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Pie Story: An Epic Journey to find the Nesselrode Pie in Canarsie, Brooklyn

Teena's Cake Fair Pies
Cakespy note: this picture is not Nesselrode Pie. More on that later.

It all began innocently enough: with a book. This time, it was in Barnes & Noble, where amongst the "Northwest" section of cookbooks, there was, inexplicably, a cookbook of classic New York City foods. Curious about the anomaly, we picked it up and looked through the table of contents for the desserts. The usual suspects were present--rice pudding, crumb cake...and nesselrode pie.

We'd never heard of Nesselrode Pie.

According to the author, Arthur Schwartz, this pie is extinct, though it still lives on in the memories of older New Yorkers. And it seems so--as an excellent New York Times article by Bernard Gwertzman confirmed in 2004, "Like baked Alaska and Charlotte Russe, it seemed to have gone to the equivalent of food heaven." In fact, at the time of the article, the pie was only available at one New York City bakery--Teena's Cake Fair of Canarsie, Brooklyn.

So what is this Nesselrode pie? Going back to our guy Schwartz,


Nesselrode is named after one Count Nesselrode, as are a number of dishes that
are made with chestnuts or chestnut puree.

The pie...however, was popularized by Hortense Spier, who started her business not as a pie bakery but as a brownstone restaurant on 94th St. between Columbus Ave. and Central Park West. The restaurant closed before World War II and Mrs. Spier baked her specialty pies for other restaurants after that. Besides the nesselrode, there was a lemon meringue, a banana cream, and a coconut custard. By the mid 1950s, these were, indeed, the standard pies served in New York's seafood restaurants and steakhouses. When Mrs. Spierr died, her daughter, Ruth, and daughter-in-law, Mildred, continued the business.

Nesselrode pie is really a classic Bavarian cream -- in a pie shell, of course -- which is to say a custard base into which gelatin is blended for stability and egg whites are folded for added volume and lightness. The flavoring ought to be candied chestnuts and rum, but chestnuts haven't been a major part of the pie for a long time. The following recipe uses a product called Raffetto's "Nesselro" fruits, which does indeed contain a trace of chestnut, though the first ingredient listed is, of all things, cauliflower, which apparently has a similar texture to chestnuts when candied. The remaining ingredients are candied fruits. You can use a mix of candied fruit -- tutti
fruiti -- if you cannot find the Raffetto product.

For those who are intrigued, or just cauliflower enthusiasts, if interested in buying your own "Nesselro", it is manufactured and marketed by Romanoff International, Inc., the same people who market the caviar found in suparmarkets. It is distributed through Haddon House.


Teena's Cake FairJessie 040
But really, we're just telling you this to explain why, at 6 a.m. this morning, our Head Spy Jessie emerged from the JFK terminal after a red-eye flight to head not to a hotel, not to a friend's home, but to Canarsie, Brooklyn, in search of the coveted Nesselrode Pie. After two train transfers, a bus ride, and a 1.5 mile walk with luggage in hand, she found herself on the stoop of Teena's Cake Fair, shortly after they opened for the day, eager to see this mythic baked good.

But like many epic tales, the story's ending was to be bittersweet. "We don't regularly carry that pie in the summer," the employee explained, "too hot. We usually just have it for the holidays". Of course, this makes sense. While yes, it's true, a request could have been put in ahead of time and saved our spy a trip, we really just wanted the satisfaction of seeing it in the bakery case; alas, that joy was not to be found this time. And so, our heroine Spy humbly ordered a black and white cookie, which at 7 a.m. was still warm and freshly frosted--and upon the first perfect bite (half chocolate, half vanilla frosting), reflected that maybe it's just as well that there was no Nesselrode pie--for isn't the journey half the fun?

Teena's Cake Fair is located at 1568 Ralph Ave., Canarsie, Brooklyn, (718) 763-9100; the closest Subway stop is the end of the line on the L Train. Nesselrode Pie is only available around the holidays.
For those interested in making a Nesselrode Pie, the recipe can be found at Arthur Schwartz's website, thefoodmaven.com; there is also a link to buy his book on the site!



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Reader Comments (33)

Serious dessert dedication! I am flying to New York next week, and although I will probably go to the hotel and chuck my stuff on the bed and take of my shoes and flop back on the mattress with my arms and legs waving around and sigh "ahhhhh" (this is a hotel routine, not to be deviated from, ever) I like to imagine getting in the taxi fresh off the plane and commanding, "to the bakery!"

June 11 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

Heh :) I've heard the name nesselrode pie, but never knew what it was.

There's another recipe (that says it's from NYT in 1945) that doesn't use the Nesselro fruit, but broken macaroons (rather than macarons ;>)...

I'd be inclined to try this latter one; it seems to use macaroons and almonds in lieu of candied cauliflower (and who wouldn't want to try some of that!).

June 11 | Unregistered CommenterOwl Chick

What a journey! You cakespies are a dedicated bunch. I'm sure the black and white cookie made the flight almost worth it :)

Talk about dedication- That's one incredible story! I've never heard of the pie either, but it certainly sounds worth investigation.

oooo, interesting pie. I have never heard of it. But I know I want a taste. Great interview!

June 11 | Unregistered CommenterGigi

I remember seeing the name of this pie when I was a kid in one of my mother's cookbooks--but I never knew what it was! Thanks for clearing it up in this informative post. And sorry you didn't actually get to taste it! :(

June 11 | Unregistered CommenterRicki

too hot for pie?! are they insane?! I don't care if you live in Arizona, it's never too hot for pie. Although, that black and white cookies ounds equally as delicious. How I long to be a sugar jetsetter like yourselves :)

June 11 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

That really sucks you travelled so far and there was no pie!! I probably would have turned into the hulk and thrown cake at their windows...but I hate flying.

Also, in relation to you post below on the blondie I must ask you to take a quick gander at my newest post. *wink wink nudge nudge*

I have just recently found your site and I must say that I am smitten. Your writing is delightful and your artwork is so charming. Thanks for helping to make life sweeter.

June 11 | Unregistered Commenterartisansweets

Oh shame about the lack of pie! I've never heard of Nesselrode but anything with chestnut in it would certainly prompt me to travel!

June 12 | Unregistered CommenterY

I am super, super intrigued by this... from chestnut bavarian to cauliflower... I have never had caramelized cauliflower so I cannot imagine the texture. This is incredible!

June 12 | Unregistered CommenterAran

I have DEFINITELY never heard of the Nesselrode Pie; and it's "extinct"? Interesting. But hey, Bavarian Cream is a lovely dessert, so if that's basically what it is, then that sounds absolutely divine! :0)

June 12 | Unregistered CommenterVeggieGirl

I've never heard of it either...but I'll have to ask my Mother & Grandmother if they have - especially growing up in Astoria, NY. My Great Grandmother had a Candy Shop in Queens right in the midst of things. I'm sure she was bound to have partaken in some Nesselrode Pie!

June 12 | Unregistered CommenterJaimee

well, it's only 9 am and i've already learned my bit of info for the day! :) i enjoy cauliflower, but i hesitate to think of it as a tasty pie filling. i'll be looking forward to your holiday follow-up post, but in the meantime, you should have some sort of contest to see who can come up with the best interpretation of that description.

June 12 | Unregistered CommenterGrace

I would fly anywhere for a piece of pie. You always post about the coolest things. And that's why I left a little ol' award on my blog for you yesterday :)

June 12 | Unregistered CommenterRecipeGirl

nothing soothes disappointment like a cookie.
Enjoy your time in NYC and all the baked goods it has to offer!
I wish I could make it to Renegade this weekend, I should have planned better and asked for a day off. :(

maybe I need a cookie...

So interesting! I think I may have to try making this!
Ann at http://www.redactedrecipes.com/" REL="nofollow">Redacted Recipes

June 12 | Unregistered CommenterAnn

I learn so much from the cakespy!
Food history and background is not considered enough in this culture of change! Good work!

You seriously went straight to the bakery from JFK?! That is some serious Cakespy dedication!!!

Now I can't wait for the holidays when I will head down to this bakery in search of my own Nesselrode pie.

June 12 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

Now there's a trip to Brooklyn worth going for!!

June 12 | Unregistered Commentercakewardrobe

Now you've really got me intriqued - I've neve heard of Nesselrode Pie, but perhaps I'll be hanging out in Brooklyn in search of a taste ...

Now you've really got me intriqued - I've neve heard of Nesselrode Pie, but perhaps I'll be hanging out in Brooklyn in search of a taste ...

Too hot for pie? Are they mad?!

June 12 | Unregistered CommenterRural Vegan

So interesting and yet so sad.

June 12 | Unregistered CommenterJeanna
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