Pie Baking – Fill ‘Er Up!

Pie has been a proverbial favorite beginning with the ancient Egyptians according to the American Pie Council.  Despite its long history, pie baking has been held in such awe that the process has become intimidating for some.  To help quell the anxiety, I’ve written two previous blogs on pie baking with tips from my mother-in-law who needed no reason to bake a pie and did it as casually as putting on socks. 

In the previous two Pie Baking blogs, tips on ingredients and equipment and making a pastry crust have been shared.  Now it’s time to fill that crust.  With a pastry crust, there are generally two options—single- or double-crust.  A single crust is just that, the pastry lines a pie plate to form the shell for the filling with the top open. (Sometimes, a single crust can also just be a top crust covering the filling underneath it.)  The double crust begins as a single crust with the additional steps of topping it with a second crust, lattice, or shingled cutouts after filling (usually with fruit) and sealing the two crusts together.  Either of them are a blank canvas just waiting to be filled with goodness! 

The Not So Lonely Single Crust

The ways that a single crust can be filled is unlimited.  Depending upon the desired filling, the crust is perfect for baked and unbaked fillings giving one the ultimate choices of cream pies, custard pies, baked fruit pies with or without crumble toppings, jelled no-bake fruit pies, cookie pies, and quiche.  If the single crust is to be filled with a cream filling—coconut, banana, chocolate, lemon, peanut butter, etc—a jelled fruit filling—fresh strawberry or peach, etc—or a precooked fruit filling, the crust must be first blind baked. 

Blind baking is baking without filling to ensure a crisp, thoroughly baked, crust ready to fill with a filling that is not baked.  After the dough is fitted and formed in the pan, the crust should be pricked (also called docking) with a fork.  Secondly, the crust is lined with parchment paper and weighed down.  As the pie dough bakes, the fat melts creating steam.  Steam creates the flaky layers, but without the pricking and weighing down, the pie crust shrinks down the sides of the pie plate and the dough puffs up.  Special purchased pie weights, dry beans or rice, and even granulated sugar can be used for weighing down.  Fill the crust to the brim with whatever weight is used.  Place the crust in a preheated 375֯F oven for about 20 minutes or until the edge is dry to the touch and light brown.  Remove the weight and parchment paper and bake 8 to 10 minutes longer until the bottom of the crust is a light brown and dry to the touch.

Once the crust has cooled thoroughly, it is time to add any favorite cream (instant or cooked), jelled fresh fruit, or pre-cooked fruit filling.  If a cooked cream filling is to have a meringue topping, the meringue is added while the filling is still warm as the warm filling helps seal the two layers together, preventing separation.  The pie is placed in the oven to bake until the meringue is browned on top.  Cream pies should be allowed to cool at room temperature for 1 hour and then placed in the refrigerator to chill for at least 4 hours before slicing and serving.  Instant cream and jelled fresh fruit pies should be refrigerated immediately after preparation and also chilled for 4 hours before slicing and serving.

Recipes differ on quiche or custard fillings such as pumpkin, classic or fruit custard, chess, pecan, and sour-cream raisin as to whether the crust should be blind baked before filling and baking or simply filled and baked.  The blind baking helps to prevent a soggy crust.  Some recipes will also have one brush the bottom of the crust with a beaten egg yolk and bake for 3 minutes to glaze the bottom to seal the crust.

One-crust baked fruit pies are always a family favorite.  They often are topped with a crumb topping made from a variety of ingredients.  The crumb topping is spread or sprinkled over the fruit filling before baking. 

Devine Goodness between the Layers – Double Crust Pies

If there is ever a mental picture of an American pie, it has to be the classic double crust pie with juicy fruit oozing from a slice.  Double crust pies are typically filled with fruit, but can be savory or meat-filled, too.  Typically, the second crust is a lid-like covering over the filling.  However, the top crust need not be boring; a quick peak at a Taste of Home pie feature shows multiple, creative pie toppers.

When using fruit as the main ingredient of a double-crust pie, it is important to note that fruit can be a tricky or fickle ingredient whether it is fresh or frozen fruit.  The most beautifully crafted pie using a tested recipe can result in a pie swimming in juice when sliced for serving.  Apple pie would be an exception as apples have enough pectin to hold together well.  The juiciness is all about the ripeness of the fruit and the amount of juice the fruit contains.  Further, if frozen fruit is used, water is released when it is thawed.  Thickeners such as flour, cornstarch, or tapioca are commonly used to shore up fruit liquid but sometimes the amount suggested in a recipe just isn’t enough.  So how does one get it right?

One of the best ways is to macerate the fruit by gently mixing the fruit with the sugar called for in the recipe letting it stand for 20-30 minutes.  While applying gentle pressure to the fruit, strain the juices away from the fruit.  Bring the juice to a boil and then simmer until the juice is reduced to about 1/3.  Combine a small amount of the juice with the thickening agent (cornstarch, flour, tapioca) and whisk into a slurry.  Return the slurry to the remaining juice and add the fresh fruit.  Cool to room temperature before filling the crust. During the baking, the fruit will thicken.

For frozen fruit, the process is much the same.  Thaw the fruit and strain off the liquid pressing the fruit gently.  Simmer the juice to about 1/3.  Mix the sugar and thickening agent together; add to the juice and whisk into a slurry.  Stir in the fruit and cool to room temperature before adding to the crust.  The thickening agent will do its work while baking to thicken the pie.

To bake the pie, preheat the oven to 425֯F.  Place the pie in the lower third of the oven for 15 minutes.  The high temperature and lower rack position kick start the baking of the pie shell to prevent a soggy bottom.  For phase two, place a cookie sheet or liner under the pie and move it to the middle of the oven reducing the temperature to 350-375֯F baking for the time specified in the recipe.  Since individual ovens vary, it is important to stay with your pie through the baking process peeking at it through a window now and again.  If the oven has hot spots, it may be necessary to rotate it if the oven.  Sometimes the edges brown too quickly and covering with a pie ring or foil strips to prevent overbrowning is necessary.  If the top is browning too quickly and the fruit is not yet done, tent the whole pie with foil.  The pie is done with the crust is a lovely golden brown and the fruit is bubbling with clear juices.

Writing these blogs has been a little bit of a trip down memory lane as my mentor is no longer able to make pie and sadly has no memory of her craft. I hope I have inspired you to gather a few simple ingredients, throw down some flour, pick up a rolling pin, and make pie your new game or up your pie game. It really is that simple!

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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