The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book

Uncommon Recipes from the Celebrated Brooklyn Pie Shop


By Emily Elsen

By Melissa Elsen

Formats and Prices




$20.99 CAD



  1. ebook $15.99 $20.99 CAD
  2. Hardcover $32.00 $40.00 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around October 29, 2013. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

From the proprietors of the renowned Brooklyn shop and cafe comes the ultimate pie-baking book for a new generation of bakers.

Melissa and Emily Elsen, the twenty-something sisters who are proprietors of the wildly popular Brooklyn pie shop and cafe Four & Twenty Blackbirds, have put together a pie-baking book that’s anything but humble. This stunning collection features more than 60 delectable pie recipes organized by season, with unique and mouthwatering creations such as Salted Caramel Apple, Green Chili Chocolate, Black Currant Lemon Chiffon, and Salty Honey. There is also a detailed and informative techniques section. Lavishly designed, Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book contains 90 full-color photographs by Gentl & Hyers, two of the most sought-after food photographers working today.

With its new and creative recipes, this may not be you mother’s cookbook, but it’s sure to be one that every baker from novice to pro will turn to again and again.


Begin Reading

Table of Contents


Copyright Page

In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher constitute unlawful piracy and theft of the author's intellectual property. If you would like to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), prior written permission must be obtained by contacting the publisher at Thank you for your support of the author's rights.


Rhubarb Pie

Rhubarb Custard Pie

Strawberry Balsamic Pie

Wild Ginger Strawberry Pie

Chamomile Buttermilk Custard Pie

Lavender Honey Custard Pie

Lizzie’s Lemon Sour Cream Pie

Chocolate Julep Pie

Pistachio Coconut Cream Pie

Apple Rose Pie

Lemon Verbena Raspberry Galette

Rhuby Razz Square Pie

Farmer Cheese with Thyme Pie

Sour Cherry Pie


Sweet Cherry Streusel Pie

Black & Blueberry Upside Down Pie

Bluebarb Slab Pie

Lavender Blueberry Pie

Nectarine Blueberry Pie

Paprika Peach Pie

Peaches & Cream Pie

Plumble Pie

White Nectarine & Red Currant Pie

Black Currant Lemon Chiffon Pie

Black Currant Bitties

Skillet Stone Fruit Streusel Pie

Apple Blackberry Rounds

Cinnamon Apricot Pie with Vanilla Pouring Cream

Muskmelon Chiffon Pie

Gooseberry Galette

Sweet Corn Custard Pie


Salted Caramel Apple Pie

Plum Fig Pie

Bourbon Pear Crumble Pie

Concord Grape Pie

Salty Honey Pie

Honeyed Fig Crumble Pie

Maple Buttermilk Custard Pie

Sour Cream Raisin Pie

Pear Anise Pie

Black Walnut Pie

Brown Butter Pumpkin Pie

Sliced Sweet Potato & Apple Crumble Pie

Rosemary Honey Shoofly Pie

Buttered Rum Cream Pie

Black Bottom Oatmeal Pie


Cranberry Sage Pie

Egg ’n’ Grogg Pie

Junipear Pie

Malted Chocolate Pecan Pie

Blushing Apple Pie

Salt Pork Apple Pie

Grapefruit Custard Pie

Lemon Chess Pie

Black Bottom Lemon Pie

Maple Lime Custard Pie

Buttermilk Chess Pie

Green Chili Chocolate Pie


All-Butter Crust

Lard & Butter Crust

Animal Cracker Crumb Crust

Chocolate All-Butter Crust

Cornmeal Crust

Gingersnap Crumb Crust

Pistachio Coconut Crust

Pecan Biscotti Crust

Saltine Crust

Oat Crumble Topping & Crust

Streusel Topping

An Introduction


As siblings, we are very close in age, which makes us practically peers. Growing up in a small midwestern town where we graduated high school with the same fifteen kids we went to elementary school with, we managed to keep a firm sense of independence and to pursue our own interests and friendships (thanks in a large part to a strong mother intent on raising us and our brother, Chris, as self-determined people). Though we shared a bedroom, teachers, basketball coaches, and after-school activities during our school years, we followed very different paths after high school—Emily to New York City and London for art school, and Melissa, after finishing a degree in finance, on an extended work visa journey through Australia and New Zealand—before reconnecting to live together again in an old house in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where we would eventually discover a mutual love for pie baking and turn it into our livelihood.

Family Business

The Calico Kitchen, on Main Street in Hecla, South Dakota (population 230), was our second home as kids; our playground for creativity; our venue for weekend breakfasts, high school lunch breaks, and after-school hangouts; the site of our first job (dishwasher), second job (waitress), and third job (cook); and the backbone of our family life. Founded, owned, and operated by our mother and her sisters, Susan and Anne, the restaurant absolutely defined a community gathering place—serving lunch to the region's farmers, banquets to the local bowling team, meals to the wild game hunters who traveled from afar for the abundant local pheasant- and deer-hunting seasons, coffee to the after-church crowd, and annual prom banquets to the high school students.

Over the years we held family gatherings there—especially when all our aunts, uncles, and cousins made it back to town for a holiday—and the restaurant would be filled to capacity with just family. Mother's Day was one of the biggest days of the year at the Calico and was always a special time to be working together in the kitchen with Mom and our aunts, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner to our close-knit community of mothers and their families. Every day, it was the norm to be surrounded by hardworking women in white aprons simultaneously handling the grill, the oven, or the fryer; washing the dishes; prepping the potatoes; carving the meat; and, yes, baking the pies. And there was one special woman who baked all those ever-popular pies, our grandmother Liz.

Elizabeth Zastrow was born and raised in our little town of Hecla in the house her parents built. After helping raise her brothers and sisters, she moved to Chicago to work as a nanny, but eventually returned home to care for her mother. She met our grandfather Frank when he came to town with his passel of hunting dogs looking for a place to board; he rented a room in the ample upstairs, which Grandma and her mother maintained as a sort of local inn. Grandma Liz always joked that at thirty years old she was an old maid and never expected to marry. But Frank took a liking to Liz and won her heart and hand in marriage, and within ten years they had seven children, who were also raised in that very same house.

We love to tell the story that our parents, Mary and Ron, met while working for Frohling's Jack & Jill, the local butcher, and it's true; our dad broke down animals and cut the meat, and our mom worked the counter, weighing and wrapping it to order for customers. It should come as little surprise that they would both venture in their early twenties into food-related businesses in their hometown—our mother with her restaurant and our father with his own grain-farming operation, which he started with the help of his mother, Frances, and father, Marvin—both with a true passion and dedication to making their enterprises succeed. It was our father who instilled in us that working for yourself is the only way to go; "make your own raises," he would advise.

The first recipes for Four & Twenty Blackbirds were devised in the kitchen of a turn-of-the-century mansion in Crown Heights, Brooklyn—aka our apartment. After our college years and a few post-college years working, we found ourselves living together again as sisters, sharing a bathroom, a kitchen, and eventually a sky-blue 1990 Toyota Camry wagon.

Having an ample kitchen space in our home to entertain and cook for friends certainly had some influence in fostering our idea of starting a pie company—whenever we planned a dinner party, we tested a new pie or tart recipe. For what is making a recipe without sharing it? The sincere and enduring encouragement of some of our dearest friends was fuel for our fire. It helped us believe in ourselves; it gave us confidence that as self-taught bakers we could make a go of it without a culinary degree or formal training, or a startup budget to speak of.

Why Pie?

The earliest days of our business planning happened at a time when the economy was in a major downturn: Melissa, having graduated with a degree in finance, was able to find only part-time work as a waitress in Brooklyn, while Emily maintained a full-time day job in photography. We would spend any and all spare time planning recipes and trading ideas, deliberating over what to name our company, how to brand it, what sort of identity we wanted it to have, and most important, how to make and sell the most delicious pie in New York City. At the time, we were hard-pressed to find anyone focusing exclusively on pies in a truly handmade way, using seasonal and fresh ingredients sourced from local orchards. Sure, plenty of bakeries made and carried pies, but not pies like ours; and we didn't know of any places in the neighborhoods we frequented that were dedicated exclusively to the experience of sitting down and eating a slice of pie with a cup of coffee. Perhaps such a place existed, but not on our radar, and that is exactly what we wanted to create: a local pie shop.

In the early days of our pie making and baking together, we would take on any variety of baking opportunities that came our way—from food-styling jobs (Christmas cookies in July for QVC or Star Wars–themed birthday cakes for Target) to wedding catering and private parties (Melissa single-handedly made and baked hundreds of gougères in the summer heat in our home oven for a wedding party)—and we have many friends to thank for connecting us with customers and being supportive of our ambitions. Some of our most exciting and challenging projects were for our friends Miranda Lloyd and Eugene Jho, who hosted impressive multicourse dinner parties in their loft in Bushwick. They would devise a highly creative menu of course upon course, along with cocktails and wines, and then ask us to create a pie or tart dessert that worked with the meal. It was inspiring in the most wonderful way and laid the groundwork for us to build confidence in serving our product to complete strangers. We would prepare the dessert at home, drive it over to their place midparty, sneak in, plate, and serve. We quickly came to realize that one of the most valuable parts of this experience was getting to talk with the guests about what they liked and didn't like in our recipes.

Throughout this time, we knew our pies were our strongest suit, and that which inspired us most. By the time Thanksgiving of 2009 rolled around, we found ourselves with a slew of pie orders to make just for friends and family, with the promise that they would be hand-delivered straight from our home kitchen.

Our friend and pie shop neighbor Oona Brennan has been a pie shop apprentice since we opened our doors; her favorite pie is strawberry balsamic.

Spotting a storefront for rent on the corner of Third Avenue and Eighth Street is what really spurred the leap from home kitchen to our own brick- and-mortar space. Our ambitions and expectations for our pie shop were very simple: to create a gathering place to support and serve our community with really good pie and coffee—both of us knowing well from our upbringing and the way we like to eat that quality and execution of product are far more important than being trendy or cashing in on a passing fad, and that substance over simply sugar is what keeps customers coming back.

The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Shop

We signed the lease for our pie shop location on New Year's Eve with a blue moon in the sky overhead. With the help of friends, we started demolition the very next day, January 1, 2010, tearing down layers of dirty old plaster, outdated ceiling board, and old plastic flooring to reveal the true character of our space: original tin walls and hardwood flooring, a classic Brooklyn look. We had to design and rebuild the entire place to be perfect for pie baking and pie eating. Our talented, carpentry-savvy friends Inez Valk-Kempthorne and Justus Kempthorne helped us every step of the way. We wanted ample seating and a visible open kitchen for our customers to see what's going on in the back. After three months of hard work, we opened our doors to the public in April of 2010, and that's when we really began to understand what the pie business was all about.

To say our kitchen space is small would be an understatement. It is, however, efficient, and our one convection oven works as hard as we do. In the early days, we would bake until late in the night, oftentimes well past one in the morning, only to be back in at five a.m. to bake the morning pastry—including our Egg in a Nest and Blackbird's Bread—and open our doors for our eager neighborhood customers. We very naively thought we could do everything ourselves at least for the first couple of weeks, but quickly realized that was entirely impossible and we needed to hire some help. Now, years later, we have a small but highly talented group of pie and pastry makers who take what they do very seriously and care deeply about making the best products possible. Our kitchen team, baristas, and dishwashers, are the backbone of the experience our customers have at the shop, and we couldn't run our place without each and every one of them.

How to Use This Book

Making Pies According to Season

The decision to organize the recipes in this book seasonally was obvious: in the pie shop we bake pies according to the season and the ingredients available, and all our recipes revolve around that approach. Simple, logical—and that's how our grandma did it too.

The idea of a seasonal pie shop was actually somewhat unusual to more than a handful of our customers in the early days—not to mention that we decided to unearth and update all kinds of old-fashioned recipes with weird names like "chess" and "black bottom" and use ingredients uncommon to New Yorkers, such as gooseberries and wild ginger. Some customers expected us to offer every kind of pie under the sun and to serve peach pies in December. We've taken it as an opportunity to share the knowledge that fruit (and all food, for that matter) in season and freshly picked tastes best and, by virtue of that, makes sense. Trends aside, this is how we grew up eating—with a bountiful garden in the summertime, and much of that bounty either frozen or home-canned for eating in the wintertime.

Fruit that is picked before it's ripe, boxed, and shipped thousands of miles will never taste as good as fruit that's grown nearby and picked at full ripeness. Make it your motto to bake pies when fruit is in season and to use the fruit that grows in your region. We know that it is sometimes impossible to get certain fruits in certain areas, so if you can't get your hands on the fruit you really want to bake with locally, try experimenting with fruits you can get—substituting those that are similar in structure and water content. We do source some fruits such as citrus and figs from the West Coast, as it has an abundance of quality produce and it isn't too far away—but, again, we purchase only what is in season there.

For each recipe we've suggested a crust pairing, and we tell you on which page the recipe for that crust appears. As a general rule, you will want to prepare your crust before starting on the filling. Many of our crust recipes (such as the All-Butter, the Lard & Butter, and the Chocolate All-Butter) can be made a week or more in advance and wrapped and frozen until you need them. Just thaw at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator.

We encourage you to try different crusts with different pies; be experimental, and don't be afraid to make your own adjustments and modifications. Add or take away, be inspired and let your creativity loose, for pie is nothing if not an endless playground for interpretation.

Before You Start

Make a point to read through the recipe you are about to make in its entirety before jumping in. Read the "Techniques" section (see here) of this book before you begin the recipes as well—it will answer many questions that you may have and give you guidance on how to execute certain steps, such as rolling out your dough and fitting it into the pie pan. Reference this section as needed while you work through the recipes.

If you do any sort of baking or cooking already, you know the importance of "mise en place" or "everything in its place." That's the technique professionals use, and there is a reason. Set yourself and your workspace up with the tools and ingredients you need to complete your recipe (you won't want to be searching for a sieve while your pistachio coconut cream filling is about to curdle on the stove top). Creating a good atmosphere should be your priority as well; it is a very important part of our workday—music, good lighting, and a clean and organized workspace are major factors in creating good pies. Set up such a space for yourself before you begin and your pie will come out better—we promise.

We've given you our tips and tricks based on what we've learned from making pie every day for a good while now, but that is not to say we haven't missed some good ideas or you won't disagree with us. Don't be afraid to modify and make the pies your own. Why else would we share our recipes with you? We honed our skills as pie makers by reading and listening to what other people did before us and then tweaking ingredients and techniques to our liking. In fact, if you've got ideas or suggestions you'd like to share with us, we'd love to hear from you. One of the best things about making pie is sharing your approach with other pie makers. True pie makers love to talk about pie.


Following the Recipes

Making a pie from start to finish takes time, no matter what your skill level. All in one go, you'll need to allot at least 3 to 4 hours from crust making to eating for a fruit pie, and even more for a custard pie, which usually requires prebaking of the crust.

Slicing into a warm fruit pie is one of the high points of pie baking, but if you slice too soon after baking, the juices won't have thickened and the pie will be soup; the same is true for custards. You'll want to plan accordingly so that your hard work isn't for naught.

The following is a general outline for making the pies in this book. Read the individual recipe thoroughly for extra steps or variations as well as advance preparation tips, and make sure you have read the "Techniques" section regarding the type of crust you will be preparing.

Prepare the pie dough: You need to prepare dough at least 30 minutes (preferably 1 to 2 hours) and up to 3 days before rolling, so that the dough has time to rest and the glutens are allowed to relax, and so that you can chill it thoroughly before working with it. Unbaked dough wrapped in plastic can also be frozen for up to 1 month.

Roll out the dough: Roll out the dough as required by the recipe (see here for directions). After rolling, the dough will need to chill again for at least 30 minutes to relax the glutens, especially if the shell is going to be prebaked.

Prepare the filling: This step can come before or after rolling. For fruit pies, consider the prep involved (coring and peeling, for example) and whether or not the fruit needs to macerate first. Custards are relatively straightforward, though it's best, and sometimes required (as for cream cheese), for ingredients to be at room temperature when mixing. Most custards can be made up to 3 days ahead of time and refrigerated until needed, though they should be removed from the fridge to take off some of the chill 15 to 20 minutes before using; then they should be stirred well.

Prebake, if necessary: Some recipes require a prebaked crust. See here for detailed instructions.

Assembly: For fruit pies, transfer the filling to the shell, leaving behind excess juice, arrange the lattice or place the top crust, and crimp as desired (see here and here for lattice and crimping directions). For best results, chill the whole pie for 10 to 15 minutes before applying the egg wash and baking. Most custard pies are simply poured into the shell and baked. However, check the recipe for detailed instructions.

Baking: Baking times can range from 30 to 55 minutes for a custard pie to more than 1 hour for a fruit pie. A note about temperatures: all temperatures given in this book are for baking in a glass pie pan unless otherwise noted. If using a metal pan, lower the temperature by 25°F, as metal conducts heat more quickly but less evenly than glass.

Cooling: Fruit pies should cool for a minimum of 1 to 2 hours. Custard pies must cool to room temperature, or very near, up to 2 hours.

Our grandma Liz's recipe box.



The most important ingredient in making a delicious piecrust is good, fresh butter. We use unsalted, high-fat butter—82% or more fat content—often called European-style. Plugra is a good, readily available option, as is Cabot. If you can't get your hands on either of these, you can definitely use a standard butter, but it should be sweet (unsalted) butter for sure.


On Sale
Oct 29, 2013
Page Count
224 pages

Emily Elsen

About the Author

Melissa and Emily Elsen are sisters who were raised in South Dakota and worked in their parents’ restaurant. They “have serious pie-making cred having grown up at the dough rolling elbow of their grandma Liz.” (New York Magazine). After pursuing different careers in their early adulthood, they built a business in Brooklyn, originally custom baking pies together in their Brooklyn apartment, and eventually opening 4 & 20 Blackbirds Cafe, which has been featured in the New York Times, Martha Stewart, and in other great food media.

Learn more about this author