Pie-Making Tips from Top East Bay Bakers
Three local bakers share some of their favorite pie recipes and reveal their tricks for making the perfect crust, fillings, and more.
Dust off the apron and grab the rolling pin, because it’s time to get baking. Frequently thought of as a holiday dessert, pie is a classic comfort food that encompasses more than just grandma’s beloved apple tart. This season, make a beautiful golden piecrust and test out new fillings with recipes from three local pie pros, who also offer up tips and tricks so you can create goodies all year round.
Culture and Crust
“My mom and I are both sugar fiends,” says Malaka Wilson-Greene, the co-owner of the Oakland- and Los Angeles–based Two Chicks in the Mix, “and I grew up going to bakeries.”
While Wilson-Greene admits she’s a cake girl first (“There’s just something about fluffy frosting,” she says), the self-taught baker got the idea for her bakery after she made 17 pies for a coworker’s wedding. “I thought, I could make this a business,” she recalls.
In 2015, she and her best friend, Erica Freeman, started Two Chicks in the Mix. The e-commerce site sells deliverable creations that range from cookies to coffee cakes to potpies. Wilson-Greene uses organic, seasonal ingredients in her products and sources her pie-making supplies from local stores and farmers markets.
When asked what makes pie different from other baked goods, the 28-year-old asserts, “Pie is cultural. It’s based on your background and the region you grew up in.” One of her favorites is brown butter sweet potato pie—a riff on a generations-old family recipe.
“Sweet potato pie is a staple at black American holiday gatherings, and the eaters are very discerning with their praise,” Wilson-Greene explains. “It must be sweet; it must be smooth; it must be buttery.”
Visit the Two Chicks in the Mix website to get your fix, or attend one of Wilson-Greene’s workshops at Oakland’s Oaktown Spice Shop for a hands-on baking lesson. twochicksinthemix.com.
Window of Opportunity
Jaynelle St. Jean of Oakland’s Pietisserie has always had a deep love for pie, but she never imagined she’d turn her hobby into a profession. She grew up eating store-bought pies and never made one herself until she was in high school, when her then-boyfriend’s mom showed her how to make pie from scratch. That was when she discovered a whole new world of flavor, igniting a passion for baking.
“It was eye-opening,” St. Jean recalls. “I only knew how to make three [fillings] when I first started, but then it became a mini talent.”
St. Jean realized she could turn her skills into a profitable business, so she started giving away pies to anyone who wanted them, serving them out of the window of her mother’s house in San Francisco. Soon after, she seized a window of opportunity (so to speak) and founded Pietisserie bakery, where she now sells such mouthwatering confections as chocolate cream pretzel, savory chicken tikka masala, and raspberry in chocolate crust (which will be featured on the Cooking Channel’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate this month).
With almost 10 years of pie-making under her belt, St. Jean continues to find inspiration in new flavors. “Pie is beautiful, nostalgic, and a gateway to the future,” she muses. “It’s kind of like my canvas. There’s so much room for interpretation and to have fun with it.”
Go online to place an order, or stop by Pietisserie’s storefront near Lake Merritt to grab your goodies. St. Jean also hosts pie-making workshops in her bakery and delivers her sweet creations around the Bay Area. pietisserie.com.
The Business of Baking
With a childhood dream of opening a storefront on Disneyland’s Main Street, U.S.A., Guilty Pleasures Bake Shop founder Jess Fogerty discovered her appetite for pies by accident. Sure, she grew up baking family recipes with her mom and grandma for every holiday, but she never considered it her calling.
It wasn’t until Fogerty participated in a community service project at a high school bake sale—where she sold homemade peanut butter cups and raised $700—that she even remotely considered a career in the food industry.
“I really enjoyed seeing people’s reactions to my sweets and how they [positively] impacted their day,” she says. “From that point on, I knew I wanted my own bakery.” So nearly three years ago, after attending cooking classes and getting a business license, Fogerty launched Guilty Pleasures Bake Shop—a web-based bakery that delivers pies, cheesecakes, cupcakes, cream puffs, and more throughout the Bay Area. Fogerty highlights seasonal and local ingredients in her confections and is experimenting with “pie art.”
Order Fogerty’s pastries online, or buy them at local shops including Luna Tea Co. in Livermore, Epidemic Ales in Concord, and Sugartown Sweet Shoppe in Crocket. On November 21, pick up one of her holiday treats at the Thanksgiving Pie Pop-Up in downtown Martinez’s Lavender Moon Interiors. gpbakeshop.com.
Tips and Tricks
Our experts offer advice on baking the ultimate pastry.
Keep It Cool
For a super-flaky crust, keeping things cold is key. After mixing the crust ingredients together, let the dough rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before rolling it out. Gently press the rolled-out dough into a pie plate and let it chill for an additional 30 minutes in the fridge (or 15 minutes in the freezer) before pouring in the filling. (The same rule goes for adding piecrust art on top.)
Pie-making is a multicomponent process, so manage your time wisely. Make the crust first, and while it’s cooling in the fridge, start the filling. In many cases, the dough will be ready to go once the filling is toasted, roasted, emulsified, macerated, or mixed.
Give It Some Tang
For most sweet pies, it’s beneficial to add a touch of citrus to the filling. The citric acid helps the flavor shine through while cutting down on the sticky sweetness.
Fill ’er Up
When working with fruit fillings, set aside some whole fruit. Once you’ve cooked your filling on the stovetop, mix in the uncooked fruit before pouring it into the shell. The uncooked fruit provides additional texture.
The foundation of any good pie is a phenomenal crust. Get back to basics with a straightforward dough recipe that doesn’t skimp on the butter.
- 2½ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup unsalted butter (chilled/almost frozen and diced)
- 6 to 8 tablespoons of ice water
In a big bowl, combine flour and salt. Cut in butter with pastry cutter (or use your fingertips) until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Mix in water 1 tablespoon at a time, until mixture forms a dough. Shape dough into a ball, and cut it horizontally into two equal disks. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before rolling out the dough.
Note: Depending on the filling, some crusts will need to be pre-baked. To do so, cut out a circle of aluminum foil and fit it into the chilled crust. Fill with dried beans or pie weights, then bake in the oven at 400°F for about 12 minutes. Remove weights and foil and finish cooking for 15 minutes more.
Courtesy of Pietisserie owner Jaynelle St. Jean.
Brown Butter Sweet Potato Pie
By Two Chicks in the Mix
- 5 or 6 large sweet potatoes
- 1 cup unsalted butter
- 2 cans evaporated milk
- 2½ cups granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
- Juice of half a lemon
- 3 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 pre-baked piecrust
Roast sweet potatoes with the skins on in the oven at 400°F, until very tender (roughly 1 hour). While the sweet potatoes are roasting, add butter to a skillet over medium heat. Watch closely; the butter will begin to turn a light brown color and give off a caramel smell. Continue to brown the butter 2 to 5 more minutes. Remove from heat once the caramel smell is unmistakable.
Once sweet potatoes are done, remove from the oven and reduce heat to 350°F. Carefully cut open each sweet potato, and use a spoon to scoop out the flesh into a medium saucepan. Place the saucepan over medium-low heat, making sure to stir the sweet potatoes consistently.
With a large wooden spoon, incorporate the cooled brown butter into sweet potatoes. Stir in evaporated milk. Add the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon juice, and eggs. Taste for sweetness and spice, adding more if needed. Continue to simmer on low until the mixture has reached the desired thickness.
Pour the mixture into a blender, and blend until smooth. Do not overmix. Pour into pre-baked piecrust (see "Piecrust 101" recipe above). Bake at 350°F for about 25 minutes, until edges are set. Reduce temperature to 325°F, and bake until filling is still slightly jiggly in the middle, 5 to 10 minutes more.
To prevent your pie filling from cracking, turn off the oven and prop the door open for 30 minutes. Take the pie out, and place it in the warmest part of your kitchen. Let cool for 2 hours before serving.
Around the World in a Crust
Pie goes way beyond peach, pumpkin, and key lime. If it’s got a crust and something sweet or savory inside, it’s some kind of pie. Check out this global pie glossary for more baking inspiration.
Bisteeya: This Moroccan pie combines chicken, cinnamon, almonds, powdered sugar, and more in a tantalizing marriage of sweet and savory.
Cornish pasty: Originating from Cornwall, England, this beef pie looks like the love child of a calzone and an empanada.
Crostata: A delicious Italian version of a galette or pie.
Empanada: A crispy, bite-size Latin American hand pie.
Meat pie: Not unlike a potpie, this Aussie and Kiwi hand pie is packed with minced meat and gravy.
Pirozhki: A hearty Russian puffed pastry that can feature a variety of fillings.
Quiche: A classic brunch item, the crusted French indulgence is eggy bliss.
Spanakopita: This flaky Greek pastry made from phyllo dough is stuffed with spinach and feta.
Tart: Usually filled with a custard, this uncovered, short-crust pastry transcends global borders.
How to Lattice
Jaynelle St. Jean breaks down the steps for creating a perfect lattice top.
1. For an easy-to-follow pattern, cut 10 strips of dough, and lay five of them next to each other so they cover the pie top. (Tip: For weaving a proper lattice, work with cold dough. Novices should cut strips no thinner than the width of two fingers.)
2. Grab a strip of dough, and lay it perpendicular to the five strips on top of your pie. Weave the cross strip by going under every other piece. Let the excess hang over the edge.
3. Using the first cross strip as your guide, lay the next one down, and weave it over every other cross piece. This should create an over-under pattern. Repeat the
pattern with the remaining strips.
4. Trim the excess lattice down to a half-inch. Press the overhanging strips together with the bottom crust before pressing the dough under to form the finished edge.
Plum and Clove Galette
By Jaynelle St. Jean
- ⅔ cup granulated sugar (plus extra for sprinkling)
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- ¾ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon cloves
- Dash of salt
- 1¾ pounds plums, sliced
- 1 unbaked piecrust
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
Combine sugar, flour, cornstarch, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Toss dry mixture with plums. Spread evenly on a nonstick or lined baking sheet, and cook at 350°F for 10 minutes. Stir halfway through to ensure dry ingredients are incorporated with the fruit’s liquid. Allow to cool.
Roll out dough (see “Piecrust 101” recipe above) and then place on a heavy baking sheet. Spoon cooled plum filling into unbaked piecrust, leaving 1 to 2 inches around the edge. Gently fold the edges of the crust to create an overlapping pattern. Lightly brush the crust’s perimeter with the beaten egg. Sprinkle sugar on crust before placing in oven at 375°F for 40 minutes. Allow to cool before serving.
Pie for Any Occasion
If you are pressed for time and have a hankering from something golden, flaky, and utterly delicious, check out these local spots selling custom-baked goods you can take to-go.
50 S. Livermore Ave., Livermore, (925) 371-7700, c-cbakery.com.
Chicken Pie Shop
1251 Arroyo Way, Walnut Creek, (925) 322-8799, chickenpieshopwc.com.
1966 University Ave., Berkeley, (510) 705-8800.
2074 Second St., Livermore, (925) 292-5568, monicaslivermore.com.
Rockridge Market Hall
5655 College Ave., Ste. 201, Oakland, (510) 250-6000, rockridgemarkethall.com.
3598 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette, (510) 299-0210, susiecakes.com.
Sweet Adeline Bakeshop
3350 Adeline St., Berkeley, (510) 985-7381, sweetadelinebakeshop.com.
304 Sycamore Valley Rd., Danville, (925) 820-8100, talspatisserie.com.
Maple Bourbon Pecan Pie
By Jess Fogerty
- 2¼ cups raw pecan halves
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ⅔ cup dark brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 3 large eggs
- ⅔ cup Grade B maple syrup
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 4 tablespoons bourbon
- 1 drop cassia essential oil (optional)
- 1 pre-baked piecrust
Spread pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet. Toast in the oven at 350°F for 12 to 14 minutes, until fragrant and slightly darkened. (The pecans should be crispy and have a toasty flavor.) Set aside to cool before breaking each half into 4 to 8 pieces. Reduce the oven temperature to 275°F.
In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Add brown sugar and salt. Turn off the heat, and whisk in eggs one at a time. Add maple syrup, vanilla, and half the bourbon.
Reduce the heat to low and cook the filling, stirring constantly until mixture is warm to the touch (130°F on a candy thermometer). Remove saucepan from heat, and whisk in essential oil (if using) and remaining bourbon. Add toasted pecan pieces.
Pour filling into warm pre-baked pie shell (see “Piecrust 101” recipe above). If shell has cooled, place back in oven at 275°F for 5 to 10 minutes before adding filling. Bake the pie at 275°F until custard is almost set, about 45 minutes. (The filling should jiggle in the center.) Let cool completely.