It’s hard for Amanda Wilbanks to remember a time when baking didn’t symbolize love and family. The 31-year-old Gainesville-based Southern Baked Pie Company founder and newly minted cookbook author’s earliest memories are filled with time spent in the kitchen with her mother and grandmother. “My mom made dessert every single night, whether it was angel food cake with berries and homemade whipped cream, brownies, or pound cake,” she recalls. After earning a degree from the University of Georgia, she moved to Atlanta and then to Gainesville. And it was her mother-in-law who taught her to make French pastry dough, just before her husband’s birthday. “She said, ‘Let’s make Alex’s favorite pie for his birthday’ and started pulling flour, sugar, and everything out of my cabinet and making it from scratch,” Wilbanks says. “That’s where it all began.”
The birthday pie was a hit, and in September 2012, Wilbanks started experimenting with other pies for fun. Later that month, Alex came home with news: he signed her up to sell pies at a Lawrenceville festival. “That was on a Tuesday,” she recalls. “By Thursday I had business cards, made up a name, bought a tent, and [that weekend] sold pies for $4 a slice.” She sold out, made plans for more festival appearances and at each, she encouraged new fans to write their email address on a notepad for updates. That December, she made almost 500 pies out of her home kitchen, fulfilling orders and shipping them to clients. “Right after Christmas, we said, ‘Let’s lease a space and try and turn this into a business’,” she recalls of how Southern Baked Pie Company was born. The Gainesville location was later joined by outposts in Buckhead and Alpharetta, and the company continued to ship signature sweet and savory pies around the country.
Just last month, Wilbanks got to add cookbook author to her resume with the release of Southern Baked: Celebrating Life with Pie. Like many things about her business journey, serendipity put her cookbook on a fast track. Her friend—designer, author, and Southern Living contributor James T. Farmer—suggested she consider publishing a cookbook filled with her most popular pies. “I thought, ‘I don’t know why anybody would want to publish a book by me, but it sounds interesting,’” Wilbanks says. Despite her reluctance, Farmer connected Wilbanks with his editor. One book proposal later, she had a deal and spent a few months in late 2017 writing and testing recipes, and the book of more than 70 beautifully illustrated recipes was released in September.
Her sold-out schedule of book signings scattered around the South and an ever-growing following at her three physical bakery locations speaks to the appeal of pie, though the dish has yet to experience the crazed fan following that has been focused on doughnuts, cupcakes, and popsicles in recent years. “Pie is so versatile, you can eat it with any meal,” says the mom of two boys. “You can do quiche, chicken pot pie, or a sweet pecan pie [all with the same crust]. The possibilities are endless. It’s one of those nostalgic dishes that brings back memories. Pie is timeless.”
Always looking for what’s next, she recently launched a culinary and lifestyle website, amandawilbanksbakes.com. There, she releases recipes (for pie and other dishes) and shares her schedule of book signings. Here, she shares a seasonal favorite recipe. “If you’ve ever had a pineapple casserole in the South, you will forever remember the taste. The mixture of sweet pineapple and rich, gooey cheese is unexpectedly delicious,” she says. “I love this dish for fall and football season because it travels beautifully, and is wonderful served at room temperature.”
PINEAPPLE CASSEROLE PIE
Reprinted with permission courtesy Southern Baked: Celebrating Life with Pie (Gibbs Smith, 2018).
1 recipe SB Pie Dough (see below)
2 (20-ounce) cans chunked pineapple 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¾ cup granulated sugar
1½ cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 sleeve Ritz crackers, crushed
4 tablespoons butter, melted
Roll out dough into a 12-inch circle. Place into a 9-inch pie plate and flute; prebake the dough (see below for instructions).
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Drain pineapple, reserving ½ cup juice. Combine flour, sugar, and pineapple in a bowl and toss to coat. Layer pineapple mixture and cheese in pie crust. Pour reserved pineapple juice over the filling. Sprinkle crushed crackers over the top and pour the butter over the crackers. Bake for 40 minutes until lightly browned.
SOUTHERN BAKED PIE DOUGH (SB PIE DOUGH)
Makes dough for one single-crust 9-inch pie
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon granulated sugar
¼ cup water
Cut the butter into small cubes. Combine butter and flour in a mixing bowl. Using a pastry blender, work the butter into the flour. Add the salt and sugar. Continue to work the butter into the flour until the mixture has a consistency of course-ground cornmeal. The cubes of butter should now be smaller than the size of a green pea.
Add the water, all at once. Continue to work the dough until the dough begins to come together. Form the dough into a ball, wrap with plastic wrap, and press into the shape of a disk. Place in the refrigerator for 2 hours to chill.
Remove dough from refrigerator and roll out to desired size on a lightly floured surface.
Tip: The trick to making delicious pie dough is using cold ingredients. I even chill my flour, salt, and sugar. Starting with very cold butter and ice cold water will make a world of difference when it comes to the texture of the dough.
For prebaked dough:
A prebaked dough means that the dough is fully cooked, and is used when the filling of a pie recipe will not be baked (such as this one).
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Roll out dough to desired size and place in pie plate or tart pan. Dock (prick) the dough with a fork on the bottom and up the sides of the plate. Place in freezer for 30 minutes before baking. This helps set the dough.
Remove dough from freezer and line the inside of the dough with parchment paper, completely covering the dough. Fill the pie plate with dried beans. The will ensure that the dough maintains its shape.
Bake for 12-15 minutes. Remove the beans and parchment and return the pie plate to the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool completely before adding filling.