Think you could tell the difference between a Tippin’s regular pumpkin pie and a Tippin’s gluten-free pumpkin pie?
During a recent Chow Town Facebook Live, Tippin’s president and pie-guy Mark Boyer dared me to close my eyes and give it a whirl. The verdict? It’s pretty hard to tell a difference, unless you can peek and you’ve made enought pie crusts to pick up on the slight textural differences between hand-shaped and machine-formed.
The quest for a Tippin’s equivalent started the day Boyer found a box of gluten-free baked goods on his desk. He was impressed enough with the texture — baked goods made from alternative flour are often dry and leaden — to call Robin Knight, owner of Emily Kate’s Bakery.
Eager to impress, Knight offered to bring him a gluten-free Dutch apple pie to try. Knight, an advertising executive by day, created her wholesale gluten-free bakery in Prairie Village when her daughters, Emily and Kate, were diagnosed with gluten intolerance.
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In her short baking career, she had mastered recipes for cookies, cakes, scones, muffins and cinnamon rolls, but her first attempt at pie crust was a clunker.
“The filling was absolutely wonderful but we have these little plastic knives and I’m trying to cut through the crust and I was sawing and sawing, and finally the knife just broke,” Boyer recalls. “I finally had to take the crust and break it with my hands just to taste it.”
Boyer liked Knight’s pluck and persistence so they decided to collaborate. With access to Tippin’s recipe and some of its proprietary pie shortening, Knight continued to tweak alternative flour blends until she had new samples.
“I would take our crust over to their bakery and we would stand outside and taste just crust,” Boyer says of their taste tests held on the sidewalk outside the bakery to avoid contamination.
Boyer knew Knight and her bakers had finally cracked the code when Baltazar Fernandez, a nearly 40-year veteran of Tippin’s and vice president of manufacturing, was offered two lumps of dough, “unwittingy picked Emily Kate’s and put it in his mouth and said, ‘That’s ours,’ ” Boyer recalls.
The filling for the gluten-free pie is identical to the original, down to the pumpkin puree that Tippin’s uses in the regular pies.
The gluten-free pumpkin pie sells for $19.99. Tippin’s regular pumpkin pie sells for $13.99. (Orders are taken at Hen House stores as well as online. Online order deadline is Nov. 20.
Kansas City-based Tippin’s started the holiday baking back in June to sell 600,000 pies in 14 states. “There is no doubt that this is our busiest time of the year,” says Boyer.
Compare that to Emily Kate’s, which cranked out slightly more than 2,000 gluten-free pumpkin pies in the span of about three weeks.
While Tippin’s has commercial machines to mix, portion and stretch the pie dough, the gluten-free pie crusts must be rolled by hand because the dough is stickier and harder to work with. “It is just very labor intensive,” Knight says. “the fastest ones of us can do about 30 in an hour.”
Now reset the clock, and with any luck — and a few more sidewalk taste tests — Knight thinks she can perfect a gluten-free version of Tippin’s famous French Silk pie in time for Valentine’s Day.