September 24, 2018

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Her life of pie

March 14 is Pi Day, and Winnipeg baker has her pans prepared

Since 1988, March 14 — that’s 3/14 — has been designated as International Pi Day, in honour of the mathematical constant pi. That’s 3.14.

If you’re sitting at home, wondering how to toast a 24-hour period devoted to the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, well, it’s as easy as pi, according to the website www.holidappy.com.

For starters, you can kick back with a bowl of popcorn and enjoy an arithmetic-inspired flick such as 1997’s Good Will Hunting or 2001 Academy Award-winner A Beautiful Mind. Next, you can rattle off a few numerical jokes along the lines of “What did one algebra textbook say to the other?” “Don’t bother me. I’ve got my own problems.”

Or you can simply follow Nadine Peloquin’s lead, and head into the kitchen to bake a few pies.

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Since 1988, March 14 — that’s 3/14 — has been designated as International Pi Day, in honour of the mathematical constant pi. That’s 3.14.

Nadine Peloquin, owner of Hocus Pocus Pies & Dice, is all set for Pi Day, which is Wednesday, March 14. (Photos by Mikaela Mackenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Nadine Peloquin, owner of Hocus Pocus Pies & Dice, is all set for Pi Day, which is Wednesday, March 14. (Photos by Mikaela Mackenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

If you’re sitting at home, wondering how to toast a 24-hour period devoted to the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, well, it’s as easy as pi, according to the website www.holidappy.com.

For starters, you can kick back with a bowl of popcorn and enjoy an arithmetic-inspired flick such as 1997’s Good Will Hunting or 2001 Academy Award-winner A Beautiful Mind. Next, you can rattle off a few numerical jokes along the lines of "What did one algebra textbook say to the other?" "Don’t bother me. I’ve got my own problems."

Or you can simply follow Nadine Peloquin’s lead, and head into the kitchen to bake a few pies.

"Last year I did banana cream pies and remember making them green, what with St. Patrick’s Day right around the corner," says Peloquin, the brains behind Hocus Pocus Pies & Dice, an artisanal pie business that also turns out homemade scones, marshmallows and chocolate dice. "I haven’t quite decided what to prepare this year yet but yeah, Pi Day is definitely on my radar. Basically it’s an excuse for people to eat pie and for sure, I’m always OK with that."


Peloquin grew up in McCreary, a small town just east of Riding Mountain National Park, 250 kilometres from Winnipeg. She didn’t really come out of her shell, pie-wise, until she was 15, she admits.

"To be honest, I didn’t like pie at all as a kid," she says, seated in a bustling, Riverview coffee shop. "But a lot of that had to do with my mom who — how can I put this gently — wasn’t exactly the best cook in the world. I mean, till I was a teenager I thought mashed potatoes had to be lumpy, like tapioca."

Pi Pi love, Pi Pi happiness

With International Pi Day right around the corner, Nadine Peloquin, owner of Hocus Pocus Pies & Dice, was kind enough to supply us with a recipe to mark the occasion in style.

HOLIDAY HANGOVER PIE

HOLIDAY HANGOVER PIE

Ingredients:

1 graham cracker pie crust bottom or fully-baked pie crust of your choice
500 ml (2 cups) milk
4 eggs
120 ml (½ cup) sugar
80 ml (1/3 cup) flour
1 tbsp salt
250 ml (1 cup) milk or dark chocolate of your choice, chopped in small pieces. I suggest using half an Easter rabbit, a chocolate orange or, if you’re in a bind, chocolate chips
Optional: 60 ml (¼ cup) booze such as whiskey, Grand Marnier, or Appleton Spiced Rum.

To finish:
Whipped cream, more chocolate

Instructions:

Pour milk into a medium-sized pot. Turn stove element to medium. Heat milk until it is steaming, but don’t allow it to boil.

In a separate, heat-proof bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar, flour and salt together until smooth.

Pour the hot milk slowly over the mixture in the bowl, while whisking constantly until everything is incorporated.

Pour everything back into the pot and return to medium heat. Make sure to whisk constantly until the mixture boils and thickens. Add the chocolate and your booze of choice now, if you haven’t already drunk it, waiting for pie. Filling is ready when it reaches a pudding- or sour cream-consistency.

Pour mixture directly into your prepared pie crust. Allow it to chill in the fridge for at least an hour.

To finish, cover with whipped cream and toss on more chocolate pieces.

Peloquin took up baking at her high school, École Jours de Plaine in Laurier. A natural talent, she was able to purchase her first car — a 1998 Plymouth Neon — by selling her homemade fudge to friends and family members.

In 2007, she moved to Winnipeg to attend the University of Winnipeg. During her initial year of studies, she often baked blueberry or raspberry pies prior to exams, in order to calm her nerves.

"I was living in this huge house on Balmoral (Street) with nine guys and two other girls, and they all gained quite a bit of weight, thanks to me," the 28-year-old says with a wink.

Originally, Peloquin planned to pursue a career in the medical field. In time, she decided her personality was better-suited to pie pans than bed pans, however, and caught on as a baker at a number of spots, including De Luca’s Specialty Foodstore on Portage Avenue and later, Chop Steakhouse & Bar, where she was the Sargent Avenue locale’s Day 1 baker when it opened in September 2008.

When asked what prompted her to strike out on her own two years ago, she smiles and says it was the never-ending chain of suitors who would get down on one knee after sampling her fare.

"It became a bit of a running joke in my circle of friends how my baking was a type of sorcery — hence my (business) name, Hocus Pocus — because all these guys would look at me and say, ‘Nadine, will you marry me?’ after taking a bite of my pie," she says.

"Seriously, though, I decided to go into business for myself after a swing of really bad employers, and it’s been great because I’m way less of a douche, now. Sure it was scary at first, but my partner Alex has been super-supportive. After all, he could see how miserable I was, working for other people."

Peloquin makes a chocolate custard pie in her home in St. Vital.

Peloquin makes a chocolate custard pie in her home in St. Vital.

Hocus Pocus Pies made its official debut in September 2016 at an outdoor market sponsored by the South Osborne Biz. The response there was overwhelmingly positive, Peloquin says, but it wasn’t until she began feeding her pastry to a rough-and-tumble group of athletes that word began to spread how her pies were, to borrow a slogan from a particular brand of breakfast cereal, magically delicious.

"I definitely owe a lot of my success to my roller-derby pals," says Peloquin, a roller-derby queen who, under the nom de boom Nads of Steel, has been a member of the Corporation, the Bombshell Brawlers and the Winnipeg Roller Derby League All-stars. "For the first while, whenever I didn’t completely sell out at whatever market I was at, I’d show up at practice or a game and yell, ‘Hey guys, anybody wanna buy some pie out of the trunk of my car? Let me put it this way: there were never any leftovers."

Peloquin’s pies are available in three sizes: 4-inch, 7-inch and 9-inch. While she continues to conjure up new recipes — as a nod to her boyfriend’s Hungarian heritage, she recently threw together a savoury, chicken paprikash-and-shaved brussels sprouts pie — her regular menu revolves around tried-and-true faves such as apple-caramel, pear-amaretto and strawberry-rhubarb. From time to time, she also fashions custom-made pies, such as the wedding gift she baked last July, which turned heads at her friends’ reception, thanks to how she expertly weaved strips of crust atop the filling, in order to spell out one of the couple’s favourite expletives.

"We were absolutely floored that Nicole showed up with a giant, sour cherry pie with an F-bomb baked across the top of it, as it was exactly our sense of humour," says Nyco Rudolph, a graphic artist who will be a featured guest at the Prairie Comics Festival, which runs May 5-6 at the Millennium Library.

"Everyone seemed scared to dig into it at the reception, but that just meant more for my wife and me the next day," he continues, adding "something about the F looked particularly tasty," so that was the section of pie he and his bride Janelle dove into, first. "As great as her cherry pie is, one of my favourite pies from Hocus Pocus is the blood orange and whipped cream pie. I’m also a huge fan of her marshmallows, especially the mint-chocolate ones."

Adding the finishing touches to a Holiday Hangover Pie.

Adding the finishing touches to a Holiday Hangover Pie.

For the time-being, Peloquin is content building up her clientele at farmers’ markets staged in and around the city. A "big-time gamer," she also helped design the menu at Jimcon, an annual board-game convention that drew hundreds of people to the Radisson Hotel in November.

Her ultimate goal, though, is to get a place of her own, if only to allow Alex, her partner, some extra shut-eye.

"As a rule, I don’t start baking until midnight, so that my pies will still be warm when I arrive at wherever I’m selling them the next morning," she says, checking her phone to confirm she’ll be present at the Downtown Winnipeg Farmers’ Market on March 15 at Cityplace, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

"Not only do I usually like to throw some music on when I’m in the kitchen, but I’ve been told I’m a bit of a slammer, when it comes to drawers and cupboard doors."

david.sanderson@freepress.mb.ca

David Sanderson

Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.

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