A NY STATE oF PIE
Little Pie Company rolled out in 1985, offering grandmotherly pies to a city dubbed the Big Apple. They were one of the first NYC bakeries strictly devoted to pie. Their Sour Cream Apple Walnut was the one I carried like a beacon, lighting the way to A Slice of Heaven’s menu where it lingered for nearly a decade.
Tucked away on West 43rd Street, large picture windows frame Little Pie Company’s kitchen, allowing a generous peek behind the scenes. Perched on their red leatherette bench enjoying a cup of coffee last Sunday, I had a clear view of the open kitchen. Stainless steel worktables mirror canisters of cloves, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon. Cases of minute tapioca and flake sweetened coconut flank the floor-to-ceiling Hobart mixer. Adjacent to the kitchen, wooden tables tuck in closely against a red leatherette bench. The display case of sweets tempts from every angle.
The proximity of the neighboring table allowed me to see their signature Sour Cream Apple Walnut pie up close. So close in fact, that the Bassett’s vanilla was à la mode-ing dangerously within reach. This is my New York City pie, the one that always makes me long for Manhattan. Pie has the ability to relentlessly tug at me, pulling me backwards in time. My pie memories always have a soundtrack, and the Sour Cream Apple Walnut plays a Sony Walkman medley from 1985. Some of those songs were best left behind although I wonder if Wham! was involved with an early morning baker, sparking the inspiration for wake-me-up-before-you-go-go.
Little Pie Company has expanded their menu over the years, now offering cakes, cookies and muffins. The word on the Great White Way is their strongest suit remains their free-from-preservatives pies. Based on the pie box parade exiting the bakery on Sunday, I would tend to agree.
Short on time and unable to transport a pie ‘to go’ there was an easy fix for this pie craving; bake my own. Leafing through A Slice of Heaven’s faded recipe book, the typewritten list of ingredients on yellow paper was sandwiched between apple dumplings and Jewish apple cake. My disbelief that thirty years had passed was somehow tempered in the buttery crust, brimming with granny smith apples lounging on sour cream custard. Brown sugar-walnut crumble teased as the pie cooled; I plucked one of the walnuts burning my index finger and then my mouth. Patience is not my strongest suit nor is the ability to turn off the soundtrack of this pie. Sour Cream Apple Walnut? I do not consider myself a material girl but clearly I'm crazy for you.
Purim has gotten lost in the pre-St. Patrick’s Day cookie frenzy. The Hamantaschen have nudged their way onto the counter, vying for space next to plaid shamrocks and sugared beer mugs. This week the retail bakery has felt like the weather, a wintry mix of challenges. Two customer interactions stand out above the rest. In first place was the gentleman wishing to order a cake, specifically a 10” cake. He wanted to know how large the 10” cake would be. In second place, and my personal favorite, was a phone conversation I had with Young Mother, concerned about the ingredients in the Hamantaschen. The ingredients were read in excruciating detail, including the label from the jar of thick apricot preserves. Nary an ingredient was cause for alarm yet Young Mother was determined to be alarmed. We discussed ‘shared equipment’ and residual flour dust dangling in the air. She raised additional concerns, asked once again for the list and the reading of the jam jar. Isn’t it enough that I can manipulate 3½” circles into triangles?
At 2 pm on Thursday, I watched in horror as the Sysco delivery truck unsuccessfully navigated the icy intersection at the corner of Baker Street and Maplewood Avenue. Three snow covered police officers, their patrol cars ablaze with flashing lights, served as truck traffic controllers. Arms waving and halting, they attempted to guide poor Sysco-man as he struggled to align his tires with the road. My Sorel boots were having their own problems, skidding across a street more skating rink than pavement. Limbo-ing beneath a tree limb heavy with snow, I reasoned, it could always be worse. It could be Boston.
If I had my druthers, my Purim Hamantaschen would come from Kupel’s Bakery in Boston. Kupel’s offers the triangular cookies year round, in assorted flavors. Available in both small and large, they are deliciously rich and crumbly, sweet with jam and crunchy with poppy seeds. Not only are the baked goods worth traveling the NJ Turnpike to the Mass Pike, I’ve yet to hear a customer demand a list of ingredients from the affable crew behind the counter. And because it’s a Kosher bakery, Hamantaschen never compete for space with shamrocks.