Baking at Thanksgiving. It’s a big deal to some people and a late afternoon stop at the grocery for others. Perhaps because often folks are cooks OR they’re bakers and rarely both. The pumpkin pie may have all the memories the turkey never garnered and the homemade yeast rolls and butter just might be why your grandson shows up. On the other hand, it could be all about the dressing, gravy or even the ham at your house where no one looks twice at dessert. I once brought turkey and dressing to a summer potluck, where a close friend refused to eat a bite. When I asked why, she said, “You didn’t make gravy. I don’t eat dressing without gravy.” She truly had some serious food traditions and it’s not unusual. Listen to your friends and family talk about Thanksgiving and you’ll see.
As the bittersweet arrival of the last of the northwest blueberries coincides with the happy coming of the first glorious Colorado peaches, the two together feel exactly like a match made in heaven in my kitchen on a beautiful cool morning. With just a smidge over 5 cups of beginning-to-pucker and wilt Oregon blueberries in the fridge, I had not quite enough for a 9-inch pie. A case of peaches sat wafting their keen aroma from the mudroom, so I followed my nose out there and snagged a couple of not-too-ripe beauties to peel and slice for the bottom of the pie, filling that empty extra inch of space. The buttery sweetness from the berry mixture on top would provide plenty of juicy goodness for the still somewhat tangy peaches. Making something with peaches that aren’t quite ripe or up-to-snuff? Add a pinch of ground mace to increase their flavor.
|R for Rhubarb
This post now featured on Rachel Rappaport’s PIE FAIR LADY blog!
Thanks, Rachel. Bake pie!
If, by chance you’re looking for gluten-free pie dough, please just go to Gluten-Free Girl…a great blog; here’s one post on pie dough there.
I’m just guessing that usually there’s a lot of love goes into pie. Making it is not an endeavor one embarks on lightly. Like weeding the flower bed out back or picking up a gallon of milk at the store. It’s kind of a devoted, warm-fuzzy, all around commitment. Bake with a band on sort of thing. (Being both a cook and musician gives me license for such sentences.)
Whatever reason brings you to pie, I hope this little (not really so little) tutorial will be of help. It contains the story of my own pie-making, a photo-essay on making the rhubarb pie (including crust), and the recipes/basic info you’ll need to make it all happen. FYI: This long pie post is truly a work in progress.
How I Came to Pie:
|Kathy’s Apple Pie|
When I was newly married in the mid-seventies, pie-making was already an art not necessarily pursued by the typical home cook. Oh, of course there was pie. But it might have been made with a frozen crust from the grocery store or a tube of pie dough you bought prepared but not yet rolled out. It could have come from any one of a bunch of great bakeries; there are fewer of those now. Many pies appeared with graham cracker crusts and then you could even buy those pre-made. To put a point on it, I didn’t know another 20 year old who was baking pies.
In those days, it was the cool thing to take the easy way out with food. Women were leaving the kitchen and going to work. They didn’t want to be tied down to cooking or baking all day and reveled in ready-made products or short-cut techniques. Think cake and pudding mixes and frozen vegetables, Stouffers’ frozen meals. Maybe we were the Jetsons’ or the Space Program Generation and somehow perhaps thought cooking food was about to be passe; it would soon appear magically behind Door #3.
But I knew people who baked pie. My mom, for instance (though she might pull out a frozen crust once in a while herself late in life) and Dave’s Aunt Kathryn–the Morgan pie-baker. In college, the wife of our department head (the late, beautiful Cindy Izzo), made pie when we ended up there one snowed-out Thanksgiving when we couldn’t get home. I think each family sort of depended on one person to be in charge of pie. Often it was someone who was simply willing. I also had a couple of friends (older than me) who baked beautiful pies. I really wanted to be one of those people and so I began. “Oh! You make pie?” Learning to bake pies goes slowly as most cooks don’t make them often. We wait for holidays and then wonder why our pies are lopsided. If you want to bake pie, bake one more often than at holiday time.
|Coffee Cup Pie for One|
My own early attempts didn’t look too bad or sad (or maybe they did), but were under baked. (Lesson One: Bake pies in a clear glass pie plate so you can see that the bottom crust is done.) To say that my husband loves pie is an understatement and I kept trying. I learned to throw a piece of aluminum foil on top if it browned too much or to put a collar of aluminum foil around the pie from the beginning. Finally, I began pies at a high temperature and lowered them to a moderate one after 15 minutes so that the pie got done but didn’t burn. I learned to underbake pumpkin pie just a teense so that it barely shivered when moved and only a few moist crumbs stuck to the knife when I tested it. Custard should be creamy, not jelloey or like rubber. I discovered fruit pies maybe needed a few more minutes so that the filling really was making a run for it through the slits in the top crust and the crust had some nice brown to it here and there. No soft pallid pies for me.
Over the nearly forty years of pie baking, I’ve made everything from banana cream to sweet potato to apple crostatas to pear tarts to quiches. I’ve made big pies and little pies and even coffee cup pies. Most of the pies pictured are on the blog; you can search them if you’re interested; most have links.
|Sour Cream Crumble Apple Pie
|Very fast Kiwi Tart . Crust is made by pouring hot pastry cream on an ultra thin gingersnap cookie||!|
|Turkey Pot Pie from Thanksgiving Leftovers|
|Strawberry-Hazelnut Shortbread Tart|
|Helen’s Cherry Pie (intact)|
|Pie Crust Cookies (Trimmed-extra- pie dough twisted, fried, and rolled in cinnamon sugar)|
|Betty White’s Mexican Quiche|
If someone asks, I promise I’ll swear I never said this…but if you just can’t make pie dough (and I don’t think there’s anyone who can’t), please buy a refrigerated pie crust –not frozen–at the supermarket or ask a friend to make you a few for a birthday gift each year. Making pie, however you do it, is really a worthwhile experience. Even for people like me, who prefer piece of incredible chocolate cake. There, I said it.
|We have a lot of chances to make pie. Take one!|
Whatever you bake, have a light heart about it and your pastry will take it’s cue from you. Be gentle with it (and yourself) and get it to do what you want as quickly as possible–the goal is to get it into the oven as cold as possible. Your warm hands, while perfect for many things, are not its friend. Keep some fun music on (remember “cook with a band on?”) and keep everyone else out of the kitchen so you can concentrate. If you have a veteran pie-baker friend or partner in the house, tell them exactly what kind of help you need if you haven’t asked them to be your wing man.
But not to worry how things look or turn out… Nothing is perfect, particularly not pie. (It’ll get eaten no matter. Ice cream, or better yet whipped cream, hides a plethora of sins.) Think of the Amish quilters who intentionally sew one imperfect patch into every quilt because only God is perfect. Keep baking and your pie-making will improve much like your piano playing, typing, hammering a nail, or baby-handling did as you went along. I include pictures of all sorts of imperfect pies and crusts; it’s just how it rolls. Happy Pie!
Time to get your pie on…
This dough is made in a Cuisinart food processor.
See recipes below for information on making by hand.
Hint #1 Start in the morning or very early afternoon when you have a lot of time; it takes time to make/ bake pie and it takes even more time to cool. Hot pie is a mess. Also, in the summer, when great fruit is plentiful, it’s hot. Dame, get up and bake your pies early in the morning. Like 5a.m. mid-summer.)
|Iced water added. Processed until just coming together or just starting to come together. Don’t overwork the dough. When you pinch a bit between your thumb and index finger, it should stay together.|
|Meantime, or ahead, chop the rhubarb into about 1/2″ pieces, place in a bowl and stir together with sugar, flour, and salt. Set aside.|
Hint #2 Make mostly in season, but also a little out of season pie. Rhubarb in the spring, blueberries in early summer, apple in the fall…Buy extra fruit when it’s beautiful and cheap; freeze enough for a couple of pies you’ll enjoy at the holidays or mid-winter. Picture a February evening and a hot blueberry pie cooling on the counter.
|Flip dough over and roll quickly-once!-with rolling pin to release dough from waxed paper.|
|Gently peel that side’s paper off.|
|Turn dough over onto pie plate and carefully pull the other sheet of paper off.|
|Gently press dough down into pie plate as evenly as possible so no air pockets exis Edges should hang over.|
|Into the pan, trim with a small sharp knife or kitchen scissors so that you have 1″ of dough beyond the edge of the pie plate. Crimp (pinch) edges quickly; you don’t want to heat the dough with your fingers any more than you must.|
|Fill with rhubarb mixture and dot with butter. The butter and the flour in the rhubarb will create the thickener. Now for the top crust…|
Hint #3: Don’t skimp on the amount of fruit or filling for your pie. Fruit particularly will cook down and, once baked/cooled, the finished pie won’t be nearly as tall as when you first put it together. If you’re going to go to all the trouble of baking pie, fill that baby up. (Custard pies will rise while baking and then settle back down a bit when cooled. For custard pies only: place your unfilled pie crust in the pie plate on a baking sheet that is already in the oven with the oven rack just barely pulled out; fill it there to avoid spilling and then gently push the rack into the oven and close the oven door.)
|Take that top or second piece of rolled-out dough and loosely roll it around your rolling pin.
Fold dough carefully and gently first in half and then into quarters.
|There, it’s on and covered and just needs trimming.|
|Trim evenly with sharp knife or scissors. (I like to make pie crust cookies out of extra dough.)|
|Seal or crimp edges quickly; don’t over work dough.|
|Place on a rimmed baking sheet (not your favorite cookie sheet) in case of boil overs.|
|It’s done when it’s browned and bubbling through slits. Glass pie plates help you see if it’s done.|
|So close and yet so far away. This must cool nearly completely or you’ll cut it and have a sea of filling all over.|
|Here’s the rhubarb at the St. Paul Farmer’s Market. Trim and dispose of leaves carefully; they’re full of oxalic acid and are poisonous.|
|Coming home in my basket|
- 2- 9″ pie crusts, purchased or homemade *
- 5 cups rhubarb, trimmed and chopped into 1/2″ pieces (leaves are toxic)
- 3/4 c white sugar If you sweeten your crust, use 1/2 cup sugar.
- 1/4 c all-purpose flour
- Dash salt
- 2T butter, cold, cut into small dice
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- In a large bowl, mix together rhubarb, sugar, flour, and salt.
- Place one pie crust in a 9″ pie pan (preferably glass).
- Gently spoon rhubarb mixture into crust.
- Dot rhubarb with butter evenly.
- Place second crust on top. Trim edges evenly around the pie pan. Crimp, pinch, or press down with fork tines the edges of the crust to seal the pie. (If you have a lot of leftover crust, twist each small piece, fry it up in hot canola oil and roll in cinnamon sugar. Eat pie crust cookies while warm.)
- With a sharp, thin knife, cut vents into the top crust to allow steam to escape from filling. You can make a favorite design (smiley face, your daughter’s first initial, etc.) or just make 4-6 arrows or wide “v”s spaced evenly. If you’d like, you can gild the lily by sprinkling the top crust with a dusting of white sugar or by brushing on a whisked together mixture of an egg yolk and a tablespoon of heavy cream or milk.
- Bake pie on a rimmed baking sheet at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 and cook another 45 minutes or so until crust is golden and rhubarb is bubbling through the slits. If crust is browning too quickly, cover lightly with a sheet of aluminum foil or cut 4″ wide pieces of foil and wrap them around the edges of the pie. You’ll need 2-3 pieces.
- Cool completely on rack before cutting. (or the filling will run all over)
- A fruit pie can remain stored and covered well at room temperature for a day or two. If not using within two days, refrigerate. If you must freeze, I recommend freezing your rhubarb, not the pie. See below.
Pie Dough…about it:
Pie Dough Recipes:
I often use an old recipe (below) from the small manual that came with my first Cuisinart in the early ’80s maybe. It’s a pâte brisée (paht bree-say) dough, which is typically for a French tart (add a little sugar) or quiche. I particularly like it for custard pies (including pumpkin pie), pies made with a blind crust (i.e. a cream pie that’s filled after the crust is baked), or quiches. This is a “short” crust (more crumbly than flaky–as in “shortbread”) and quite dense, which helps to keep the crust crisp versus soggy within a day or so. It is also an all-butter crust in a baking age where vegetable shortening is sometimes frowned upon as a processed and somewhat unhealthy ingredient.
Shortening? Lard?? How about no crust at all?
I will say this about shortening: I do not pretend to know the ins and outs of the health side of shortening (my can now says “no trans fats”), though it has come to replace lard in baking for many people. (Though not all.) I do know two things about shortening: it makes a flaky crust and it makes a crust that holds up well to a fruit pie. We also do not eat many pies. It’s not as if you’ll consume shortening, or even lard, daily. You can make all shortening (Crisco, for example) crust or you can make a part butter, part shortening crust as does Dorie Greenspan (“Good for Almost Everything Pie Dough”), who has written several baking books, as well as a first class blog. If you do use shortening (it’s cheaper and some people really like it better or simply must avoid dairy), make sure you chill it thoroughly or even stick it in the freezer for a while. Cold fat is the key, though baking pies in the middle of life (nursing babies, re-writing a proposal, doing the wash) can leave you baking a pie with room-temperature dough. (It bakes. It eats. And there’s usually not time enough to begin again. Just go on.)
I have never baked a pie with lard (rendered pork fat), so I don’t have much to say about it. I can say that there are amongst us veteran pie-bakers (one of my dearest friends) who would not use anything else for their flaky crust. In the course of cooking history, I just guess bakers have used fats from many sources–usually the most easily (closest and/or cheapest source) available. Witness my mom who kept bacon grease in a tightly closed tin and used it to cook all kinds of things, particularly eggs. (Never for pie that I remember–though it might not be bad in a pot pie.) Oddly enough, I remember that tin sitting on the counter and not in the refrigerator. Butter has always been a choice and expensive ingredient, especially when you had to milk the cow, allow the cream to separate, and make the butter yourself. Pies use a lot of fat, which adds considerably to the cost of the finished product. Hence a history of using less-expensive fat.
If you cannot eat all the fat involved in a pie crust, many pies can be made with just one crust, which will also cut a lot of calories, or no crust at all. Quiche, too, can often be made with no crust. Grease pans well for crustless pies.
|Here’s a little pie (pumpkin) I bake in individual ramekins with no crust at all. It can be made in the oven or microwave (1 minute) It’s actually just custard, right? You can really do a whole pumpkin pie in a 9″ pie pan without crust. This one has a dollop of creme fraiche on top, as well as an extra sprinkle of Penzey’s Vietnamese cinnamon.|
Pie storage: Invite friends and eat it up! Pie is best the day it’s made.
Any pie made with a filling including eggs and milk must be stored in the refrigerator if not consumed on the day it’s eaten. Do not pay attention to pumpkin pies that sit for a week on the shelf at Sam’s. If your pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving is made on Wednesday night, store it in the garage where it’s cold-if you live “up north” or refrigerate it. Take it out a couple of hours before to dinner so that you eat it at room temperature, which is how you want to consume custard pies. If you make it early Thanksgiving morning (as do I–custard pies are best the day they’re made), it’s fine on the table until Thursday night. When you eat it for breakfast Friday morning, it had better be cold.
A fruit pie (made with a butter or a shortening crust) can sit out covered on the counter for a day or two with no harm and is, in fact, tastier than if you chill it. It’s not something you want to refrigerate; think of refrigerated bread. However, use your own good sense…if it’s in the nineties and you want to keep that fruit pie three or four days, refrigerate it, too, or you’ll have moldy pie.
About sizes of pies and pie plates:
Just about any pie can be made in any size pie plate or pie pan, as some bakers say. Typically pies are 8″, 9″, or 10″ in diameter; tarts are about 9″. There are are also 4″ individual pies and 3″ -or smaller- – individual tart pans. But the standard size these days is 9″. In fact, it’s hard to find recipes that detail pie recipes for different size pies, but that information is still available in old cookbooks and might be out there on the net. It’s just as difficult to find something like an 8″ pie plate, but you can still find them in pie shops, antique shops, and places like Goodwill or the Arc. It’s well worth the time to hunt out several sizes of pie plates because you might not always have enough ingredients for two 10″ pies, for example, but you might have enough for one 10″ and one 8″ or one baby pie. You can also pull out a ramekin or an oven-safe small bowl (or other oven-safe container) and make your pie.
Pâte Brisée— Made in a Cuisinart — This is the dough I use most often.
for each 10″ pie shell
1 1/3 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup or 1/4# unsalted butter, very cold, cut into 8 pieces (1 stick)
1/4 cup ice water (measure 1/4 cup water into a 1 cup measuring cup half full of ice)
Place flour and salt in the work bowl of the food processor fitted with steel blade. Pulse a couple of times to distribute salt. Add cold butter and pulse briefly several times until butter is worked into flour in several different sizes (1/4″ – 1/2″). With machine running, slowly pour water through feed tube until dough begins to come together. Stop machine and carefully remove dough from work bowl. Working quickly to avoid melting the butter within the dough, form into a ball and then flatten into a disc. Roll out and fill immediately (see above) or chill, well-wrapped, 1 hour or up to two days ahead.
You can also make this dough up to two months ahead and store it in the freezer. If you store it rolled out in the pie plate (Pyrex or metal pans are freezer safe.), you can just make your pie and bake it with a frozen crust.
If you do not have a Cuisinart, make this pie with a pastry cutter (here’s another video) or two knives. Recipe courtesy CUISINART.
Baking Books for Pie:
I typically recommend general baking books for pie like out-of-print (but still available) The Fanny Farmer Baking Book by Marion Cunningham or Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan, though there are certainly entire tomes donated to pies and pastries. Unless you’ve mastered basic techniques and are ready to move on, these books should provide plenty of recipes. I, for years, made pie from my Betty Crocker Cookbook (early ’70s) and found it really useful, particularly when I wanted to bake pies of different sizes.
If you’d like a book devoted to pies and tarts, try The Pie and Pastry Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum , Pie and Tart from Williams-Sonoma, or Martha Stewart’s Pies and Tarts, the 2011 version. An oldie, but goodie, is Bernard Clayton, Jr.’s The Complete Book of Pastry Sweet and Savory, which is out of print, but still available. My copy, purchased in l985, has this inscription:
l985! Bought myself! Mostly to learn Danish technique.
This book contains everything from pie to quiche/tarts to puff pastry to pizza to Danish.
One specialized book I’m quite fond of is Paris Sweets by Dorie Greenspan. There are super desserts from Parisian patisseries and the Whole Lemon Tart is tops and fairly simple. It’s also a, “Paris, Take Me Away” book if you’re unable to make the trip and taste the pastries yourself. Ah, Paris! (Sigh.) New in the lineup for pie books is Pie it Forward by Gesine Bullock-Prado (just published in April of 2012), and while I haven’t read it, it looks like a book that includes lots of excellent pie information – including a recipe for pizza pie.
There are a lot of baking blogs, but I haven’t seen one that’s just about making pies until now. Try Rachel Rappaport’s Pie Fair Lady; she features pie from all kinds of people…including me! When I first wrote this post, there weren’t any blogs devoted solely to pie-baking. There were blogs ABOUT PIE–as in finding it, buying it, where are you getting any…..: The baking blogs at the top of the heap of flour can be found here.
I also like Rose Levy Beranbaum’s blog, though it deals with lots of baking info, not just pie; read it here.
*My Nastiest True Pie Story
My much-loved father-in-law loves lemon pie (especially lemon meringue) and my much-loved mother-in-law always tried to make it for him–just like his mother did. She’d try and try and it’d never come out. You know this kind of story, right? One time, she asked Grandma Morgan, “What’s your lemon filling recipe?” The answer was lemon pudding mix. Ok, so that’d bake; that was fine. She did that. All’s well, huh? But, no; it wasn’t. The pie was always too sweet, as was any lemon meringue pie my my mother-in-law came up against. “Too sweet.” “Too sweet.” “Too sweet.” And so on. For years and years. Ye gods and little fishes.
One year, I think it was 1999, I just heard enough of “Too sweet.” My in-laws came to visit and I baked the most beautiful lemon meringue pie that ever was baked. I’m not kidding; it was stunning. It could have won awards. (I’m not a contest person, though–too much fear of failure, I think!) But there was one thing about this pie: there was barely any sugar at all in it. I mean, like almost none. This is something you maybe could get away with if you had terribly sweet fruit or something, but not with LEMON. My sweet sister-in-law took the first great big bite and froze with it in her mouth. Her eyes came up to mine and I put my finger in front of my mouth, “Shh.” She ate no more. But my mother-in-law started in on hers and ate it all without a word. Finally I couldn’t stand it anymore. I said, “How was that pie? Not too sweet?” The answer was (and I’m honest here), “No, it was great!” Needless to say, no one but her ate that pie. She had it all to herself.
I can’t believe I did that, but I did. You can ask Dave.
So tell me your pie stories?
Sing a new song as you bake with a-band-on,
All photographs copyright Alyce Morgan. Please ask for permission before using.
This post last updated 11-6-12.