A Grate Recipe Makes A Great Chef

When life hands you lemons… give them to Renate Haeusler and she’ll make an amazing lemon soufflé. Give her a grater, and she’ll produce the flakiest piecrust you’ve ever tasted. Undoubtedly, Renate’s pies rival those of the finest pastry chefs. And as far as that perfect crust goes, “it’s all in the technique,” Renate claims.

“Most women have a special recipe for making pie crusts – mine uses Crisco – but it’s all in how you make the crust,” Renate says. She uses butter-flavored Crisco in stick form, which she freezes or chills thoroughly. Now for the secret: a grater or micro planer. Using the largest holes, she grates the chilled Crisco (or butter) sticks to produce shavings, which are added to the flour and salt mixture. Gradually adding about 1/2 cup of lemon ice water, Renate mixes this with a fork until it is incorporated into a hard ball. “The French saying ‘mettre les mains a la pate’ does not apply here to the pie crust,” Renate insists. “No fingers allowed!” she continues. “You want to keep everything cold so that when the crust hits the oven, the butter melts and leaves an air space in your pastry, making it perfectly flaky!”

The dough is divided into two discs, wrapped in plastic bags and placed in the refrigerator to rest for at least one hour. Then the disc of dough is rolled out right in the plastic bag, thereby eliminating the flour mess that typically comes with rolling out piecrust. Next, slide the pie plate right into the plastic bag, inverted over the dough, and flip the crust over into the pie plate. The crust is now ready to bake or fill! (Please refer to the recipe that follows to complete your pie.)

Despite careful planning, happenstance and accident play an unexpectedly significant role in forming and defining the fabric of our lives. Not so with Renate. From early on, Renate knew the experiences she hoped her future would include. Emigrating from Germany with her parents in 1955, Renate’s life has taken a variety of directions, which, in turn, has instilled a passion for different cultures, reflected in her cooking. After receiving her B.A. from State University of New York, she continued her course work in London, Paris and Geneva, accepting positions as governess throughout her studies.

Renate continues her quest for endless education, claiming that, “the more you know, the more you realize how much you don’t know.” Upon visiting her sister in Montecito, Renate felt an instant attraction to the area and moved here shortly after. Balancing her studies at UCSB and a position as House Manager for a Hope Ranch family, Renate recognized she had a passion for cooking after observing the family chef. She then turned her full attention to cooking and baking. Self taught primarily through her cultural experiences, Renate was a quick study. “If you can read a cookbook, you can learn to be a good cook,” she claims.

Since then, she has enjoyed a number of House Manager and Chef positions at Birnam Wood Country Club. At the close of each job, Renate indulges herself with three- to four-month-long sabbaticals, focusing on countries that are rich in history, culture and cuisine. “My attraction is more than just cuisine. I find myself enchanted by the unique lifestyles of different areas. There is so much out there for the taking. Life is like Velcro – what you learn along the way sticks to you and is infused with your existence, shaping who you are.” Renate’s recent travels have included Spain and Sumatra, with a journey to Vietnam on the horizon.

Special thanks to Peter and Alexie Rue Phillips.

Basic Pie Crust Recipe

2 c. flour

1 t. salt

8 T. butter flavor Crisco (stick form)

3 T. butter

1/2 c. ice water (lemon flavored optional)

See instructions for piecrust above. For pre-baked crusts, prick bottom of crust with a fork before baking. Bake crust at 375 to 400 degrees for approximately 15 minutes until brown.


1 can sweetened condensed milk zest of lemon, lime or grapefruit

1 c. fresh lemon (or citrus) juice

Stir the condensed milk and lemon zest together, gradually adding the juice. Mixture will seize up and become thicker as it stands. If mixture becomes too thin, an envelope of unflavored gelatin may be added. Pour filling into pre-baked crust. Top with fresh berries, peaches and plums. Garnish with fresh mint leaves.


(Recipe is for advanced bakers)

Fit a 1 1/2 quart soufflé dish snugly with a waxed paper collar. Cut a lemon in thin slices, then cut slices in half and arrange around the inside of the wax collar.

Soften 2 envelopes of unflavored gelatin in 1/2 c. lemon juice. Add 1/3 c. sugar, 1 c. lemon juice and 3 T. lemon peel to double boiler, along with 7 egg yolks. Heat until thickened. Add 4 T. nougatine (see recipe below). Cool in freezer while you beat the egg whites. Fold whites into custard/gelatin mixture and chill for 6 hours. Top with whipped cream and fresh berries.


1/2 c. almonds, toasted and slivered

1/2 c . sugar

2 T. water

Dissolve sugar in water off the heat. Place on medium heat, boil gently without stirring until light brown. Add almonds and remove immediately to a sheet of oiled wax paper. Let cool and pulverize.