Lisa Ludwinski of Sister Pie Shares Her Favorite Pie Recipes and the Baking Tool She Can’t Live Without
The Instagram bio for Sister Pie pretty much sums up Lisa Ludwinski’s bake shop in a nutshell: “We make pies & cookies & we dance.”
And it’s true: If you walk into the former beauty salon-turned-bakery in Detroit’s West Village neighborhood at any given moment, you’re going to find a crew of bakers singing, dancing, and churning out pies. On the other side of the counter, there’s a communal table, where people sit and enjoy a slice or two. The shop also has a firm “Pie It Forward” policy, ensuring that everyone who walks in can have a slice whether they can afford it or not.
It’s that very “pie is a party and everyone’s invited” attitude that made us so inclined to choose Lisa’s cookbook as Kitchn’s November Cookbook Club pick. In between all of the Sister Pie recipes that we’ve been baking, we sat down with Lisa to get to know the creative mastermind behind the pie shop (and book) even better.
For anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of going to Sister Pie, can you describe what it’s like?
We’re a corner bakery in Detroit with a nice bright entrance. Right when you walk in, you’ll see our counter with two different pastry cases: One is filled with pies and the other has cookies, shortbreads, scones, muffins, and breakfast pastries.
As soon as you walk in, you’ll notice a bustling group of women in the back making all the baked foods — there’s a different energy each day. Sometimes people are really rambunctious, laughing, singing, dancing, and other days we might be more focused. A big part of the customer experience is picking up on whatever the vibe is in the kitchen. Regardless, it’s always really welcoming. I think that’s a big part of the experience. We have a big communal table in the front of house where strangers sit together and eat pie.
Can you tell me more about the pie sisterhood that you’ve created?
The dynamic came together because of the people who have worked for me for a long time. I didn’t come from a ton of professional kitchen experience or even a culinary school background, and I didn’t have any business experience coming in whatsoever. There are negatives and positives to that, but my team and I learned together. Everyone has a voice in how things happen. There’s always a conversation happening about the way that we’re running things, the way things are going, and that’s why it feels like this sisterhood. We’re all working towards the same goal. We respect each other and the work that we do so that we can all make a living on this. The thing is, there’s not a lot of support for those types of goals in a really flawed food industry. But we’re always exploring how we can make it happen.
So how long after you opened the brick-and-mortar store did Sister Pie the cookbook come to be?
I started the business 7 years ago and the bakery itself opened 4.5 years ago. Not even a full year after that opened was when I started the cookbook process. That happened because my editor happened to come to Detroit with her family (all the way from Berkeley, CA) and fell in love with Sister Pie. Running a business was taking up all of my time, but having someone as a cheerleader was really key. I’m really glad I wrote the book when the business was young, when the first part of our story was fresh in my mind. Especially when I think about the possibility of writing more books in the future, which cover the business at different stages in its life.
What are some of your most beloved recipes in the book?
The cranberry crumble pie for sure. It was one of the very first pies I created for Sister Pie. I love that it’s a whole cranberry pie too — you don’t see that too often. We make a compote with sugar, orange juice, grated pear, and spices. It’s a very tart pie that’s well-balanced with the all butter, flaky crust and crumbled topping, with vanilla ice cream on top. My other favorite things to snack on are our rose pistachio shortbread cookies. The icing reminds me of my childhood, but more refined because of the roseflower and pistachio.
Okay, I’m drooling. Are there any recipes in the book that you didn’t expect to hit with people that maybe surprised you?
I expected the buckwheat chocolate chip cookies to be the most popular, but the peanut butter paprika cookies were a far-and-away favorite.
I need to know what kind of pies you’re baking for Thanksgiving.
It’s usually not up to me! My mom seriously will place her own order from Sister Pie and I’ll probably get annoyed at the pies she picks. Just kidding — I let her do that. It takes the pressure off me. Once Thanksgiving rolls around, I’m done making pies.
That’s completely understandable. In your whole pie-making career, is there one that you’re most proud of?
The sweet beet pie in the cookbook comes to mind. It’s really cool looking, this bright magenta. It’s also a way for us to use produce during the wintertime and bring out something a little fresher than a plain chocolate pie. We first made it for Valentine’s Day because we have beets year-round. It was fun to take this food that can be really polarizing (like beets) and make it accessible to people who don’t think they like them.
Do you have a favorite baking ingredient these days?
I’m always interested in experimenting with different flours. I’ve always had a fondness for buckwheat flour. I’ve been starting to think about incorporating more whole grains into our baking, which has been intriguing.
Is there a kitchen tool you could never live without?
My stainless steel bench scraper. It has a wooden handle. I use it for so many things when I’m making pie and dough. When I’m teaching, I talk about how important this bare-bones thing is to me. It’s nice to have this versatile tool that’s always at the ready. I also love a small offset spatula for icing cookies and putting a design in a meringue, spreading something at the bottom of a pie shell, or cleaning the top of a pie filling. It has a lot of uses to make things look nice.
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Your bakery has become Insta-famous for its midday #dancebreaks. What’s currently on the playlist?
Oh gosh, I’m not in charge of that at all since I’m not in the kitchen as much. But if you’re at Sister Pie, you’re most likely going to be hearing a lot of ’90s hop hop and R&B.
Favorite fellow bakers to follow on Instagram?
I love seeing what the bakers over at Tandem in Portland, Maine, are up to. I can’t wait to go and visit. I’m always inspired by Nicole Rucker out in California. She just came out with a book about fruit. I always feel like I learn a lot from her and her experiences. Oh and then there’s Dina Grossman of Spinning J in Chicago — she has a pie shop too that’s a diner and restaurant. Everything she makes always looks so good. She’s really inventive without ego.
As a former Milk Bar staffer, what’s the best baking advice you picked up from Christina Tosi?
I worked with her directly on some recipe testing. That’s where I really learned ways to slightly tweak recipes and things to look out for when you’re testing your own.
Okay, last question: What do you like to eat that isn’t pie?
I crave our savory hand pies. Okay, yes, still pie. But these are vegetables … baked in pie crust.