Hometown girl makes good.
Who doesn’t love to see one of their own make it big? Amanda Wilbanks grew up in Habersham County, just south of my grandparents’ farm where I spent the best summers of my childhood. She’s a local girl, still living in beautiful North Georgia, and we’re all pleased as punch and pie to see this southern lady shine so bright.
I walked into the Alpharetta store with high expectations and was not disappointed. Amanda’s pie shops are the perfect combination of elegance and farmhouse fare. The heavenly aroma of freshly baked pie filled the air and I almost suggested we do the interview over lunch—I was dying to taste the French coconut custard pie. Amanda floated into the dining area wearing a beautiful ball gown, having just finished another photo shoot (our girl is in high demand, ya’ll). She was every bit as warm and charming as one would expect, if not more.
In all my techno-colored baking fantasies, cartoon bluebirds chide me into singing a song as I place my perfect cherry pies on a windowsill to cool. Sadly, real life never lives up to the expectations set by the cartoons of my youth. Amanda Wilbanks laughs, recalling how after she baked her very first pie, it was taken outside and left to cool on her husband’s old, four-door sedan.
Pie For Starters
She baked that buttermilk pie, her husband’s favorite, under the tutelage of her visiting mother-in-law. The pie was such a huge hit at home, that her husband suggested she start selling them at local festivals. Months later, the Southern Baked Pie Company was born.
Working from her family’s own heirloom recipe book, Amanda creates the most delicious of savory and sweet pies. She is a working wife and mother who does everything in the spirit of family first. Amanda is a southern cook with a strong connection to her North Georgia home. Perhaps it is Amanda’s authenticity that has led to her great success, and by great, we mean three beautiful pie shops in the Atlanta metro area, a stunning cookbook, and impressive collaborations with Williams and Sonoma, Chick-Fil-A, and Hallmark.
As a child, Amanda spent her Sunday mornings at church, then gathered with the rest of her family at Grandma Betty’s for lunch. “I was the kid who would pull a chair up to the counter, when I wasn’t big enough to see over the counter, like four or five years old, and I would mix the biscuits and make the home-made gravy. Those are just sweet, sweet memories that I’ll never forget. That’s the South, you pass down the tradition and cooking to your kids, and a lot of times it’s not even written down. You just learn by being together in the kitchen.”
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@amandawilbanksbakes is heading back to California this week film with Hallmark @homeandfamilytv ! Stay tuned to find out when her episode airs & what recipes she’ll be sharing! 🎉 . #celebratelifewithpie #southernbakedpie #hallmark #hallmarkhomeandfamily #la #f52grams #feedfeedbaking
One of Amanda’s favorite cooking memories is making cobbler with her grandmother. “The thing I always made with my grandmother was cobbler. She always had fresh fruit that would be in season in the summer. We’d peel the peaches, or I would go out and pick blueberries off my granddaddy’s blueberry bushes, which we’ve had for maybe thirty years now, and they still produce. When I first started the company, I used the blueberries from his bushes.”
Amanda channels all the charm and grace of her small-town, southern upbringing into her baking.
How does she balance work with family life? Well, she combines the two. The Southern Baked Pie Company is very much a family affair. Amanda even brings her young sons into the kitchen to bake with her. I asked for quick and easy ideas on how to put my boys to work in the kitchen. Amanda suggested that I make a batch of her easy pie dough, then let the kids use cookie cutters of their choice to make cookies out of the crust.
Kids can easily baste the cookies with butter, then sprinkle them with cinnamon and sugar for a fun, delicious treat that contains much less sugar and calories than your average pastry. Or, if you want to dazzle the little tykes, you can opt for some decadent cream cheese icing and cast the sugar count to the wind.
Family time is important to Amanda and she takes great care to consider the small things. With every venture, with every recipe, she adds value to the act of doing by making it about experiencing life together as a family. “Some of the best memories I have from when I was younger were doing the simple things like stringing green beans with my mom and my grandmother. Those are things I want my kids to do.”
“In the South, you want to show up with a gift. And you want it to be pretty and unique.” Amanda’s company motto is “Celebrate life with pie.” She places great value on the concepts of sharing and giving and takes pride in cultivating southern hospitality.
“I feel like in the South, and everywhere, it seems like good manners are falling by the wayside. I think it’s important to remember that special occasions need to be celebrated. I like keeping alive the art of gifting, and tradition, and heirlooms.”
Like Amanda, I was raised to always show up with a gift for my hostess, or for the person, I was visiting. Not just any gift, mind you, but something thoughtful. And if my mother had any say in the matter, it needed to be packaged in such a way that would impress the room. Often, food is the best choice for hospitality gifting, so I asked Amanda how to gift with her delicious pies.
“Any life occasion, whether it’s a big promotion at work, or you’ve just had a baby, a birthday, whatever it may be, you can celebrate with pie.” We couldn’t agree more.
Baking For Beginners
My grandmother had the most beautiful decorative pie plates on her kitchen wall. Her favorite to bake with was a tin farmhouse plate with fluted edges. She valued the durability of cookware above all things. Amanda is the kind of cook my grandmother would have appreciated—she’s practical.“My favorite is a glass pie plate because you can look in the oven and see the crust is cooking and browning throughout. One of the keys to a good crust is getting a nice crispy bottom.”
The Southern Baked Pie Company is a one-stop shop where you can pick up a delicious, beautifully packaged dinner and dessert. “My favorite thing to give as a gift, whether it’s a housewarming gift or a new baby gift, or if someone sadly loses a family member, I always send a chicken potpie and a pecan pie.” Amanda’s pies freeze easily and can be stored for up to four months. This makes them an incredibly thoughtful gift for those recipients who might be receiving multiple food items during special or trying times.
Baking, for me, is a lot like math. I find it wildly intimidating and feel the slow build of anxiety as I strive for precision with each measurement. Amanda suggested that instead of trying to knock it out of the park on the first try, new bakers should focus more on the experience. She noted that the first time you make a recipe it’s going to yield vastly different results than the tenth time you make it, so relax, learn, and just enjoy the process of getting familiar with your recipes.
Thankfully, her cookbook, Southern Baked: Celebrating Life with Pie, is full of easy recipes for the timid baker. Most of the recipes have ten ingredients or less! Amanda’s pie crust only has four: flour, butter, sugar, and salt (five if you include water). She boosted my confidence with a quick pep talk on making pie crust from scratch.
“The more you make it, the more you get used to the feel and touch of it, the better you get with it,” Amanda says to aim for a consistency almost like playdough. She advises not to add any water, stick to the amount in the recipe, or you’ll dilute the magic that happens between the butter and the flour.
I’m thrilled that Amanda will soon be offering more cooking videos through a subscription type service on YouTube.com.
Summer Of Pie
Well, it’s finally summer in the South. Time for BBQs and outdoor Sunday brunches. How can we sweeten the season with sweet and savory pies?
Amanda’s spinach and mushroom quiche will add wow-factor to any brunch. She recommends pairing the quiche with a fizzy peach Bellini to make the event extra special. I love this pairing, not just because it’s delicious, but because I relish any opportunity to say “Bellini.”
For dessert, try serving Amanda’s buttermilk pie with its cool, creamy custard filling that blends hints of vanilla with nutmeg. Top it with whipped cream and bright seasonal berries for a gorgeous presentation.
Southern Baked Pie has four Georgia locations: Alpharetta, Buckhead, Gainesville and Vinings. Hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Go to Southern Baked Pie for more information. Not local? Don’t worry – they ship!