Former White House pastry chef Bill Yosses of Perfect Pie

In the new off-Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, the musical takes place in a pie shop built inside the Barrow Street Theatre in New York City’s West Village. Former White House Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses stars in a wholly original role, doling out his homemade pies, one at a time, to excited patrons.

Served with mashed potatoes and “a steaming parsley sauce known as ‘liquor,’” about an hour before the show, guests have a choice between a chicken and a vegetable pie. (I tried the chicken pie—baked with fresh vegetables and black truffle zest—while my theater companion went with the vegetarian pot pie due to her concerns about the play’s content—and the individual hand pies were delectable.) According to Bill, the idea to serve pies in advance of the performance originated, in “Tooting, South London, where the producer, Rachel Edwards, noticed a pie and mash shop located across the street from a barber shop. These things write themselves sometimes. She asked both if she could stage Sweeney there and they agreed. Then Sondheim went to see it and loved it.”

In Yosses’s new cookbook, The Sweet Spot: Dialing Back Sugar and Amping Up Flavor, Bill’s mantra “Treat sugar like salt” permeates the healthy recipes inspired by his time spent as the White House pastry chef. (Bill was the White House Executive Pastry Chef from 2007 to 2014, where he collaborated with First Lady Michelle Obama on her Let’s Move! Campaign.) There is an entire section devoted to pie—including some inventive and flavorful recipes like Kabocha Persimmon Pie and Chocolate Quinoa Kweem Pie—and this Crustmaster’s recipes won’t disappoint. (The Crustmaster, a nickname lovingly bestowed upon Yosses by President Obama during Bill’s time in the White House, is well-earned.) Although the pie section doesn’t contain recipes for Bill’s favorite pie (huckleberry) or President Obama’s (banana cream pie), the detailed step-by-step instructions are helpful for beginner bakers. And you’d be wise to heed Bill’s advice: “Don’t overwork the dough!”

Bill first learned to bake pies from his mother, and his personal record is making “85 pies in one day, when Oprah put his ‘Perfect Pie Company Fancy Valentine’s Day Box’ on her list of favorite things.” The new book, co-authored by Peter Kaminsky, is filled with ingredients like fruits, nut flours, herbs, and spices, so flavorful that you won’t even notice that you’re baking with less sugar. When asked what recipe he’s most excited about, Bill picked the “Sheba from Queens Cake” (recipe and photograph below courtesy of Avery), the “Black Sesame Parfait with Red Fruits,” and the “Farmer’s Cheese Dumplings with Raspberry-Black Pepper Compote.” He recommends that novice bakers start off with “any pudding or panna cotta” but the seasonally inspired recipes provide an endless number of options for a show-stopping dessert.

sheba from queens cake with chocolate and avocado (low-sugar, gluten-free version of Queen of Sheba cake)

Get the Sheba From Queens Cake recipe.

Bill’s artisanal pie company, Perfect Pie, has received countless accolades throughout the run of the show and gained many appreciative fans. Next, Bill is keen on opening a retail space in New York City in the near future. Until then, you can grab a copy of The Sweet Spot and do your best to recreate Bill’s novel takes on time-honored recipes (like the Apple Pie with Caramelized Honey and Tamarind Vinegar).

Header image courtesy of Instagram/perfectpieco.

Caitlin M. O'Shaughnessy is a New York City–based food writer and editor at Penguin who has worked on and recipe-tested several cookbooks. She is currently in search of NYC’s best ramen, and is one of the few people who admit to disliking brunch.
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