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Pie: recipes and tips please

I suck at pie. I really want to knead the dough so I always make it too tough. And I never seem to get the filling right. Fruit pies are either too runny or too firm. I'm going to spend the weekend on perfecting my pie skills so I'm looking for some tips and hints and your favourite hard to screw up recipes please. I won't leave the kitchen until I get it!

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  1. The Joy of Cooking has an excellent section on baking pies. You'll find a lot of great tips and useful information there. Just sitting down with it and reading the section on pies before even entering the kitchen is beneficial.

    1. probably best to take it one step at a time - i'd suggest mastering the crust first. it's a very popular topic here, so there's enough reading material to keep you busy for days! here are some good threads to get you started:
      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/538437
      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/670133
      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/600989
      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/671501
      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/418008
      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/621769
      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/357317

      once you've got that down we can tackle the filling issue :)

      1. Here are some demos/tutorials that might help you

        http://smittenkitchen.com/2007/11/pie...
        http://smittenkitchen.com/2008/11/pie...
        http://smittenkitchen.com/2008/11/pie...

        http://scratch.typepad.com/scratch/20...
        http://articles.latimes.com/2007/feb/...

        If you subscribe to Cooks Illustrated, their vodka pie crust recipe is VERY easy to work with.

        Good luck to you, keep practicing and you'll get it.

        1 Reply
        1. With pies, the less you do the more you'll enjoy it.

          This is true not only for the crust, but the filling as well, esp. fruit pies.

          1. Don't knead the dough! Keep some Play-Doh handy on the side in case you get the urge. ;)

            I agree that the "Joy of Cooking" has a lot of good advice, but I always use more fruit and less sugar than they say, since I prefer it not very sweet.

            For fruit pies the quality of the fruit makes a big difference. I prefer Minute Tapioca as a thickener. It does take some experience to get the correct amount, but once you get a feel for it you can vary the amount based on how juicy the fruit is and how thick you like it.

            Pie takes practice, but the good news is, you'll have fun eating the experiments.

            5 Replies
            1. re: visciole

              Sometimes I don't really knead the dough so much as I just keep squeezing it - I know also bad. But it always seems so crumbly. When i try to roll it it's all cracked. By then it is too late to try to add a bit more water so I fold it up and squeeze a little. I know if I practice I will eventually get a feel for it but in the mean time what do you do if you start rolling and realize it's too dry.

              Bread dough it easy. You knead it until if feels good then you know you are done. I need to find out what feels good in pie dough.

              I will be 10 pounds heavier by Monday. I want to learn this in the next two days. No reason - just want to git 'er done.

              1. re: julesincoq

                I've practiced with half-batches. That's half a single-crust pie. It's enough for 2 - 3 single crust pies or a lovely batch of cinnamon-sugar roll-ups :-) I started doing that so I wasn't wasting such a quantity of ingredients, and I didn't feel so bad if I just had to throw it out. Or even better, so that I didn't have so much that needed to be eaten!

                Do you hve a food processor? I found minet to be quite helpful in making pie dough. Try the Cooks Illustrated vodka recipe. Greygarious posted a free link above. It's the vodka keeps the dough from forming gluten so that the pie crust is quite tender. The alcohol burns off and there's no vodka taste remaining in the dough.

                1. re: julesincoq

                  Find a scale and weight your flour. Trying to get an accurate amount each time using bulk measurements is doomed to failure. You may get it right one time then, next time, you won't know how to judge the results.
                  Use 4.5 ounces to = 1 cup.
                  Use vegetable shortening (or lard) NEVER use butter
                  Measure your shortening using a content specific measuring cup only
                  (They come in sets)
                  Don't try to measure it using something like those Pyrex glass measuring cups intended to measure liquids.
                  To get started:
                  Deposit 13 1/2 ounces of AP flour into a large bowl.
                  Add 1 teaspoon of table salt and stir to combine.
                  Divide 1 1/4 cups vegetable shortening into six or eight pieces, place it on top of the flour.
                  Use a pastry blender to work the shortening into the flour until the flour takes on the appearance of pea sized bits and all the shortening is incorporated.
                  Combine one large egg, 1 Tablespoon of white wine vinegar and 5 Tablespoons of very cold water in a bowl and whip with fork until well combined.
                  Add this liquid to the flour mixture and use your hands (or a fork) to create very rough dough. DO NOT try to make a smooth dough.
                  divide the dough in half and form each half into a ball. Wrap each ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least thirty minutes.
                  Remove one ball of the dough, divide it in half and place the half between two pieces of plastic wrap (I use one piece with the dough on one end and fold the other end over) and place on a cutting board or similar surface.
                  Use the flat of your hands to press the dough into a rough circle. DO NOT knead the dough. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough into a thin sheet of suitable size to line your pie tin. Adjust the plastic wrap as necessary to ensure consistent dough thickness (and to prevent getting the folds of the plastic wrap caught up in the small crevices as the dough flattens) Roll from the center toward the edges, turning as necessary to equalize the thickness overall.
                  Gently peel back the top layer of plastic wrap, put it back in place and lift the dough to flip it over. Repeat the "peel back" and lay the dough on the counter. Allow the dough to rest for at least ten minutes before fitting it to the pie pan. (That allows for any shrinkage to occur as the dough settles down and reduces the shrinkage of the crust in the pie tin.
                  Fit the dough to the pie tin and trim as necessary.
                  Blind bake the pie shell as you would any other. Remember to dock the bottom to control crowning as it bakes and/or add weights while blind baking. If filling with a fruit mixture, blind bake for half the usual time - remove from oven and brush with mixture of water and egg - then return to the oven to finish baking.
                  Remember that fruit pies get the bulk of their moisture from the fruit itself. Avoid using too much liquid in your fruit filling.

                  1. re: julesincoq

                    Add the liquid and stir it lightly together with a fork. Then gently try to gather a small handful into a ball. If it feels too crumbly and you have the sense that it's going to fall apart, drop it back and add a very little bit more cold water. It is a feel thing, but what you want is for it to gather up into a ball without you applying a lot of pressure, but you also don't want it to be at all sticky. Err on the side of too crumbly, since the dough will hydrate while you're chilling it.

                    If it cracks some while you're rolling it out that's okay. Also, maybe you have to let the dough warm a bit before trying to roll it. If it's too cold it can crack. But if it were me and it cracked, I'd just put it cracked into the pie plate and patch it gently. That will certainly yield a better crust than if you try to add water or keep manipulating it to try to get it to stick. Better an un-neat, cracked crust which you haven't over-worked than a perfect-looking tough one.

                    1. re: visciole

                      "Better an un-neat, cracked crust which you haven't over-worked than a perfect-looking tough one."

                      Words to live by in pie making. And, I've found even a pie that doesn't look good going into the oven transforms somehow in there and looks great coming out.