For years, I told myself that it was part of my job as a domestic goddess to bake my own pies for the holidays. I like baking pies. I like the thoughtful craft of creating something from nothing, the kneading, the pulling, the pinching together in just the right places. I like the methodical nature to pie making. I like knowing that I’m serving something that has been born from the bowels of my messy, flour-dusted kitchen, something that no one else can lay claim to.
By choice and by circumstance, then, I was the family pie baker, and I was fine with that designation. Until last November, that is, when, nearly nine months pregnant, I looked down at my full-fleshed feet, at the brining turkey before me and the pile of potatoes in need of peeling and thought: No. Not this year. And off to the bakery I went.
Now, with a baby at my feet and miles to type before I sleep, I feel no guilt about outsourcing my holiday pies. There are far better bakers than me on the East End, and why not give them my business, anyway? Which is why I intend to make several stops during the days leading up to Thanksgiving, collecting the requisite pies (some for snacking, I’ll confess, and some for serving). In the first, snackable category goes the Briermere Chocolate Cream Pie, which must be special ordered and cannot be frozen. So unless you’re near Riverhead (I’m not), it may not be convenient both to drive out to grab this pie and serve it while it’s still fresh. Ergo, I’ll be eating mine in anticipation of the holiday, while I think about all the pies yet to come. It’s a decadent, sky-high pie with lofty plumes of whipped cream that no one in her right mind would resist, diet be damned.
This year, I’ll be serving Carissa Waechter’s new-to-the-bakery Gingerbread Pie, and here’s why: 1. I’m Jewish and I’m also obsessed with Christmas, and I’m that lunatic who buys the tree on Thanksgiving weekend. 2. Ok, this is a continuation of point 1, but the gingerbread pie is pretty much a love letter to Christmas that I can reasonably serve at Thanksgiving. 3. It looks better than anything I could handily create on my own. Carissa’s Breads will have them through November and December, but if you need to guarantee your pie, you should definitely call ahead.
My husband prefers pumpkin pies, and although they’re not my favorite, I’ll concede on this occasion for something traditional, even if it comes in the form of pumpkin custard (fact: it’s not for everyone). Long Islanders may disagree about politics, but they fundamentally agree that Kerber’s Farm makes the best darn pumpkin pies out here, because that’s an indisputable fact. Pies are dusted with cinnamon and nutmeg and are adorned with piped cream, which makes them look especially festive, even in the face of the pumpkin pie ambivalent.
Babylon is home to what I believe to be Long Island’s finest pecan pie (it’s a challenge to find one that is neither too cloying nor too dry), Torta Fina Bake Shoppe. The pie is accented with bourbon for a deep, extra nutty flavor that fans of this holiday staple will certainly appreciate.
And then there is apple, the quintessential American holiday pie. My grandmother made hers impossibly high, with stacked layers of apple within, a visual masterpiece. She was a mediocre cook, but her pies—airy, delicate, perfect—were memorable. I may not be able to recreate my grandmother’s pies myself, but some bakers on Long Island have come close. The beautiful, bulging apple pies at Jericho Cider Mill typify all that is good about the holidays. They are double-crusted masterpieces, filled with apples grown on the property. The less traditional among us may opt for the sugared apple crisp, with its crunchy-sweet topping. Me? I’m conservative when it comes to pie—and only pie.
But, finally, if you’re looking for an inspired new holiday favorite—one that may become a new family tradition—there’s Butterscotch*s, a green commissary and baking operation opened by sisters Collette and Stephanie Foley. Pies are only available at the Long Beach Farmer’s Market on Saturdays and Wednesdays (through November 22). Pie selections change weekly due to rotating produce, so allow fate to intervene on your holiday meal and fly by the seat of your pants a little. The Foleys’ pies are stunning and delicious, and certainly worthy of a seat at the holiday table.
You don’t need to bake your own pie to be the best at holiday entertaining. In fact, you don’t need to bake at all. With so many incredible pie maestros in Long Island, why would you even want to?