Pie Making Tips From Three Babes Bakeshop in San Francisco


[Photograph: Molly DeCoudreaux]

Three Babes Bakeshop in San Francisco is actually run by two babes: Lenore Estrada and Anna Derivi-Castellanos. Both hail from California's Central Valley, where growing up around a bounty of produce inspired them to put a premium on quality ingredients and sustainable farming. When the ladies took up baking, they did so with an eye towards giving back to the area they grew up in. They try to fill their pies with sustainably farmed fruits and source as many of their ingredients as possible from farmers in the Stockton area.

But their social mission isn't the only reason we're smitten with the Babes—they make some of our favorite pie in San Francisco. They have a weekly changing roster of offerings, which may include flavors like Sugar Pie Pumpkin, Pear Blackberry Crumble, and Bittersweet Chocolate Pecan. You can find them on Saturdays at the Noe Valley Farmer's Market and on Sundays at Off-the-Grid's Picnic at the Presidio, as well as preorder pie for delivery.

Not in San Francisco? No worries. The Babes have stopped by to share some baking tips so that your Thanksgiving pie will be as awesome as the professionals'.

Precook or don't precook apples for an apple pie?

Yes to pre-cooking! We can't tell you how may people write in because they have problems with apple pie—crust burned and apples not yet cooked, or too much shrink. If you pre-cook the apples you solve all of those problems. The apples have already baked down so you'll have little space between the filling and the top crust. Plus, you're giving the apples a head start so you won't burn your crust waiting for the apples to fully cook. Just don't bake the apples too much—you don't want applesauce! They should be fork tender.


[Photograph: Colin Price]

How do I solve the filling-crust gap?

You can solve this problem in apple pies by pre-baking your apples. Pumpkin pie separating from the crust can happen for evaporation of moisture which always happens when you cook anything, and results in shrinkage. The shrinkage is part of the cooling process, and you can minimize it by :

  • waiting until it cools before placing it in the fridge
  • try to serve it the same day you bake it
  • make sure you pre-bake the crust to give it a chance to shrink before filling is added

How to avoid soggy bottom crusts?

For single crust pies (that's custards, nut pies, and crumble pies) you want to make sure you're pre-baking the crust sufficiently. Place a piece of tinfoil into your rolled out, chilled shell, and fill the shell with pie weights (those are ceramic weights used to hold the shell's shape while it's being baked). If you don't have pie weights, uncooked beans or rice are both completely acceptable substitutes. If you don't use pie weights, expect your shell to lose shape and sink down into the pan, and also to puff up on the bottom. When choosing the level of browning you're looking for in your pre-bakes, think about how long your filling will need to cook before it's done. For instance, a pumpkin pie's filling takes less time to cook than does a berry crumble pie. As a result, the shell on a pumpkin pie needs to be pre-baked longer. For a cream pie, the shell needs to be baked until very well done—the pastry cream and whipped cream are already completely cooked when they're spooned into the shell, so the shell will get no additional cook time. Plus, storing the pie in the refrigerator will cause the crust to lose a bit of its crispness, so it's important to ensure that it is pretty crispy to begin with.

For double crust pies and lattice pies, be sure that your filling isn't too watery, and that you use a sufficient measure of thickener (cornstarch, tapioca, flour etc). If your fruit is very juicy, you can strain it before adding in the cornstarch. Another tip is to be sure to use the right pie plate. Glass and metal with a flat bottom and a straight, sloped side are preferable.

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[Photograph: Danielle Tsi]

Any tips for freezing pies or making them ahead of time?

Pies can be a blessing or a curse for the busy host or hostess. On the one hand, pie-making takes a ton of time, and it's important not to rush through any of the steps. On the other hand (if wrapped properly), pies and pie components freeze really well at almost any stage. The key is to wrap it airtight in saran wrap and then store in the freezer. You can make and freeze disks of dough, rolled out crusts, fluted shells, unbaked fruit pies (brush with cream or egg wash before wrapping and freezing), or fully baked fruit and custard pies!

Disks of dough should be moved from the freezer to the fridge the night before you plan on using them. Rolled out crusts can simply be set on top of an empty pie tin and allowed to thaw for 15 minutes (until the shell sinks into the pie plate). Fluted shells, unbaked fruit pies and fully baked fruit pies should be baked directly from frozen (Don't forget to weigh down the shell with pie weights while pre-baking. Fruit pies will need to be baked until the filling bubbles—better overdone than underdone!) Custard and nut pies (pumpkin, pecan) should be allowed to thaw overnight and then baked in an oven for about 20 minutes to crisp the crust.


[Photograph: Danielle Tsi]

Favorite way to jazz up pumpkin pie?

Pumpkin pie needs no jazzing! It's delicious just as it is, with a dollop of freshly whipped sweet cream on top. Just get it right—make sure the shell is cooked sufficiently. Nobody wants an undercooked bottom crust! If you're using fresh pumpkin, be sure to use an immersion blender or a food processor to fully liquify and incorporate the pumpkin into the custard mixture. If you don't do that you'll end up with chunks of pumpkin and a too-eggy custard.

On Pie Plates

Butter your pie plate before fitting in your crust. It will make it so much easier to slice the pie out later on. Also, don't use a straight sided tart-type pan for pies. The physics just don't work very well, and you end up with a shrinky crust and an edge that doesn't look very pretty.