How Maya-Camille Broussard Makes Biscuits
The Great Ones is a celebration of humans we admire — and an exploration of why they cook, not just how. Maya-Camille Broussard is the owner and baker behind Justice of the Pies, a bakery and L3C social mission based in Chicago. Inspired by her late father, a criminal defense attorney and amateur pie-maker, Maya-Camille splits her time making pies and running social-justice initiatives for food-insecure communities. At home in Chicago, Maya-Camille made chive biscuits and discussed how Justice of the Pies is addressing the pandemic.
Everything I made as a kid was out of a box: mashed potatoes out of a box, biscuits out of a box, muffins out of a Jiffy mix box. That's how my dad shopped because he grew up in the projects on the west side of Chicago, so everything that he knew was overprocessed. One of the first things I ever tried to make was drop biscuits from a box. They were the ugliest, most misshapen biscuits because I couldn’t get the dough off my fingers. I would just try to pick it up and fling it onto the baking sheet. But I loved to sop it up with syrup, and I didn't care that they were ugly. It was just so good to me.
My dad was obsessed with making pies. He loved anything with a crust and made pies and quiche, especially. He felt like making quiches made him seem more cultured. You know, I'm making quiche. Quiche is like oui oui fancy. My dad was also extremely competitive, so he wouldn't share any of his recipes with me. He wanted me to come up with my own. And then he would take a bite and say, "It's okay. It's good, but have you had my quiche?" So there was an element of competitiveness, but more in a sense of I challenge you to make one better than what I've made. It's sort of like cultivating that creativity.
I grew up with an invisible disability, so there was a part of him that always wanted to challenge me.
I grew up with an invisible disability, so there was a part of him that always wanted to challenge me to be a little bit more independent because he knew I would have to be so self-reliant. And as a result I'm extremely driven. When he passed away, my cousins were asking me for certain recipes, like, "Hey, did your dad ever give you the recipe for this?" I had to be like, "No, but don't worry because mine is better." Everyone would laugh, and I know in spirit he was probably laughing, too, because that's exactly what he would want me to say. It would just tickle him.
But at his funeral my cousin came up to me and said, "We should start a foundation in memory of your dad in which we bake pies and teach kids how to bake pie." And I was like, "We are at the funeral. Can we talk about this later?" It wasn’t until four or five years later; I went to San Francisco, and my cousins took me to a pie shop that's now closed, Mission Pies. It was in the Mission District, and the pie shop hired a lot of teenagers who were displaced from their homes. When I walked in there, something just clicked, like somebody was yelling in my ear, “Hello! You're supposed to be baking — don't forget about the pies!” and “It's supposed to be a social mission, just like this bakery.” My cousin and I started developing recipes right there and then.
Justice of the Pies is an L3C, which means it's a social-mission-based company.
Justice of the Pies is an L3C, which means it's a social-mission-based company. What I like to say is that at Justice of the Pies we want to be stewardesses for fairness and equality, and our pies are secondary to the service that we give. The main objective is to give, and then oh, by the way, we make amazing pies. There are several different ways that we currently give back in our philanthropic efforts, but one of our signature ways — and the one I'm most proud of — is the way that we contribute to fighting food insecurities. My dad grew up in the projects, and he and my aunts experienced days when they went hungry. What happens is there's a trickle-down effect from that emotional trauma, and that's passed on to me. That's passed on to my cousin.
Food insecurity, and more so living in areas that have been affected by food apartheid, is very widespread in Chicago. I started the I Knead Love workshop to fight food insecurities, to teach kids basic kitchen skills, to teach them about nutritional development. The kids that we work with are fifth through eighth graders from lower-income communities. One of the things we do is just try to have fun and show them how to do really basic things that can build a child's confidence in the kitchen. Then they can get creative. We give them a prompt and have them write down a recipe, then take them grocery shopping. This way they also learn how to make really good choices in terms of what they put in their shopping cart. They like being given the responsibility to pick their own food.
Food insecurity, and more so living in areas that have been affected by food apartheid, is very widespread in Chicago.
We've also been spending the pandemic feeding the frontline. Typically, we sell at farmers’ markets and fairs and do a lot of corporate catering; that’s how we make our money, because we don't have a storefront. A lot of the areas where we typically sell pies are not reopened yet, so we've been feeding the frontline. Since the end of March we’ve served more than 2,600 meals to frontline workers. And then after the civil unrest last month we decided to serve 1,000 meals to the East Garfield Park neighborhood, which is on Chicago's west side. We not only provided meals, but we also gave them masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper. The area was really affected by the civil unrest, and the food sources were decimated. We just wanted to bring up the morale of the people in that neighborhood, and it's something we're actively trying to do again in another affected lower-income neighborhood in Chicago because there are so many. For now, we have an option to donate a meal on our website.
On this day, I made biscuits with caramelized onions, goat cheese, and chives. I'm known for making so many pies, but I love playing around with my classic biscuit recipe. I wanted to put a more savory spin on it because I know everyone doesn't like sweets. The biscuits are still super flaky with a crunchy exterior, but it has a nice bite from the goat cheese and the chives, and then the caramelized onion of course has the sweetness. So it's still savory, but it balances out the pungentness of the goat cheese.
I'm known for making so many pies, but I love playing around with my classic biscuit recipe.
I use sweet onions for the caramelized onions, and it is one of those things that is really super simple but requires a lot of patience. It's just a little olive oil, butter, and onions. Sometimes, to speed up the caramelization process, I put a little apple cider in there if I have it. If you don't have apple cider, a Mexican Coke will work because it has natural sugar in it and not high fructose. And then for the biscuits I use very, very cold butter. The butter has to be extremely cold so you can get a nice rise in a biscuit. I also use cream cheese because I like to have a nice crunchy exterior and that soft, billowy interior. One thing I cannot stand is a dry biscuit, so cream cheese really helps to add the moisture back into the biscuit. With this particular recipe, I used half cream cheese, half goat cheese, plus fresh chives.
People often ask if I eat my pies, and I don't because I make them every day. That's like eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich every day. But the biscuits are the one thing I will eat because it's so easy for me. When I go into the kitchen I'll pop several dozen into the oven, then I'll just eat the one that's like the leftover dough. When you're making biscuits you take the scraps and knead them back together, but at some point there's going to be one part of the scrap that you can't use — that's the part I normally eat. Just like when I was a kid.
I think that when you look at some of the other baked goods like cakes or cupcakes, they’re relatively easy to make. But making crust, biscuits, or croissants — really, anything you have to knead or roll out — is laborious, and you never know how it's going to turn out. With a cake, as long as you're not running around in the house, you know the cake is going to turn out okay. Even now, I don't know what I'm going to get sometimes; it's just so much more temperamental. I think my dad had that appreciation for the degree of difficulty that was behind the art of making the perfect crust. There are so many steps to a perfect pie — it makes you appreciate the art of it.