How to Make a Perfect Pie
I believe the crust is the most important component of the pie. It literally is the foundation. And if you don’t have a good crust, than it’s just a waste of calories. So, let’s first talk about that perfect crust, which should be a golden-brown inspiration that is richly flavored and just salty enough to contrast a sweet filling. I like the texture to be as flaky as a croissant but still crisp. And once I take a bite of temptation, it should shatter, then melt away instantly on my tongue. This can only be accomplished with fat! I grew up on a basic crust that was tried-and-true, and simple to make. It is known as a 321 crust. 3 parts flour, 2 parts fat and 1 part water. It’s a great crust, but like anything else, there are hundreds of variations. And today’s chefs are pushing the limit when it comes to the fat. Some feel that “all-butter” crusts are the hands-down favorite. However, I know many swear by all lard (pork). I have been experimenting with a combination of fats, mainly because I didn’t want to give up the sweet luscious flavor of the butter entirely. I have made crust using a 50/50 blend of butter and animal fat (pork lard) and also a 70/30 blend. After many crusts filled with memorable fillings (good thing I have an endless supply of in-house official taste testers at the corporate office), the favorite crust was the 70/30 blend. It baked up crisp, yet it was marvelously tender and flaky with just the perfect taste profile of butter and a mild hint of bacon that blended with every filling I added to it. If you really want to experiment out of the pie shell, try replacing the pork lard with duck lard. The crust will have a very light flavor, and texture will be a perfect balance between crisp and flaky. Just imagine the reaction you will get from your Honey Apple Pie with Thyme in a nontraditional duck fat crust.
If you are a non-traditionalist you can make pie crust from graham crackers, Oreo cookies, pretzels, and the list can go on. There really are no rules when it comes to the crust, other than it tastes good. Maines Food & Party Warehouse has ingredients for you to perfect the art of creating sweet comfort by the slice. Remember, a good piece of pie is like a hug from your mom or grandmother. The better the pie, the bigger the hugs.
The Perfect Pie Filling
Pie fillings generally contain fruit, custard, or cream. Prepared pie fillings are very convenient; however, they don’t even come close to made-from-scratch fillings. There is nothing wrong with using prepared filling, but I suggest that you use a high-quality filling. I have also discovered that by adding a few ingredients to a prepared filling, you can create some unique flavor combinations. I have taken prepared apple
pie filling and blended in plumped raisins and walnut pieces. I then filled a buttery pie crust, drizzled caramel sauce over the filling and topped it with a cinnamon crumbed topping. By adding a few ingredients, I created the perfect foundation for a spectacular pie, and I must say it is one of the best I’ve tasted.
For me, fruit fillings made from scratch are the way to go. You just need to follow the recipe to ensure the filling is properly thickened, and the cut edges of the pie will ooze slightly. That is a great indicator that the filling is perfect. The fruit will also look clear and distinct, and the color will be bright. You won’t get that from canned prepared filling. Cream fillings should be smooth, free of lumps, and rich in appearance. These fillings can be a base for a variety of pie options: chocolate-peanut butter cream pie, blueberry cream, coconut cream, and banana cream pie to mention a few. Pumpkin and sweet potato pie fillings are a custard-type filling. In the oven, they will resemble a soufflé during the baking process, but once you take the pie out of the oven, it deflates back into its crust. Sometimes during the baking or cooling process, the pie will crack. Here is a great tip that a lifelong baker gave me years ago. Let the filling rest for approximately one hour before incorporating the eggs into the mixture. This little trick is the fix, and you won’t have a problem with cracking.
In addition to the pies that we all grew up on, today’s pie bakers are really thinking outside the box. They are incorporating different cultures and ingredients to come up with some really incredible creations. Recently, while in Houston, Texas I had a pie that was made with apples layered with roasted green chilies in a savory cheese-infused crust sprinkled with a streusel topping of walnuts and brown sugar. This baker took two of
the basic ingredients from the Southwest and incorporated them into a pie that is savory, sweet, spicy, and somewhat earthy. It was incredible, and when I asked how it sold, the waiter told me it is the cornerstone of their dessert menu
Recently, I was in a restaurant in Washington, D.C., that is “known” for its apple pie. When I walked into the restaurant, I was looking down into the bakery. The pastry chef was hand peeling Granny Smith apples for the next batch of pies. Its apple pies were “individual” sized, (but they were perfect if you wanted to share). Customers come to this restaurant for the PIE! One of the trendiest pies racing across America is a pie
called “Crack Pie” (Get the recipe here
). I’m not sure how it got that name, but I’m thinking it’s because you become addicted to it. In New York City, this pie is fetching a whopping price of $44 for a 9-inch pie. It is made with an oatmeal cookie crust and the filling includes egg yolks, sugar, butter, and heavy cream. (Someone is making a lot of money.) To me, it is similar to a good old- fashioned Southern favorite – cheese pie. It’s sweet, rich, and marvelous. Think about other things you can do with that pie crust. Pot pies, quiche, meat pasties, and deep-fried turnover pies are a few opportunities to utilize the crust. I get just as excited about savory pies as I do about their sweet cousins. There are few things more comforting than the marriage of meat and pastry. It’s a work of bubbly goodness. You can create a traditional chicken pot pie or offer upscale versions such as Steak and Stilton pot pie or maybe a stone crab pot pie. A very unique offering that I had the pleasure to taste was a ham and cabbage pot pie. I had this pie at an Irish pub. It resembled the classic Shepherd’s pie, and it was loaded with cabbage, onions, and ham and encrusted with mashed potatoes. Very yummy, inexpensive to make and unique.