Almost nothing compares to the smell of a freshly baked pie, and making a flawless pie just takes a little patience and practice. Pie-lovers take note! Here are some useful baking tips from our resident expert to help you craft the perfect pie this season:
Cold Butter makes for Flaky Crusts
Always use cold butter (or shortening) when making pie or tart crusts, and leave the butter in pea-sized pieces when you incorporate it into the flour. These little “butter balls” will melt when baked and create a tender, flaky crust.
Butter, not Gold Bullion
Save the expensive imported and “European-style” butters for very special occasions, particularly when you will be eating the butter fresh – for example, spread on a fresh crusty baguette or for dipping lobster. For regular baking and everyday use, pick a “regular” butter that suits your taste, and put the savings towards something else – like a premium ice cream for pie a la mode, where you really can taste the difference. Also keep in mind that expensive imported butters sometimes don’t sell as quickly, so be sure to check the “use by” date if you do buy it.
Some pie and tart crusts are first baked “blind,” meaning they’re baked partially or completely without the filling (like crusts for chocolate cream pie or lemon meringue pie). When a crust is blind baked, it needs to be weighted with something to hold the crust in place and prevent it from puffing up with air pockets that will crack when the crust comes out of the oven. Keep some “pie beans” on hand – a bag or two of dry pinto beans or rice will do the trick. After each use, cool them completely before putting them away and they’ll last for many uses. Always line the chilled pie shell with parchment or foil before adding the beans!
Seasonal Tips on Filling
The season calls out what kind of pie should cap our everyday meals and holiday feasts. As apples and pumpkins ripen in the fall, they become natural choices for Thanksgiving and Christmas pies, along with pecans, other nuts and our favorite winter berry, the cranberry, which can be a terrific addition to traditional apple pie.
As the year begins to warm, strawberry pie welcomes spring and full summer provides many options. When choosing stone fruits, like peaches and nectarines, look for the end opposite the stem to be slightly flattened out rather than fully heart-shaped. Farmers pick these fruits when the heart-shaped end has begun to flatten out, because it’s their cue that the maximum amount of sugar is in the fruit. If the fruit is still very firm, it will continue to soften and ripen on the counter for a few days.
Any time of year is good for cream pies and lemon meringue, as long as they can remain refrigerated.
As American as Apple Pie
America’s love affair with pie may wax and wane with fashion, but it seems to remain constant with friends and family as they crowd around your dessert table. Any time is a good time for pie or, as Yogi Berra was fond of saying, “Cut my pie into four pieces, I don’t think I could eat eight.” We love that.