is delicious, but only when it's fresh, which is practically impossible unless you cook it yourself. There's also no better way to show love to your friends and family than to serve them fresh pie. I taught myself how to bake pies, and you can learn, too. If you find this information useful, send me an e-mail and I'll add more recipes and illustrations. Some good additional references include the Better Homes & Gardens cookbook, The Joy of Cooking, and PieRecipe.com.
CRUST is the most difficult part, but great crust makes a great pie. Store-bought crust is tough and tasteless. Good homemade crust is hot, soft and flaky. Pastry crust seems to taste best for most fruit and chocolate pies; graham cracker crumb crust works well with custards.
To make a double pastry crust, you need:
- 2 cups of flour (or 1-1/2 cups for a single crust)
- 2/3 cup of Crisco (or 1/2 cup for a single crust)
- A generous sprinkling of salt
- Cold water (some people use milk or buttermilk)
- A large mixing bowl
- A pastry blender (a fork will do)
- Wax paper
- A rolling pin
In a bowl, mix the flour and the salt pretty well. Use the pastry blender or fork to blend in half the shortening, until the flour is clumped together evenly. Then blend in the rest of the shortening. Don't stir it too much -- the dough needs to be kinda mealy in order for the crust to turn out well.
Now, using the fork and your fingers, mix in about 7 tablespoons of water (5 tablespoons for a single crust). The dough should be evenly moist, but not gooey.
Roll our wax paper on your table or countertop and sprinkle it generously with flour. Ball up about half the dough (or all of it for a single crust), and mash it down a little in the middle of the wax paper. Sprinkle the rolling pin with flour and begin rolling out the crust evenly in a circle. If the dough sticks to the rolling pin too much, keep sprinkling it with flour.
When you have the dough evenly rolled as wide as your pie pan, get ready to lift it into the pan. One safe way to do this is by rolling the wax paper -- complete with the dough -- around the rolling pin, then lifting it all up over the pie dish, and peeling back the wax paper from the rolling pin and easing the crust into the pan.
If you're only making a bottom crust, trim up the edges so they look nice and you're done. If you need to bake the single crust before filling it (for a cold pie like a custard), pierce a few small holes in the bottom with a fork and bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes. That's it.
For a double crust, add the filling. Roll out the rest of the dough (you may need to sprinkle it with water if it's dried while you were preparing the filling). Follow the same directions for the bottom crust and drape the top crust over the filled pie. Seal the edges tightly and punch generous air slots in the top.
If you've got this far and realize you don't have enough dough to roll out a top crust, that's when you make a lattice. These look impressive, but aren't as satisfying to eat. Roll out the remaining dough into six or eight long, narrow strips. Carefully weave them together overtop the pie.
Whatever sort of top crust you make, follow the rest of the recipe's directions for how long to bake it.
A graham cracker crust is easy -- Make some very fine graham cracker crumbs (hint: use a rolling pin and a plastic bag). In a bowl, mix about 1-1/2 cups of crumbs with 6 tablespoons (3/4 of a stick) of melted butter and a little bit of sugar. Scoop all that into a pie pan and mash it down using a wooden spoon. Also try using chocolate graham crackers or vanilla wafers. These crusts usually sit fine, but you can bake them (8 minutes at 375 degrees) or chill them to make them firmer.
FRUIT FILLINGS are the easiest part. Just about any fresh fruit can become a pie. Apples, berries and peaches work especially well. Slice the fruits up, mix it with sugar, flour or corn starch, and a few other things, and fill up the pie. For tart fruits, use more sugar. For peaches or bland-tasting apples, add some lemon juice. For juicy fruits like cherries, use a little more corn starch. Use cinnamon and nutmeg for apples. Try mixing fruits up -- blueberry-cherry and peach-apple are especially good.
Scan a cookbook or the Internet for specific fruit pie recipes, and modify them to your liking. Figure on baking a fruit-filled double crust pie for about 50 minutes at 400 degrees. Here's a recipe that works particularly well for apple pie:
Mix all that up except the butter. Scoop it into your crust. Cut the butter into small pieces and dot the top of the filling with it. Lay the top crust overtop over all that and bake at 400 degrees for 50 minutes.
- Eight or 9 medium-sized apples, sliced (Granny Smith apples work best)
- 1 cup of sugar
- 2 tablespoons of flour
- Generous sprinkling of cinnamon, a little less nutmeg
- Add a teaspoon of lemon juice if they're icky out-of-season apples
- 2 tablespoons of butter
CUSTARD fillings are harder to make, but are usually good when you have to make a pie a day ahead of time and need to serve it cold. These vary tremendously, from banana cream (with chunks of fresh banana) to black bottom (very rich chocolate) to key lime to lemon meringue. Consult a cookbook for specifics about the kind of pie you want.
Whatever you end up with, a good meringue makes a cream pie a work of art. Meringue is weird stuff -- just whipped egg whites and sugar, puffed up real high and baked for a short time. It adds a whipped-cream consistency to the top of a pie and prevents skin (ick!) from forming on the surface of a custard pie while it's sitting in your fridge.
I've been told the key to a good meringue is to make sure you use ultra-clean utensils and start with the egg whites at room temperature. (I've used cold eggs before and faced no serious repercussions.) Here's what you need of a meringue:
- 3 egg whites (usually ones you have leftover from a custard. You can always add a 4th egg white for good luck)
- 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tarter (I'm not sure what this stuff is, really. It's a white powder sold on the same supermarket shelf as the spices.)
- 6 tablespoons of sugar
- A large, clean mixing bowl
- A wire whisk (yes! yes!) or an electric mixer (no! no!)
With your wire whisk or mixer, beat the egg whites, vanilla and the cream of tarter. Keep beating them. No, you're not done yet, keep going. Wow, that was cool, wasn't it? When the egg whites are puffy and volumous, begin beating in the sugar one tablespoon at a time. When you're done, all the sugar should be dissolved and you should have smooth, glossy, cloud-like meringue. Beautiful.
Scoop globs of it up with a spatula and spread it over your pie. Try to keep it as even as possible, especially around the edges of the pie. Meringue tends to shrink after it cools, but if it's spread evenly, it will be structurally sound enough to not crack.
Now, bake your meringue-topped pie for about 12 minutes at 350 degrees. The top wispy points of the meringue shell will be brown, but the rest should be white. Cool the pie before eating.
PUMPKIN fillings... Well, I usually just follow the directions printed on a can of pumpkin, which usually turns out fine. Some people blend fresh pumpkin or sweet potatoes. Others make pumpkin custard pies, which I've never tried. A good crust is especially important for pumpkin pies.
GOOD LUCK with your cooking. E-mail me if you questions, comments or suggestions. I'll post more recipes on this page in the future.