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Local 'lady baker' tours the country in search of pie

Wednesday - 3/26/2014, 7:12am  ET

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Teeny Lamothe set off on a trip around the country to learn how to make the best pie. (WTOP/Rachel Nania)

WASHINGTON -- Teeny Lamothe's weekly pie-baking ritual began with a small CSA pumpkin on a crisp, autumn Sunday in Chicago.

The smells and tastes that came out of her oven prompted Lamothe to keep baking. Making pie gave her a sense of warmth and comfort that carried her through the long Midwestern winter months.

"So my Sunday tradition was to bake a pie. And then one pie turned into two pies, and two pies turned into several pies a week," says Lamothe, who now lives in D.C.

With those several pies a week, Lamothe fed happy friends and willing taste-testers. Praise and encouragement from friends for her crust-centric creations inspired Lamothe to make a profession out of pie.

"You can only hear so often, You should do this for a living,' without taking steps to do just that," she says.

Because Lamothe wanted to avoid the regimented schedule of pastry school, she concluded a pie apprenticeship would be the best way to learn the tricks of the trade. She sent emails to women pie-shop owners (whom she lovingly refers to as "lady bakers") all over the country and set out on her pie journey.

"I think it's sort of a really scary thing to leave everything you know behind, but if you're really passionate about something, it opens so many doors," Lamothe says.

Over the course of a year, she spent time at nine different bakeries -- from Seattle to Boston, Greensboro, L.A., Atlanta and more -- and blogged about her experiences.

Lamothe, who now bakes out of D.C.'s Union Kitchen and sells her pies locally, compiled all the notes, recipes and pie advice from her adventure into her new book, "Teeny's Tour of Pie."

In the book, Lamothe shares 67 of her favorite recipes, such as rosemary-infused caramel apple pie.

"One of my favorite things to do is to take a traditional recipe and sort of turn it on its head. I think that's what makes pie exciting for me," she says. "[The pie has] just a hint of rosemary in the caramel, but it really pairs so nice with the apples and it's just a really fun alternative to a regular apple pie."

Another featured recipe, and a favorite of Lamothe's, is a bourbon bacon pecan pie.

"For me, pecan pie has always been a little too sweet, so I was trying to think of what I would do to make it a combination of salty and sweet, and everyone loves bacon, so bacon alongside with your bourbon."

"Teeny's Tour of Pie" also shares several tips on perfecting the elements of pie, including the ever-intimidating perfect pie crust.

"I feel like pie crust is a big science experiment and nobody actually knows it," Lamothe says.

Her best tip for the crust? Use booze.

"Vodka, it turns out, evaporates faster than water, so it leaves behind a much flakier crust, which is really helpful when trying to make the perfect, flaky crust."

Lamothe says vodka also helps with the pliability of the dough, making it easier to roll out.

In addition to encouraging readers to try homemade, seasonal pie recipes, Lamothe hopes her new book will make pie more approachable and make new bakers feel more comfortable.

"Above everything else, just keep making pie. I have thrown away and dropped and messed up so many pies. I've had pie soup constantly. It's just trial and error and if you love it, you'll just keep doing it," she says.

"I hope at the end of the day, people fall in love with pie as much as I have."

Teeny Lamothe sells her pies at the Columbia Heights Farmers Market in Northwest D.C. and on her website. Follow her baking on Twitter and Instagram.

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