How To Ace Your Thanksgiving Pie

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[Photograph: Colin Price]

In the countdown to Thanksgiving, we've been flooding your brains with flavor inspiration, finding as many iterations on pecan, pumpkin, and apple pies as there are days in the month. But what if you've already decided what kind of pie to make, you just need help nailing it?

We've got you covered. From the trick to flakey crusts to the low down on do-ahead, here's our guide to acing your Thanksgiving pie.

Cold Ingredients Lead To Flakier Crusts

When making a pie crust, we all want to achieve those light, flaky layers, but sometimes we end up with a heavy, cookie-like crust instead. What happened?

If you used warm butter, it mixed with the gluten layers rather than forming distinct flakes. Cold butter keeps its structure in baking, leaving behind air pockets between the layers of gluten and a crust that shatters on contact. The solution is easy—keep your butter in the fridge until you're ready to use it. If your kitchen is a hot den of Thanksgiving activity, even pop your baking utensils in the fridge to cool them down, and don't forget to stick the crust back in to chill before baking.

It's not just about texture, though, it's about also shape. Keeping your crust cold is important if you're going to do a blind bake (more on that below) because it prevents the crust from slumping or shrinking.

Need a foolproof crust recipe? We've got that covered.

Beautify Your Pie

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[Photograph: Lauren Weisenthal]

Here's another reason to chill your dough—it makes it easier to shape. And those shapes are undoubtedly nice to have: whether it's a crimp or braided edges, a pretty lattice top or cutout patterns, these little extras make your pie stand out at the Thanksgiving table. Here's a step-by-step, visual guide to creating shaped crusts.

Blind Bake Your Crust

Not all recipes call for blind baking the pie crust, but if you're making a pie with a wet filling (think pumpkin or pecan), blind baking ensures you won't end up with the dreaded Soggy Bottom Syndrome.

How's it done? It's easy. To blind bake a pie or tart shell, simply line the chilled, shaped dough with foil or parchment, fill it with pie weights or, our economical preference, dried beans, and bake it until the edges have set and can stand up on their own. Then remove the crust from the oven, remove the foil and weights, and proceed with filling your pie.

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[Photograph: Lauren Weisenthal]

Keep in mind that not all crusts should be blind baked for the same amount of time. For example, a pumpkin pie's filling takes less time to cook than the filling for a berry pie, so it needs to be pre-baked longer. If your pie is simply going to be filled with a no-bake cream filling, the crust should be done.

Choose the Right Filling

There are a million great pie recipes out there so we will humbly point you over here and here for some ideas.

If you're making apple pie, check out the Food Lab's guide to apple pie. It covers choosing your apples, par-baking your fruit, and more.

Don't Forget the Egg Wash

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[Photograph: Lauren Weisenthal]

This small step may seem like a hassle, but it makes a big difference in the final appearance of your pie. In the photo above, the left side of the pie was applied with a cream wash and the right with an egg wash. As you can see, the egg wash (water, egg, salt) creates a darker, glossy exterior, while the cream wash gives the pie a golden brown matte finish.

If you choose an egg wash, let the egg and salt mixture sit for several minutes after you've beaten them together and before coating the crust. This will allow the salt to dissolve in the egg's liquid and the wash will become more fluid. With either an egg wash or a cream wash, a final sprinkling of sugar is a nice way to add some sparkle.

Yes, You Can Make Them Ahead

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[Photograph: Eunice Choi]

Harried hosts and hostesses, you're in luck; pies and pie components freeze really well at almost any stage. You can make and freeze disks of pie dough, rolled out crusts, fluted shells, or unbaked fruit pies. The key is to wrap your dough or full pie in an airtight layer of saran wrap before storing them in the freezer. The next day, you can bake off your shells or unbaked fruit pies directly from the freezer.

Give it a Rest

Whether you've just baked off a frozen pie or finished the recipe from start to finish, be sure to cool your pie before serving. Like meat, a fresh-from-the-oven pie will release its juices. Giving the pie time to rest and cool ensures an easier to eat slice.


Looking for more Thanksgiving recipes, tips, and tricks? Check out our full Serious Eats Thanksgiving Survival Guide

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