Pioneer Press: Tipsy Pies: a Dessert and Nightcap, All in One
Down in the basement of the Marine on St. Croix General Store, Sara Hayden takes her late mother’s wooden rolling pin and rolls out eight small piecrusts made from her mother’s cold-water pie crust recipe.
Once the crusts are flat, she scoops spoonfuls of a chopped-apple mixture to place on top. She then covers each mound with another layer of crust and crimps the edges with a fork.
But there’s a twist — one her mother, Norma Higgins, probably never dreamed of.
The apple mixture is laced with 2 Gingers Irish Whiskey, and the finished product is called Sara’s Little Tipsy Pie’s 2 Gingers Irish Apple. The tiny pies sell for $3.95 at the General Store and at area farmers’ markets.
Hayden, 40, of Oak Park Heights, appears to have cornered the market on pies made with locally made beer, whiskey and wine. She also makes pie using Chestnut Hill brown ale from Lift Bridge Brewery in Stillwater and Raspberry Infusion dessert win from St. Croix Vineyards in Grant.
“I prefer pies,” Hayden said. “I don’t really like to make other stuff — cake takes too long. But pie just reminds me of my mom and reminds me of tradition. My mom always baked a lot, so I baked with her. She baked for those she loved. You feed who you love.”
Some of Hayden’s happiest childhood memories are of baking with her mother. “She would give me the scraps of the pie crust to roll, and she’d sprinkle cinnamon and sugar and bake that for me,” Hayden said. “Or I’d make little apple tarts with the leftovers. Now my kids do that with me.”
Hayden started making pies in massive quantities at Fresh Fields bakery in Stillwater for Thanksgiving 2011; the owner, Dave Michaud, was a friend who had sampled her pie. She received orders for 254 pumpkin, apple, triple berry and pecan pies that year and “it went from there.”
Hayden then began baking pies in the kitchens at Our Community Kitchen at the Ascension Episcopal Church in Stillwater and Aamodt’s Apple Orchard in Stillwater. She began experimenting with alcohol-laced pies around St. Patrick’s Day 2012. Her first pie, made with Guinness beer, didn’t work out very well.
But Hayden didn’t give up. She contacted the owners of Lift Bridge Brewery and told them of her plan.
“If you have an idea, you should just run with it,” she said. “Sometimes you just have to jump. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. But if you don’t try, you don’t know. I would rather know that it didn’t work then to always wonder ‘What if?’ ”
PIE WITH ALE
Dan Schwarz, co-founder and CEO of Lift Bridge, said Hayden “cold-called” the brewery and asked if they would be interested in meeting. “This was a first,” he said. “We are culinary-minded, so any chance we have to cook with beer, we do. But baking was new for us.”
Schwarz’ favorite Tipsy Pie, of course, is made with his Chestnut Hill Brown Ale. “You get a little hint of that roastiness from the beer,” he said. “We use a little bit of cinnamon and some allspice to make it, so I think the beer is uniquely set to pair with the spices that she uses in her apple pie.”
The brewery’s board of directors serves as a tasting panel for Hayden’s new products.
“I have no doubt she’ll do well,” Schwarz said. “I think she has a very unique product. She just has the drive and the passion for it, and she’s smart and driven. Who wouldn’t want to help her out?”
One of Hayden’s biggest supporters is Kieran Folliard, founder and CEO for 2 Gingers Whiskey Co., based in Minneapolis. Folliard is the former owner of The Liffey, The Local, Kieran’s and Cooper.
“I emailed Kieran a year ago and said ‘I want to use local products in my pie. Can I use 2 Gingers?’ ” she said. “He came out and sat with me and had the pie and told me that he thought the little pies needed some glaze, so I put the frosting on it because Kieran said so, and it makes the pie.”
A quote from Folliard is posted next to Hayden’s work space at the General Store: “Vision, focus, discipline and quality win the day. Point of difference is critical.”
“I look at that when I’m stressed, because he’s right,” she said. “I focus down on these little hand pies and it makes a difference. I’m really lucky for the mentors in my life. He really is that person who makes you stand on a chair and look at perspective differently. ‘When someone is going right, Sara, go left.’ Pie with alcohol is definitely left.”
Folliard said Hayden could be a “poster person” for starting a small business.
“She has the essence of what it takes, which is really a passion for starting and doing her own great work,” he said. “I think she is an extraordinary example of how somebody who has huge responsibilities in life … can really achieve something fantastic because they are passionate and dedicated in what they do.”
In addition to selling pies in Marine on St. Croix and at farmers’ markets in Oakdale, Mahtomedi, Chisago and White Bear Lake, Hayden caters weddings and parties. She also will be supplying pies for Pub 112, an Irish pub that will open in downtown Stillwater in July.
Hayden and a couple of employees now crank out hundreds of fresh hand pies a month; nothing is frozen. They go through three bushels of apples and 100 pounds of flour a week.
“I’m kind of a crazy pie girl,” she said. “I like fresh pie. I like warm, fresh pie. I don’t like cold pie. But people like pie in general — they like hot pie and cold pie, and I have to remember that. I make myself crazy wanting to give everybody super-fresh pie, and I have to learn that I can’t. It’s still really a good product. It’s just my crazy. Right now everything is fresh.”
But this fall, once the summer rush has settled down, Hayden said she plans to start working on marketing frozen Little Tipsy pies. She also wants to start selling her special homemade alcohol-infused glaze — called Tipsy Toppings — “because it’s really great on ice cream and it’s great on top of the pie.”
Hayden began leasing space from the Marine store a few months ago; Andrew and Karen Kramer, the store’s owners, say she has been a welcome addition.
“It’s been a very good product for us and fits with our mix here,” Andrew Kramer said. “They’re doing very well. You wouldn’t think that 2 Gingers Irish whiskey would go with something sweet like pie, but when it’s baked off, it does. It just adds an interesting sort of exotic flavor that makes it especially good.”
The store’s baker uses the basement bakery space overnight; Hayden, the mother of five children, uses the space during the day. Hayden sells her little pies at the store’s deli counter and also makes 9-inch Tipsy Pies and Sober Pies (made without alcohol) through special order.
“I really like these Salted Caramel Apple, which is made with Finnegan’s Irish Amber,” Andrew Kramer said. “Her pies are mostly apple pies with a wonderful crust . When she adds these alcohols, the beers, the whiskey and the wines, it just adds a delicious new flavor to it. It’s quite unique. These little pies are absolutely the perfect size. They are a hand pie. They’re an individual serving, so they’ve done very well. People come in for lunch here, get a sandwich and know they have a little dessert that they can take with them as well.”
MOTHER OF 5
Hayden, who was a stay-at-home mother for 10 years, said is grateful for people like Michaud, Folliard and the Kramers.
“Anything that you do, it’s how you start out and who you start out with,” she said. “So if you’re with the right people, you’re guided in the right direction. If you’re with the wrong people, you get negative and you get stressed. You treat people like you want to be treated. You play nice in the sandbox. All those things you learn in kindergarten, which really are important. Just be nice. Work hard. Don’t be lazy.”
Hayden and her husband, Chris, have five children: Mason, 12, Madilynn, 10, and triplet 8-year-olds — Wyatt, Cody and Averi. Daughter Madilynn was born with Down syndrome.
The couple didn’t learn she had Down until after she was born. “When someone would say, ‘Oh, I’m really sorry,’ I would say, ‘Well, there’s nothing to be sorry about. We wanted a girl, and we got one,'” Sara Hayden said. “You get what you get and who knows? Yes, it’s scary, but anything unknown is scary.”
Son Mason is helping sell the pies at the farmers’ markets this summer. “He is learning that you have to work hard,” Hayden said. “There is nothing given to you. If someone gives you an opportunity, you have to work really hard. I keep telling (the kids) there’s a payoff. I keep telling them it’s an investment.”
One of her newest inventions is “Pie Pals” — tiny pies stuffed artfully and baked in a half-pint Kerr canning glass jar.
“It’s taken me a long time to get the quantity inside right because when you bake them at high temperatures the apples get really soft,” she said. “It’s taken me quite a while to figure out the ration between size and chunk of apple and the amount of glaze.”
Although the pies are made with whiskey, beer and wine, any alcohol is boiled and baked out of the pies. “They are kid-friendly,” she said. “All that is left is the flavor.”
Hayden said she thinks her mother would be proud of all she’s accomplished.
“I started out wanting to do all old-fashioned pies because it’s about my Mom,” she said. “It was about connecting with my Mom. I feel part of a connection to tradition that I don’t want to go away just because she’s gone.
“That’s my mom’s crust. I feel that way every time I eat it. It feels just like my mom.”