Beautiful baking. High design pies. Pretty pastry. Over in the US, people are playing with the tops of pie, creating striking pieces of art that you can actually eat. It’s got people double tapping with delight on Instagram, and we have to say, it made us stop and stare.
Take the Little Red Fox in Washington. Its creations include trees with textured trunks and dozens of almond-sized leaves; pumpkin-shaped pastry to top off a Thanksgiving pie; and, in a nerdy twist, even the symbol for pi. Baker Kandis Smith used a paring knife to painstakingly cut out shapes and letters, and in the past has done an anime-inspired dinosaur.
For Carissa’s bakery in New York, an Instagram post of her blueberry pie with cornmeal crust has drawn the crowds. She covers half the pie with crust, leaves the other half exposed and then dusts opposite corners with donut sugar. For her Concord grape pie at Thanksgiving, one half was covered in thick lattice, while the other side had circular cut-outs to look like a bunch of grapes.
Even Martha Stewart has declared pie crust decorating as trendy, in a nod to German-based baker Karin Pfeiff Boschek, whose intricate designs include autumn leaves, an elaborate bow and even a bouquet of roses.
That’s all very well for the US and its sweet pies, but Brits are more of a steak-and-ale nation. Can the bake-over find the same level of acceptance here?
There are certainly signs that at least some restaurants this side of the pond are following suit. The Pie Room at Holborn Dining Room, set to open late January, is billing itself as a one-stop destination dedicated to not-so-humble pie. There are plans for more than 200 to be made daily, including pork pies, beef wellingtons, pate en croutes and complex pithiviers (a traditional French pie) made by hand.
If you take a peek at executive head chef and pastry expert Calum Franklin’s Instagram, it seems that pie design is on this Brit’s mind. His pictures and experimentations leading into the New Year included a pie in shape of a fish, with carved scales and even a tail. Then there was the Christmas pate en croute with a green tree and snowflake featured on the sides, as well as an anchor complete with a winding chain.
Franklin proves that pie art doesn’t just need to be sweet. So what does Sparkie think about all the pretty pies?
I have recently seen a fair few pies with increased toppings, fillings or designs on the top. All of these things seem to point to a push towards the ‘wartime palate’ and innovations around traditional foods that Generation X were fed by their baby-boomer parents. These were foods that were popular around World War II and that we have taken to heart. Everything from beef dripping, corned beef, pancakes, spam, hash, cottage pie and bread and butter pudding to pies generally.
The re-invention of the pie market within retail has been massive. Pukka, Pieminister and Higgidy are all pushing the category with real vigour.
The difficulty lies in the elaborate top crust. Within food service, it is more prevalent, whereas within manufacturing it is very hard to automate this kind of process. In China, there is a dish called a mooncake. This is produced for the Mid-Autumn Festival and traditionally has hidden messages and symbolism within it. It is done with hot water crust pastry and elaborate presses to impregnate the design. This could be a commercial way of proliferating a pattern.