Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Chicago Pie Week: Hoosier Mama Pie Company

Vanilla Cream with Strawberries
As a lover of pie and annual host of a Pi(e) Day party, my travels often include a stop to see the different bakers of round pastry. But in my own city, there is no lack of notable spots. This week, I will cover the wonder that is Chicago pie.
• • •

Hoosier Mama Pie Company, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. First off, there's your name: a clever and functional pun, celebrating both female entrepreneurship and boasting Indiana roots in the ever-competitive Chicago. Second, there is your charismatic owner/chef, who is a winner at all speaking engagements and authored the Hoosier Mama Book of Pie. Third...actually, counting off by number is already a little tiresome. Onward!

Boasting the largest pie menu, both savory and sweet, one could argue that their biggest contribution to the Chicago pie community is their savory pies. While I've never been disappointed with the meal portion of my visits to Hoosier Mama, I feel the Pork, Apple and Sage offers the biggest revelation to the taste buds. (Meanwhile, First Slice offers zero savory pies and Bang Bang Pie Shop offers two versions of the same savory pie.) The savory pies may not actually be the best part of the Hoosier Mama experience, but they are so good that one could argue it's a tie race.

Over on the sweet side of the menu, one can find fruit pies a-plenty, cream pies, chess pies, custard pies and, for the gluttonous indecisive, there is the Pie Flight, three half slices so you can catch 'em all. You'll be safe ordering based on your personal preferences at Hoosier Mama, but in my opinion is they are masters of both the cream and custard pie. My personal favorite are their sour cream Dutch fruit pies with Sour Cream Dutch Apple Pie leading the bunch. Second place goes to the Coconut Cream, tied with whichever custard pie I am currently consuming, be it the Horchata Pie (exclusive to Dove's Luncheonette) or the Ginger Custard Pie.

The only downside of Hoosier Mama Pie Company is also one of their greatest strengths: their rotating menu. Sure, you can't always find your favorite on the menu, but happily you can almost always try something new, whether their pie of the week, a new recipe or one from the recipe vault.

Stay tuned for the final installment of Chicago Pie Week!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Chicago Pie Week: First Slice Pie Cafe


As a lover of pie and annual host of a Pi(e) Day party, my travels often include a tasting of a city's best round pastry. But in my own city, there is no lack of notable stops. This week, I will cover the wonder that is Chicago pie.
• • •

Though the hype machine doesn't back First Slice Pie Cafe as much as its peers--maybe because Hoosier Mama and Bang Bang Pie are in hipper neighborhoods?--it is just as crucial an ingredient to Chicago's pie scene. With community-serving programs that feed those in need and offer food industry job training, they have a business model you can feel good about, too.

The highlight of their pie menu is the Blueberry Cheesecake. It is a misleading name because this pie--yes, pie--completely reimagines the cheesecake, just as Chicago pizza reimagines the pizza. In each of their cheesecakes starts with a graham cracker crust (or sometimes a chocolate cookie crust), followed by a layer of the chosen fruit, then a layer of cheesecake, then an equally-sized layer of whipped cream infused with the chosen fruit. Unlike a lot of cheesecake, these slices aren't too heavy, probably owing to the fact that the size is limited to a pie pan rather than being poured tall into a springform pan. All in all, it stacks up to a wholly imaginative cheesecake with a variety of flavor notes and textures.

Other notable pies at First Slice include their pecan pie, which wisely incorporates pecans throughout, meaning there is more of the pie's namesake than that jiggly jelly substance. Also worthy of mention is their Tabasco cream pie, which has a cult following in Chicago. (Add cinnamon to whipped cream and people are hooked; add a slight spicy after burn and the foodies take note.) But, honestly, you can't lose: their Michigan cherry pie is simple and tasty, as is the gluten-free Polka Dot pie that is a cross between a cheesecake brownie and a flourless chocolate cake. But, wait, there's more!

My go-to on First Slice's full menu is the coffee-braised pork burritos, but it is far more important that I direct you to one of their beverages. If I'm being completely honest, their seasonal blueberry lemonade is my favorite item on the entire menu, even more than their wonderful, wonderful pie. During the summer months, I am tempted to stop in any time I pass for that sweet elixir, which is fairly often since there's a location in my neighborhood. I wish there were a straw long enough to reach from my apartment to their spot down the street, Daniel Day-Lewis style. (I drink your lemonade!)

Stayed tuned for more of Chicago Pie Week!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Chocolate Connoisseur's Desert Island List

Some of the winners at the awards ceremony.
Three-and-a-half years ago, inspired by the book The Chocolate ConneisseurI made a list of my Top Ten Desert Island Chocolate Bars. The concept of the Desert Island Question is one usually reserved to subjects not known to melt in the sun--a person*, top albums**, books***--but any opportunity to make a list is a good one. 

In the years, since my original list, I've eaten a wider range of fine chocolate, thanks to the continued rise of foodie culture and increasing popularity surrounding bean-to-bar production. (Hard to believe nowadays that back in 2007, Theo Chocolate in Seattle described themselves as the only 100% organic, 100% Fair Trade bean-to-bar production facility in the U.S.) 

My Desert Island Chocolate Bar List:
  • Amedei (Pontedera, Italy) - Cioccolato al Latte Bianco con Pistachio. White chocolate with pistachio. In its purest form, white chocolate is cocoa butter with sugar. This is the only one to wow me as much as standard chocolate.
  • Amedei (Pontedera, Italy) - Toscano Blond. 63% dark chocolate with peach and apricot. This is my all-time favorite chocolate bar. Amedei has a gift for creating a bold chocolate that has numerous flavor notes in each taste.
  • Fran's Chocolates (Seattle, WA) - Almond Gold Bar. Dark chocolate, almonds and the best caramel ever. To call this a "chocolate bar" rather than a "caramel" is a stretch, but I doubt anyone will deny me this on my hypothetical desert island. 
  • Kinder (Alba, Italy) - Bueno. Chocolate, hazelnut cream, wafer. Probably more of a candy bar than a chocolate bar. Dang, is it good, though.
  • Mast Brothers (Brooklyn, NY) - Goat. This isn't the only company to explore using goat's milk instead of cow's milk, but theirs is the best I've had.
  • Nathan Miller (Chambersburg, PA) - Gingerbread Bar. 55% buttermilk chocolate with spiced gingerbread. This bar is my latest obsession, thanks to the awakening that is buttermilk chocolate.
  • Patric (Columbia, MO) - Browned-Butter Bar. Brown sugar and browned butter make for an instant rush of happy chemicals to the brain.
  • Pump Street Bakery (Oxford, England) - Sourdough & Sea Salt 66%. Crunchy bread pieces and a touch of salt combine with rich chocolate for a unique and memorable flavor in experience.
  • Ritter Sport (Waldenbuch, Germany) - Dark Chocolate with Whole Hazelnuts. Whole hazelnuts in a heavy, square bar.
  • Theo / 3400 Phinney (Seattle, WA) - Milk Chocolate Coconut Curry Bar. As unusual and intriguing as the first time I tried it back in 2007.
Honorable Mention:
  • Cocanu (Portland, OR) - Holy Wood. Subtle and aromatic, this bar is infused with Palo Santo wood.
  • TCHO (San Francisco, CA) - Strawberry Rhubarb Pie. I would have huge expectations for any chocolate bar featuring rhubarb puree and this one rises to the task.
Emeritus
  • Amedei (Pontedera, Italy) - Chuao. 70% dark chocolate. If you choose one pure chocolate Amedei bar, start here.
  • Ferrero (Alba, Italy) - Rondnoir (aka Duplo Cuore Fondente). Dark chocolate, dark chocolate cream, wafer. Take away the hazelnut of the more popular Ferrero Rocher and swap out milk for dark chocolate. Good luck eating just one.
  • Ghirardelli (San Francisco, CA) - Peppermint Bark. A seasonal must-have.
  • Perugina (Perugia, Italy) - Baci. Dark chocolate, gianduja and hazelnut. One bite of perfection.
  • Ritter Sport (Waldenbuch, Germany) - Coconut Macaroon. Melty milk chocolate with crystally coconut filling.
  • Theo (Seattle, WA) - Jasmine Truffle. A seasonal item I ate once, it has taken on legendary status with me. I remember it tasting like fairy dust.
Breakdown: While I do enjoy pure unadulterated chocolate--only two of the items on the main list are pure chocolate (Patric and Mast Brothers)--the majority of the bars are bold chocolate featuring texturally diverse mix-ins. This may account for the high number of American brands, since some of the leading European chocolate makers stick to pure chocolate. The two pure chocolate bars on the main list are both bold twists, one using goat's milk and the other using browned butter. A few items on the three lists are mass market chocolate that isn't the highest quality but are still regular cravings for me (Kinder, Ferrero, Ghirardelli, Ritter Sport).


* Most people choose what is known as a "fox" (i.e. Keira Knightley or Ryan Gosling), I usually go the practical route, choosing an Eagle Scout. As of this writing, I think I'd choose J.J. Abrams, though, because turnabout is fair play.
** An ever-changing list: The Helio Sequence's Keep Your Eyes Ahead, Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and, because I think it'd be nice in a tropical setting, The Ruby Suns' Sea Lion.
*** You Shall Know Our Velocity! by Dave Eggers, my favorite, and the complete Anton Chekhov short stories, because I may actually have time to read them whilst marooned.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Pumpkin Progress

Let the record show that today, Thursday, August 18, 2016, I started seeing pumpkin food products in stores. I purchased some pumpkin doughnuts. Yum, yum. ¡Viva la Calabaza!