It will surprise exactly no one to learn that at Thanksgiving, Joanne Chang always brings dessert. A lot of dessert.
“I typically order one of everything to bring wherever we are going,” says Chang, the James Beard Outstanding Baker. That adds up to about seven pies, as well as armloads of breakfast treats and other goodies to last for days. And she likes to try it all.
“I cut a little bit of pumpkin pie, a little bit of pecan pie … a little bit of everything,” says Chang, who co-owns the Boston-area Flour Bakery chain, as well as Asian-inspired restaurant Myers+Chang, with her husband, Newburyport native Christopher Myers.
Rather merely wallowing in the excess, Chang turned those tastes into inspiration for a whole new treat: the Piefecta, a mash-up of half pecan and half pumpkin. “Those two tasted really, really good together,” Chang says, noting that pie, served with brown sugar whipped cream, is very popular this time of year.
The Piefecta is a far cry from the pastry chef’s Thanksgiving desserts growing up in Dallas, Texas. The daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, she rarely had sweets, instead getting fresh fruit for dessert. In fact, she says she was probably 8 or 9 years old before she had turkey on Thanksgiving.
“Until I was eight, my mom would get a Peking duck and do some stir-fried vegetables,” Chang recalls. “Thanksgiving was more just a celebration of food—not necessarily traditional American Thanksgiving food—but a huge spread of dishes that mom liked to make, and we all liked to eat.” Greens, stir-fries, noodles, dumplings, duck, and rice —always rice—were on the table, although eventually her mom introduced turkey to the mix. “My parents taught my brother and me to be thankful every day. So for us, it was just a day to celebrate being together as a family. And to eat a lot.”
Among the many things Chang has to be thankful for these days is her new home in Newburyport. For the past year, Chang and Myers have been splitting time between their Boston loft and the North Shore, in the first house that Chang has lived in since she was a kid.
“As an adult, I’ve never had a backyard. I’ve just lived in apartments and condos throughout Boston and New York,” Chang says. “I love having open space. We have some tomatoes, and we mow the lawn, and garden a little bit. It’s peaceful.”
While the couple intended to buy someplace in Newburyport for years, the pandemic gave them the nudge they needed as a respite from the rigors of hospitality in Boston during COVID-19. “Last fall, I was spending all my time just taking pictures of the trees, and then in the spring watching everything come back to life,” Chang recalls. “We don’t really see that in the city.”
Some of the couple’s favorite spots include Parker River Wildlife Refuge, the Garrison Trail and Moseley Woods, but even watching the changing seasons from their small backyard or walking around the neighborhood brings joy. “Every two seconds, I’m stopping and saying, ‘Christopher, look at this, look at this!’ … Basically, everything Mother Nature has been a revelation.”
With an entire home to fill, they also take weekly trips to WishBasket and Red Bird in the Tannery, she says. “We’ve been living here a year and we still have practically no furniture, so we haunt these two amazing shops and try to figure out which couch, dining room tables, and chairs to pick.”
Of course, with cooking in their DNA, the couple’s kitchen is a centerpiece, offering a lot more space than their Boston loft. “The kitchen in Newburyport is a dream,” Chang says. “Lots and lots of counter space, a big fridge, and an excellent stove and pantry space. In the city, our kitchen is a bit tighter and less conducive to cooking big meals, which I love to do!”
When you’re cooking for a crowd, whether it’s the holidays or not, advance prep is key, Chang says. “That’s one thing we know from doing it professionally—you can make some bases ahead of time, and you can make the pie dough ahead of time. You can roll out pie crusts and even parbake the pie shells, so that on Thanksgiving, you’re not spending a lot of time on the dessert part.”
For more ideas, grab her fifth cookbook, Pastry Love: A Baker’s Journal of Favorite Recipes, which came out in 2019 and includes a version of her easy-to-handle, extra flaky Pâte Brisée pie dough, not to mention a bevy of perfect choices for holiday gifting, from Peppermint Kisses to Christopher’s Honeycomb. The book, written in a conversational, approachable style, is just as fun to bake from as it is to read.
Of course, the much easier option is to just order your desserts from one of the nine Flour locations—Chang says Flour’s Fort Point bakery on Farnsworth Street is probably the easiest to access from the North Shore. Because, while Chang and her husband have much love for Newburyport, they have no plans to follow in the footsteps of other Boston-area restaurateurs and open one of their eateries up this way. But you’ll definitely find them enjoying the dining scene.
“I am looking forward to exploring more of the restaurants in Newburyport,” Chang says. “I’m excited to go out to dinner, and I’m hoping that we can still do that throughout the wintertime. I think that’ll be really fun.”