The Pie’s the Thing
Don’t fear pie making! We have expert advice that’ll have you so confident you’ll want to host a pie swap party at your house this holiday season. Here’s how.
Admit it. You love pie. But baking one from scratch—crust and all—feels a little daunting. “Handcrafted pies are a great holiday tradition,” says Panera Bread® chef and head baker Tom Gumpel. “But it does take a little practice and patience to get it right.”
Whether you favor double crust, single crust, or lattice top, the trickiest piece of any pie is the dough. “The best advice I can give when it comes to pastry making is to invest in a simple kitchen scale and weigh your ingredients,” he says. “If you do that, making a piecrust is as simple as three parts all-purpose flour, two parts butter or shortening, and one part ice-cold water.” (See the recipe below.)
Here are a few other tips from Tom’s kitchen:
- For the flakiest crust, use cold ingredients and a light hand (that is, don’t overwork the dough).
- Roll out dough between lightly floured sheets of parchment paper; then carefully peel back the paper as you slide the dough into the pie pan.
- To make sure your filling thickens properly, avoid fruit that is too ripe or too juicy; toss and coat fresh fruit in tapioca starch.
- Sample each piece of fruit as you slice it so you can use the tastiest picks for your pie.
- Cut one large vent in the center of the top crust to release moisture and prevent the crust from becoming soggy.
- Don’t underbake pies (if the edges of the crust brown too quickly, loosely wrap some aluminum foil around them to keep them from burning while the pie finishes baking).
Now, about that pie swap party: Hosting one is a great way to add variety and new ideas to your Thanksgiving dessert table. You show off your prized pumpkin and get to sample your friends’ outrageous pecan and tart apple. The idea is similar to holiday cookie swaps. Invite guests to bring two identical homemade pies—one for everyone to sample and a second to swap—and a printed recipe card to your party. Then follow these steps:
- You’ll need two serving tables; plenty of paper plates, napkins, and forks; place cards to label each pie; and numbered slips of paper in a bowl.
- When guests arrive, label their pies (if you don’t have place cards, simply write on a strip of masking tape affixed to the table). Place one pie with its recipe card on the “picking” table, and slice the other for the “serving” table.
- Ask each guest to draw a number out of the bowl (to determine selection order).
- Once all the pies have been tasted and guests have had a chance to mingle, start the game: Guest number one chooses a pie from the picking table. Guest number two (and guests next in order) can either select a new pie from the picking table or “steal” a pie that has already been chosen. When a pie is stolen, the guest who has lost the pie must choose something new (taking back the stolen pie is not an option). Continue until each guest has a pie to take home.
- Be sure to provide coffee, tea, and other nibbles to go along with the pie!
Tom’s Pie Crust Recipe
Makes enough for 1 double-crusted pie
½ teaspoon salt
2½ cups pastry flour or all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons cold butter
¼ cup cold shortening
4 to 6 tablespoons cold water
1. Mix the salt and flour together. Lay the butter on a cold surface and lightly roll it flat with a rolling pin. Add it to the flour mixture. Add the shortening. Work the butter and shortening into the dry ingredients with your fingers or a pastry blender to form walnut-size pieces.
2. Make a well and add the water. Mix with a fork until just combined. Do not overwork the dough. Divide the dough in half and form two disks. Secure them in plastic wrap, and refrigerate and relax the dough for 1 hour.
3. Unwrap each piece and on a floured surface roll it to the size of a pie pan. Brush off excess flour and fold the top, bottom, and sides of each disk inward a third of the way to the center. Refrigerate and relax the dough for 1 hour.
4. When ready to use, on a floured surface roll it to a size that’s 1 inch bigger than a pie pan all around. Refrigerate the rolled out pie crusts on a baking sheet, placing plastic wrap between both crusts; use once it’s cold.
Cut rolled dough into ovals, add a scoop of filling, fold the dough over, pinch the edges closed, and cut small vents in the top to release moisture. “These small hand-pies can be baked in a 375-degree oven on a cookie sheet for 15 to 17 minutes,” Tom says. “It’s a great way to sample a variety of fillings!”