Hey There, Sister Pie: Lisa Ludwinski's new book shares recipes from her Detroit bakery
A friend of mine once almost gleefully described her hometown as having a great shop for all her foodie needs. A place to get cheese. A butcher with local meats. A restaurant selling pies. All nearby and not big-box stores. I thought of her joy in this collection of local businesses when I first encountered Sister Pie: The Recipes and Stories of a Big-Hearted Bakery in Detroit, a new cookbook by Lisa Ludwinski based on her bakery of the same name, Sister Pie. Ludwinski started the business in 2012 in her parents’ kitchen in Milford, Michigan, and joins the many excellent establishments in the Detroit area that provide baked goods.
But not just any baked goods.
In the book, Ludwinski shares recipes for pies characterized by what can only be called a Sister Pie twist: Rhubarb Rosemary Streusel Pie; Ginger Peach Biscuit Pie; Pfeffernusse Pie; Tomato, Olive, and Mozzarella Hand Pies.
And Sister Pie contains many non-pie items, too, including unique cookies, bars, breakfast items, and salads: Another Galaxy (Gluten-Free, Vegan) Brownies; Lemon Poppy Buns; Eggplant, Summer Squash, and Lentil Salad.
Those demonstrate just a few of the mouthwatering offerings at Sister Pie complemented by recipes in the book, complete with a “Sister Pie Primer,” dough recipes, and crust instructions. They feature local, seasonal produce as a nod to and creative use of Michigan agriculture.
The name Sister Pie comes from a “term of endearment” between Ludwinski and her sister, along the lines of “ ‘What’s shakin’, Sister Pie?’” When Ludwinski lived in New York City, where she broadcasted a cooking show called Funny Side Up from her apartment and worked at Momofuku Milk Bar, she said, “I got distracted by food,” as outlined in the “Our Sistory, So Far (Complete with Dancing)” section of the cookbook. So Ludwinski returned to Michigan to start Sister Pie and then grew her business through Detroit resources and crowdfunding until she could open her brick-and-mortar bakery in the West Village neighborhood of Detroit in 2015.
But it is not just a place that sells pies and other morsels. Sister Pie’s triple bottom line consists of people, planet, and profit (or economy). From these approaches, Sister Pie engages with the community, recycles, and promotes sustainable business practices by aiming to buy and hire locally. The new cookbook showcases the Sister Pie ethos.
Ludwinski will speak at Literati Bookstore on Thursday, December 6, at 7 p.m. She chatted with Pulp about her book, baking, and business.
Q: What drew you to pies originally and draws you to them now?
A: I have always loved the long process of making pies. They demand patience. Early on, it felt like a good “day off” activity to me with this huge sense of delicious accomplishment at the end. Nowadays, pie has become even more meaningful to me. Making pie gives us a perfect opportunity to celebrate the agricultural diversity of Michigan. It is an inherently communal dessert -- we make it together, we eat it together, and that speaks to our mission to be a welcoming and friendly place for all people.
Q: You previously worked in bakeries in New York and are from Milford, Michigan. How did you choose Detroit for the location of Sister Pie?
A: I was aching to be back in the Midwest, and also encountered businesses there that were committed to triple-bottom-line missions, like Avalon International Breads in Detroit and Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor. Everyone I encountered on my trips back to visit was working together to take care of each other and their communities, and that really appealed to me from both a personal and career-oriented perspective.
Q: What is your favorite flavor of pie and why?
A: Hands down, my favorite flavor is the Cranberry Crumble. It’s a pie we offer at Thanksgiving, and it’s the ultimate to me: all-butter flaky crust, tart seasonal fruit, and a texturally pleasing crumble topping.
Q: Relatedly, what is your favorite recipe from the cookbook, and why?
A: I really love the egg-on-top sweet potato and cheddar galettes. Aside from mastering pie dough, they’re relatively simple to make at home and the reward is huge. Served straight from the oven with a side of mustard, it’s a heavenly breakfast.
Q: You took a month off to work on the cookbook. It sounds like its development became a big commitment, and creativity was hard to find while working at the same time, as many authors find. Yet, the time away from the bakery resulted in a book that expresses “whimsy and heart,” as you describe in the prologue. How did you decide to write a cookbook? Relatedly, what helped renew your creativity?
A: I set out to write a cookbook in early 2016, sort of as a New Year’s goal. However, running a business always got in the way until who would then be my future-editor, Lorena Jones, visited the bakery and fell in love. She emailed me to ask if I had ever considered writing a book! It was a dream of a situation. Then the process began, and it was surely challenging to find the time and creative space. But ultimately, I would just have to get into a zone when I could really focus and allow myself to freely write.
Q: Sister Pie contains classic pies paired with what I interpreted to be a Sister Pie flare. Blueberry Plum Balsamic Pie. Apple Sage Gouda Pie. Buttermilk Pumpkin Streusel Pie. Malted Lime Pie. Minted Pea and Potato Hand Pies. What inspires these delicious-sounding combinations?
A: I think it’s as simple as wanting to really amplify and complement the seasonal flavors and ingredients that we’re using. I love incorporating fresh herbs, citrus, nuts, seeds, cheese, alternative flours, and edible flowers into what we make.
Q: Sister Pie covers everything about baking pies, from start to finish, and including ingredients to keep in the pantry. The cookbook also shares several crust recipes. Is there a recipe that you would recommend starting with from your cookbook?
A: Starting with the All-Butter Pie Dough is a good move for any beginner. It’s only through practicing that recipe over and over again that a baker will begin to develop the confidence and intuition that’s essential to pie baking.
Q: What would be your number one piece of advice for people about making pie?
A: I guess I just answered it above -- practice! And don’t be afraid to overwork the dough too much -- remember that it has to come together enough for it to actually form a dough ball.
Q: Sister Pie also offers recipes for cookies, bars, breakfast items (sweet + savory), and salads. It represents the array of treats and food available at the bakery. These additional recipes beyond pie feel like a bonus when picking up Sister Pie to read for the first time. Does this variety surprise people?
A: I’m not sure -- anyone who has visited our shop (or even follows us on Instagram) shouldn’t be surprised as the table of contents reflects what we serve in the shop on a regular basis. It’s very different from a typical pie book in that way.
Q: Each recipe in Sister Pie begins with a short blurb about its development or with a story, often including a throwback reference, from Mariah Carey to Twin Peaks. Tell us about your choice to add these individual recipe prefaces.
A: I am always more attracted to recipes when I can connect with them, or with why the author of said recipe decided to create what they did.
Q: For those who have not been, how would you describe the Sister Pie store?
A: It’s a bustling bakery with many different personalities and a whole lot of love. The smells are intoxicating, and the vibe is welcoming.
Q: What’s next for Sister Pie?
A: We need some more space, for sure, but our goal is not to multiply. The goal is to continue to build and develop what we’ve already done in a thoughtful way. That probably includes more pie classes, more benefits for employees, and more transparency in how we run and grow our business.
Martha Stuit is a former reporter and current librarian.