Pie Memories and Expert Tips
Pie holds a special place in my heart because my earliest memory is the massive apple pie that my grandma Sylvia made for Thanksgiving. During dinner, the pie loomed large on the mantle behind my grandfather Joe’s seat. Maybe the pie wasn’t really as big as I remember, with the crust towering four plus inches above the pie dish, but to a little girl it was magical.
I didn’t become an expert pie maker until I became a parent. After pastry school in Paris, I was obsessed with French tarts. I made them for every occasion and even sold them as part of my catering business in Geneva, Switzerland. Once a year I made pumpkin and pecan pies for Thanksgiving, no matter where I lived.
As my children grew, there were always chocolate deserts around the house, so fruit pies were always something special. One year, Joey asked for a pie for his birthday, rather than cake, and a tradition was born.
Pie is one of the great American contributions to the dessert world. Pies first came to America with British colonists yet go back even further to Egyptian and Roman times. Filling a crust with perishable ingredients was an early way to preserve them. Throughout history, pies have been filled with everything from meat to blackbirds. American bakers, however, have continued to refine pie making to make it a national dessert with every corner of America touting its own distinguished pie.
Top 5 Tips for Fabulous Pies this Thanksgiving
- Use a food processor to make the dough and pulse the ingredients so you don’t over mix them
- Chill the dough overnight for best results and also so you can make the dough a few days or even the Sunday before the holiday
- Roll cold dough between two pieces of parchment so you don’t sprinkle too much flour while rolling and the dough is easy to transfer into your pie pan
- The easiest way to put dough on top of your pie is to use cookie cutters and cut dough shapes to place on top of your filling
- Place the pie on a light-colored cookie sheet and bake until golden and the filling is set for pumpkin and bubbly for fruit — do not over bake
How to make healthier pies
- Substitute whole-wheat flour, nut or seed flours for ¼ of the white flour in the dough
- Reduce sugar in fillings
- When serving, plate the pie slices to control portions
- Absolutely no whipped cream or sauce on top
Secret to Flakey Crust
The best pies have a crust that is light with pockets of space between the dough layers. The pockets of air are created by pebbles of fat surrounded by dry ingredients that melt while baking and the melted fat presses the dough to create pockets of air. If the fat is dissolved completely into the dry ingredients, when baked the crust will taste like a sugar cookie, as it will have no space between the layers.
The key to flakey pie dough is to not over-mix the dough and mash the fat into the other ingredients. Your eggs and water should be very cold. This keeps the fat pieces cold and intact. When you make the dough, it should not be mixed into a solid mass. Once you have crumbles of dough, your work is done and you only have to dump the crumbles onto plastic wrap, gather the pieces together, wrap up and press into a disk.
A food processor is a great way to make pie crust because the blade cuts the fat into the flour more quickly than you can do by hand, giving the fat pieces less time to soften and melt.
How to Roll the Dough
I always roll pie, tart and cookie dough between two pieces of parchment paper. Place a large piece of parchment on the counter; sprinkle with flour from up high and then place your dough on top. Sprinkle some more flour on top and then cover with another piece of parchment. Roll with the rolling pin on top of the parchment. Every few rolls, lift up the top parchment and sprinkle a little more flour on top to make sure it is not sticking. I also flip the whole package over, lift up the bottom parchment, add some flour, re-cover and then flip back over and continue rolling. This makes sure the dough is not sticking on the bottom. Always sprinkle flour like rain – not in large handfuls. If the dough gets soft while rolling, place it into the freezer for a few minutes before continuing to roll.
Website Pie Index – all of these recipes can be found in Recipes
Cranberry Meringue Tart
Blueberry Pie with Lemon Crust
Caramelized Nut Tart
Lemon Tart with Basil Nut Crust – Gluten Free
Apple Pastry Pie
Chocolate Tart with Chocolate Chip Crust
Classic Pie recipes can be found in The Kosher Baker cookbook