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

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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Pie Baking – Crust Perfection

As mentioned in the first of the Pie Baking series, late fall seems to bring out the pie baking instinct in many.  In the first blog of the series, I shared the “basic three” ingredients and equipment needed to form the foundation of the pie, the pie crust.  In this blog, the second of the series, I’ll continue with tips from my mother-in-law on making the crust.   Aprons on, let’s get to mixing, rolling, and forming!

On to Pie Crust Perfection!

Temperature – Keep It Cold.  It is most important that the fat and water be cold.  Butter and shortening can be used right out of the refrigerator.  Other fats should be chilled for at least 15 minutes before using.  Add ice cubes to water to get it as cold as possible but do not mix ice cubes into your dough. (Some like to put the flour, bowl, and rolling pin in the fridge or freezer to get them cold, too.)

Mixing the Dough – Less is More – It’s All in the Feel.  Put the solid fat into the dry ingredients in chunks. Use your fingers (not hands) to press the fat into the dry ingredients so that the small fat pieces are flattened and well incorporated into the flour. Once the fat and dry ingredients are combined, gradually add ice water in small amounts to just moisten the flour with your fingers. Once the dough appears “shaggy” (holds together when squeezed but not sticky or crumbly), form into a disc (a slightly flattened ball) or divide the dough if the recipe is for more than one crust and form discs. A disc may be used right away or wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for 30 minutes. Letting the dough rest allows the gluten to relax and gives the flour time to absorb the water evenly usually making it easier to handle. (If refrigerated for longer than 30 minutes, a brief warm up period may be needed before rolling out the dough.)  When making a double crust pie, chilling one round while rolling out the other is always a good option. (A pastry blend, mixer, or food processor can be used to mix the dough, too.)

Rolling Out the Dough – Work Quickly to Keep Dough from Getting Warm. Always roll out dough on a lightly floured, clean surface.  Wax paper or parchment paper are options but tend to slide around. A chilled surface is ideal for those that have them. Starting with a disc, use steady pressure on the rolling pin, rolling from the center outward.  To maintain a circular shape, rotate the dough a quarter turn and repeat or rotate the rolling direction.  If the dough sticks to the surface, throw a little flour under the dough and keep going until the desired shape, size (1-2 inches larger than the pie plate) and thickness (1/8th-1/16th-inch) are reached.

Moving the Dough to the Pie Plate – Easy Does It.  Getting the rolled dough into the pie plate can be done by any method that works for you. Some options:  1) Carefully fold the dough in half (or fourths), pick up and lay into the pie pan and unfold. 2) If rolled on waxed or parchment paper, place the pie plate upside down centered on the dough circle; place hand carefully under the paper, turn dough and pie pan right side up letting the dough sag into the pie plate as the paper is gently removed. 3) Roll dough around a floured rolling pin and unroll over the pie plate.  Being careful not to stretch the dough, allow the dough to settle into the pie plate by gently pressing into place.  If it cracks or tears, gently pat back together. (A fingertip of water also acts as glue to mending cracks and tears.)

Finishing the Crust – Making It Pretty.  For a single crust pie, trim the overhanging dough to about one inch from the edge all the way.  Turn the cut edge under to form a thick lip resting on the pie plate rim. For a double crust pie, fit the bottom crust into the pie pan leaving the overhanging dough in place.  Add the filling. Lay the top crust over the filling. Trim both top and bottom overhang together to about one inch, then tuck the overhang underneath itself so the folded edge lays on the edge of the pan. Add a decorative edge of choice. For ideas check out the YouTube video, 20 Creative Pie Crimping Techniques in 120 Seconds.

A lattice top is a third option but takes a little more time and patience. Lattice top pies are created by cutting the top crust into strips before moving it to the pie, then weaving the pieces under and over across the top of the pie. Finish the edges like a double crust pie.  Another option is to shingle the top of the pie by cutting shapes (hearts, rounds, diamonds, etc) from the top crust dough with a cookie cutter and placing the shapes on top of the pie filling so they overlap slightly like shingles.

Finally to give any double, lattice, or shingled crust a glossy, golden, sparkling finish, brush the top with an egg-, milk-, or cream-wash and sprinkle with granulated, decorator, or flavored sugar.

Vent – Let the Steam Out.  Double crust pies need vents or small slices through the top crust to allow water vapor to escape. These can be cut before placing the top crust on the pie or after.  A small cookie cutter can be used to create decorative vents before topping the pie. Lattice pies have built in vents.

If visuals are helpful in making a crust, check out Episode 1 of Iowa’s well known pie author and Pie Lady, Beth M Howard. Ms Howard offers a free YouTube series of pie lessons, Stay Calm and Bake Pie.  In the episode, Ms Howard demonstrates how to make a crust for a double crust pie in nearly the same relaxed, casual fashion I remember my mother-in-law making her crusts. 

The Pie Baking series will continue with filling the pie in a third blog.

Marlene Geiger

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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Pie Baking – Simple Ingredients and Equipment

Who doesn’t love a piece of pie?  Pie has been a proverbial favorite beginning with the ancient Egyptians according to the American Pie Council. The history of pie is quite fascinating and while I love to share the history of food, I will reserve pie history for another time—perhaps National Pie Days (December 1 and January 23 not be confused with Pi Day, March 14).  Pie is such an act of love that I think it should be celebrated whenever one is given the chance to enjoy a piece.

 While there is not a designated time to bake a pie, late fall seems to bring out the pie baking instinct in many.  Perhaps it is the combination of bumper crops from our gardens and fruit trees with the anticipated holiday season and cooler weather enticing one to turn on the oven that brings on the urge to tie on those apron strings and get baking.  I’ve felt it myself.

I’m hardly an expert when it comes to pie baking.  There are countless books, articles, and videos written by real experts on how to bake the perfect pie providing endless tips and recipes each offering their own ‘how to’.  While all of the information is helpful, some may still find pie baking intimidating. Sometimes the best teacher is that person in your life who truly loves to bake pie; for me, that would be my mother-in-law who in her younger days needed no occasion or excuse to bake at least one pie ‘just because’ as any day was a pie day. Needless to say, I learned a lot from watching her nonchalant approach to making pie.

Making pie is easy and need not be intimidating. Using tips from my mother-in-law, let’s get into the art of pie baking beginning with the ingredients and equipment needed for the foundation, the pie crust.

3 Basic Ingredients and Simple Equipment

Pie crust starts with three basic ingredients—flour, fat, and water.  Some recipes will add salt, sugar, eggs, milk, vinegar, leavening and other ingredients which can enhance a pie crust, but the ‘basic three’ are the only ones necessary. The recipe is as easy as 3-2-1–3 parts flour, 2 parts fat, 1 part cold water.  Here’s a brief description of how they work together to create pastry.

  • Flour.  All-purpose flour is all that is necessary; it has the perfect amount of gluten (11% protein) to provide structure yet create a tender, flaky crust.  Protein content is directly related to the gluten structure; the higher the protein, the stronger and faster the gluten structure forms as the dough is worked. Cake flour has too little gluten and bread flour has too much.  Unbleached flour is slightly better for pie crust than bleached but either will do. Pastry flour is another option but all-purpose is sufficient and readily available.
  • Fat.  Lard, butter, shortening, vegetable oil, or some combination are fat options.  Everyone has their favorite.  Fat has a dual purpose:  1) it coats the flour particles to prevent excessive gluten formation; 2) during baking, the pea-size fat pieces melt releasing steam which lifts the pockets to create a flaky, tender layers. Solid fats result in a flakier crust than melted or liquid fats.  Chilled fats provide the best results.
  • Water.  Think of water as the glue that holds the flour and fat together. Always start with small amounts and gradually add more as needed to just moisten the flour. Like fat, liquids should be ice cold.  If water is not used, milk (regular, evaporated, or reconstituted dry milk), egg, vinegar, or combinations are other liquid alternatives.

The equipment needed to make a pie crust is also quite basic–bowl, measuring cups, rolling pin, hard surface, pie plate and knife or scissors. However, one can upgrade from the basics as much as desired by adding a pastry blender, mixer, food processor, fancy rolling pins, pastry clothes, dough scrapers, pastry wheels, and metal pie crust shields to name a few. In all humbleness, a suburb pie crust can be made with the basic three ingredients using a bowl and fingers. A rolling pin is necessary to flatten the dough but wine bottles have been used in a pinch. There are many kinds of pie plates and any of them will work. Of all, the simple clear glass pan is probably the best choice. Glass pans produce wonderfully brown, crisp crusts that are usually not soggy on the bottom. (It may be necessary to reduce the baking time or oven temperature with a glass pan.) No matter the material of the pie pan, it is more than possible to bake a great pie in it with a little practice and possible tweaking of time and/or temperature as each material is different. The disposable aluminum pans create the most challenge to even baking, but many have mastered that challenge with admirable results–beautiful golden-brown, fully cooked, no-soggy-bottom pies.

I will continue with pie baking in follow up blogs.  Next up, tips or keys to pie crust perfection!

Marlene Geiger

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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