The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book, our Cookbook of the Week
Reviewing a book on baking may seem a bit unorthodox for Eat Like a Man. Tom Junod has persuasively argued that there are people who cook and people who bake, "But you can't bake like a man because men don't bake," writing that cooking is instinctive, while baking requires a surrender to instruction, an act that is dubiously civilized. I consider pie an exception. It still involves adherence to a basic recipe, but the best pies are made by those who understand what the dough should look and feel like, not those who execute exactly what's wrote. They have methods from countless experiments—adding ice water or letting the dough rest over night, working the butter into the flour with a pastry cutter or using their fingertips. Pie is a signature dish that stays in one perfect form until you can't help but tinker to find a higher perfection. And in that sense, it moves away from codified repetition and into the realm of instinct.
Check back every Tuesday for a new book. Desserts that began in their Crown Heights kitchen quickly found their way to loft dinner parties in Bushwick circa , before the neighborhood totally blew up , and word traveled quickly that these sisters could really bake. They started taking catering orders but never thought of opening their own shop until late when they stumbled on an empty corner storefront in Gowanus, an area that was having quite a moment at that point. And no baker in New York City was fully devoting their time to making great pie, and that was a shame — and these ladies happened to be really, really great at it. The shop immediately garnered a following for creative, ingredient-driven, seasonal pies and tarts like salted caramel apple, Bluebarb slab, malted chocolate pecan, and many, many others. Their focus on seasonality translates to the book, where pies are helpfully organized by season: apple, grape, and nut pies for fall, citrus for winter, rhubarb for spring, and blueberries and stone fruits for summer. What is the oldest recipe in this book and where did you come from?
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The Elsens hail from North Dakota, where their family owned a small-town restaurant, and these sisters are very serious and very knowledgeable about pie. Living in Brooklyn, they have been able to combine real-world know-how about pie making learned from their mother and grandmother with cutting-edge culinary trends.