Whether you’re a good cook/baker or not, if you’ve spent any time in the kitchen, you’ve made mistakes. Sometimes, they’re minor, like pouring a little too much wine for a sauce or keeping scrambled eggs on the stove a little too long. Sometimes, your mistakes might require you to start over, like completely forgetting the sugar for a coffee cake (cough – just a hypothetical – cough). And sometimes, that mistake can actually elevate a decent dish into a recipe for success.
If you’ve ever been to the Elegant Farmer in Mukwonago, you probably know that it’s famous for baking its apple pie in paper bags. The Elegant Farmer wasn’t the first place to serve up the delicious concoction. But it’s certainly left a lasting impression… unintentionally.
Owner John Bauer tells me back in the early 1990’s, the former owner, Dan Scheel, attended a strawberry symposium in Dallas. During a lunch break, Scheel went to a bookstore where an author was signing cookbooks. The cookbook happened to have apple pie in a bag, which piqued Dan and his wife, Karen’s interest. They enjoyed the recipe and thought it was a neat idea, but it wasn’t until a dinner party, that the baked pie in a bag that we now know hit its stride.
“She [Karen] got screwed up with the recipe,” Bauer tells me. “She doubled one ingredient and skipped another, something of that nature, and it came out different. It came out better. It came out so unique; it had a sugar cookie crust. That’s what started what we have today.”
Bauer says the recipe has been tweaked a little bit more over the years to accommodate the increased demands. The origina recipe allowed for two pies at a time, but now, Bauer estimates the Elegant Farmer produces 800 pies at a time.
You might be wondering why anyone would bake a pie in a paper bag. I definitely wondered. Bauer says it’s a question he gets all the time.
“The paper bag is because we use fresh-cut apples and it kind of steams the apples rather than turns them into mush,” Bauer explains. “So, after it’s done cooking, we actually still have slices of apples in the pie.”
Bauer says it’s a three-phase process to bake the pies, starting with the assembly. Then, the pies are placed into paper bags and put in the oven. They go through three different sets of times and temperatures before the tops of the bags are cut to let the crust brown.
The pies have helped put the Elegant Farmer on the map, with stories in the Wall Street Journal and an appearance on Food Network’s “Throwdown with Bobby Flay.” They are now shipped all across the country, especially during Thanksgiving and in the fall during apple-picking season.
You can order the pie online and buy it at various local markets or in-person at the Elegant Farmer. The farm is currently celebrating its annual Autumn Harvest Fest, which runs September 9 through October 22.