The Pieous reinvents pedestrian pastry with a geek twist

Warning: This interview will make you hungry.

In fact, it is likely to send you on a desperate quest for pie.

But whatever pie you may find, I guarantee it won’t be as exquisitely beautiful and inventive as the flaky, filled pastry creations of Jessica Clark-Bojin, aka @ThePieous

Up until a couple of years ago, Jessica had barely even touched her oven, but after swearing off refined sugar, she resorted to satisfying her sweet tooth by baking the ultimate comfort dessert. Looking to the internet to find ways to liven up said crusty dessert, she discovered a shocking lack of geeky, pop culture-themed, or even decorative pies.

After discovering that potential baking creatives were deterred by the challenges of working with temperamental pie dough, Jessica sought to revolutionize the pie-making process, drawing from her background in art and design, taking inspiration from such unlikely sources as architecture, paper craft, toys, chemistry, nature, and sculpture, and inventing such 3-D pastry wonders as the Piescraper, a viable rival to the traditional fancy wedding cake.

Jessica has made pies for clients including Marvel Studios, Star Wars UK, and Turner Network. Her wildly successful series of video tutorials with Food Network have been viewed millions of times and she generously dispenses tips, advice, and more tutorials on her website, piesareawesome.com

An unabashed nerd whose interests include fantasy, science fiction, anime, comic books, and Lego, Jessica has served up elegant pies inspired by Disney princesses, Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, The Legend of Zelda, Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman, Pokemon, The Muppets, Supernatural, Mickey Mouse, Jack and Sally, Star Wars, and Harry Potter. And then there’s her ever popular series of uncanny celebrity portraits, including edible homages to Freddie Mercury, Dolly Parton, Prince, David Bowie, Ellen, Beyonce, Stan Lee, and Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. 

If you aren’t craving a certain sugary baked dish yet, you soon will be. Just take a look at Jessica’s artful — and delicious! — handiwork below. 

You’re an “experimental baker” and pie artist — aka @thePieous — who makes astoundingly beautiful, creative, and versatile pie creations, many of them with pop culture themes, including movies, TV shows, video games, and celebrity portraits. I was astonished to learn you only began baking a few years ago. What prompted you to take on this new challenge?

Hi there! It’s true — I only started baking a couple of years ago. Before that, I literally only used my oven for baking polymer clay figures. But a New Year’s Resolution to not eat any refined sugar for one year drove me to it. I couldn’t find any pre-made desserts that didn’t have tons of sugar, or fake sugar, in them, so out of desperation I decided to teach myself to bake my first pie. Just apples, nutmeg, Crisco, flour, and water!

I understand you were looking online for inspiration for geeky baked goods and realized there were no geeky pies. Is that why you decided to specialize in pies? Why do you think no had really taken on the making of geeky pies up to this point?

I had no designs on any sort of “pie career” when I started. I was a filmmaker and the whole pie thing was just something I started doing so I could eat them! The fact that I decorated them with nerdy designs right off the bat has more to do with my natural proclivities as a geeky creative person than any sort of prescient glimpse at where this could lead.

I was very surprised that I couldn’t find any decorative pies (outside of medieval literature) when there were so many awesome nerdy cakes and cookies and breads and pancakes and cupcakes and Rice Crispy treats, etc., etc.

I asked some of my buddies in the restaurant industry why pies were getting the shaft when it came to “fancification,” and they told me it was because you have to work too quickly with pie dough, you have to keep it too cold, and it shrinks and puffs too much in the oven.

I kind of took that as a challenge … and I’ve spent the last three years of my life finding ways to get around those seeming limitations and prove to the world just how awesome pies can be. While still tasting great, of course! There have been many (many) epic fails along the way, but many more exciting breakthroughs, all of which I share on my site, PiesAreAwesome.com, and on my Instagram, @ThePieous.

The Death Star Pie video you famously created for Food Network was viewed 30 million times in its first week. It’s a wonderful pie! Why do you think it struck such a chord with people?

By today’s standards, it is pretty tame — the bar has been raised a lot in two years! But at the time, most people just hadn’t thought to do that sort of thing to a pie crust. Despite the popularity of Pi Day and other nerdy associations, people still thought of pies (at least visually) as the domain of the family matriarch, and not something one messed with.

Which is so funny, because pies used to be the most epic of all foods on the tables of Renaissance and Medieval nobility. I think that first simple Death Star pie just opened a lot of folk’s eyes to the possibilities.

You’ve brought a lot of versatility to pie-making with technical innovations like the Piescraper, Pie Pops, Pie Dolls, etc. Where do you find inspiration for these ideas?

I’m always trying to push the envelope with pie baking, and I take a lot of inspiration from architecture, paper craft, toys, board games, chemistry, nature, fashion, sculpture, print making, etc. Basically everywhere except from the world of baking. Ha!

Though I am slowly starting to incorporate more edible media — I’ve been learning more about working with chocolate, and the chemistry behind entremets (those fancy multi-layer mousse cakes) which will all factor into future pies at some point.

Have you had any really epic pie fails?  

Oh gosh, yes! All the time. Most recently I had the bright idea of trying to create pottery out of pie dough on a ceramic wheel. I used hot water pastry because it’s sturdier and more resilient when it comes to being manhandled.

I created these three gorgeous edible little pie “vases” that I painstakingly embossed and hand painted with activated charcoal. I was going to add gold leaf post bake. But when I put them in the oven they flattened out into sad little lumps.

My dough recipe wasn’t quite sturdy enough, and I needed more supports during the bake. Live and learn! I will try again at some point, because I still think “pie vases” would be glorious little hand pies, but I have to get over the shame and rage of failure first. I kid! (A bit.)

What about the pop cultural designs you create? How do you know something will look good on a pie? Could you walk us through the typical process of designing and making a pie from start to finish?

I went to art school for four years, and though art and design have not been my bread and butter for well over a decade, I never stopped drawing and sculpting and creating. All of that informs my pie work. When I select a pop culture subject that I want to “pie up” — usually because it’s something I personally love, or something I’ve gotten a pile of requests for that I can no longer ignore — I start with my sketch book.

I think about the style/technique that might go best with that topic – ie. “Art Deco” with a bust of Wonder Woman, or edible glow in the dark with Tron — and draw out a few different designs for it. Then I create the templates, either out of paper or acetate, and gather my tools.

The tools will be different for each pie. Some call for fancy cutters and embossers and silicon molds, and for some all I need is my knife. My dough is usually prepped beforehand so all I have to do is set up my work station and get down to it. I try to film as I go so that my followers can see what I’m doing and make their own versions, or put their own spin on it.

After I’ve finished the design for the top of the pie, I’ll often bake that on a cookie sheet rather than put it onto the base pie to bake. This lets me control the bake time more precisely and keeps the filling from exploding all over everything.

When both top and base are done, I place the top on the base with a cake lifter and gently press it down. The two fuse together and when you serve, it is like they were baked that way. A handy trick! Then I let the pie set for a few hours or overnight before we eat it (after taking pictures of course!).

You’re an unabashed nerd. Were you a geeky kid? When and how did you discover this side of yourself?

Baby, I was born this way! But you can blame my dad — he gave me Lord of the Rings, Macroscope, 2001, and Hitchhikers Guide to read when I was 8, so it’s totally his fault.

There are so many amazingly geeky pies you have made, including Marvel characters, David Bowie from Labyrinth, Supernatural, a lovely tribute to Stan Lee, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Stranger Things, Tron, Predator, Disney princesses, Lego. I could go on and on. What are some of your favorite current fandoms?

Current fandoms? Yeesh, so many … If it’s got a supernatural component, I’m pretty much down. What I have on while I’m sketching right now:

– Dark (pretty much “Chernobyl” with time travel)

– Good Omens (delightful!)

– Umbrella Academy (based on one of my all-time fave comics)

– American Gods

– The Good Place

– Lucifer

– Dirk Gently

– Orphan Black

– The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

– Star Trek Discovery

– VEEP (only non-supernatural show I’m watching)

– Stranger Things (just got the new Lego set!)

– And I’ve been rewatching Monty Python and Black Adder recently, though that’s not “current.”

Oh, and I cannot wait for the Dark Crystal prequel!

You’re a lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy. What are some of your favorite titles or franchises, across all genres?

Star Trek: The Next Generation, LotR, Firefly, Kubrick’s sci-fi and horror stuff, Game of Thrones, Farscape, 8th, 9th and 10th Doctors, Quantum Leap, anything with Jim Henson’s name on it … I used to watch a ton of anime, but now I don’t have a DVD player and none of it is (legally) available for streaming so I’ve been Ranma 1/2 deprived for years, sadly. This list doesn’t scratch the surface, but it’s some of my top faves.

Were you/are you a comic book reader?

Golly, yes! I’ve got floor to ceiling full wall shelves in my dining room dedicated just to my comics. I was editor in chief of a small comic imprint for three years. I’ve always loved comics — I tend to gravitate to the Image, Vertigo (RIP again), Dark Horse, IDW, Boom, SLG, etc. type of publishers over Marvel/DC.

Though I have plenty of those too! I’m a bit of a Marvel zombie, not quite up on all the latest continuities but I try. As for my personal faves — Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker were my big loves as a teenager, then Mike Mignola, Steve Niles, Garth Ennis, Jeff Lemire, Fiona Staples … how much time do we have again?

I would love to make pies of all of these things, but I worry if I venture too far from the mainstream, I will alienate folks. I do sneak in a few “just for me” pies every now and then, like my “Poyo the Rooster Pie” from the comic “Chew.”

You posted a pic of your Lego Room on Instagram. And it looks amazing! Please describe it to me in detail.

Ha! It is a modest room compared to most of my AFoL friends (“Adult Fans of Lego”) but I’m happy with it. I’ve got my bricks in the closet, display space around the walls, and a big desk for building. I plan to paint a mural on one of the walls (whenever I can invent a few extra days in the week), and I hope to enter my first MOC (“My own creation”) at BrickCan next year.

How did this room happen?

We just moved into a new house and needed to decorate the guest room. My husband knew I’ve always wanted a Lego room and was super chill about me taking it over — as long as guests could still sleep there. Though really, who could sleep with so much awesome Lego to play with, amirite?!

When and how did Legos first capture your imagination?

I’ve always loved Lego. I had a brief “dark ages” (the time when you stop playing with Lego) in my late 20s/early 30s, but as soon as much son was born, I could justify collecting again. I bought “him” the Lord of the Rings Tower of Orthanc set when he was 6 months old. I’ve long since stopped pretending the Lego is for him.

Your website, www.piesareawesome.com offers tips, inspiration, and guidance for novices and experts, but I’ll be honest that looking at your pies can be a little intimidating. What tips and encouragement do you offer for potential pie-makers who may not feel up to the task?’

There are some really basic tips that most people don’t know about — like how to set up their work station, how to keep the dough cold, how to cut tiny details, how to keep the filling from exploding, etc. — that are so dirt simple and solve like 90% of the challenges people encounter when they try their hand at decorative pies. Those really boost people’s confidence to try more complex things.

My best advice is just to watch the videos and featured stories on my channels and then just try — pick a design you like and try to emulate it. Even if the final result doesn’t live up to the picture in your head, it’ll probably be a zillion times better than anything you’ve tried before, and you’ll have learned so much that your next pie will be even better. And if you get stuck, you can always DM me your questions! I try my best to answer everyone.

Do people send you photos of the pies they’ve made?

Yes, and that’s my favourite part of this whole wacky career path. I’m perpetually blown away by peoples’ talent and nothing makes me happier than to get a message or be tagged in a post in which someone has watched my tutorials and created something they’re proud of. In fact, every Friday I feature a new “pie-oneer” on my Instagram featured story entitled “Your Pie Art.”

Can you give us any hints as to what the future might hold for @ThePieous?

Keep an eye out for the world’s first “online Pie Art courses” to be available on my channels in time for the holiday baking season, along with new downloadable and printable templates. Hopefully I’ll be able to announce a few other cool things before the end of the year, too!

This isn’t really a question, but I’m so hungry now. I’m going to have to go find some pie. 

Always the right decision. Great chatting with you!

 

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