On a recent dessert adventure, the bakers behind the beloved Brooklyn pie company Four & Twenty Blackbirds gained new insight into a culture that prizes intention, presentation, and optimal deliciousness.
It all started with a matcha custard pie.
While fine-tuning their recipe, Emily and Melissa Elsen — the sister-sister duo behind Four & Twenty Blackbirds — stumbled on a source that would eventually lead them all the way to Japan. “We met a woman who knew the owner of Ippodo Tea, a 300-year-old family business in Kyoto,” Emily says. “They produce a superfine, high-quality matcha, and sourcing from them really improved our custard. That’s probably what prompted everything.”
That pie would end up connecting the Elsens with more Japanese producers and, ultimately, the New York Fair — a Big Apple-themed arts and culture festival at Osaka’s Hankyu Department Store. For the past two years, the sisters have been the fair’s pie ambassadors, and last year they extended their trip into a full-fledged dessert research expedition.
Their latest project, a 10-seat bar and pie counter in Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights neighborhood, channels the hyper-focused, hole-in-the-wall restaurant culture they admired in Japan, where some restaurants only do ramen, some only soba.
The Elsens? They do pie.
Here are some of the sisters' reminiscences, recommendations, and favorite desserts from their trip: