Pie-Eyed for Ice Cream

by Rebecca Cohen
Antoinette Bruno
October 2013


Some foods seem to be made for one another, and pie and ice cream are at the top of that list. À la mode became a fashion for one eminently respectable reason: it’s delicious. That’s why Andrea Upchurch, Pastry Chef of Cypress, Magnolias, and Blossom in Charleston, South Carolina, has married the two favorites in one beautiful preparation—pie ice cream.

“I love pie. It’s one of my favorite things. And I love ice cream,” says Upchurch. “I’m just combining my favorite things and utilizing what I have around.” But instead of serving a slice with a scoop, she’s begun incorporating the pie right into the ice cream, and then using that to step other desserts up a notch, as in her buttermilk pie ice cream that she adds to a warm strawberry-rhubarb crumble.

“At Blossom I’m doing a Southern sundae with pecan pie ice cream, chocolate buttermilk cake, pecan brittle, and caramel sauce,” she says. Last spring, the Cypress menu featured a sweet-tart strawberry-rhubarb crumble with tangy buttermilk pie ice cream thrown on top for a beautiful coupling of bright acid and smooth dairy.

So far Upchurch hasn’t met a pie that doesn’t work well in ice cream. “It’s pretty accommodating; it’s just a matter of finding the right base to combine with the pie.” Not one to cut corners, Upchurch prepares whole pies, creates an ice cream base of a complementary flavor, and then actually dices the entire pie and folds it into the ice cream as she extracts it from the machine. She tends to prefer pies that offer a good ratio of crispy flaky crust to filling, creating great textural contrast when folded throughout a silky ice cream. To keep everything properly proportioned she suggests taking special care to chop the crimped crust edge into small bits, so a guest never ends up with a big scoop of dry pastry unbalanced by filling or custard.

“The thought process started with pie,” says Upchurch. “What else can I do with it? How can I push the envelope?” Overseeing the pastry programs at three restaurants that focus on regional Southern cuisine, Upchurch has plenty of opportunity to play with classic Dixie desserts. Whether it’s buttermilk pie strewn throughout a creamy vanilla base, pecan pie incorporated into a molasses-brown sugar ice cream, or cherry pie melded with a brandy custard base, each of these combinations is representative of the regional culinary vernacular, and a complete dessert in and of itself.

Not only is Upchurch’s method a great way of adding complexity and texture to a dish, it’s also the perfect use for leftover goodies. Didn’t quite sell out of that special pie on Saturday night? Fold it into an ice cream and use it to enhance another dessert on Sunday. Upchurch also has done a variation with all the fixins’ of a German chocolate cake. When we spoke with her, she was even pondering the possibilities of a pie ice cream bombe glacée of sorts.

Upchurch anchors all of her work in her own history and that of her guests’ palates. “A lot of times people really seek childhood nostalgia in desserts. They look for something that reminds them of when they were little, brings back those memories, and has that simplicity,” Upchurch says. “That’s where a lot of my approach comes from. I’m trying to reinvent childhood memories through my desserts.”