Saturday, April 19, 2014
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Briana Warner at her bakery, Maine Pie Line, in Portland, with her Halverson’s Humble Pie, one of dozens of pie varieties that rotate on her menu.
Photos by John Ewing/Staff Photographer
Warner’s Portlander hand pie contains yellow onions, portobello mushrooms, rosemary, dried cranberries and local goat cheese.
200 Anderson St., Portland
BRIANA WARNER will be baking five kinds of pie for Thanksgiving:
Roasted pumpkin maple: This Thanksgiving favorite is made with actual roasted pumpkin (no canned pumpkin) and real Maine maple syrup.
Salted caramel apple: Local Maine apples tossed in homemade salted caramel sauce, and topped with a crumb crust made from oats and pecans. Drizzled with salted caramel.
Pecan bourbon pie: There is no corn syrup in this pecan pie.
Dave’s Decadence: This chocolate ganache pie is made with salted caramel sauce, olive oil and a cookie crust.
Pumpkin ginger cheesecake pie: Made with a cookie crust, this cheesecake pie has swirls of pumpkin and fresh ginger.
All pies are 9 inches and cost $25. Deadline for ordering is Nov. 25, although sooner is better. Pies will be available for pick-up from 5 to 9 p.m. Nov. 26 or from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Nov. 27.
Maine Pie Line will also join other businesses at 200 Anderson St. to create gift baskets for the holidays. Baskets will be available for viewing at an event Nov. 20. Call or watch the website for details.
At the heart of Warner’s experimentation and perfectionist tendencies is a desire to discover combinations of flavors that no one has ever had in a pie. She is proud of the fact that her pies are “not normal.” If your idea of a good pie is a $10 apple pie, don’t bother darkening her doorstep. She only makes a salted caramel apple pie, using local cream and her own homemade salted caramel.
Her blueberry pie is actually a blueberry mint pie with a cardamom-black pepper-oat crumb topping. And the peaches for her peach pie are poached in sage and white wine before they go into an almond-flavored pastry cream.
“I’ve just found that pie can be a really great way to carry these unique and complex and gourmet flavors, and then you can get a slice of it,” Warner said. “It’s a great way to serve really gourmet desserts.”
Other pies have their own interesting back stories. The Halverson’s Humble Pie was created after Warner lost a bet with a friend (named Halverson, natch) and the price was making him a humble pie. The friend said the pie should contain “whatever you think humility for losing a bet is.”
“I wanted to layer it with layers of spite, covered with a big thing of whipped cream to hide my spite,” Warner said, laughing.
The Mexican chocolate layer in the Halverson’s Humble Pie contains a hint of cayenne, and the pastry cream is spiked with rum. A big layer of fluffy whipped cream with chocolate shavings tops the whole thing off.
How did Warner end up in Portland? After a while, she and her husband tired of moving around so much. (In addition to her State Department work, Warner went to school in Jordan and did research in southern Sudan.) Matt Warner’s family lives in Bangor, and whenever the couple would come to Maine to visit, they’d spend two or three days in Portland. They fell in love with it, and talked about retiring here. Then they decided not to wait.
Warner loved being a diplomat, but her heart lies in pies. So she rented some space from Bomb Diggity Bakery at 200 Anderson St. and opened up shop, with the slogan “Pies Like Your Mother Never Made.” It’s not a retail space; you call, email or order online, and then either pick up the pie yourself at the bakery or, if you live in Portland or South Portland, ask for delivery.
Warner has about 40 pies on rotation right now, including both sweet pies and savory hand pies, and 30 more tried-and-true recipes waiting in the wings. She features just four pies per week – three sweet and one savory – on her website, mainepieline.com. All her sweet pies are $25 each; the savory hand pies are $5 each, or 5 for $25.
During a recent visit to the bakery, Warner’s brown shirt was spotted with flour and pie crumbs. She pulled up her sleeves to reveal several purplish splotches on her forearms, casualties of working with a new oven.
“These are all burns. This is from a month ago,” she said nonchalantly, pointing to a particularly nasty one that still isn’t quite healed. “It’s gotten better. I haven’t burnt myself in two weeks. I’m being more careful.”
Warner has some advice for Thanksgiving bakers. First, be creative. Don’t make the same pie you’ve been putting on the table for the past 30 years. Throw some bourbon in a pecan pie, or try a different crust.
“Pie is very forgiving,” she said. “It’s not like puff pastry. It’s not ice cream. It’s not something that’s going to erupt if you do it wrong. It’s very forgiving, and it’s all held together by a crust. People are happy to eat pie with a spoon if they have to, if it tastes good.”
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