Ah, the simplicity of pie. Sweet or savory ingredients piled onto a pastry base, sometimes topped with more of that same flaky pastry to fully enclose the yummy stuff inside. There are endless iterations—fruity, creamy, meaty, tart. But when it comes to buckles, crumbles, crisps, or (gasp!) cobblers, pie purists put their foot down. You can take or leave the top crust but the bottom crust is a must or it’s simply not a pie.
I’ve been baking for years and it’s the crust that has long intimidated me into sticking with making cakes and bars. I recently turned to two pie experts for help. My mother-in-law, Gail, used to run a baking business—first with a friend as the cleverly titled “Two Smart Cookies,” then solo as “Rolling in Dough.” Her goods were sold in department stores all over New York City.
Judy, my other giver of advice, cranks out dozens of pies at a clip. She uses her knife tip to deftly carve the shape of a chicken into the top crust of some, an apple onto others and cherries on yet more to remind her of their delicious insides. Friends, and friends of friends, have her baking up pies for the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, and all other pie-eating holidays (and, really, don’t all holidays call for pie?).
Both women offer stellar tips below to help even the most crust-timid. Plus you’ll find three delectable recipes: Gail’s Sour Cream Apple Pie, Judy’s Chicken Pot Pie, and a Bourbon Pecan Pie. But first, about that crust…
Basic Pie Crust with Tips and Photo Tutorial
This crust can be used for either of the sweet pies below. For the savory Chicken Pot Pie, try Paula Haney’s All Butter Pie Dough recipe, perfect for a double-crust pie. Alternatively, here is a great gluten-free crust. The GF version was the crust used for the pecan pie pictured.
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) + 3 teaspoons unsalted butter, cut into bits
- 1/4 cup cold apple cider
1. In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, blend flour, sugar, cinnamon, salt and butter until the mixture resembles meal. Then transfer to a bowl.
Tip: When combining ingredients in the food processor to make dough, use cold butter and cold water. Judy prefers butter to Crisco or margarine in her crusts but notes that it has a higher water content.
2. Add apple cider then combine the mixture to form a dough. Shape the dough into a ball, knead it on a countertop a few times then chill it wrapped in plastic wrap for 1 hour.
Tip: Gail says that you want the dough a little crumbly as it comes out of the processor as your kneading will bring it together. Too wet? Add flour. Too dry? Add butter or cider. Judy reminds us that a positive attitude is important and that you can play with the dough if it’s falling apart until you get the mix right; it takes practice.
3. Roll the dough into a 12-inch round on a floured surface.
Tip: Both bakers recommend rolling dough out on floured parchment (or wax) paper. While Gail uses one piece and puts her rolling pin on top of the dough, Judy suggests rolling between 2 pieces of parchment.
Tip: Both agree that it’s best to start rolling at the middle of your dough then out to preserve its round shape as it stretches into a crust and to make sure it’s not too thick in the middle and thin at the edges.
4. Fit dough into a deep 10-inch pie plate/dish. Squeeze dough out of the bottom and sides of pan.
5. Fold the edges of the crust over to make a high lip around the top of the pie. Then crimp the crust edges all the way around.
Tip: Gail says that you can pull dough from sides with extra dough to fill in short sides. When crimping, she places her index fingers 1-inch apart then uses her thumb in the middle to push that piece of dough inward, creating a neat curve. Judy uses a shortcut method of just crimping between thumb and index quickly around. You can experiment with the look you like.
6. Add pie filling.
Judy notes that pie crusts can be as varied as their fillings. She suggests adding herbs for savory crusts. You could also add different liquids in place of the apple cider in the recipe above to alter the flavor or try adding a little bit of shredded cheese depending on the flavors of your fillings.
Gail’s Sour Cream Apple Pie
Pie filling ingredients:
- 6 large (8 cups) McIntosh apples, peeled and sliced
- 1 2/3 cups sour cream
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
Pie topping/streusel ingredients:
- 1 cup walnuts, chopped
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- pinch of salt
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
2. In a bowl, combine apples, sour cream, sugar, egg, flour, vanilla and salt. Spoon filling into pie crust/shell and bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake pie for 35 minutes more.
3. In a bowl, combine for streusel: walnuts, flour, butter, sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt. Mix with fingers until mixture is crumbly.
4. Mash the apple filling lightly with a fork, sprinkle the streusel over the filling and bake the pie for 15 minutes more. Cool pie on rack then enjoy.
Judy’s Chicken Pot Pie
- 2 cups water or chicken stock
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cutlets or tenders
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 carrots, cut into bite-sized chunks
- 1/2 pound whole mushrooms of your choice or a mix, halved
- Kernels from 3 ears of corn (or 8 ounces frozen sweet corn)
- 8 ounces frozen baby peas
- 1 tablespoon grated ginger
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups of chicken cooking broth
- 1 1/2 cups warmed milk or half-and-half
- 2-3 tablespoons sherry (optional)
- 2-3 pinches ground nutmeg
- Fresh lemon juice
- Salt and pepper to taste
- additional 2 tablespoons of half-and-half
1. Prepare the chicken: put chicken and water or stock in pot and bring to a simmer over high heat, making sure the liquid covers the meat (add more liquid if necessary). Once simmering, reduce the heat so that the liquid barely bubbles. Partially cover pot. Cook until meat releases clear juices when pierced with a fork, about 8–12 minutes.
2. Remove the chicken from liquid and let stand until cool enough to handle. Cut or shred the meat into bite-sized pieces. Skim the fat from the stock and save stock for later step.
3. Heat olive oil in a frying pan, then add the vegetables and ginger. Cook until carrots are barely tender (about 5 minutes) and set aside.
4. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add flour and whisk until smooth. Cook, whisking constantly, for 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat. Pour 2 cups of reserved cooking broth into pan in a steady stream while whisking until smooth. Whisk in warmed milk or half-and-half. Increase the heat to medium and bring mixture just to a simmer, whisking constantly. Remove from heat and scrape the sides of the pan and whisk vigorously to break up any lumps.
5. Return the pan to the heat and, whisking again, bring to a simmer and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the cooked chicken, and if you like, 2 to 3 tablespoons of sherry and cook for 1 minute more. Remove from the heat and season to taste with: fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper, ground nutmeg. Stir the cooked vegetables into the creamed chicken and let cool.
6. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
7. Cover bottom of pie pan with rolled crust. Pour in the cooled chicken mixture and cover with second crust for top. Crimp edges. Brush with 2 tablespoons of half-and-half and refrigerate about 15 minutes.
8. Put pie onto a rimmed cookie sheet and cook in preheated oven for 25 to 35 minutes until topping is nicely browned—not too light, not too dark. Mixture should bubble from the top crust a little, and when you poke a knife from the top to the bottom of the pie, it should come out hot to the touch. Enjoy.
Bourbon Pecan Pie
- 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 cup packed (7 ounces) dark brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 large eggs
- 3/4 cup light corn syrup
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon bourbon
- 2 cups pecans, toasted and chopped into small pieces
1. This pie works best with a partially baked pie crust/shell. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Cover the crust, including the crimped edges around pie, with foil. Distribute 2 cups pie weights or dried beans into crust center. Bake, leaving foil and weights in place, for 25-30 minutes. Carefully remove foil and weights. Continue baking 5 minutes until light golden brown.
2. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium heatproof bowl set in a skillet of water maintained at just below a simmer. Remove the bowl from the skillet, stir in the sugar and salt with a wooden spoon until the butter is absorbed.
3. Beat in the eggs, then the corn syrup, vanilla and bourbon. Return the bowl to hot water in skillet, then stir until the mixture is shiny and hot to the touch. Remove from heat and stir in pecans.
4. As soon as pie crust comes out of oven, decrease oven temperature to 275 degrees. Pour the pecan mixture into the pie shell. Bake until pie looks set and yet soft when gently pressed with the back of a spoon, 50-60 minutes. Cool completely on rack. Enjoy.
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