No doubt your holiday menu this season will involve a pie or two. While there are lots of great places in town to order for one ready made, this year not try your hand at making your own.
Baking pie is, well, as easy as…you know. High quality refrigerated crusts , make it nearly as good as homemade without all the fuss and frustration. I’m not here today to tout anyone particular brand and this is not a sponsored post. If you know me, you know I do like an organic option; and the fact that its already done and ready to roll, just seals the deal. It goes without saying that any little thing you can do to lessen the stress this time of the year is a step worth trying.
So, lets talk about some easy-peasy shortcuts that help moved the pie making process along.
Start with the local harvest and work your pies around that. You can never go wrong with local North Carolina apples as the start for your pie.
Life (and Pie) is how you Bake It
I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to share lots of my recipes and cooking tips regularly in Charlotte on WCNC’s Charlotte Today.
Earlier last week, I shared a couple of these easy tips for making pies – from how to work the crust to a fun faux lattice top. Watch the video and then read the details below.
In Pie We Crust
The beauty of working with refrigerated pie dough is in the convenience. You can keep the package at an arm’s reach in the fridge; or freeze one of both of the crusts in the box for use another time. The dough will stay good in the refrigerator until it reaches the expiration date on the box – another important reason to read the label.
Ready made rolls of pie crust dough do well kept frozen for up to two months, but be sure to bring it to room temperature before attempting to roll it out. The direction on the box always say “For best results, thaw overnight in your refrigerator.” But, you and I both know reality is.
So, if you forget to pull the box out in advance, just place it on your counter and let it defrost there. Don’t put it in warm water or in the microwave to try to speed up the process; the likelihood is great you’ll cook it or partially cook it that way.
For a quicker defrost
Instead, just take the rolls of pie dough out of the box, put them on a warm spot on your kitchen counter. Flip them over every once in a while. You still can’t rush the process, but you can really speed it along.
While it is always important to keep pie dough cooler than not, its best to bring a commercial refrigerated pie dough to just this side of room temp for the most carefree experience as you unroll the dough.
If the dough is too cold – or still frozen – it will crack. If that happens it’s still ok – you can easily fix it. Remember, you are smarter than the pie dough ( insert smiley face emoji here)
Don’t force it. Nothing likes to be forced to do anything. Just give it another 5 minutes or so at room temp, and then make another attempt to gently unroll. If you have cracks, you’ll be delighted to know that pie dough is just like Play Dough in this regard – you can just pinch the cracks together, roll over it with a rolling pin and voila, you’ve solved the problem.
Pie pans and tart shells
Lots of options here and a huge range of choices of sizes. A regular or deep-dish glass or ceramic pie pan is, of course, the classic. I tend to like the look of a ceramic pan over the tried and true glass, only because it lends a more finished presentation to the final product, but both work well.
My other go-to is the French tart pan. For an illustration of how these must have pans work – watch the Charlotte Today video.
I love these pans with the removable bottom because it makes getting the pie out of the pan super easy. French tart pans come in round and square or rectangular shapes.
Want a smaller version for an individually-sized pie? Use this fun trick.
Clean the metal lids to glass canning jars in the dishwasher. Reassemble them so the metal side of the lid is in the inside and then use the lid and the ring as you would a tart pan.
Its a fun trick and kids love it, too. While you are baking the pie for the family. Give your kids each a square of pie dough and let them fit it their own jar lid and ring, just as you fit the larger round into an 8 to 10 inch pan. They can fill and top it exactly the same way.
To bake, place the mini canning jar lid pies on a baking sheet and bake for about the same time as the larger version. You’ll know they are done when the crusts are golden brown. Allow them to cool and then push up on the bottom to pop them out of their little pans.
Feast your pies on this
Not all pies require a bottom crust. For those that do, here is an easy way to get the bottom layer of dough in the pan. Just divide (the dough into quarters) and conquer.
As I mentioned in the Charlotte Today segment, aside from the pie pan, the only equipment you need is a rolling pin and a sheet of parchment paper.
Rolling the dough out on a parchment paper covered work surface will help enormously with the transfer. For a bottom crust, roll the dough out 1-2 inches larger than the diameter of your pie pan.
The use the parchment to help you lift and fold the dough gently in half. Do not press or pat it together. Then, one again gently fold the half round of dough in half so that is a quarter round.
Pick the quarter round of dough up off the parchment. Place the point of the quarter into the center of the pan.
Then simply unfold till your round of dough fills the pan.
In a glass or ceramic pan, leave the pie crust lapping over the edges, until you’ve filled the pie and are ready to finish.
For a French tart pan, use this clever ( if I do say so myself) little trick. Press the dough into the bottom edges of the pan with your fingertips. If you have long nails, that won’t work so well – instead use your knuckles.
Once the dough is in the pan, use the rolling pin to roll over the edges.
As if by magic, you have a perfectly finished edge – no fuss, no muss. Then fill the unbaked pie crust as the recipe suggests.
Upper Crust Honors
Once the dough for the bottom crust is in place, you are ready to fill your pie. That is unless you are making a cream or refrigerated pie and then you’ll need to bake the crust blind. More on that later this week in the next pie post. Stay tuned.
For now, fill the unbaked pie crust with whatever you choose. Today I’m re-sharing two recipes. A classic Apple Pie and a Pistachio Cream Apple pie. You’ll find the directions an details for both in this post featuring local North Carolina apples, here.
The easiest way to top your pie is with a crust that offers full coverage. Just roll out another round of dough, not quite as large as the first one; and place it on top of the pie. Finish the edges by folding the rim of the bottom crust up and over the edge of the top crust.
Gently pinch the two layers of crust together using your fingers to create a fluted edge. Or, use a fork to press down in the double layer of dough to create a crimped edge. Then cut a few slits in the top of the pie to create an escape route for the steam that builds up inside while the pie is baking. With that, you are ready to go.
Instead of cutting boring straight slits with a knife, make it more fun. Use a zigzag pastry wheel to cut happy zig zag slits in the top of the pie.
To finish it all off, an option for better, more even, browning, is to lightly brush whole milk over the top crust. Place in the oven and bake according the recipe.
Let Us Lattice, and the Faux Version Thereof
If you really want to show some pie chops, then you need to master the lattice crust.
Its simple really, and nothing more than a basketweave pattern. Just cut the top crust into long strips. Then lay 4-5 strips over the pie filling, side by side, leaving an inch or so between each one.
Next take another set of dough strips and, this time going horizontally, begin to weave them into the first row of pie dough strips. It’s just like you used to make those homemade potholders when you were a kid (Whoops, I might be dating myself!)
The whole over, under, over, under process is actually sort of soothing for me. But if time is pressing, here is a faux basketweave plan that works every time.
Use a square or rectangle cooking cutter to cut square or rectangular shapes out of the top crust. As you cut, leave about an inch of dough between each of the squares. If you are feeling more creative use a circular cutter for a fancier spin on things.
Once you’ve cut out all the squares, toss them to the side, and what’s left behind is a lattice-like piece of dough.
Lift it off the parchment covered work surface and transfer it over to the top of your pie. Works like a charm and helps to take your pie topping skills to the next level!
Note: Remember to always work on a parchment paper covered surface and you won’t have any problems with the pie crust sticking before you need to lift and transfer.
And they lived Apple-y Ever After
Of course, there are no hard and fast rules, but generally speaking, most pies made in the false-bottom tart pans don’t call for a top crust. Seems a shame, because the soft flaky crunch of the top crust is so delicious.
Not wanting to give up on a top crust all together, I’ve reinvented the topping for my Pistachio Cream Apple Pie. I started with thin sliced of apples and placed them in an overlapping circle around the edge of the pie on top of the pistachio cream.
Them, instead of my traditional center round of apples, this year I am doing a center round of pie crust.
Again I used a cookie cutter – a round one this time, to cut pie dough circles. Next, I cut each dough circle in half so that they resemble the slices of apples.
This year the center circle of my Pistachio Cream and apple pie is crust. Finished off in the center with a full round of dough pinched into a flower sort of shape. To give it even more interest, I made the concentric circles of apples and pie crust go in two different directions.
Stay Tuned For More…
With the holidays at hand, stay tuned for more delicious pie recipes coming up later this week all featuring local South Carolina pecans from Yon’s Pecans in Ridge Springs, SC. You won’t want to miss it.
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