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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:

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

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



        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.

                2. I definitely need to study the responses on making a pie crust. I always relied on my MIL to make pies and was too lazy to learn. Now she's gone. But, I would suggest you also study the ingredients for the filling. My MIL always used Cortlands for apple pies. There's a wonderful variety out there but the best eating apples aren't necessarily the best for cooking (I think MacIntosh are too watery for cooking). I got an heirloom custard pie recipe from an elderly friend. Mine didn't turn out the same .... guess I need to use whole milk for that recipe and not 2 %. I recently had a big disaster with a buttermilk pie because I thought milk about to sour might be just as good. The pie puffed up and then most of the filling clung to the edges and the middle was shallow. Didn't taste quite as good either. Best wishes for a wonderful weekend in the kitchen.

                  1. Funny blueberry pie story: I had a French neighbor who wanted to make a blueberry pie for her American husband, her first attempt. It called for tapioca to thicken and I gave her my box, which had about 1/2 cup left in it.
                    A few days later, I asked her about the pie and she said it was a disaster. She brought me a piece and the filling had set up like a brick sh*tthouse. I asked her about the tapioca amount used and she said she used it all, thinking that's what I meant her to do when I gave her the box. Oh boy...

                    Funny lemon meringue pie story: Also a first attempt for the husband situation, the filling went well, which I think was from a boxed mix anyway, but then my friend spread raw unbeaten egg white on top for the meringue and baked it off to brown. Sort of a egg white omelet/lemon meringue pie combo, a culinary delight, I'm sure.

                    Pie baking is about experience; keep at it and you'll get the touch.

                    1. I took a pie class a few months ago from L'Academie de Cuisine and it was so helpful. The biggest hints I took away were:

                      1) cold is important. Start w/ cold butter (cut and freeze just before using--you don't want frozen butter but very cold) and ice water, too. If you feel the butter/dough is getting warm, refrigerate and start again.

                      2) We used the stand mixer. Add butter chunks to flour, mix just until the sharp edges are gone. If you go to the point of coarse crumbs like some recipes call for, you've worked it too much.

                      3) Add water and mix just until it starts coming together ("straggly mess" is how it was described), not until a ball forms which again is too late.

                      4) Pour out on lightly floured surface (dusting the surface from high, arm way overhead, will be more uniform) and knead until it just barely comes together, just one or two turns. The instructor didn't even do that--she just gathered it and wrapped it in plastic in a disk shape. Even if doesn't all come together and you have residual pieces, that's okay. Visible chunks of butter are fine. Pastry scraper is helpful here. Shape dough, into a round disk. Put on plastic wrap, wrap well and refrigerate up to half an hour.

                      6) Roll out. Not covered in class but I find it easier to roll on lightly floured silpat, top and bottom. Center out, turn dough, center out. The instructor said this the where people tend to overwork the dough the most.

                      It was easy in class. The first time I did it at home, it looked really chunky but the pie crust was great. I like the all butter and think shortening, even half, has a slimy mouthfeel.

                      This is the recipe we were given:

                      2 1/2 c. flour (King Arthur AP unbleached)
                      1 c cold butter cut into cubes
                      1/2 tsp salt
                      1/2 c. ice water
                      1/4 tsp lemon juice

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: chowser

                        Your 1) reminds me of the CI tip in which you DO want frozen butter - which you then grate on the large holes of a box grater. Use the wrapper to hold it; the grating goes so fast that the butter will remain hard enough to grate the whole stick. It's easy to then toss with the flour.

                        1. re: greygarious

                          I've wanted to try this method, too, as well as the vodka pie crust. I only make pies occasionally and have been playing with the one I learned but will venture on at some point.

                      2. I'll just add one more thing:
                        Pies are a rustic type of dessert. There is no "perfect" pie. It is basically a flaky crust filled with a sweetened fruit filling. Always keep that in mind and you won't set yourself up for failure. And have fun!

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: ttoommyy

                          Wise words, after all, pie baking is not astrophysics.

                          From my observaton, the ones that make the best pies, like our Grandma's, have been doing it for years.

                        2. Thank you so much for all of your tips!! I tried three different crust recipes.
                          1 - I did the frozen butter one on epicurious where you grate the butter into the flour. It said to add 6 - 8 tbsp of ice water and I did 8. It seemed really crumbly but I thought I shouldn't add any more water so I hoped it would come together better as it rested. It didn't. Lesson learned. It cracked a lot and made me crazy. I thought I wouldn't even get it into a pie plate! I should have rolled between saran wrap to make it easier. I made this one into a sour cream apple pie with walnut crumb topping - so I could avoid trying to roll out a top crust. In the end it was excellent! The crust was very flakey, came out of the pan easily (I thought it would crumble and fall apart) and had a nice flavour.

                          2 - I did the vodka one that some one here recommended. I loved makeing this one as it was much wetter and easier to work with. Also liked that I got to do it in the food processor. I made this one into a two crust blueberry strawberry pie. I used tapioca to thicken and it turned out perfectly. I still found it cracked a bit on the edges as I rolled but not as much as the all butter recipe and it was easy to pinch it back together. The crust was nice and flakey and had a nice flavour (this one had shortening and butter and I like that bit of buttery taste)

                          3 - Then I did the recipe on the side of the Crisco box. My Mum came over and told me my dough was crumbly because I was not squeezing it into a ball. She really worked it around and squeezed it but did not press and smear like you would if you were kneading it. I thought it still might turn out tough cause she sqeezed it so much. It still cracked when I rolled it out but it was about the same as the vodka recipe. I made this one into a winter fruit pie (epicurious again) with apple, pear, fig and cranberries. This recipe had two tbsp of cornstarch as a thickener. It was a very yummy pie but I would use tapioca next time as it was too juicy. The bottom crust was a little doughy but I don't know if that is because the fruit was too runny or I didn't cook it long enough? Anyone know? I tasted the edge of the crust as I did with the others and even with all Mum's squeezing it was nice and flakey. It was not as tasty as the others because it did not have butter in it but the edges of it did turn out nicely and it was not tough.

                          Phew!! I am still not a pie pro but I am getting a better feel for it. I think I would like to do the vodka one again and roll it between sheets of saran to see how that works out. One more pie weekend maybe!

                          Oh - I did a pecan pie with the rest of the butter pastry at the end of the day since I still had a crust left from that batch. I tried to squeeze it a bit before to make it a bit more sticky but it did not help. In the end it was still crumbly but baked up perfectly. Odd my pecan pie that I have made for years with store bought dough was a little runny though!! What the heck!?

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: julesincoq

                            When dough cracks, that's a sign that it needs more hydration. I don't hesitate to put it all back in the bowl, add liquid of choice, mix thoroughly, then wrap and chill. Don't try to shortcut the fridge time. This really helps the dough to hydrate evenly.

                            1. re: greygarious

                              Really? I tried to add a bit of moisture directly to the cracks on the butter one since it seemed so dry but it just got slimy so I stopped. I was tempted to dump it back in and add a bit more water but I was afraid this would be the over working I'm trying to avoid.

                              Thanks so much for the tip. I think I am trying so hard to not over work the dough that I am not working it enough. I was definitely chilling it enough as I kept each batch in the fridge for 2 hours. As a bread maker, it's really hard to not warm the dough to make it more plyable!!

                              1. re: julesincoq

                                Oh, you DO need to let it warm up after chilling, maybe 20 min on the counter so it's cool but not hard, or it will be very hard to roll. Alternatively, you can take it out of the fridge and whack it really hard with a rolling pin, to flatten the disc out into a flatter ovoid rectangle, then start rolling.

                                As you discovered, you can't dab water on the cracks. You must get it distributed, then let it chill to rest and even out. A REALLY good way to add the water/vodka/whatever is to use a spray bottle. You still need to toss the dough around, wrap, and chill/rest.

                            2. re: julesincoq

                              I too tried the vodka crust this weekend and must say it was one of the easier crusts I've worked with, with good end results. I made blueberry pie using my frozen berries from last summer. In the past 4 Tbsp tapioca worked well, but this time it was a bit too think. Overall, I look forward to using this crust again, I am hoping to make peach pie next weekend! Thanks

                            3. Lots of good tips here... I agree that cold is key, though i never froze my butter. I cut each stick into 32 pcs. (each tbsp cut into 4) then cut into the flour with a pastry cutter, no mixer. Pie crust is the only thing i NEVER use my mixer for. You want the texture of the crumb to be like dried split peas mixed in flour. Then you blend with the water, if it has to sit, let it sit or even fridge it for 15 min. I use 4 tbsp of water and its usually enough for it to come together. This is for a 2.5c flour, 1c. shortening, 1/2tsp salt ratio.
                              For fillings, potato flour or arrowroot are great for overwhelmingly wet pies like rhubarb, peach and blueberry. I use AP flour for apple & pear pies. I'd say several tbsp should be enough (3-4), but use your judgement based on juiciness of the fruit. I only use tapioca for rhubarb pie if Im out of the arrowroot.
                              Pies are not always factual science, but an educated guess!

                              1. Like you, I always got tough pie crusts, but I've had good luck with the Wesson oil pie crust, taken from here, but with a tablespoon of sugar added for sweet pies: http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/food/...
                                It comes out very flaky, with no need to obsessively keep everything cold or worry about overworking.

                                1. For crust, keep the fats cold, preferably the flour cold as well. For the FATS, make it with all butter, or mostly butter and coud use a bit of shortening for texture. Cut the butter into cubes and rub the butter and flour btw your fingers until it is like pieces of oatmeal. (as it states in mastering the art of French cooking) Don't want to be plagiarizing. Or if you prefer cut the fat with two knives until it has that same texture. Work FAST so everything stays cold. You could alternately put it in the blender. Then add ice cold water, a little at a time. REFRIGERATE it for about an hour or for a couple of days I would say. And then role it out when ready to use. For filling, some recipes say to cook it on the stove and make like a jelly and then return it to the pan (apple pie recipes seem to say that) but if the recipe does not say that, and you want to be consistent with the recipe, then just cook it enough for the pie to jell. Marth Steward had a good pie recipe Book Martha Steward Pies and Tarts and she gives advice and a liste of rules that will help you. Also, I wanted to add, roll it out right out of the fridge and don't wait for it to soften, if you work it firly it will soften on its own.
                                  Also, if it is humid out maybe put in AC if possible or make it another day. Good luck.

                                  1. One tip - for fruit pies, letting the pie cool at room temperature for at least several hours before slicing is important - many pies will come out of the oven watery, but thicken while standing.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: shanagain

                                      I read somewhere that the ideal time to eat a pie is "just after the oven's heat has left it". Nice thought, eh?

                                        1. re: buttertart

                                          Lovely indeed. Also I was pie so bad. Right now.