It was just over two years ago that I stood around a bonfire in Upstate New York with sisters Emily and Melissa Elsen and listened to their plans to start a pie shop in Brooklyn. At that time they knew pies and tarts were in their future, they just didn't quite know how it was going to play out. The two sisters originally from Hecla, South Dakota, found themselves at last living in the same city. They had grown up in the restaurant business so the daunting task they were taking on was a familiar one. They had learned to make pies at the hand of their grandmother who made all the pies for thier mothers restaurant, The Calico Kitchen. Though they still use some of their grandmother's recipies one thing is very different. She used a traditional lard crust while they use butter and lots of it. Together, they began to cater events for friends in New York City and found quickly, that what was most in demand, were their unusual and tasty pies and tarts. As one thing to another they found themselves signing on a space in Gowanus, Brooklyn on New Years Eve 2009. They spent New Years Day tearing out walls with friends and they haven't looked back since. It is no secret that these two have been at the forefront of the pie movement! They will tell you they are only "part" of it because they are both humble and sweet, but I believe it was thier spark that ignited the pie craze. Just the other day a prominent cookbook editor announced to us, "cakes are dead!" I couldn't agree more. Who wants cake when you can have luscious pie?
The secret to Four & Twenty Blackbirds success (besides the butter crust) is that the sisters LOVE what they do. They have a passion for the ingredients they use and the space they work in and the family of co-workers they have brought together. When we were there to photograph they had very sweet 11 year old girl named Oona helping them out in the kitchen. Oona, who lives a couple doors down, is part of the Blackbird family and at the ripe old age of eleven, she can tell you all about pie and how to make it, as she declares that the strawberry balsamic is her absolute favorite!
Four and Twenty has tapped into the very zietgiest of what this food moment is all about, handmade, local, small batch, locally sourced (when possible), and unusual combinations of ingredients... but these sisters do not follow trends. They combine ingredients that have a personal history or that appeal to their own inner locavore. They make pies that first and foremost, they would want to eat. Some of the unusual combinations are salt and honey, a custard pie with a salty crunch and a finish of briliant complex honey. Others are wild ginger apricot and cranberry sage and blackbottom oatmeal. The list is constantly evolving.
"We source our ingredients locally and organically when possible and incorporate natural sweeteners such as honey, molasses and unrefined sugar in our recipes. We buy our ingredients according to season and preserve Summer fruits when we can and bake with them throughout the year.
The sisters themselves, are very much a part of the Brooklyn food movement. They host Pie Dinners at the shop with local chefs about once a month. They are committed to using unusual foraged ingredients as well as local and small family farm fruitiers. They make seasonal pies, so you probably won't find thier sour cherry in the Winter, but one year round staple and favorite is the Salted Apple Caramel. If you can't make it to Gowanus any time soon, you can find it on the menu at Untitled, Danny Meyer's new cafe at The Whitney Museum. Do yourself a favor either way, get some of their pie and fast!! Then go back for more, because there will always be a new creation!
Copyright © 2011 Andrea Gentl all rights reserved
The pies pictured above are apricot ginger, sour cherry and salty honey.
THE BEST HAND-POUNDED PIE CRUST by Emily and Melissa Elsen
recipe reposted from the article on Four and Twenty Blackbirds at www.mensjournal.com
This recipe makes two rounds of dough, enough for one nine-inch double-crust pie.
2-1/2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 lb (2 sticks) cold European-style unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3/4 cup ice water, combined with
2 tbsp cider vinegar
Whisk the dry ingredients together in a metal bowl. Blend the butter into the dry ingredients, being careful not to overwork the mix. The butter should be in pea-size chunks, not too big, but not completely incorporated. Slowly add the ice-water mixture and bring the dough completely together by hand, so that it holds together when squeezed. Aim to create a marbleized effect, so that the butter is still visible. Divide into 2 discs, wrap in plastic, and chill an hour or more before use.
439 3rd Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11215
Corner of 8th street and 3rd Avenue
Park Slope / Gowanus
T (718) 499 2917
Tuesday to Friday: 8am - 7pm
Saturday: 9am - 7pm
Sunday: 10am - 6pm
We sell PIE BY THE SLICE in the shop.
We are a very small kitchen with one oven and we make everything by hand. Even the crust.
To order a WHOLE PIE:
A limited number of whole pies are made to order per week. Orders are taken during business hours on a first come first served basis and we can not guarantee availability.
To order a whole pie, please call the shop (718) 499 2917 during business hours (Tuesday through Sunday, Closed Mondays).
We are happy to answer your questions about pie flavors over the phone.
Currently we do not ship our pies.
Our whole pies are priced from $32 – $38. They are approximately 9 inches in size and serve up to 8 people. We are cash only.
Our menu below is seasonal, we use the best fruits in season locally at the time of year. Please see our ingredients page for more information about our products. You can always call the shop with questions (718) 499 2917
All fruit pies are based on availability of in-season fruit.
Call the shop to find out what fruits we currently have in house!
Salted Caramel Apple $35
Lavender Blueberry $35
Mixed Berry $35
Strawberry Balsamic $35
Blueberry Rhubarb $35
Rhubarb Crumble $35
Peach Berry $35
Nectarine Berry $35
Stone Fruit Crumble $35
Honey Apricot + Lavender $35
Salty Honey $35