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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

‘We could put this in a pie’: 2 bakers transform love for pastry into new business

Pieslayer’s Mucho Leches pie features a tres leches cake layer, topped with a salted coconut pastry cream and toasted coconut, whipped cream and cherries, inserted into a buttermilk crust. (Pie Slayer/The Basement Studios)

WILMINGTON — When it comes to creating pie, two women are turning the all-American delicacy on its head.

Lauren Wright and Keala Yu are having fun adding layers, textures and unexpected combinations to each 9-inch (or 5-inch) round and galette. Essentially their business, Pie Slayer, approaches the traditional with unconventional flavor profiles. 

READ MORE: From fine to casual fare, restaurateurs bringing 2 new concepts to local dining scene

For instance, the summer classic lemon meringue is refined with a punch of yuzu (an Asian citrus fruit) in the lemon filling, tucked into a lavender buttermilk crust, topped with elderflower meringue and lavender sugar garnish. 

An apple galette goes beyond the normal pairing of apple and caramel, adding ginger to the fall-forward fruit and gochujang — spicy Korean paste — to the caramel, spread into in a buttermilk crust, and topped with puffed rice and oat crumble.

Pie Slayer’s two most popular items currently are the Mucho Leches and Banana Stranger. The latter was the initial inspiration for Wright and Yu to start a micro-bakery.

After both bakers traveled to Iceland, they fell in love with a certain type of candy.

“It’s essentially a banana-flavored marshmallow and they dip it in chocolate,” Wright said. “It’s such trash candy, but it’s so good.”

Yu returned recently from her travels with mounds of it in tow for Wright.

“We were joking and said you could make that flavor into a pie,” Wright said. “So we did.”

Lauren Wright and Keala Yu are the women behind Pie Slayer, currently set up in the commissary kitchen of Manna Provisions downtown (129 Princess St.). (Pie Slayer/Matt Ray Photography)

Banana Stranger is layered with homemade dark chocolate brownie, roasted banana pastry cream, salted marshmallow meringue, tucked into a buttermilk crust and topped with more dark chocolate.

“It just spiraled out from there,” Wright said. “That’s when we were like, ‘Oh, layered pies are really fun.’ I feel like all of our recipes have been us, eating snacks and saying, ‘We could put this in a pie.’”

The Muchos Leches is a tres leches cake layer, topped with a salted coconut pastry cream and toasted coconut, whipped cream and cherries inserted into a buttermilk crust.

Yu is the brainchild behind the crust.

“She’s like the crust whisperer,” Wright praised. “It’s so fluffy.”

The trick is copious amounts of butter but also the addition of buttermilk. Traditionally, cold water is used in pie crust, but buttermilk adds a richness and variation to the texture.

“Our crust is like a croissant, layered and flaky,” Yu explained. 

The perfection came from years in the culinary field, which started at the former Wilmington grocery, Farmin’ on Front. There, Yu worked as a baker under Abbye McGee, now owner of Salt + Charm in The Cargo District. She had to churn out hundreds of holiday pies, which has carried over to Salt + Charm, where Yu works part-time. 

She’s clear her expertise in baking has come from direct hands-on training. 

“I didn’t go to pastry school,” Yu said. “I just have been working in restaurants since I could get a job. I started hosting and serving, and then I started baking and just fell in love with it — and kept finding jobs to learn more, and it has consumed me.”

Wright attended culinary school briefly in Colorado but didn’t graduate.

“Ironically, I originally went to school for nutrition — and now I work in sugar for a living,” she said, laughing. “But I just really liked the food part more and making food. … But everything I’ve learned has pretty much been from other people.”

Wright met Yu at Salt + Charm after working as pastry chef at The Green House. A friendship immediately developed and in February this year they decided to launch Pie Slayer.

“There were a couple of nights where me and Keala and our co-workers just stayed up super late, making pie all night, and it was so fun,” Wright said.

They shared much of the same interests, including an adoration for anime; the basis for their company’s name grew from the show “Demon Slayer.”

“Keala actually came up with it and once she said it, we knew that was it,” Wright said. 

The two ladies are doing multiple markets a month to showcase Pie Slayer’s eats; they’re also setting up the micro-bakery for wholesale. They have been pushing samples to coffee shops, with hopes to land their sweet treats in other businesses and to pair up with restaurants on special events.

The pie menu changes frequently, depending what’s in season. The goal is to add more savory pies to the mix as well. The galettes — basically Danish pastry pies — traditionally come with a cream-cheese filling and topped with unique fruit combinations, like blueberry and rhubarb.

The two want to evolve it more, with a ricotta and honey base for savory pies that include seasonal vegetables. 

“Most items we make aren’t too sweet,” Yu said. “We love a good sweet-and-salt balance.”

“We put salt on the top of a lot of our pies — or pepper,” Wright added.

Pink pepper can be found in the homemade strawberry spread of the hand pies. They also recently experimented with a potato gratin galette, filled with smoked gouda and sliced potatoes, stuffed into a black-pepper crust. 

Pie Slayer’s goods retail for $14 for 5-inch pies and $30 for 9 inches, while galettes are $7. They can be ordered online or purchased at an upcoming market. 

On June 4, Pie Slayer will be set up at Crafted Outpost in The Cargo District and at Grove and Grub, a DREAMS of Wilmington fundraising market taking place the same day.

The ladies are also putting together a bake sale fundraiser June 25. Yu hosted one last summer, Bans Off Our Bodies Bake Sale for Reproductive Care, after Roe v. Wade was overturned, with proceeds going toward Carolina Abortion Fund and Planned Parenthood. She raised almost $6,000.

The next one will have multiple bakers selling a variety of treats — pies, cakes, cookies, breads — with all proceeds going toward a local nonprofit. The ladies haven’t finalized which yet but are looking to work with A Safe Place — a cause that helps prevention, advocacy, and restoration to assist victims of commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking.

“We are still taking bakers for the sale,” Wright said.

Pie Slayer is currently set up in the commissary kitchen of Manna Provisions downtown (129 Princess St.).

“I feel like the dream is to have our own kitchen space eventually,” Wright confirmed, “but we always will be doing more of the actual hands-on baking part.”

Pie Slayer is also participating in North Carolina Sweet Potato Eat Sweet Restaurant Week, June 2 – 11. Yu and Wright are creating a chipotle sweet potato pie with maple meringue and salted caramel, with orders accepted online; pick-up is at Manna Provisions.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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