I love oats. They’re a great way to start a cold fall day in the form of oatmeal with some apples or berries mixed in and a little cinnamon dusted on top, as well as a welcome ingredient in any sweet treat to close out the day. I learned this at a young age when my Mom’s Oatmeal Scotchie cookies became the highlight of the holiday season. Why oatmeal raisin is the standard oat-cookie I don’t know, because trading the raisins for chocolate and butterscotch chips creates the ultimate in cookie comfort food. And for many years I thought this was the use of oats in desserts. In actuality, name a baked good and you can most likely make a kind with oats. And if you give me the choice between a flavor with oats or one without, I’m most likely going to oat it up.
Such was my mindset when I was in search of some pie the other night. The week ahead was finally forecasting some nippy nights, and a quintessential autumnal treat was called for to celebrate with some tea and Gilmore Girls. What kind of pie I was in the mood for I was not exactly sure. A classic apple sounded nice, but not quite right. A chocolate cream wasn’t quite right. A pecan or pumpkin was in-mood but still wasn’t quite hitting me quite right at the thought. So as I was looking at which pie place I should check out from my Sweet Treat List, I was open to the adventure of Four & Twenty Blackbirds with no set menu.
A short ride and a couple blocks walk into Brooklyn and I was at the unassuming storefront. A singular glowing sign and a chalkboard sign called you to look into the small inside. An ordering counter greets you immediately as you walk in, behind it a long counter for orders to stay. The flavor options for the day sat in a display case with names listed on the black board next to it. While there were one or two more classic options like lemon chess and a stone fruit pie, they were heavy on the honey that day with both a lavender honey and a slated honey pie, as well as a coffee cream, and a black bottom oatmeal pie. While the lavender honey seemed like a fun adventure, it was so reminiscent of summer, which was contrary to the original goal. But as not much of a coffee-flavored dessert person (my apathy towards tiramisu never fails to come as a surprise to many), I was left with few flavors that weren’t too tied to being consumed in the hotter months for me.
But there was the black bottom oatmeal. While I had not previously been acquainted with the flavor, the involvement of oat in the description intrigued me. I asked the server what the pie consisted of, and they explained that it had a thin, chocolate cream on the bottom topped with a brown butter filling akin to that found in pecan pie, and finished with a crust of oats. Perfection. I got my slice and headed home as fast as I could to try this flavor that had somehow evaded me all my life.
I stepped into my room, quickly got into my comfy clothes, and cracked open the box to see my slice. The glistening, golden outer crust of oats was surprisingly well-intact for a pie made of fairly mushy stuff, the shape looking iconically triangular as pie should with only a couple oat and filling bits having fallen to the sides. So often pies that have a gelatinous filling are a messy ordeal. You try to cut a slice and end up with something more akin to a cobbler, having to get bits of filling from the plate that fell apart from the original piece, and your plate ends up looking less like pie and more like a jumble of a bunch of good components with the idea of pie in mind. But when one gets the consistency right, lets it cool for the right amount of time, and knows how to cut, you can get a piece of pie like I had that night. Clean and perfectly pie-like.
Before I got to taste the oat-y goodness though, it had to get a taste of the crust. Continually on a mission to get pie crust right in my own baking, I am always keenly aware of the crust of any pie I purchase. It’s a tricky business getting the texture and flavor right, and can often be a last thought. More attention is payed to the filling which, after all, makes up most of the pie. But a pie is only as good as its crust. I broke off a piece from the ruffled edge, which passed the first test by not completely crumbling in my fingers under the pressure. Crisp and flakey, the texture was good. Not stunning, not the pinnacle of pie crust, but certainly good. The flavor was similar. Buttery, sweet, but more muted than I would like. I would be perfectly happy if this crust came out of my own oven, perfectly proud. But the ideal crust is still to be found.
With the outer crust consumed, it was time for the main event. I could see each layer fairly distinctly: chocolate, brown butter filling, and oats. I got a forkful with each bit. A celebration of comforting flavors and textures. The oatmeal topping was chewy and added a great substantial texture to the silky and warm brown butter filling. The saltiness of that center was then offset with the base of bittersweet chocolate. Each individual part was played to tune, and together they created a symphony of cool-weather flavors that warmed the heart. It didn’t feel heavy or overly rich, but it was substantial enough to tuck you in and make you feel done for the day. The flavor profile was like the oatmeal scotchie: filled with oats, a little chocolate, and a salty/sweetness from the brown butter like one might get from butterscotch. While I hadn’t experienced the pie before, it was strikingly familiar. It all would have worked remarkably well à la mode as well, with a classic scoop of vanilla bean or maybe a salted caramel to seep in and amongst the oats with the slice a little warmed up.
Having given me a pie that perfectly kicked off the season, I will definitely be going back to Four & Twenty Blackbirds for another exploration in pie flavors unknown. And now with black bottom oatmeal pie in my mental index of pies, I think I have another subject for experimentation when I return to my own kitchen this holiday season. It also leaves me wondering what other classic holiday creations could be transformed into pie? What flavor profiles I have left undiscovered in the medium? I suppose the only way to find out is to eat more pie.