Thanksgiving Pies 101

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thanksgiving pies

It's snuck up on all of us. Somehow it's time to start making shopping lists and gathering recipes. Thanksgiving is upon us, my friends. And for me, that means pie prep.

Unlike the turkey and side dishes, you can get a major jump start on your pies. And personally I'm a big advocate of this; there's something about pies that beg to be done slowly and methodically. Pies don't lend themselves well to the chaos and heat of the Thanksgiving day kitchen. So today I'm going to give you some great tips on this year's pie-making and a few no-fail pie recipes to get you started in case you need a little inspiration.

Pie Dough
pie dough
Depending on the kind of pie you're making, you want to think about your dough. As a general rule, I'm a big Martha Stewart pate brisee fan. Martha has given us a simple butter crust that never fails. If you're open to using lard in your crust, it makes an uber-flaky pastry; consider leaf lard for the very finest, flakiest crust known to man. And now, a few tips I've come to live by:

  • Use good, high quality butter that is no more than one week old. Butter will absorb subtle odors/flavors from your refrigerator if left stored for too long. Like any ingredient, use the freshest butter available.
  • Cut your pieces of butter into small, small pieces quickly. You don't want them to get warm. And ensure they're all covered in flour before starting to but them into your dry ingredients.
  • When clumps begin, stop! Overmixing your dough leads to tough dough and no one wants that. It should still look a bit crumbly but hold together when pressed in between two fingers.
  • Chill and allow dough to rest before and after rolling. That's right: put your pie back in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes after being assembled and before going in the oven. It'll bake up much nicer this way (and won't shrink when baked). Trust me.

Do Ahead
fall pies
Pie shouldn't be stressful. Enjoy the process. So start now.

  • Your disks of pie dough can be easily frozen for up to 6 months. Wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and allow to thaw completely in the refrigerator before rolling.
  • You can actually make the entire pie and freeze for up to 3 months. If you decide to go this route, make sure to wrap the unbaked pie tightly in two layers of plastic wrap and then aluminum foil. You can allow to thaw in refrigerator for at least 8 hours before baking, but I prefer baking it straight from the freezer. This yields really nice crust. The only thing to watch for here is to ensure that your pie plate can handle the extreme temperature change (Disposable ones obviously can, Pyrex cannot). This works for apple pie beautifully, but I would avoid doing this with cream-based pies.

Navigating the Filling
banana cream pie
In The Joy of Cooking's All About Pies and Tarts, Rombauer, Becker & Becker talk at great length about pie fillings. In many ways, the filling of a fruit pie is quite basic. You've got your fruit, sweetener/spices and some kind of thickener like flour or cornstarch. And the gals from this beloved reference prefer cornstarch or tapioca for clearer, more subtle fillings. However, when making an apple pie, they favor using flour because it imparts more of a creaminess which is appropriate for the fall favorite. And if you're doing a pie with a lattice top, they suggest using cornstarch or flour rather than tapioca because the tapioca doesn't always completely dissolve in the filling and the last thing you want is a grainy looking pie. A good rule of thumb: use twice as much flour as cornstarch or tapioca in any recipes that calls for the latter two.


Crimping, Vents, and Other Flair
making vents
Most people consider this the pie-maker's signature so give a little thought to what you'd like yours to be. Do you want to crimp your edges with a fork or quickly shape them into a fluted rim? How many vents will you use? Do you like the little fall leaf cut-outs? I find for an apple pie, a simple three-vent with an egg wash and sprinkled sugar on the top makes the most perfect, classic looking pie. Pay attention when you're in bakeries or grocery stores to see what other folks do, and emulate away!

Starter Recipes

Do you have any family favorites you'd like to share? What are your favorite pie recipes?