The traditional dessert on our Thanksgiving menus is one that often fills novice bakers with a sense of fear. We have all toiled in the kitchen for hours only to end up with a pie crust that was shrinking, burned, soggy, or gummy. If you have ever baked a pie with an overly browned crust and a fruit filling that was not even cooked through, you are not alone. The Humble Pie Store owner Tamara Brink serves an average of 1,000 to 1,500 pies per week at her hip Denver bakery. She is here today to offer her expert advice on the art of making pies. And if you are looking for a unique recipe, check out our post on Brink’s Salted Caramel Apple Crumb Pie here.
Don’t Obsess About The Butter Temperature
The traditional wisdom on pie crusts is that butter needs to be about as cold as possible. Brink says that in her experience butter temperature is not the most crucial factor. She claims, “I don’t think it’s necessary for your butter to be super cold. Typically, we cut the butter into dime-sized chunks and then cut that with the flour. Blend those two together before you add any liquid.”
Add Liquids Slowly
If you are using a food processor to prepare your pie crust, Brink suggests that slowing the speed as you add your liquids helps distribute them more evenly throughout the dough. “Put it on slow and then slowly pour the liquid in,” she advises.
Brink explains, “The less water you add, the more flaky your crust is going to be, but you have to add water to make it pliable. So what we do is use half water and half vodka. It’s great because it’s more pliable and of course the vodka evaporates when you bake it so it’s super flaky.”
Also Use Plastic Wrap
Anyone who has ever made a pie knows that the ideal dough is still crumbly when you remove it from the food processor. Traditionally, you sprinkle flour on your work surface and form the dough into a ball before rolling it out–a process that requires even more flour. Especially for those baking in Colorado, all of that extra flour can really dry out your crust. Brink’s advice? Use plastic wrap, not flour. “We just take plastic wrap and put the dough in between two sheets. Roll out the pie crust in between the plastic. The plastic wrap makes it completely stick together, so you don’t have to use flour and it’s not drying it out.”
Butter or Shortening?
Brink uses both. The butter for flavor and the shortening for a flaky texture. She also uses butter-flavored shortening. It’s a great way to sneak some flavor into an ingredient that really has none on its own.
How To Avoid A Shrinking Crust
If your pie requires pre-baking in the oven, Brink suggests that aluminum foil can help you fight shrinkage. “Press aluminum foil into it. Bake it, and after about 15 minutes take the aluminum foil off so it will brown. That way the sides don’t slip down.” Brink says it is important to press the foil firmly around the sides of the crust so they are completely covered.
Many fruit-filled pies end up with overcooked crusts. Brink says this is all a matter of oven temperature. Start with the particular texture and size of fruit that you want for your pie. So, if you love soft fillings but want big slices of fruit, you will have to lower your oven temp. “You can have your fruit any size you want. You just have to adjust your temperature and baking time accordingly. So if you have big chunks, you’re going to want your temperature lower and to bake it for a really long time. If I have big chunks in my pie, I bake it at an hour and a half to two hours but at about 200 hundred degrees. I don’t like to have a lot of crunch to my fruit. So if you have slivers or sliced fruit, I would say to do it at 300 degrees for about an hour.”
Oven Temperature Is Not Set In Stone
When baking, it’s usually best to follow a recipe to the letter, but this may not be true for oven temperatures. In our previous post with Cake Crumbs Bakery (you can read it here), we learned that perfect cupcakes are all about watching your oven. It turns out that the same thing is true for pies. “We have to assess pies halfway through baking,” Brink explains. If your crust is browning too much, turn down the oven temperature.
The Best Way to Reheat A Pie
Brink suggests warming a pie in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes at 300 degrees. Microwaves can make your crust soggy and lead to uneven heating. A warm oven works best.
Make Breakfast While You Make Your Thanksgiving Dinner
Most pie recipes, like Brink’s Salted Caramel Apple Crumb Pie, only use half of the pie crust dough. She claims this provides an excellent opportunity to prepare an easy breakfast dish. Her advice: “Quiche is so easy. It’s a light breakfast. You can bake your quiche in the oven at the same time your turkey is baking. Just reheat it in the oven.” You can even use some of the savory ingredients from your Thanksgiving meal, like asparagus or potatoes, in your favorite quiche filling.