“My name is Teeny Lamothe and I want to be a lady pie baker.” That was what Teeny Lamothe, 29, wrote to the owner of Seattle’s High 5 Pie in 2011 proposing an apprenticeship. At the time, she was pursuing an acting career in Chicago and baking pies for friends and family out of her small apartment kitchen. “I thought for a long time about going to pastry school. But I knew they wouldn’t let me specialize in pie,” Lamothe says. So when her boyfriend went off to graduate school at Harvard, Lamothe began a yearlong quest to “learn everything there is to know about pie, one shop at a time.
“It meant finding lady bakers who owned their own pie shops,” Lamothe says. “That way I wouldn’t only learn about baking pies in bulk, but about starting a business from scratch.” Today, Lamothe is the owner of Teeny Pies in Washington, D.C., and the author of “Teeny’s Tour of Pie,” about her cross-country journey to learn pie baking. Teeny is the family nickname given to Lamothe, who was born two months premature. The baker shares lessons from apprenticeships at High 5, Bob Roth’s New River Groves in Florida, Emmy’s Organics in Ithaca, N.Y., and Petsi Pies in Somerville. She offers 67 pie recipes ranging from bourbon-bacon pecan to strawberry-basil, which represent the regional and seasonal flavors she discovered along the way.
Q. What makes a good pie?
A. You want something light and flaky and buttery. Something specific to my pie is that I add whole-wheat flour. It adds a nutty flavor to the crust. I’m also a firm believer in seasonal ingredients. When whatever you’re putting in it is at the peak of the season, it’s going to make a better pie.
Q. Why do you use a combination of whole-wheat and all-purpose flour for your crust?
A. Whole-wheat flour is slightly denser and has a lower gluten content, which means it isn’t going to bind together as well. The all-purpose flour holds everything together. My recipe makes a little softer and wetter dough, but that’s because I like to use a lot of flour to roll out. If you use a lot of flour with other recipes the crust ends up a bit chewy.
Q. You’re a big fan of using a hand-held pastry blender to work fats into the dough. Why?
A. You can make pie without a pastry blender for sure. But [the blender costs] about $2 and they make it so much faster. One of the biggest worries people have is that the fats will become too warm. It’s just a really fast and easy way to make sure you’re not touching the fats too much and that they’re retaining that pea-like shape.
Q. Do you have a favorite pie-making tip?
A. I love making my dough the day before so it has a chance to chill out in the fridge. The gluten sort of relaxes so it’s much easier to roll out the second day and you’re not left with a tough crust from overworking.
Q. Did you see a lot of regional differences in the shops you visited?
A. On the West Coast it was about the produce pies. In the South it was much sweeter pies, more sugar and nut pies, which I had never experienced growing up in Colorado. I’d never experienced shoofly pie or chess pie, which is just sugar pie.
Q. What was it like to begin your apprenticeship at Petsi Pies in Somerville the week before Thanksgiving?
A. It was totally nuts. And I wouldn’t have done it any other way. Petsi Pies is one of my top two places I visited. It was the first time I was treated like a real baker. I had to jump right in for Thanksgiving. If we weren’t slicing hundreds of apples, we were making barrelsful of pumpkin pie filling. Everyone was so happy about it. Nobody was getting tense, or if they were, I wasn’t seeing it. I was part of 2,000 Thanksgiving celebrations. That was totally awesome.
Q. Do you have words of encouragement for people who have failed at making pie crust?
A. I’ve made hundreds and hundreds of crusts at this point. But I also threw away so much pie crust. It’s not always going to work out. You have to know when it’s time to scrap it and start over. And you just have to keep making it. The end result is that the crust tastes a million times better. You have a buttery, flaky crust of your own. It’s an accomplishment.Interview was condensed and edited. Michael Floreak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org