Pumpkin, apple or something else? No matter what goes in the middle, pie for dessert is a classic ending to a classic meal. Here are a few tips for tackling the crust.
1. Cold, cold heart: When making crust, make sure butter and/or shortening is thoroughly chilled before adding to dry ingredients. Water added to mixture should be iced. Handle dough as little as possible so it will stay cold.
2. Icky sticky: To prevent dough from sticking to board, chill dough 30-60 minutes (well-sealed) before rolling out on a dry, floured work surface. I make pie dough very quickly in the food processor, and it is very cold when it comes out of the work bowl. Often, I don’t need to chill it. If dough needs a little help to be loosened from work surface, use a dough scraper (often called a bench scraper).
3. Shrinkage: To prevent dough from pulling in toward the center during baking, ease it into the pie pan, don’t stretch it. Often I cut the rolled-out dough in half down the middle, then ease both halves into the pan. I close the seam by using two fingers to press it together. Use your knuckle to press dough against side of pan where the bottom of the pie pan meets the sides. Prick crust thoroughly with tines of fork.
4. Soggy-bottom solutions: To prevent the crust from being soggy underneath your filling (often a problem with pumpkin pies), use a glass or aluminum pie pan; place dough in pan and brush the bottom portion of the crust lightly with egg white and chill well before filling. Soggy bottom crusts are also a result of a too-low baking temperature. You may need to increase oven temperature and/or baking time.
5. Thermometer therapy: Before baking, check to make sure your oven temperature is accurate. Oven thermometers are sold at cookware shops and most supermarkets.
6. Crust first: Make the crust and place it in the pie pan before you make the filling. Refrigerate the prepared crust while preparing filling. If filling is a cooked concoction, be sure to cool it before adding to crust, otherwise the bottom crust will be soggy.
7. A ring, but not from Tiffany’s: Pie rings, made of aluminum or silicone, are gizmos made to fit over the edge of the pie crust to prevent over-browning. Often the edge of the crust starts to get very brown long before the filling is cooked. Check pies after 20-25 minutes of baking. If crust is nicely browned, place pie ring on top of crust and continue baking until filling is cooked. Remove ring with potholder.
8. Oozy goosy: Some pie fillings have a tendency to ooze over the side of the crust and spill on the bottom of the oven. Cherry pie and berry pies without top crusts seem to be the worst offenders. Place pie pan on rimmed baking sheet lined with aluminum foil to catch spills.
9. Whipped cream made ahead: Sweeten heavy whipping cream with powdered sugar (to taste) when beating cream. Powdered sugar is about 3 percent cornstarch, which helps to stabilize the whipped cream. You can whip it a couple of hours before serving and store, covered, in the refrigerator.
10. Filling face-lift: Often pumpkin pies develop a crack or two in the filling during baking. For camouflage (just in case), you can cut leftover dough into leaves, twisted twig shapes or pumpkins; place in a single layer on baking sheet lined with parchment paper and brush cut-outs with egg wash (1 egg yolk beaten with 1 teaspoon heavy whipping cream). Bake in 350-degree oven until golden. Cool. Place on pie filling in decorative pattern. (This is also a way to make store-bought pie look homemade.)