Cathy Hoffman is nice as pie when it comes to sharing her baking trade secrets with others. As a master food volunteer with the Johnson County K-State Research and Extension, Hoffman, a Stilwell resident, teaches Pie Baking 101 classes.
Hoffman shares her passion for pie with friends and her family, which includes Kim, her husband of 35 years, and two grown sons. In her spare time Hoffman enjoys researching recipes as she plans a meal’s fruit-filled finale.
Q: Why pie?
A: I grew up in Indiana, and always loved to bake, but my family liked cakes except for around the holidays, when my mom would feel the pressure to make pie.
I learned basic baking skills from my mother — how to measure, how to mix, how to tell when things were done in the oven — but it wasn’t until I met my pie-loving husband that I actually took on the task of making one. A homemade pie is really a thing of beauty, and I call it the crown jewel for the home baker.
Q: There is a mystique that surrounds a homemade pie that can be intimidating. Since you teach classes at the Extension Service, do you have any advice for the novice pie-maker?
A: It’s called pie practice. Pie doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, the more irregular the crust edge looks, the more homemade it looks. The secret to a good pie is a flaky crust, and the fastest way to ruin a crust is by touching it too much.
Making a pie and making bread are on the opposite ends of the baking spectrum. For bread, you have to handle it and knead it, but for a pie crust, you just need to roll it out and put it into the pie pan.
Q: Apple seems to be the gold standard when it comes to making pies.
A: The saying “As American as apple pie” is a luscious and delicious representation of bounty and beauty. Apples that are particularly good in a pie include Granny Smith, Jonathan, Golden Delicious, Braeburn, Pink Lady, Gala and Honeycrisp varieties. Apples must be crisp enough to hold up in the baking process, and many people like to mix tart with sweet apples, such as Granny Smith with Honeycrisp apples, for the filling.
Among friends and family I am especially known for my apple pies. For my hands-on Pie Baking 101 class at the Extension, each student makes a deep-dish apple pie. For some students it is the first pie they have ever made, and it is so gratifying to see their pride in this accomplishment. There are skills involved in making a pie, and I get a great sense of satisfaction in passing the knowledge I have for making crust, fillings and toppings to other people.
Q: Is your overall culinary creativity in the kitchen reflected in your pie style?
A: I have always loved to cook from scratch. When one of my sons was a young boy, he went to the pantry to find something to eat and said, “Mom, all you have is ingredients.” I like knowing exactly what’s going into the food I eat and make for my family. I love scratch baking and creating something from nothing.
Baking for me is also therapeutic. It takes time, but I enjoy focusing on the task at hand in the kitchen. Pies are meant to be shared and are filled with homespun warmth. Baking has a way of taking you away from the world’s problems, and it’s possible that pie could bring peace, one slice at a time.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Send email to her at email@example.com to nominate a cook.
Deep-Dish Caramel Apple Pie With Streusel Topping
Makes 1 (9 1/2-inch) pie, or 8 servings
For the crust:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
3 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into 1/2-tablespoons
4 tablespoons ice water
For the filling:
4 pounds apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1 tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces
For the topping:
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) butter, cut into tablespoons
1/2 cup quick-cooking oats
1/4 cup caramel ice cream topping
1/4 cup chopped pecans
To make the crust: In a medium-size mixing bowl, whisk flour, salt and sugar together.
Using a pastry cutter, blend shortening and butter into dry ingredients until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and gently stir until a soft dough forms and holds its shape when pinched together. (You may not use all of the ice water.)
Place dough on a large sheet of plastic wrap and shape into a 4-inch disc. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
To assemble the pie: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove pie dough from refrigerator and place on countertop.
Meanwhile, make filling by mixing apples, sugar, flour, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice together. Set aside.
Roll out disc of dough on a lightly floured surface, using a lightly floured rolling pin, until it becomes a circle about 12 inches in diameter. Gently wrap pastry around rolling pin and unroll it into a glass 9 1/2 -inch pie pan. Without stretching or making holes in the dough, ease pastry into pan. Trim dough to 1-inch from edge and fold extra pastry to make a fluted crust.
Pour apple mixture into unbaked crust and dot top with butter. Set aside.
To make the topping: In a small mixing bowl, stir brown sugar and flour together. Using a pastry cutter, blend butter into sugar/flour until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir oats into mixture until well combined. Place mixture over apples in pie plate and bake for 60 minutes or until filling bubbles up and top is golden.
Remove pie from oven and allow to cool completely. Drizzle heated caramel and sprinkle pecans over baked streusel topping. Allow to set before cutting into pieces.
Per serving: 676 calories (39 percent from fat), 30 grams total fat (16 grams saturated), 58 milligrams cholesterol, 101 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams protein, 463 milligrams sodium, 8 grams dietary fiber.