There is nothing quite like the smell of pies baking in the oven…
Don’t ask me how I got the bug. One morning, a latent gene kicked in; I started baking and never stopped. It was though I had been doing it all my life. Everything I made turned out perfect.
Then I moved to Mexico…
I've taken high altitude baking classes but I’ve yet to make a respectable pan of popovers or cornbread or anything for that matter. I’ve added flour, decreased sugar, cut my butter and still haven’t figured out the formula. So last year, I bought rather than made a lemon meringue pie.
I never liked lemon meringue but this one was beautiful and like every other American in San Miguel, I was going through lemon withdrawal. This pie was so artistic, especially the layer of light and almost fluffy meringue on top. I was hooked on just one bite.
Later in the year, I met the master architect, Claudia. You have likely eaten one of her pies at some of the better restaurants around town.
Claudia recently invited me into her kitchen for an afternoon of baking where I quickly discovered that she has something I never did...a passion for baking. It’s the heart and soul of who she is.
She also uses quality ingredients, makes everything by hand, from scratch and delivers it fresh.
She first started making pies with her German born great uncle Jimmy when she was just 7 years old. She spent her summers in LA and hung out in his kitchen for something to do. She developed a love of baking early on just like Dulce, her assistant Caro's daughter, who is also 7.
Dulce, who couldn't make a pie 6 months ago, now makes them with her eyes closed.
Claudia started out with just 10 pie molds so imagine how crazy her kitchen was the first time she got an order for 40. At that time, she was baking in a tiny, indoor kitchen.
About a year ago, Claudia's brother-in-law Servando, who owns La Antojeria de la Casona de los Cinco Patios in Querétaro and Restaurant San Miguelito in Querétaro and Morelia gave her a new kitchen. It's a beautiful, stand-alone space; a fully equipped, professional kitchen.
The walls are filled with chalk art done by her 19 year old daughter Fernanda who is a teacher and like many people in SMA, an aspiring artist.
Her son Luis Miguel will also give her a hand when things get hectic which is pretty much all the time these days.
She has a broad base of clients who not only love her pies but also her personal brand of service.
Word of mouth marketing has worked well for Claudia. I know after having that lemon meringue pie last year because the pie is now in high demand. Consider yourself lucky if you happen to get one before Claudia runs out of lemons.
She credits her vendors and swears her magic is in the fresh ingredients she uses.
Although she didn't give away any of the trade secrets locked away in her head, she opened my eyes to a new list of what I can get locally in order to produce better results in my kitchen.
Now, if only she could do something about the altitude!
Your grandmother used lard, your mom used shortening but Claudia uses butter.
This single ingredient makes or breaks a pie crust.
My favorite back in the states was Kerrygold from Ireland. I started using it because they were one of my clients but soon discovered it produced really excellent pies.
Here in Mexico, Claudia uses local butters from Remo’s, Querétaro Highway, Km. 3, Flor de Alfalfa in Querétaro (the organic ranch La Hondonada is where the Flor de Alfalfa dairy products are produced) and Los Rehiletes at Ancha de San Antonio 57-A, Centro.
Cold butter is essential for things like pie crusts and biscuits so make sure your butter is cold. She prepares it for creaming by cutting it into chunks. If it takes the imprint of a finger when lightly pressed, it is ready to be worked.
She swears that an all-butter crust is so much lighter and the flakes are more defined.
Me? I happen to love the taste.
Flour does make a difference but not as much as you think. While most of us are searching high and low for Gold Metal flour, Claudia uses one that is called espuma Chapala.
Working the Dough
Some people swear putting vodka in the crust (which makes me wonder why no one has tried tequila) makes it roll out better but Claudia uses ice cold water and only mixes the ingredients until they come together by pulsing it in her food processor. Nothing is quite as consistent at cutting fat into flour than a food processor.
She also chills the dough for at least an hour. This gives the gluten time to relax and becomes more elastic so it's easier to roll out.
On the chef's table, use just enough flour to keep it from sticking, but not so much that it alters the make-up of the dough.
Claudia loves to play with flavors and has added a line of very popular quiches to her menu. She uses Gruyere, Feta, Provolone, Mascarpone and Goat Cheese to create them.
She buys the cheese from Remo’s, Querétaro Highway, Km. 3. and Los Rehiletes at Ancha de San Antonio 57-A, Centro.
One of the vendors that Claudia buys fruit from is Leo, the vegetable guy from Celaya who is in front of Panadería El Maple and is one of my favorite purveyors of fresh-picked products.
Savor those blueberry pies the next time you eat them because chances are a mystery woman named Atala from Michoacán supplied the blueberries which are more difficult to secure and even more expensive.
Many of her vegetables are from the organic farms that surround San Miguel. She always looks for the freshest produce available so she hand picks it herself.
Today, we are making Guava, Apple, Pear, Blueberry, and Strawberry.
Fortunately for Claudia this order is for a customer so no chance of me hijacking a few of them on my way out.
You can order Claudia’s pies by calling 415-151-0146 or emailing her at email@example.com.