South Street passersbyers gazed into shop windows on Thursday night and saw the typical mannequins, clothing and neon signs. However, one shop showed off something much more distinctive – a group of grown men learning how to make pie.
Magpie Artisan Pie Boutique recently held a sold-out, guys-only pie-making class coupled with beer tasting from Saint Benjamin Brewing Company. Along with special classes like this one, Magpie has been hosting pie-making classes every month since September.
When it comes to unique hand-made pies, Magpie has a number of sweet and savory selections that are created by Holly Ricciardi, who opened the shop a little more than a year ago. While Ricciardi did attend a baking and pastry course at The International Culinary Center, baking has been a part of her life since childhood in Carlisle, Pa.
“Baking has always been a passion and something I grew up with,” Ricciardi said. “My mother never bought a baked good. She made everything from scratch.”
Ricciardi also places importance on using local seasonal ingredients, like fruits and vegetables, when making pies. That means that customers will most likely never see a blueberry pie being made at Magpie during the winter.
“It’s blasphemous to me,” Ricciardi said.
The exclusive lesson for guys had Ricciardi and another employee teaching the class the recipe for apple cheddar pie, which is one of the more unique pies that Magpie has featured. The winter menu includes coconut cream pie, mole chili Frito potpie, its signature butterscotch bourbon pie and more.
Ricciardi said she opened the shop not only because of her love for the hobby, but because there was nothing like it in Philadelphia. There may be bakeries, but there is no place that caters solely to pies, she said.
“Pie is very comforting and it’s great, but I don’t think people make pie anymore because it’s very expensive and takes a long time,” Ricciardi said. “So I think people sort of forgot how to make pie and forgot about pie, and I thought this would be a great town to bring pie to.”
Ricciardi made sure that one of the first things she perfected was the pie crust, which she said is one of the trickiest steps in creating the dessert, with the classes. She said she hopes to teach people how easy crust is to make with the right methods.
“I want people to make pie and I want people to love pie,” Ricciardi said.
Danny McLennan, one of the students in the class, used to be a cook at a restaurant, but he said baking comes with its own difficulties.
“I really don’t put time in baking, but it’s something that I wanted to do,” McLennan said as he cut apple chunks into a bowl. “Baking’s more an exact science; if you shorten [ingredients] up a little bit, it screws everything up.”
To go along with the chatting and baking, Tim Patton and Christina Burris from Saint Benjamin Brewing Company were there with pints of beer. In the process of opening the Kensington brewery, Patton, the owner, got involved with Magpie to help promote his business and sample a new beer that he had been brewing since December, called the Foul-Weather Jack.
“We basically came up with a new recipe for the event to brew a special beer that would go with what they were serving,” Patton said.
The name refers to a historic English admiral during the Revolutionary War that would always run into bad weather at sea, and with all the delays that Saint Benjamin had run into trying to open, Patton and Burris thought it fit.
Ricciardi, who has experience starting and running an advertising agency, said she knows the significance of satisfying customers with presentation and quality, in this case with how a pie holds up structurally or how it tastes and feels.
“When you come into the shop, you have an expectation: the way it looks, the way it feels, the vibe,” Ricciardi said. “So we want to live up to that, and when you come in and sit down and have one of our pies, that they are exactly what you thought they were going to be.”
The next pie-making class is for couples on Feb. 13.
Albert Hong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.