“Oh my god! It’s beautiful,” a customer exclaims as she picks up her homemade banana cream pie from the home of Heather Keough, owner of Heather’s Pies. “I can’t wait to show my family. We’re calling today ‘Pie Friday,’” she says. This banana cream pie was just one of many to be leaving Keough’s door that week in anticipation of a holiday weekend. Whether blueberry, strawberry rhubarb, French silk or butterscotch, Keough’s made a name for herself as a go-to baker for buttery, crumbly, melt-in-your-mouth pies. And also, for her 27-layer crepe, coconut cloud and pineapple upside-down cakes, too.
“I’ve always loved baking,” says Keough, who grew up and graduated from high school in Woodbury. She has been making desserts under the Heather’s Pies moniker for nearly three years, and is now based in the west metro. But she’s been perfecting her recipes for decades. “Both of my grandmas were serious bakers. And I got the gene,” she says. Keough’s first baking job was in 1982, when she applied for a position on the original bake team at Nicollet Island Inn in Minneapolis. “I read an ad for the job in the Star Tribune. They took a chance on a green-behind-the-ears girl,” she says. It was during her tenure there that she learned the recipe for what she deems the perfect pie crust, shared via her colleague (a former dentist who defected from Russia before landing on the same baking team as Keough at the Nicollet Island Inn).
Eventually Keough stepped back to raise a family, but never really left the dessert world. She continued to bake at home and launched her own catering and cupcake company. But after the physical and time demands of the company sunk in, she made a decision to focus her attention on perfecting one thing: pie. “I’m in competition with myself,” she says. “I’m teaching myself how to make the best, the most memorable pie.”
Photo courtesy of Heather Keough
Keough is constantly reading baking cookbooks, discovering new recipes and tools. “My French silk just went up a notch,” she says. “I put dark chocolate ganache in the base of the pie crust, the French silk over that, chill it and add organic homemade whipped cream on top.” And after her wrists began to feel the wear and tear of rolling out dough, she invested in an Italian pie roller so she only needs to roll out the dough twice. Keough also recently acquired a machine that makes pocket pies and is currently trying to track down an apple ribbon peeler to make rosettes for her apple pies. She’s worked on vegan, dairy-free and gluten-free recipes, and uses organic butters, creams, fruits and vegetables. “I don’t put chemicals in my body,” she says. “Why should I put them in someone else’s?”
Aside from her intricately detailed custom pies, Keough delivers Pie Grams for an additional delivery fee. “Every pie I deliver has a story,” she says. Keough has traveled around the metro area and as far as St. Cloud and Hastings just to deliver a home baked pie with a message from a loved one.
Photo courtesy of Heather Keough
And after noticing a resurgence of customers interested in learning how to bake, Keough started teaching pie making classes at the nine-foot farm table in her home kitchen. On Sunday afternoons she teaches groups of two to six participants how to make the perfect pie crust and filling, and shares her favorite tips and tricks. “They learn that they don’t have to freeze the flour, or the bowl. But their ingredients do need to be chilled and they do need ice water for the dough,” she says. She serves them a savory tart with a farmhouse salad. Keough has enjoyed watching the connections made and the friendships that grow out of her Sunday classes. Everyone gets a take and bake pie with fruit filling and receives a French rolling pin to use at home.
Keough built out a separate kitchen in her home during her tenure at her catering company. She has a separate refrigerator and oven in her basement, and recently purchased two new freezers. But orders are increasing at such a rate that she is actively looking for a commercial space to bake in. She’s interested in making take-and-bake frozen pies for retail and hopes to launch a line of smaller eight-inch pies soon. She hopes to offer pocket pies as soon as she refines her technique.
Keough juggles multiple tasks with ease. She brainstorms about new tools to use, talks through the batch of pies she’s baking off for a first stint at the Isles Farmer’s Market in Minneapolis and shares stories about her family and their favorite pies. She does all of this while answering the doorbell when customers arrive to pick up orders, and simultaneously keeps an eye on a peach pie that needs to cool in time for someone who is driving from Northfield to retrieve it. “Actually, peach pie was the first pie I won an award for,” she says. “Isn’t this funny? We were living in Northfield at the time. They had a Fourth of July pie competition and my husband and I took our two little babies there in a vintage buggy.” Years later, she finds the same joy in making the same peach pie. And that she sees as a gift.
Slow down to speed up.
“I tell people not to be in a hurry. Take your time when rolling out the dough. Take time to re-chill your pie (before you bake it). A warm oven and a warm pie are not friends,” she says.
Glass is the best.
Keough builds her best crust with a butter-based dough and a glass pie pan. They stop it from getting too soggy.
Keough always rolls out her dough on parchment paper to prevent it from sticking and breaking apart.