"I don’t like Granny Smith apples for pies at all," says Wendy Achatz – explaining that the variety sometimes doesn’t get cooked through. "For baking, I love Northern Spy."
After listing reasons for her apple choice, including how its texture becomes buttery when baked – and even a description of Northern Spy’s "tighter cellular structure" – it’s no wonder that her company, Achatz Handmade Pie Co., is receiving accolades regionally and nationally. Both Bon Appetit and Food & Wine magazines have included Achatz on their respective "Top 10 Places for Pie" lists.
Luckily for Michiganders, you can visit one of their seven locations in the state, or even buy a pie at an area retailer. But if you’d like to surprise a friend or family member with a taste of Michigan, ship them a Crumb Topped Michigan 4-Berry Pie. (Or one of several "Pies that Fly.")
Taking a break from her busy holiday pie-baking schedule, I was able to talk to Achatz for a few minutes and even a wiggle an apple pie recipe out of the conversation.
What three ingredients do you always keep stocked in your pantry?
Tea. Oolong tea from Traverse City; it’s so soothing. I always have honey and organic carrots on hand, too.
Your favorite meal to make or serve?
We’re all vegetarians at my house, except my husband and youngest son will order meat when we’re eating out. One of the things we love to eat is a quinoa loaf topped with cheese sauce. There’s actually no dairy in the sauce – it’s out of this world. We’ve even had friends over and they can’t believe there’s no cheese in the sauce.
We all have a favorite indulgence; for a baker like you it must be something spectacular?
I’m trying to cut back on calories, but we make our own chocolate peanut butter cups from scratch and they are so good. We use really high quality dark chocolate.
What’s one of your worst cooking mistakes?
A few years ago, we were making pumpkin pie filling in these huge bins we call ‘coffins’ because of the shape. We – I was working with one of our bakers – were making enough filling for 500 pies. We neglected to put the eggs in. We shipped out some of the pies to our retail stores before we realized what happened. There was a customer that returned it and the store manager thought it was a fluke and then another store manager had complaints. If one customer complains, it definitely sends up a red alert. We trust our customers to help us out.
There are so many great Michigan-made food products. What is your pick?
I love Northern Spy Michigan apples. They’re very unique apples – a late-season apple that comes in late October. They’re not good for eating and they’re more expensive than other varieties, but they’re great for baking. If you ask grandmas and grandpas what kind of apples they used in pies, they’ll tell you Northern Spy.
What do you suggest for first-timers to Achatz? What pie should they make sure to try?
There are 37 different flavors and we might add a few more. Our signature pie is the Michigan 4-Berry. That’s our No. 1 pie. Then there’s our Double Crust Apple Pie. Or our Caramel Nut Apple Pie with a half-pound of nuts, half-pound of caramel; it’s so good …