If you’ve visited Winston Pies in Brentwood, Los Angeles, you already have some sense of what it’s like to wake up on Christmas morning and run into the kitchen of Brianna Abrams’ home.
The wide marble counter island is the centerpiece of her home; a calm, comfortable surface that begs you to pour yourself some coffee and get elbow deep in dough. One surprising difference: you might be more likely to smell cinnamon rolls or fresh bread baking in her own oven, rather than the famous pies that have made her bakery a two-location sensation in just over one year.
Hailing from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Brianna grew up in a family of formidable bakers where every lady had her own trademark baked good, from Grandma Edna’s famous pies to her sister’s incredible cookies. Still, Brianna never thought she’d be a piesmith herself—she went to law school in DC and had started down a promising path as an attorney before trading it in for entrepreneurship and creative expression.
In its earliest form, Winston Pies was an online bakery housed in Brianna’s kitchen (with her husband working diligently as the very first Pie Taster) before they opened up their Brentwood brick-and-mortar and subsequent expansion to West Hollywood. Now, this passionate businesswoman, chef, and mother of two creates delicious recipes that are meant to make you feel right at home from the first bite—the perfect blend of Southern hospitality and fresh California-grown ingredients.
Born out of a love of Southern traditions and flavors, Winston Pies is popular year-round but the demand skyrockets at the start of fall. Los Angeles may never see cozy, school-cancelling flurries, but that doesn’t stop us from craving sentimental, cold-weather favorites like pumpkin or apple pie.
Brianna matches the demand with long hours at the bakery and strategic menu releases–aware that pumpkin spice burnout is all too real, she withholds her Classic Pumpkin Pie until Halloween week, and then mercifully retires it on Christmas to usher in a new seasonal flavor.
At this time of year, Brianna and her piesmiths barely have time to catch their breath, supplying Caramel Twix Pies and Chocolate Cowgirls to holiday gatherings, festive family reunions, and company galas (including ChowNow’s very own end-of-year celebrations). Still, we managed to slip in a few moments to chat about what she does for herself and her family at home, once the flour settles.
What are your holiday traditions?
On Christmas Eve, I close early, go home to my family, and we all open our first gift at once. It’s always matching pajamas for everyone, which we get to wear on Christmas. There are two days of the year when the kids can wear their pajamas all day long; one is their birthday, and the other is Christmas day.
So, we get to lounge around in our fun matching PJs, nibbling on baked goods–SO many baked goods, and not just pies, because I get to bake some of my favorite things. I’ll do cinnamon rolls and fresh bread, and fresh jam to go with it, and then we do a brunch with waffles and compote, and then we’ll go into a nice late afternoon dinner. My husband takes care of the savory part, and he’s an excellent cook–so we are eating a LOT between just opening gifts, hanging out, and facetiming with all my family. A very lazy day.
Any traditions you have brought from the South to LA?
Absolutely—I grew up with a very traditional Southern Christmas when my mother would do cookie exchanges, and we’d all have tartan plaid dresses, so I love anything that reminds me of that! I try to create as much of that at our house as I can, although I don’t have time to do cookie exchanges in December, which may be for the best. My older sister is EXCELLENT at cookie making–shes a doctor and she’s very exacting with her icing– her cookie prowess is just incredible. She can do the roll-out stamp cookies with sugar dusting… Meanwhile, I do drop cookies.
What would you make for a baked goods exchange?
Actually, I REALLY enjoy doing an Italian olive oil cake, with maybe a citrus drizzle or a zest inside, and I’ll usually do a homemade ice cream to go along with it, also olive oil flavored. Nothing else, just ice cream with simple, quality olive oil.
What present would you most like to buy for your kitchen?
My husband actually is a gadget guy, so we do have every kitchen gadget imaginable, most of which I don’t even use! But we have accumulated a lot of neat little baking things that help give a wow factor—like being able to torch some marshmallows or fashion cute shapes.
I think instead of a gadget I might go for the little details, like a bigger variety of sprinkle colors, or different wrappers to present cupcakes or cookies in, all those little twists that dress something up! At the heart of all my baking, from pies to bread, it’s very simple rustic. I don’t need super fancy gadgets to make that, but it’s always fun to make it look nice on the outside and get it packaged nicely.
My favorite, favorite place to go was Surfas, over in Culver City (note: they are now on Washington Blvd) You would walk in and see every type of chocolate chip for melting or decorating, and they had all these weird tools and so many spices, and different types of flour that I could use to make pasta at home. They also have a cafe that I used to love going to! (also note: you can order ahead for the Cafe at Surfas, but you’ll still get stuck window shopping)
Part of why I really like places like Surfas is that it’s like an education for me. I didn’t come from the culinary world, I never went to culinary school or took classes, so when I could go to Surfas and see what the professionals are using and what they’re working with, I could absorb all that information and then use it to go create something. It was amazingly valuable. “
Do you ever revisit old recipes and evolve them?
Yeah! I just did that with our pecan and pumpkin! I had done a special version of a black bottom pecan for a lady’s blog, and it was my opportunity to taste pecan for the first time in a year, and I found myself wanting to change it a little bit. I was always just okay on pecan before, but after changing it, it’s the pie I’d eat every day for breakfast, and all we did was change some of the elements that affected the viscosity.
“I know a recipe is complete when I want more. When I could eat it for breakfast every single day.”
For our pumpkin pie, we bumped it slightly in one direction–changing the spices a bit and swapping the crust from a parbaked butter to a graham crust. We knew we got it right because it was really well received by both pumpkin fanatics and people who maybe hadn’t liked pumpkin that much before.
What is January’s seasonal flavor?
I don’t know if I’m allowed to say, but we’re going to be doing a “new year, new me” kind of pie—healthyish, but very tasty and very interesting.
Ready to visit Winston Pies?
Brentwood Location: 11678 San Vicente Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90049
West Hollywood Location: 8366 West 3rd St, Los Angeles, CA 90048
Ready to indulge in some comfort food with just the right amount of indulgence? Read this post about meals that will make you feel like you’re cheating…minus the food coma. Not in the Los Angeles area? Discover delicious eats near you.