Braided edges, abstract lattices, and golden brown sugared tops, Four & Twenty Blackbirds pies are real visual stunners and the women who make them-- sisters Emily and Melissa Elsen-- are pioneers of beautiful and creative crust designs.
But equally as innovative are the recipes the two dream up, which spiral out from the classics into new flavor combinations like Maple Lime Custard, Rosemary Honey Shoefly, and the drink-turned-pie Buttered Rum Cream. They call the recipes in their new The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book "uncommon" and it's true-- while the book does offer an ample selection of old standbys, their puissance lies in their knack for creative innovation, both in visual design and flavor.
This talent makes sense considering their background-- Emily is an art school graduate and the two sisters grew up in a family restaurant run by their mother and aunts in a small town in the midwest. Their grandmother baked the pies.
The sisters started their own food business in 2009-- a pie-to-order start-up run out of their Brooklyn apartment-- and by 2010 they had opened the doors of their brick and mortar pie shop in Gowanus. Though their pie recipes have been featured in numerous magazines and sites, at the end of last year they put out their first (I'm thinking there might eventually be another?) cookbook to much acclaim.
Though I'd made a few of their recipes before (see their Salty Honey Pie and Rhubarb Pie) I was was excitedly waiting for their cookbook for months, knowing it would become a resource I'd return to again and again, to bake my way through the recipes and to provide creative inspiration for my own crust designs and flavor combinations.
I stared off with something fairly basic but really good--their Cranberry Sage Pie-- which I made for Christmas dinner this past year. Aside from my everlasting love for cranberries, it was the perfect pie for the occasion with it's holiday-appropriate red hue and sage which adds a savory note that mimicks some of the other flavors of the dinner. We ate ours (along with Pecan Pie and a Dark Chocolate Whiskey-Soaked Bundt Cake) around the fire after opening presents and while highly anticipating the posting of the Downton Abbey Season 4 Christmas Special by the generous Brits.
Cranberry Sage Pie
Adapted from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book
Nothing in the House pie crust
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1 tablespoon fresh sage, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons arrowroot (cornstarch also works)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
4 cups whole cranberries, fresh or frozen
1 small baking apple (I used a Northern Spy)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Egg wash (1 large egg whisked with 1 teaspoon water and a pinch of salt)
Demerara sugar, for dusting
1. Prepare the Nothing-in-the-House pie crust as per the directions. Chill dough at least 1 hour. Once chilled, roll out 1/2 of pie crust and fit into a 9-inch greased and floured pie pan. You can choose to roll out the top-crust now and refrigerate it flat, or roll it out once you've prepared the filling. Either way, you should put both the remaining crust and the pie pan in the fridge while you prepare the filling. Reserve half-egg yolk for the egg wash.
2. In a heatproof bowl, pour boiling water over the dried cranberries to cover by about 1 inch. Allow them to plump while you prepare the rest of the filling.
3. In a food processor fitted with the blade attachment, combine the chopped sage, granulated and brown sugars, salt, arrowroot (or cornstarch), cinnamon, and allspice. Process until the sage is fully blended. Pour the sugar mixture into a large bowl and set aside.
4. Use the same food processor bowl to briefly process 2 cups of the whole cranberries until they are roughly chopped. Add them, along with the remaining 2 cups of whole cranberries, to the sugar mixture.
5. Peel the apple and shred on the large holes of a box grater. In a colander, drain the plumped dried cranberries of excess water, but do not press or squeeze them out. Add the shredded apple and the drained dried cranberries to the bowl with the rest of the filling and stir to combine. Stir in the vanilla extract and egg and mix well. Pour the filling into the refrigerated pie shell and top with the remaining rolled pastry, using a lattice design if desired. Flute and seal edges.
6. Chill the pie in the fridge for 10-15 minutes to set the pastry. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Brush the pastry with the egg wash to coat. Sprinkle with demerara sugar.
7. Place pie on the lowest rack of the oven on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the pastry is set and beginning to brown. Lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees F, move the pie to the center rack and continue to bake until the crust is a deep golden brown and the filling is bubbling, 35-45 minutes longer.
8. Let cool completely on a wire rack 2-3 hours. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature with a scoop of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, if desired.
Cranberry Chess Pie
Cranberry Goat Cheese Tart with Almond Shortbread Crust
Salty Honey Pie
For more on Four & Twenty Blackbirds, read my interview with Emily & Melissa here.