There’s something about a home-made, organic pie that’s comforting and heart-warming. I discovered First Prize Pies one weekend in July at Paper magazine’s Super Duper Market (a food pop-up shop). Allison Kave, the founder of the company, informed us of her refreshing beginnings as a pie maker, her signature creations, and why it’s all about the crust.
Allison Kave: I started First Prize Pies in March 2010. A few months earlier, I was a frustrated member of the art world, looking for a way to get into the food business but without a clue of how to do so. In November of 2009 I entered the Brooklyn Pie Bake-Off on a whim with my Bourbon Ginger Pecan Pie. To my surprise and elation, it took first place, and I decided to start selling pies by the slice at my mom’s shop in the Essex Street Market, Roni-Sue Chocolates. As soon as I named my little enterprise it took off, getting tons of press and retail orders, and before I knew it, I had left my art job and was baking pies full-time.
A&H: What challenges do you face with running a business in the culinary field?
AK: New York can be a very fickle place, with lots of people chasing the next trends in food. I was lucky that pie happened to be a trend when my business started, and I’ve developed a lot of devoted clients, but it can be hard to sustain business, especially through the lean months of January through March. Pie seems to be a very seasonal business that way.
A&H: Tell us about your baking techniques.
AK: For a pie maker it’s all about the crust, and it has taken years to develop mine. Even now, I’m always tweaking it! I use an all-butter crust made with high-butterfat, European-style butter, which makes a huge difference in the end result. American butters have higher water content and give you a less flaky, tender crust. I also use whole milk soured with a bit of vinegar instead of water to bind it all together. It’s all about adding as much fat and as little liquid as possible.
A&H: What are your goals for the company?
AK: I’m currently working on a cook-book, which will be published by Stuart, Tabori & Chang in fall of 2013. I’m hoping that will help to bring me more recognition on a national level. I’m also in discussions with a friend and culinary colleague to open a brick-and-mortar space in New York—not just a bakery, but a new and really exciting concept. I’m not ready to discuss details on that yet, but I hope to have more news soon!
AK: I think that my approach to flavors is rather unorthodox, and that excites people. Some of my most popular pies are my Trifecta (Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel), S’mores, Root Beer Float, and Mint Julep Cream pies. I like to take flavors that are nostalgic or in some way appealing to me and transform them into pie.
A&H: How important is it to the company to use natural, organic ingredients?
AK: Very. I use organic eggs and milk, natural un-enriched flour, organic pecans, and local fruit. I mainly bake with fruit that is in season—you can’t order a berry pie in November, and you can’t order a pumpkin pie in June. Pie is seasonal, and I want my offerings to reflect that.
A&H: Where can First Prize Pies be purchased?
AK: I mainly bake to order, so my customers get exactly what they want, and their pie is at peak freshness. People can order through my website, www.firstprizepies.com, and pick up their pies at Roni-Sue’s Chocolates in the Essex Street Market. Shipping and delivery options are also available. Alternatively, I sell my pies most Saturdays at Smorgasburg market in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and they’re on the menu at 606 R&D in Prospect Heights.