What happens when Finance major and a sculptor go into business together? For sisters Melissa and Emily Ehlsen, the result is the acclaimed Brooklyn, New York pie shop and café, Four & Twenty Blackbirds.
At the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan, the sister demonstrated how they make pie crust for their pies and “spilled the beans” about their business and how they got started.
Melissa and Emily were raised in South Dakota and come from a food and entrepreneurial background – their father an independent farmer, and their mother and aunts, restauranteurs. Their grandmother baked pies for the family restaurant. (In keeping with the family connection, their mother was in the audience at the 92nd Street Y lecture/demonstration.) After pursuing different careers, the sisters wanted to start a business together, and as they put it “food is what we know.” They started with custom pies, baked in their apartment. Then they set up their Brooklyn pie shop as a neighborhood coffee shop, but with pie. They didn’t know of other places like it.
At Four & Twenty Blackbirds slices of pie are served up, and a limited number of whole pies are available. Melissa and Emily work closely with local, organic orchards and only use fruit that’s in season. That’s why cherry pie makes a very brief appearance on the menu – cherry season is short. The fall line-up includes: Salted Caramel Apple; Bourbon Pear Crumble; Brown Butter Pumpkin; Malted Chocolate Pecan; Salty Honey; Birch Beer Float; and Lemon Chess.
A Four & Twenty Blackbirds cookbook was published at the end of October 2013. Interestingly, the cookbook includes some recipes for pies that aren’t available in the pie shop/café. Chiffon pies, for example, aren’t sturdy enough to withstand the rigors of the shop.
While it’s a Brooklyn-based business, the pies can also be found in Manhattan (the Untitled Café at the Whitney Museum) as well as in the Western Catskills in Upstate New York (the Table on Ten restaurant).
These are a few of the pie crust making tips divulged by Melissa and Emily:
— The best butter to use for pie crusts has a butterfat content of at least 82%
— For working in the butter, a flat bottom bowl is optimal
— Adding a bit of cider vinegar make the crust tender
— They prefer to use a tapered rolling pin, with thin edges
I’ve been afraid to tackle pie, but I think I’ll give it a go!