Sunday, 6 April 2014

In the Spotlight: Alyssa Bennett ~ Creator of Pie Craft







Alyssa Bennett is the creator of Pie Craft. She has become a good friend of mine here in St. Louis. We ladies here at MWGS are thrilled to be featuring such a talented visionary as Alyssa. She sells her fabulous pies at the Ferguson Farmers Market. In addition this spring Great Harvest Bakery will be selling her new vegan line of pies at the WashU Market starting April 17th of this month. This is an exciting and busy time for Pie Craft as they have started a kick starter to build the business even farther. To learn more about the kick starter or to order pies visit her blog by clicking here





1. TELL ME ABOUT YOURSELF. WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND?

I was born into a family of cooks. Family dinner was an every night thing and my parents liked to keep my brother and I involved. In the summer we would all go out into the backyard and hunt for morel mushrooms (sadly I never ate them as a child... all the wasted years!). My Dad taught my brother how to pick out the best steaks and he taught me how to make the perfect accompanying sauce. My Mom taught us all out pasta sauce, inspired cooking, and she always helped me bake. 

When I was ready for college I considered culinary school, but decided it was probably just a hobby. Instead I graduated from Webster University with a degree in Advertising and a minor in professional writing. I met my husband while I was there, and since then we have adopted a puppy and purchased a house. We are a pretty standard couple, as long as you don’t notice the Batman and Robin figures watching over our living room or the little robots in the dining room.


2. DID YOU ALWAYS KNOW YOU WANTED TO BE A BAKER?

As I mentioned, my Mother and I loved to bake together. My earliest memory of baking with her is the year she got me an Easy Bake Oven for my birthday. I woke her up early so we could get started on some tiny cakes but she asked me to wait until after breakfast and went back to sleep. Undeterred I went downstairs, popped in some eggos and poured a too-full glass of orange juice. Then little five-year-old me brought it all upstairs and my Mom dutifully ate the unbuttered Eggos, downed the glass of juice, and helped me create a wonderful memory. 

The baking never stopped after that. Soon I was making strudel by hand, perfecting molten chocolate cakes, and running souffl├ęs over to my neighbors before they deflated! I have always loved to bake and to challenge myself, but it was only recently that I realized it was what I wanted to do with my life.


Preparing the crust for Darth Mocha



3. HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE IDEA FOR PIE CRAFT?


I knew I wanted to start a bakery, and pies made sense. They were a challenge I hadn’t tackled yet and a market that needed filling. My husband was a little suspect at first but after the first few batches of test pies he knew I was onto something.

We started inviting friends over to help us with the concept. I would make them all pie and we would sit around coming up with names and gimmicks, thinking about market challenges and potential sales locations. It was very helpful that many of them had taken advertising classes with me at Webster University.


The idea for PieCraft started to grow and get really strong. We wanted to do local ingredients; we wanted everything from scratch and community involvement, different sizes and seasonal inspiration. We wanted to be proud of.
The hardest part was the name. We played around with quite a few and eventually it came to us while we were joking around. We were turning video game titles and characters into pie names and I said “PieCraft” like the free-world game “MineCraft” and it stuck. 

4. WHERE DO YOU GO FOR INSPIRATION?

I head to the farmers market for inspiration. Not only do I get to see what is available, but I also get to watch people. I see what they pick up, what they snack on, and watch them interact with the farmers.


5. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PIE TO BAKE? WHY?

Darth Mocha. This pie is challenging to make: lots of steps, pieces to prep in advance, and precise timing. This isn’t why I like it though. When I make this pie I always make a little extra coffee and chocolate whipped cream for myself – what’s not to like?
Preparing the filling and Chocolate Whipped Cream for Darth Mocha



6. WHAT’S ON YOUR IPOD AT THE MOMENT? 

I’m an audio book girl. I like to listen while I bake (though I always feel weird when I’m making a pie for someone and listening to The Shining or something). Currently I’m going through The Song of Ice and Fire series again.


7. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR BAKING STYLE? WHO IS YOUR  FAVORITE CHEF OR BAKER?

I know my idol should be a famous baker or something, but it’s not. It’s Chef Masaharu Morimoto. When I was little my Dad and I would watch the old Iron Chef episodes on Food Network and he was my favorite. His food was beautiful and I was always amazed at what he could do. Even when I was young I knew he was doing something special. 


His passion and respect for food, eye for design, and skill at unique flavor combinations is what gives me a new challenge every day. I want all of my pies not only to be delicious, but also expand your thoughts on what a pie can be and how they can look. He inspires me to make food something more.


8. WHAT’S ONE THING YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT?

The baker in me can’t live without my pear corer. With one of those things I can break down ten pears in under a minute. Without it, I just stare at the pears and sob. 


But the rest of me can’t live without my weekly game nights. My husband and I host game night every Tuesday and it is a real stress reliever. It is the one night a week I step away from everything else and get to be with friends and family.


9. WHAT’S THE BEST ADVICE YOU HAVE RECEIVED? 

You deserve to be happy. My husband says this all the time and it was a big part of what helped me start PieCraft. It was a scary concept, leaving a stable work environment, building my own business, self-teaching new baking techniques, and just putting myself out there in general. But he looked at me and just said, you deserve to be happy, so that is what I’m trying to do. I wasn’t happy where I was and PieCraft makes me happy.


10. WHAT ADVICE CAN YOU GIVE TO US?

Besides the fact that you deserve to be happy (because you do), all I can say is eat more pie! Solid advice right there.


Finishing touches to Darth Mocha


11. FAVORITE MIDWEST MEMORY? 

My family loves to go canoeing and it is something we still do every year. So while it is on on-going memory I truly love it. When I was younger my parent’s use to get me tadpole traps and my brother and I would bait them with Cheetos. It was the silliest thing and we always let them go but we had so much fun! And now I take my husband and my puppy with me and we just spend all day out on the water with family. Simple, but great.

12. WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT YOUR CITY?

I love that there is always something new. Every time I think I know St. Louis I hear about something new and exciting. In fact I was just out with a good friend of mine and we passed by a whole street that was full of restaurants and shops we had never seen before. We have already gone back and the restaurant was delicious! Later we have plans to go visit all of the cute shops.

13. WHAT WILL YOU BE BAKING TODAY?

Today I’m going to be making vegan pear and fig. Pear and fig is one of my favorite pies that we have and today will be the first time I’ve made it vegan. I’m very excited to eat the results.

14. WHAT IS YOUR BEST TIP FOR SUCCESSFUL PIE BAKING?

Keep everything cold. When you are making your pie crust be sure to use cold water and then let the crust chill. I wait overnight. When you’re ready to roll it out try to make sure the room isn’t too warm. If the room is warm the butter/shortening in the crust will begin to melt and you’ll have a lot of breakage.


15. WHAT DO YOU SEE IN THE FUTURE FOR YOUR CREATIVE OUTLET?

If I opened a store front my dream would be complete. I’d love to keep expanding at the farmers markets and hopefully reach into some retails locations, but getting a store of my own is the ultimate goal. Until then, I’ll just keep trying new things and exploring new tastes and hopefully people will continue to enjoy our great pies!

Darth Mocha topped with Death Stars!
A close look at Darth Mocha. Coffee cream and dark chocolate.
Our Ferguson Farmers Market location.
This pie is a great combination between my handmade items and a local artisan
A hearty hazelnut crumble onto of nutmeg spiced blackberries.

- Finished Product Photos taken from Pie Craft's website
   

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