Entertaining

Pie by Night

Dominique Ansel takes us behind the scenes of his pie dinner parties
Photos: Rachel Vanni/Tasting Table
Speculoos Banana Cream Pie

People always ask me, “Jake,” they say, “what led acclaimed French pastry chef Dominique Ansel to start throwing all-you-can-eat pie parties?” Well, ask and you shall receive: “Last year, our team went apple picking and wanted to throw an after-hours event at the kitchen using the [fruit] we picked,” Ansel explains. “It grew into an entire menu of sweet and savory pies that first year, and people really loved it.” We can see why.

One apple pie turned into many, including those of the savory variety, and, thus, Pie Night, an over-the-top evening filled with unlimited food, drink, ice cream and—most importantly, pie was born. “I didn’t grow up eating or baking pie, but it’s something that’s nostalgic for so many people.”

Because the concept was such a hit, Ansel has expanded the event into a series of Pie Nights and gives us an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at what exactly goes down when people stop being polite and start eating copious amounts of pie—11 sweet and savory varieties to be exact.

“We’re at the end of summer, and there’s still lots of beautiful fruit in season, but we’re gearing up for autumn and wanted to add heartier, seasonal flavors [to the menu], as well,” he tells us.  Score a ticket and you might find yourself feasting on a dark meat chicken pot pie with pork belly and ending the night with blackberry pie with roasted hazelnut crumble, for example. Plus a mere nine other crusted options to choose from.

Despite not being part of his upbringing, Ansel has learned to love (and quickly come to perfect) the nostalgic food. “That memory of baking a pie at home with your mother or grandmother really stays with people.”

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And for Ansel, the makings of an exemplary pie starts with the foundation. “There’s real technique in achieving that perfect crust, whether it’s a more traditional, flaky butter crust; a thin crisp sablée tart shell; or more crumbly graham cracker crust. You never want to bite into a slice of pie with a soggy crust.”

Tied to the upcoming launch of his new bakery outpost in London, Ansel lets us in on how we can make a traditional British short rib cottage pie (see the recipe) at home. This classic dish, similar to shepherd’s pie but with ground beef instead of lamb, is a stew of diced short ribs that gets topped with a golden layer of mashed potatoes. Ansel puts his own French spin on it by braising the meat first in a Burgundy red wine.

For those with a sweet tooth, Ansel shares his method for elevating the classic banana cream pie by flambéing bananas, which are set in a speculoos cookie crust and topped with pastry cream and whipped mascarpone (see the recipe). By caramelizing the bananas, Ansel brings out a depth of flavor that goes hand in hand with the warm spices of the speculoos cookies.

The chance to eat unlimited amounts of pie at one of Ansel’s sold-out Pie Nights is an experience like no other, but if you didn't snag a ticket, arm yourself with these recipes and throw a nostalgic pie night of your own at home. Who knows what new tradition you might start.

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