No matter the time of year, one delectable dessert can provide pleasure with every bite. There is always room for this heavenly pastry known as pie.
Each pie element serves its purpose, but dough lays the foundation for these beloved baked goods. A robust pie crust is buttery, tender, and uniformly browned. Founded by best friends Kate “Carter” Anderson and Sarah “Rye” Ryan, Carter & Rye specializes in hand pies that resemble small, golden pop tarts that fit in the palm of a hand. To Anderson, the dough is simple, but the buttery and flaky crust is where the pie truly shines. No matter how delectable a pie’s filling is, Anderson said one must “trust the crust,” as a poorly made crust can ruin the entire experience.
Jodi Jefferson, owner of Busy Bee Baking Company, said cold butter, water, and quality ingredients make all the difference in crafting the perfect crust. “It’s something that can’t be rushed,” she said when discussing her process. She also noted that cold ingredients prevent mushiness and make rolling out dough easier, as a soggy crust makes it challenging to hold filling. Kati Smith, owner of The Pie Whole, emphasized the importance of her crust and deemed it as the “vessel” of a good pie. If too much liquid is used, the dough can’t be rolled out. If too little fat is used, the crust will lack its crumble. While typical pies measure about 9 inches, Smith used inspiration from cupcakes to create the specialty her shop is most known for—miniature pies. “Why not a small version of pie so you’re not committed to a huge version?” she said.
Not only is this pastry a filling food, but the filling itself binds the pie together. Whether cooked on a stovetop or mixed in a bowl, a good pie filling delivers a contrast of textures and flavors. Beyond the beloved crust, the delectable filling buried inside is where a pie’s authentic flavor shines. At The Pie Whole, Smith said she likes to use natural thickening agents to help keep the integrity of the fruit used in the filling. Ingredient ratios play a vital role in the success of any pie, and bakeries like Busy Bee strive to master this delicate balance. From classic custards like coconut creme to unique specialties like bourbon pecan, the combinations created at Busy Bee provide a distinct pastry experience. Whether it’s a classic apple pie or a pastry filled with chicken tikka masala, Carter & Rye invites people on a flavorful journey through its variety of sweet, savory, and vegetarian options each week. “I want people to feel something when they eat it,” Anderson said.
Although recipes can be simple, each pie embarks on a unique journey before entering the oven. While some pies call for pre-baked crusts, others use a blind-bake method, which is when a pie partially bakes before filling is added. Pie weights are used to weigh down the pie crust so it keeps its shape in the pan while baking, and the crust is pricked with a fork to help prevent air bubbles from sneaking under the crust.
Because of the uniquely shaped hand pies, technique is crucial in the baking process for Carter & Rye, and fillings must be set before they bake. “It’s a different take on the classic pie,” Anderson said. While a typical pie bakes for an hour, Carter & Rye’s hand pies take a mere 20 minutes, which helps the shop produce more products—many of which are frozen and sold with reheating instructions. Also working with a more miniature-sized pastry, The Pie Whole varies its baking times depending on the type of oven used. The bakery uses seasonal fruit from local stands, and Smith said fruit moisture can affect a pie’s crust due to its break-down times. “You have to really watch it on the stove, but it makes me feel better knowing where the fruit comes from,” she said.
A notable element of pie is its presentation, whether it’s a geometric crust design or a delightful garnish sprinkled on top. With Busy Bee’s key lime pies, Jefferson said she often pairs these with lime embellishments, whereas her bourbon pecan pies are garnished with large pecans. She said that even the beads of moisture that dance atop her chocolate silk meringue pies are aesthetically pleasing to the eye. “In our minds, if a food looks good, it’s going to taste better,” she said.
Although quaint and convenient, Anderson admitted that she struggled to make Carter & Rye’s pies look appealing when the shop first opened. To bring life to these pastries, Carter & Rye’s presentation focuses on bright and vibrant photography as the hand pies can’t be topped with anything extravagant. Because the pies can be served hot and ready or frozen to munch on later, the on-the-go pastry offers a unique homemade feel without any fuss. Already unique in its minuscule nature, Smith dresses up The Pie Whole’s pastries with cut-out pastry shapes. From rustic autumn leaves to peach emojis, Smith said these unique decorations serve as a communication platform with her customers to showcase her personality. “Pie is my love language,” she said. “You can really make anything shine through your creations.”
The comfort that pie provides travels beyond its flavor—it brings people together and restores core memories. Whether served by itself, with a scoop of ice cream, or topped with mountains of whipped cream, there is no wrong way to indulge in this delightful dessert. Cold, snowy weather may be ahead for Nebraskans this winter, but thankfully a sweet slice of pie can warm up any day.