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Local piemakers are ready for the holiday rush

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Posted: Tuesday, November 22, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 9:09 am, Tue Nov 22, 2011.

Micaela Toledo piles on apples and then grabs a pie crust, expertly placing it on top of the pie pan. She twirls the pie around, sealing the edges, and then uses her fingers to pinch the crust into perfect ridges.

At 7 a.m. Monday morning, Toledo is starting her first of hundreds of pies to accommodate the Thanksgiving rush.

During the next two days, the smell of pumpkin walnut, strawberry rhubarb and apple cranberry will waft through Michael-David Winery as local residents pop in to pick up pre-ordered deserts.

"It makes me so happy when customers come and say this is so good. I like it when they enjoy it," Toledo said.

Last year more than 700 pies from the bakery ended up on dinner tables, and this year Toledo expects they will have to bake even more.

So what is the secret?

"Most of the comments I hear are raving about the crust. That's part of what makes the pie really special," said Amanda Lange, the hospitality manager at the winery.

Toledo has spent years perfecting a flaky yet browned crust.

In the kitchen, she uses a machine to press the dough into perfect circles. She feels each chunk and knows when to add more flour or even throw it out if it is not the perfect consistency.

The key is to not overwork the dough, she said. As she mixes the pastry flour and Crisco in the mixer, Toledo will only turn it on for a couple of seconds before scraping down the sides.

All of the pies are filled with fresh fruit from the farm that either comes directly from the fields, or from the freezer if it is something that is not currently in season.

The bakery's pie business has rapidly grown throughout the years.

Toledo started by prepping ingredients at the cafe and bakery 21 years ago. She then started baking and learned the original family pie recipe from Jeanne Phillips, who is the mother of Michael and David Phillips.

Toledo grew up in Michoacán, Mexico and remembers that she enjoyed baking when she attended a private school. But she never expected it to be her career path until she started at the winery.

"When I started baking here, I realized I wanted to do this," she said.

She remembers that when she started, it was a huge undertaking to make 20 pies in a day.

"Now we can make a 100 pies, and it's no big deal," Toledo said.

Through the years, Toledo has experimented with a wide range of flavors. She will spend days trying to figure out the perfect combinations. She is working on a pecan pie right now, and hopes to have it done for the Christmas season.

Lange's favorite is the peach boysenberry, but she said the traditional pies, like the pumpkin, apple and pumpkin walnut, are the most popular around the holidays.

One of the most unique pies that Toledo created is the grape pie.

"We make a grape pie from grapes here on the farm and that seems to be more of a specialty pie. Not everyone likes it, but it does have a little bit of a following," she said.

Toledo and the other bakers, Arismelia Gonzalez and Maria Diaz, still create the pies from scratch, even though they now bake hundreds at a time before the holidays.

Gonzalez spent about an hour Monday morning alone peeling and chopping the apples. They hand mix all of the fruit to keep it from getting too runny. And every pie crust is lightly brushed with milk and sugar to create the sweet, flaky crust.

Even though the pies are popular year-round, the orders really start to flow in around Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The bakers have to label each tray of pies with wax paper before they go into the oven, because otherwise they would get mixed up.

"When we have that many flavors, it gets more complicated, Toledo said.

One of the reasons the pies have become such a hit is because people visit the bakery throughout the year and then get hooked on the unique flavors, Lange said.

"We get more and more traffic on a yearly basis so more people are learning about our pies. It's not just the locals anymore," she said.

Despite the stress, Toledo wants to see everyone who comes into the bakery leave happy.

Since the women have worked together for at least eight years, Toledo said there is a family atmosphere that makes the holidays less hectic. They sing, joke, laugh and dance.

Plus, they get to do some taste-testing while they work, Toledo joked. And the smell of pastries and pies in the oven is not too bad, either.

"My daughter, when she was little, would give me a hug and say, 'Mmmm, mommy. You smell so good, like cookies,'" Toledo said.

The bakery is no longer taking special orders for Thanksgiving, but Toledo said there are always extra pies for sale through Wednesday. For more information or to place an order for Christmas, call 368-7384.

Contact reporter Maggie Creamer at maggiec@lodinews.com. Read her blog at www.lodinews.com/blogs/citybuzz.

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