Butter Love Bakeshop's Esa Yonn-Brown is a San Francisco native who left the restaurant industry after her first child was born, but when she took a job doing data processing, she began selling pies out of her home to keep herself sane. After appearing at the Underground Market and garnering great press and Yelp reviews, she went legit, and now sells full-sized pies through her website and smaller sweet and savory pies at Lilah Belle's in the Castro. As I was writing this week's review on roving pie bakers, I gave her a call to find out why her crust was so good.
SFoodie: How did Butter Love Bakeshop get started?
Yonn-Brown: I grew up with my mom making pies, and I still use her pie dough recipe. I went to the City College Hotel & Restaurant program, and was a pastry chef up until when my daughter was born. (She's five and a half now.)
I took a part-time job doing data processing in an office, and that turned into full-time. I did that for four years, until last May, when I was laid off. The benefits were great, but it was mind-numbing and soul sucking. So I started doing cakes and pies, I made baby food for people on the side, and I was mostly getting orders for kids' birthday cakes. I wasn't inspired by that. So I sat down with my husband, and asked, "What should I do?"
He said, "Why don't you focus on one thing that you really love." Well, I love making pie, and can never buy a good piece of it.
When I got laid off in May 2010, I thought, I guess I'm going to make a go of it. In November, I was contacted by the New York Times. They were doing an article on pies being the new food trend, and wanted me to be in it. Well, I realized I'd better go get my business license, because I don't want to draw attention to myself and then get shut down. So I got my business license and found a kitchen to work out of. The holidays hit right when the article appeared -- I was totally swamped. So now I'm looking into storefronts. I hope that will happen in the next six months to a year.
Some of the pie bakers I've talked to focus on the source of their fruit -- organic, local, and the like. Do you?
I buy what I can afford, though I only use seasonal fruits. Pies are not cheap to make. They require so few ingredients, but you have to have a lot of them -- the fruit cooks down. I use probably a few pounds of fruit in each pie, and I don't skimp.
Sometimes I'll make pies with things that are expensive, but I'll put them in a mixture, say, stone fruit mixed with cherries. Eventually, I'd like to source locally. It's a little costly to only do organic and local, though. I try as much as possible to do trades with people for things that they grow in their backyard. One woman gives me Meyer lemons from her tree, and so I've made Meyer lemon meringue pie from them. Another customer just told me she's going to have figs, so hopefully I can trade for that.
I have to say, I've tasted a lot of tough or soft all-butter crusts, but yours was neither.
Yeah, all-butter crusts can easily get tough if you add too much water or don't work the dough the right way. I just think that butter tastes better. It is harder to work with, but if you have enough skill and practice, you can get the same effect as a crust made with shortening or lard. It's just a lot of attention to detail and skill.
I have a good teacher, too. My mother said to me, "It took me 30 years to master this crust." So I tell her my crusts will be as good as hers in 25 years.