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Complete Pie Recipe for a Beginner

  • d

My adventures in learning to bake continues. I love pie and have never baked one. I'd love to learn how to make a great crust and filling, but course being a beginner, I'd also like something that is simple to get my feet wet.

Also, is it okay to use a pie tin from Marie Callendars? or do you recommend something more 'professional'?


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  1. j
    JK Grence (the Cosmic Jester)

    A pie tin from Marie Callender's will work fine. I prefer my old Pyrex dish because you can see how the bottom crust is coming along. Start out with a fruit filled pie. Custard or cream filled pies like lemon meringue (Yeah, I know lemons are fruits, it ain't filled with nothing but lemons, though!) have to have the bottom crust baked first, a process called blind baking. I can speak from experience when I say blind baking can be challenging. The crust could puff up like a balloon, it might shrink and lift off the bottom of the pan... save the blind-baked pies for after you have a couple of fruit pies under your belt, and the first couple of times you try blind baking, make a double recipe of the dough. If it doesn't work, you'll have another crust ready to go. If everything goes great, you can either go right ahead and make a second pie, or toss the dough in the freezer for later.

    Anyway, my favorite kind of pie to bake is good old-fashioned apple. Since apples are high in pectin, the juices thicken nicely without having to add tapioca or cornstarch.

    3 Replies
    1. re: JK Grence (the Cosmic Jester)

      Pie weights like rice or beans can prevent the crust from bubbling up.

      I think fruit pies are actually harder because you can end up with a soggy bottom curst...

      The Pie and Pastry Bible by Rose Levy Barabaum (sp?) is really good. She gives clear instruction.

      1. re: Wendy Lai

        The crust really is the hardest part, what with all the soggy/flaky/tender/tough issues. Jacques Pepin has no-fuss recipes involving a food processor. If you're really nervous about it, there's no shame for beginners in the pie equivalent of training wheels: premade crusts. You can find them in the freezer or refrigerated sections. Just be sure to preheat a baking sheet and then put the pie plate on it to help prevent soggy crusts.

        As for fillings, I agree that fruit fillings can mean instant soggy crusts. This might be too "Southern" but why not try making a pecan pie? It's very simple and you probably already have most of the ingredients: sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, eggs and pecans. Shake it up with variations using chocolate and/or liquors such as bourbon or rum.

      2. re: JK Grence (the Cosmic Jester)

        I don't think I've ever had a problem w/ blind baking, and I don't usually weigh down the crust w/ beans. Do you dock your crust w/ a fork or docker? That seems to do the trick, although the crust might bubble up just a little here and there.

        I always add a little all-purpose or tapioca flour to any fruit filling, including apple.

      3. Dommy, I love pie and all of its cousins--crisp, tart, crostata, brown betty, buckle, crumble...I'm sure they're more.

        Anyhow, since you're just beginning, I'd say to look online or in your library for a good recipe first. I don't have one recipe that I'm partial to, but if I were you, I'd start w/ the classic apple pie. I'd probably go w/ a recipe from Joy of Cooking, Fannie Farmer, or Cook's Illustrated for basic but thorough. My mom uses a recipe from Betty Crocker that I grew up on.

        As far as crusts go, I've found that all butter crusts have wonderful buttery flavor but can be tough and lack flakiness. Thus, I think a combo of butter/shortening is better w/ a 3:1 ratio (meaning 3 TB butter to 1 TB shortening). I believe Cook's Illustrated suggests this too. A food processor will come in handy for the crust.

        As far as type of apple, old cookbooks might suggest using golden delicious. However, I like a variety of apples to make it interesting so will use a mix of granny smith, braeburn, and fuji. Use the apple varieties that you like, but try to buy apples that are roughly the same size. The peeling and slicing will be the most time consuming part. Make sure to squeeze just a little lemon juice on your sliced apples to prevent browning. I like to mound my apples up high since they cook down quite a bit.

        Also decide if you want a 2-crust pie or if you want a bottom crust topped w/ a crumb topping (aka French apple pie). Double crust pies are impressive-looking but I actually prefer the French apple since I love the sweet crumb topping.

        While I wouldn't want to deter you from trying your hand at pie, I think apple crisp can be just as satisfying for a lot less hassle! I really like the ease and rustic look of crostatas too! Best of luck.

        1. I would never use a metal pie tin. Pyrex glass pie plates give a much better crust. I have also found that using a food processor, or a mixer with with sharp blades does a very good job of cutting in the butter, shortening, lard or any combo there of, does a better job than a pastry blender or fork can do. Then mix in the ice water carefully tbs. by tbs. and handle as little as possible. You do not want to heat the pastry with your hands and cause the fat to melt before baking. Roll pastry out with quick deft strokes rolling from the middle of the dough out to the edges and do not roll back and forth. That encourages the dough to stick to the rolling pin.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Candy

            I use a Bon Appetit pie crust recipe using only butter. You can find it on my website. It's wonderfully flaky. Almost like puff pastry. To reiterate about cold butter, if you have a food processor, stick the butter in the freezer. Cut it into 1 or 2 tablespoon blocks and throw it into the food processor. Also, bizaarely enough, adding a teeny weeny bit of cider vinegar or rice wine vinegar really makes a big difference in the flakiness. For a fruit pie, I highly recommend making a lattice crust. It's pretty and your fruit won't turn to mush. I once made a double crust pie and the apples turned to applesauce because I forgot to poke holes. Go to http://dcfoodblog.blogspot.com/ and scroll down for the recipe.

          2. Don't make it so complicated!
            For one 9 inch crust:
            one cup of flour to 1/3 cup butter (I like unsalted) and 2 tbls sugar if it's for a sweet thing. a pinch of salt too.
            With two butter knives slice up the butter, let it soften just a little bit.
            dump in the flour.
            with your fingers crumble up the mixture, that should take about 3 or 4 minutes. Turn on the cold tap water and let it run to get it really cold.
            Now this is the most rapid moment....
            Splash once or twice and stir with your hand as fast as you can like mad until the mixture forms a ball, you might need another splash to get the consistancy right. I think I usually do two splashes per one cup flour. If you made it too wet you can always sprinkle in more flour.
            Wrap it up in plastic and let it sit in the fridge for a while till your ready to roll. Use a wine bottle if you don't have a rolling pin.
            When you assemble the pie, if your'e doing a top and bottom crust, dip your fingers in water as you pinch the crusts together. this will help the two to form together and the extra moisture will keep the edges from burning too much.
            More piecs of butter and a little sprinkle of milk will make the top nice and golden brown.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Lady Di

              Do you blind bake the bottom crust first?

              And what temperature and for how long? I'm doing a chicken pie this weekend...

              1. re: chiara V

                I only blind bake if I'm baking something that doesn't need to bake too long or something that is really wet and soupy.
                Apple pie, no, you want the apples to bake a long time.
                Peacan pie, a little bit, because the mixture is so soupy when you first pour it in the shell.
                Chicken pot pie, if the chicken is already cooked and the mixture is soupy, then yes, blind bake.
                Baking time is within an hour, keep checking and turning the plate if your oven is like an open fire, like mine is.

                1. re: Lady Di

                  Oh yeah,
                  350 degree oven is the basic temp for baking.

            2. A metal pie tin or a french tart pan works fine, IMO (I've not used a glass dish, so I can't compare, but I like the results from the metal product). I was in the same position as yourself a few months ago, and all I can say is that do not be intimidated by some books that seem to imply that you need to have a marble countertop, hollow rolling pin filled with ice water and liquid nitrogen robotic kneading machine, just take a bit of care and you won't need them... I like to be as low tech as possible when I cook and I've had great success at making low tech puff pastry :).

              As for recipes, I say that all recipes you will find and read, whether from a book or from an online source will have several glaring similarities, which you can use as the base for your pies.

              The easiest way to have a non-damp pie crust is to do pies based on blind baking, such as custard pies (which don't require a top layer of dough). Weigh down your crust with any dry item (like rice, lentils, or beans, or pie weights) during the baking process, as said below to prevent your dough from puffing up.

              I use 2 to 2.5 cups of flour, around 1 to 1.5 of cold butter (work into dough with a utensil or food processor until it looks like fine crumbs) and add water until it is pliable yet not wet and sticky (around 1 cup), and a bit of salt or sugar, depending on whether your pastry is savoury or sweet. This can also be the base for a puff pastry dough, if you wish to place layers of butter in between each fold during the resting process.

              1. I think all the advice has been good; like breadbaking, it's really not that hard, though it helps to see it done once.

                Do not be afraid to leave big (1/2 inch) chunks of butter or shortening before you add the water-- if you cut it up too thoroughly, you won't get the "marbled" effect when you roll it out, and this reduces flakiness. And to reiterate, the key really is to not handle it too much. Very much like biscuits.

                And the most important part: once the crust is in the pan (transfer either by folding gently in fourths and unfold in the pan, or roll it around your rolling pin), cut off the extra, lay the scraps on a cookie sheet, dust with cinnamon and sugar, and bake for 5-7 minutes. MMMMM.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Jess

                  Also, make sure the dough rests for at least half an hour.

                2. These are all lots of great tips. I would say the most important thing, though, is to buy an oven thermometer to make sure your temperature is accurate. Nothing worse than spending all that time on a pie and then having it scorch because the over was running hot.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Wisco

                    That's definitely a great pointer, since the oven I was using started to have a tempermental heating pattern (0 to 400 in 15 minutes, then back down to 150, then back up to 375, etc.), which I only really confirmed after investigating with an oven thermometer. Unfortunately, that meant I had to suspend my baking activities.

                  2. I've been making pies for years. One of the best tips I picked up was to add a tbl/2 of orange juice to the processor with the water when I;m mixing the dough. That bit of acidity does wonders. Just make sure you chill your butter/crisco and water. I find the processor is the easiest way to go. When it becomes a ball, you know it's ready. Then chill a bit before rolling out. I have a foolproof disk with cloth cover that nothing sticks to. Good luck and enjoy. I have a strawberry/rhubard in the oven as we speak.

                    1. There's lots of good advice here. I'll add a few more pointers - start off with a really good hot oven (425), then turn it down after about ten minutes. Helps get that bottom crust set up so it won't be soggy. Also, don't be afraid to put the pie on the lowest rack. Definitely cover the edges with aluminum foil so they don't overcook before the bottom is ready. Otherwise, it's easy to decide the pie is ready to come out before it actually is. Chill the pie crust before you roll it, and chill the whole pie once it's assembled. A little beaten egg white brushed over the bottom crust before filling can help you avoid soggy bottoms as well; the white sets up a barrier to the moisture from the filling. Tapioca makes a great thickener for most fruit pies. If you tend to skimp on sugar, you might find you need more than you feel you should need to get a good flavor from the filling. For the fat, I like a half and half mix of lard and butter. The butter should be chilled; the lard frozen. A bit of vinegar does help the crust.

                      The best pie book I know is the Little Pie Company of the Big Apple's Pies and Other Dessert Favorites. Nothing elaborate, just a straightforward collection of recipes for all sorts of pies, plus a few traditional American-style desserts, with great instructions on pie-making.

                      1. Check out The Fanny Farmer Baking Book by Marion Cunningham. She has a detailed description and how-to on pies and pie crusts. It's excellent.