanilla.

Pour into pre-baked pie shell.

Sprinkle with cinnamon.

Bake for 35-45 minutes or until middle is set but not firm.

Cool on wire rack.

Once cool, I like to chill the pie (uncovered) for several hours.

It can be eaten chilled or at room temperature.

Note: use the leftover scraps of piecrust dough to make what my mom always called “pinwheels.” These flaky morsels are hard to resist -- I think my family likes them more than the pie! Push the scrapes together in a ball then roll out on floured surface. Sprinkle with cinnamon and roll up like a jellyroll. Slice each piece about ½ inch thick. Bake in 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes or until brown on bottom.

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