There is a moment in the charmingly cozy and whimsical television show Pushing Daisies when the handsome young pie maker says, “Candy is sweet, but it’s a traveling carnival blowing through town. Pie is home, and people always come home.” Perhaps no other dessert conjures up quite the same comfortable feel as fresh-from-the-oven pie. But if pie is indeed home, then pie artist Jessica Clark-Bojin, better known online by her business name ThePieous, would be the baking Gloria Vanderbilt. Just as Vanderbilt brought elegance to home décor, Clark-Bojin brings astonishing feats of artistry and sophistication to the humble pie.
Some people set out intentionally toward their creative goals. Clark-Bojin stumbled into pie making. A filmmaker with an art degree, she never planned to use her artistic skills in the kitchen. In fact, before 2015 or so, her kitchen oven had rarely if ever seen use for anything beyond setting polymer clay. “I certainly had no designs on any sort of pie career,” she explains. “The whole pie thing was just something I started doing so I could eat them.” But her creativity soon led to further exploration: “I was very surprised that I couldn’t find any decorative pies outside of medieval literature, when there were so many awesome nerdy cakes and cookies and breads and pancakes and cupcakes and rice crispy treats and so on.” She asked a few restaurateur friends why pies were neglected when it came to fancification, and they explained that it was because pie dough requires fast work and minimal handling. The dough has to be kept too cold, and it would shrink and puff too much in the oven. Basically, it was just too hard to create elaborate decorations on pie. Clark-Bojin embraced the challenge and has spent three years now creating increasingly intricate designs to prove how incredibly pies can be decorated while remaining just as delicious.
Each pie Clark-Bojin creates begins with a wide array of inspiration. Sometimes she might be inspired by the general subject matter, or a very specific composition that comes to her clearly. On occasion, a new baking technique that may not have ever been tried before might pop in her head, and the creation develops from there. “I’m always trying to push the envelope with my pie baking,” she says, “taking inspiration from various sources, like architecture, paper craft, toys, chemistry, nature, fashion, sculpture, and more.” She also does not limit herself to pie dough exclusively, experimenting with chocolate, isomalt, and the chemistry behind the fancy multilayer mousse cakes known as entremets. Some of these techniques have been used in her pies, such as the isomalt “glass” dome on her snow globe pie, and others are still in an experimental phase for planned future pies.
The next step after inspiration is design. Clark-Bojin sketches out the overall pie design in her notebook and plans all the details. Creating templates for each part of the pie helps her work quickly enough for the finicky pie dough. She prints out her computer-created templates onto cardstock or acetate (when fine detail is needed) and uses sharp fondant cutters with each template, rolling her dough onto a baking sheet or thin cutting board so that she can put it back into the freezer if the dough starts warming up and sticking. “There aren’t a lot of happy accidents once I get to the dough stage because the clock is ticking!” she says. “That said, even when it blows up in my face, I’m usually able to take some lesson from it to make the next pie design that much better.”
Living with her seven-year-old son ensures that Clark-Bojin has to keep all her pies just as delicious as they are artistically stunning. No pie she creates, no matter how beautiful, is left uneaten, and often she shares video at the end of her tutorials of that first bite of a delicious warm pastry and filling. Her son also appreciates the imaginative aspect of her pies as well. “He pretty much lives permanently in the land of make-believe, so that helps me from slipping into an overly pragmatic worldview. When you walk down the street with a seven-year-old, every flagstone is a portal to another dimension, every leaf is a fairy wing, and the floor is always hot lava.”
Although we might not all have the artistic abilities of Jessica Clark-Bojin, her creations are so very appealing, one cannot help but want to try more creativity in pie making. She reassures the intrepid baker that much of the process is about strategy—how to set up the work station efficiently, keep the dough cold, cut tiny details, keep the filling from exploding—and she tries to answer every inquiry sent her way on social media. Another tip she suggests is to remember that different parts of a pie may need different baking times. There is no reason all the top decorations have to be baked directly on top of the base pie. Clark-Bojin uses this strategy often: Her pie tops are very rarely baked with the actual body of the pie. This prevents fruit filling from ruining all her hard work. “There are tricks for putting it all back together at the end to make it fuse back into one pie,” she says. And there’s no harm in experimentation. “Even if the final result doesn’t live up to the picture in your head, it’ll probably be a zillion times better than anything you’ve tried before, and you’ll have learned so much that your next pie will be even better.”
We asked Clark-Bojin just what is it about pie that makes it so darn cozy. She didn’t hesitate to reply. “The smell of pie is the epitome of cozy family times to me. It smells like Christmas. It smells like happy. Especially a spicy apple pie: short days, crunchy leaves, apple cinnamon filling bubbling in the oven. Perfect.”
We couldn’t agree more.