Award-winning cookbook author Ken Haedrich has fairly conclusive proof that he was given the same “pie making genes” both his parents had.
“I’ve always gravitated to baking, but especially toward pies,” said Haedrich, 64, who lives in Wilmington, N.C. “And I was inspired by my parents and loved being in the kitchen with them when they were baking pies.”
Not only does Haedrich enjoy baking pies (sometimes when he’s working on new recipes he might make two or three per week), he also enjoys sharing his expertise.
Among the 15 cookbooks Haedrich has written in a career spanning more than 30 years (including Home for the Holidays, winner of a Julia Child Cookbook Award in 1992), two have been strictly devoted to the subject of pie: In 2004, Pie was selected by Amazon as the best cookbook of the year, and Apple Pie, published in 2011, offers more than 100 variations on America’s favorite. He also wrote Pie Zero to Pie Hero, which is available on Kindle.
In 2012, Haedrich took his passion and skill for pie making one step further and launched The Pie Academy, an online community and video site dedicated to the delicious dessert — where he serves as the dean.
Easy as Pie?
What is it about pies that capture the imagination of home bakers? Even though, in contrast to the popular expression, to make a good one is definitely not “as easy as pie.”
“No one thinks pie making is easy, and I have the 50 million e-mails to prove it,” said Haedrich, who adds that pie making and bread baking are the two topics about which he always fields the most questions during personal appearances, in classes or online.
Haedrich believes bakers are intimidated by pies based on the dessert’s challenging reputation. “I tell people that you really can’t expect to make a pie once and be confident it will turn out. You have to keep trying,” he explained.
While short cuts, such as packaged crusts, are tempting, Haedrich firmly believes that what you buy in a package “can never shine a candle on something you make from scratch.”
So, here’s his suggestion: Set aside a pre-determined period of time, like the summer or early fall, and work on your pie making skills. Make one pie a week.
“If you do that, by the end of the summer, you will probably be 80 percent proficient at making pies,” said Haedrich. “The other 20 percent is the nuance that comes from working on the skill over the years. I’ve been baking for a long time, but I’m still trying to fully reach that nuance myself.”
Guidance From a Pieman
Video instruction, inspiration and even some of the necessary tools of the trade (including rolling pins, pie plates and aprons) are all available through the subscription-based Pie Academy. With recipes for everything from fruit pies to cream pies, savvy suggestions and Haedrich’s calm and often humorous guidance, the fear of baking a pie can be conquered.
For instance, on the Pie Academy website, there’s a video about how to make a Fresh Peach and Cherry Pie, which includes an amusing tutorial on how, if you don’t have a cherry pitter, you can go online to learn some DIY techniques. (Haedrich explains that those strategies are also known as “hacks” if, as he says, “you’re struggling to keep up with hipster language like me.”)
From there, Haedrich takes viewers through the pie making steps, reminding them that they don’t need to take notes since the recipe is shown at the end of the video. Finally, he displays a pie fresh from the oven that’s “golden brown, with juices that are bubbly-thick.”
In the next shot, he’s slicing generous pieces for his sister and brother-in-law, who have joined Haedrich and his wife, Bev, for dinner. “I have to be extra nice to them because they grow blueberries and I don’t,” says Haedrich wryly.
Haedrich’s congenial attitude is not only on display in his videos, but also in person during his annual Lowcountry Pie Getaway, held once a year in Charleston, S.C. Over a weekend in October, up to 12 bakers, from beginners to the more experienced, gather to learn from Haedrich and to simply bake pies all day long in a commercial kitchen owned by a local chef.
“It’s an incredible amount of fun and such a convivial atmosphere,” he said. “Since we started this five years ago, we’ve had mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, best friends, all join us. We’ve had some of the same people return multiple times. At the end of the weekend, everyone is exchanging contact information because they want to stay in touch.”
The Rewards of Baking
Haedrich believes that people are drawn to baking, and perhaps especially pie making, for the rewards found in working with food.
“About one-third of the more than 3,000 Pie Academy subscribers are men. But both women and men, who are strapped to their desks all week, just want to get into the kitchen on the weekend and bake,” he said. “It’s that tactile pleasure of working with food that’s relaxing and rewarding.”
Speaking of rewarding, for gardeners or avid farmers’ market shoppers, the rewards of the late summer harvest are currently ripe for a savory pie, according to Haedrich, who is also the author of The Harvest Baker.
“Right now, I’m using all kinds of tomatoes to make pies,” he said.
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