Top Chefs: Diane Sikorski of Humble Pie

Diane Sikorski had jotted down the name and location of the desolate Lorain Fulton Bakery many times, giving only brief consideration to its unpolished possibilities. But thanks to a little persuasion from a stranger, she’s now busy plotting to add hearth to the developing area by transforming the once-lively urban shop into the future home of Humble Pie Baking Company.

From a high-top at nearby Platform Beer, Sikorski explains how the new brewery’s owner, Justin Carson, was central in her decision to procure the storefront. After hearing through the grapevine that she was looking to open a bakery in Ohio City, Carson immediately pitched her on the location.

“To go into a building that had a bakery that was part of the community and turn it into something that will hopefully be another integral part, that’s really exciting,” she says, pointing down Lorain Avenue towards the future shop. “And now it’s always in the back of my mind that there are people in the neighborhood ready and willing to help.”

Though Sikorski’s pie-making biz now yields up to 100 orders a week, her start seven years ago was a tad more modest. A year after moving back to her hometown of Cleveland from Detroit, her tenacious, self-taught modus operandi led her to take up baking with little more than good genes as a guide.

“I come from a pie family,” she explains. “My grandmother and my mom were both great bakers. I remember being a child and my grandmother making pies and letting me crimp the crust. Not a day goes by when I’m crimping a crust that I don’t think about her.”

Her mother walked her through the resilient trial and error of her adult years, offering, “It’s all in the feel. Don’t overwork it.” Eventually, she perfected her technique, the appropriately tried and true practice of cutting butter into flour for an old-fashioned flaky crust.

When it comes to explaining her approach to fillings, “balance” is the word Sikorski keeps coming back to. She relies on the perfect storm of sugar, salt and acid to coax the flavor out of fruits from nearby farms, which she freezes year-round to allow for the comforting likes of peach pies in the dead of winter. She’s since added handmade jams to her inventory after finding a diamond-in-the-rough copper jam pot at a thrift shop in Switzerland.

It was Sikorski’s dedication to local ingredients and her constant search for fresh, local, non-hydrogenated lard that led her to Fresh Fork Market, one of her biggest breaks yet. Soon after connecting with the food subscription service, she partnered with them to distribute pies, giving her company an extra boost of exposure that aligned with her own vision. “Using local ingredients was a natural extension of how we eat at home,” she says. “We’ve been buying local produce, meat and dairy for as long as I can remember, so when I first started making pies it wasn’t even something I gave a thought to.” In the grandmother-knows-best golden days of yesteryear, fresh was always the prevailing option. It just takes someone like Sikorski to give it a modern twist.

“People tap me on the shoulder at markets and say ‘I haven’t had pie like this since my grandmother’s.’ That’s the thing about pie, there’s a connection.”

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