© Neighborhood Restaurant Group
Tiffany MacIsaac's Holiday Pie BarShowstopping desserts can outshine buttery mashed potatoes and perfect stuffing on Thanksgiving. That's the opinion of Tiffany MacIsaac, who oversees the pastry program for the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, which operates Birch & Barley and Tallua in the Washington, DC, area. MacIsaac likes to put holiday sweets—in particular, pie—on mouthwatering display from the start so guests can admire dessert from the moment they arrive.
At Buzz Bakery in Alexandria, VA, she's now offering a DIY Pie Bar package that comes with two pies (like Chocolate-Bourbon Pecan and Classic Pumpkin), house-made ice cream, cinnamon whipped cream, caramel sauce and candied cranberries. Since Buzz doesn't ship its baked goods, MacIsaac shared these tips on how to set up a DIY Pie Bar at home.
1. Make it a group project. Guests usually ask the host how they can contribute to the holiday meal. You can plan a cohesive, pie-centric menu for Thanksgiving and delegate specific components to invitees. If one guest brings pumpkin pie, others can take on gingersnap cookie crumbs and caramel sauce, and non-cooks can be in charge of bringing beautiful cake stands. The display will grow into something fantastically unexpected as the guests arrive.
2. Don't pay for props. MacIsaac repurposes items from around the house for the display. A stack of books works as a pedestal; fallen leaves make an easy accent to scatter around the table; an old frame refines the look of a printed menu. Lighting is especially important. Everyone looks good by candlelight and the same goes for food.
3. Incorporate traditional fall flavors. During the holidays, people look for familiar foods. If you experiment with something new like salted-caramel cream pie, you can also offer a super-old-fashioned option like double-crust apple pie or upgrade a classic, as in a meringue-topped sweet potato pie.
4. Consider textures. You don’t want all mush or all crunch when it comes to a pie or the toppings you set out for guests. With the pie bar, everyone gets whipped cream, nuts, cookie crumbs, sauce.
5. Master the pie crust. Besides the logistics of setting up a dessert display, the most basic rule of a great pie bar is to make delicious pies, and that starts with good crust. MacIsaac likes a nice amount of salt in the dough to balance the sweetness of fillings. And she says you might want to add vodka, not to your glass, but to the water as you mix the dough. It evaporates more quickly, so you’re left with less moisture, which makes for a more tender, flaky crust. In a dough recipe calling for water, MacIsaac subs vodka for about 1/6 to 1/4 of the water.