For a few years I had a pie cart in San Francisco called Pie Fridays (piefridays.com). I used to bake 50 pies a week for it so I’ve definitely put in my ten thousand hours. The truth is, I hate most pies. The reason why people liked my pies so much was that I made them so that people like me, Pie Dislikers, would like them. Here’s my very complainy holiday edition of What Is Wrong With My Pie so that pie fanatics that will settle for literally any pie will freak out over this year’s pies and pie haters will have a revelation and believe that, perhaps, they overlooked the pie as a dessert. Here you go and happy holidays!
Problem 1. Crunchy apples
Whenever I watch TV chefs making apple pies, they always cut apples in big photographic chunks and load them sky high into the pan. This makes me shudder as I imagine the underdone, over firm pile of apples that will ooze out with each soggy slice. Don’t let this happen to you. I know it seems rustic and everything to put big giant chunks of apple into your pie but it’s not. It just makes for a crunchy apple pie that has steamed up the crust.
Solution: There are three solutions for this. First of all, slice your apples as paper thin as possible. This allows the apples to easily cook through. Second, use the right apples. I use a combination of Granny Smiths and Gala. The Granny Smiths create a nice tartness and cook down well and the Gala softens beautifully. Don’t use Fugi, besides tasting like dirt, they don’t break down. Same with my favorite every day apple, the Pink Lady and Honey Crisp apples are the absolutely worst at softening up, don’t ever use them. I don’t need to tell you that Red Delicious are garbage and to never use them for anything.
Problem 2. Bland Pie
Fruit pie recipes are meant to be followed loosely because it’s based on how the fruit tastes. Taste your apples!! Are they super sweet? Add less brown sugar. Sour or bland? Add more sugar. Add cinnamon and nutmeg to the point where you think it is too much, by the time it cooks down and is eaten with crust and vanilla ice cream it will be just right. Add lemon zest and lemon juice so the final product is tasted on all parts of the tongue. Add dots of butter before you put the top crust over your apples if you want a little more richness.
Problem 3. Soggy Crust
Okay, this means a few things might have happened. You may have put in too many apples so they are steaming away inside, making the crust soggy. Or your temperatures are wrong. You may be baking it at too low of a temp. I pop it in a 425 degree oven for the first 8 minutes or so to seal up the crust and then lower it to 350. I never go below 350. They other thing to watch out for is thickener. Did you add flour to your apples? Apples have pectin, which is a natural thickener, but that’s not enough. Add a few tablespoons of flour until all the apples feel coated in a moist floury film and that should definitely stop your crust from getting soggy. Or, a lot of you may suffer from the Martha Stewart syndrome which means you do heavy, viscous egg washes on everything. I know that looks good in magazines but it seals up the pie and doesn’t let the steam leave while adding a big, gross moisture layer on the crust. I just sprinkle sugar and cinnamon over my crust and let it do its thing. If this goes against everything thing you believe about pie crust and must brush something on, stick with just cream. The final problem might be that you’re not poking enough holes in your top crust, therefore not releasing the steam, prohibiting the crust from getting crusty and puffed up.
Problem 4. Bad Slice
So you bake your beautiful pie, cool it down properly and cut your first slice and the entire filling spills out onto the plate. It’ll still taste good but I love when my slices hold up. I always compress my apple slices down so there aren’t any big gaps and the apples are all packed down solidly. Also, as I mentioned above, make sure you use enough flour to thicken the filling and hold the slice together.
Gross, I hate pecan pie but it’s probably because all the recipes come out all gelatinous and overly sweet. I will not touch a pecan pie. Every once in a while, if I’m wasted at a holiday party, I’ll grab a mini pecan pie and can force it down because there’s so little filling and so much crust that it becomes bearable. Honestly, unless someone requests it, don’t waste your time making a pecan pie. Haven’t you noticed by now that there’s always a ton of pecan pie left over when even the Jello Ambrosia salad had more takers?
Oh alright, if you insist on making this pie, here are my helpful hints.
Problem 1. Too sweet
I have a great dark chocolate maple pecan pie recipe. The reason why it was so good is because I substituted some maple syrup for the Corn Syrup and it gives it more complexity and turns down that super sweetness. If I were you I’d substitute in at least ¼ cup maple syrup. Also, make sure you add salt. Probably about ½ teaspoon would make for a nice sweet and salty vibe.
Problem 2. Gelatinous
Usually pecan pies have a bunch of gross gelatinous, eggy, sugar filling with some solid pecans decorating the top. Depending on the recipe, add in another handful of finely chopped pecans to the mix and then decorate the top with pecan halves. The extra nuttiness will cut down on the sweetness and add a sturdiness to the body of the pie.
I’m not that into pumpkin pie either, to be honest, but I finally found a recipe that I actually find delicious. The reason why I love it is the custard is so soft and pillowy. It’s not solid and heavy like all those big, thick bright orange pumpkin pies everyone makes.
Problem 1. It cracks
I know it looks nice on tv when pumpkin pie makers put in the pie shell a thick, mousse like pumpkin filling into the crust and then cook it forever so it’s solid like a quiche. But the truth is, your filling should be very loose, kind of like a melted down milkshake. It will take much longer to bake but the result will be the lightest, most velvety pumpkin pie you’ve ever had. And guess what else, it will never crack! I’d add in at least an extra ¼ to ½ cup of heavy cream to loosen up the filling. Don’t be scared to do this, it will be amazing.
Problem 2. It just tastes like cooked carrots
Add. Seasonings. Don’t just sprinkle in some cinnamon and call it a day. You absolutely need to add ginger powder, nutmeg, cinnamon AND cloves! Don’t forget the salt either because that’s the number one thing that makes it bland. Add a half teaspoon of salt to have your mind blown.
Problem3. Soggy Bottom
Uh-oh, no one likes a soggy bottom. Unfortunately, you may have to pre bake the shell for about 8 minutes so it stands a chance against the pumpkin custard. After I prebake it I would then wrap the bottom in foil because I have to bake my pie a bit longer than other pie bakers and I don’t want the bottom to end up burning.
During the holiday season people just feel like they should throw cranberries into everything just willie nellie. I don’t know if you’ve tasted fresh cranberries but they are crunchy, full of tannins that dry out your tongue and calling them tart is an understatement. They are totally cool in apple pies but first you need make them edible. Throw them in a sauce pan with some white sugar and orange zest and orange juice and then cook it down for maybe 7 or 8 minutes and then add them to your apple pie and bake.
Problem 1. Leaking Crust
This can be cause by a fragile crust splitting open when pushed into pan or placed over the top. The fragile crust is caused by lack of flexibility which is caused by lack of moisture, which means you could do the following:
- Substitute about a quarter cup of your butter with margarine. You won’t taste the difference but margarine will give your crust flexibility.
- Add a little more water. A dry pie crust breaks apart and leaks.
3.Refrigerate longer, preferable overnight. Refrigerating over night in tightly wrapped saran wrap allows for all the moisture to penetrate the flour mixture so when you roll it out it’s easy and stays together nicely.
Problem 2. My Crust isn’t flaky!
You probably aren’t keeping your crust in the fridge between working with it. Keep your crust cold at all times and it will be flaky!
Problem 3. It’s crackery
Crust gets crackery when it’s baked on too high of a temperature and the butter evaporates out of it. This leaves you with a dry, crackery crust. It’s okay but having a little tenderness from moisture makes for a much more amazing experience.
Problem 4. Crust is bland
I always use salted butter AND still add sal and don’t forget the sugar, at least a big teaspoon. By the time it’s combined with all the fruit and whipped cream that saltiness will be addictive!
Problem 5. Soggy Crust
I kind of covered this in the apple pie section but make sure there’s not a big gross eggy/cream mixture on top of your crust because that’s going to make it get steamy. Make sure holes are cut so steam escapes the pie. Bake at around 425 for the first 8 minutes to get a little shell going on it and then reduce to 350 and never bake at a lower temperature than 350.
Problem 6. It’s just missing…something
Sprinkle sugar liberally over the pie before baking. I even indent the crust with my finger prints so there are little shallow spots for the sugar. I also always shake some cinnamon over the top.
I know this is unconventional but please don’t overlook the opportunity to make cherry pie for the holidays. It offers something tart and light to the dessert lineup. Almost no one makes cherry pie from fresh cherries so the holidays are a good a time as any to make a cherry pie since you are using jarred cherries anyway. Trader Joe’s has really good jarred cherries, btw. I love this for Thanksgiving. Pro-tip: Add ¼ teaspoon cinnamon to the pie and dot the top with butter before the top crust goes on.