I’ve never quite understood the expression “easy as pie.” I’d never claim to be a professional pastry chef, but I do occasionally enjoy baking at home. Pie, in all its glorious variety, is often something I make attempts at. Now, I’m not proposing that baking pie is an overly complicated process, but baking an exceptional pie is anything but easy. Most decent diners and classic American eateries have offered pies for decades, filling countless rotating display cases across the country. But I’ve definitely had my fair share of sub-par pies, even at establishments that make them day in and day out. Decent pie may be common, but a superb pie, a pie that makes you wonder why you ever attempt to bake this stuff yourself, is truly a rare delight. There is no shortage of good pie in Arkansas, but if there is one woman who deservedly owns the title “Queen of Pie,” it’s Leah Greenfield, owner and operator of Pie in the Sky.
I caught up with Leah recently to ask her about life in the pie business and hopefully squeeze a few baking secrets out of her at the same time. At the time, she was in the midst of creating a “wedding pie,” for a dinner at the Terry House (why didn’t I think of this when I got married?) but she was kind enough to share her thoughts on what makes her Pie in the Sky such a slice of joy.
“As corny as it sounds,” (as she puts it) Leah inherited most of her recipes from her grandmother, a home cook from Benton, AR. “People my generation do not do a lot of home baking and pie crust seems to be a particular mystery.” In a day where one can just as easily defrost a frozen, pre-packaged pie crust and fill it with slop out of a can, it’s no wonder that genuinely fine pie is a dying art. Leah is keeping family traditions and cherished generational recipes alive and we should all be grateful that she does.
“When I started baking pies, my friends and co-workers were bowled over by a homemade pie crust.” No wonder…Leah’s crust is where the magic truly happens. Obviously, fillings cannot be entirely overlooked, but crust is undoubtedly the soul of a good pie. Many a pie has suffered from a crummy crust, often too flimsy, bland, or stale, too thick or thin, overcooked and dry…I’ve probably tasted them all. Luckily, Pie in the Sky is none of these. Leah prefers a slightly salty crust, without the addition of any sugar. This creates a balanced yet contrasting flavor with the sweetness of her fillings. “I use only five ingredients: flour, salt, shortening, butter, and water. No egg, vinegar, or vodka in my crusts.” The end result is nothing short of perfection. Her crusts are firm and thick enough to support their fillings, but manage to remain flaky and tender. The unsweetened pastry pairs perfectly with their sugary internal counterparts.
Pies in the Sky’s fillings are no slouches either. Leah creates around 30 flavors of pie. She offers many of the traditional favorites such as chocolate, cherry, apple, coconut cream and pecan, but also delves into some of the less commonly seen options such as banana-toffee, butterscotch, peanut butter-chocolate, strawberry-rhubarb, chocolate meringue, chocolate-bourbon pecan, and spicy peach. No matter what your selection, you can rest assured knowing that each pie will be handmade, rustic, and stunningly beautiful. Even Leah’s most basic pies, plain pumpkin for example, will likely be one of the best representations of that flavor you have ever sampled.