Pie

True Life: I Spent ALL Day Making 1 Pie

September  9, 2015

The trials and tribulations of making peach pie, with some of the tips I learned along the way.

Pie failure #1

This summer, I had the bad habit of volunteering—no, insisting—on making a too-complicated dessert whenever we were having friends over to grill.

1. The first time, I did well (call it beginner's luck): I made Merrill's lime ice cream (make that! make that right now!), which we ate topped with honey-lime strawberries.

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2. The second time, I didn't do as well. I set out to make a slab pie with a rye crust, but I could tell my crumbly, crumbly dough was doomed from the start. I took a lot of precautions—I even rolled my little Ikea kitchen counter over to the A.C. on the other side of the apartment (okay, 10 feet away)—to keep the dough cool. I floured the Prosecco bottle-cum-rolling pin very well.

But alas, my too-cold, too-dry dough shattered into a million pieces and I ended up pressing it into the hacked "pie pan" (I learned the handy tin-foil tip from Amanda Hesser). Weaving a lattice at that point was a comical conceit, so I made a totally intentional windowpane design (actually, my boyfriend did that as I hyperventilated in the corner). At the end of the day, the pie was delicious—and by some miracle, the crust was flaky—but not worth the anxiety.

3. The third time, I made monkey bread. For the Fourth of July. That didn't make sense. There are no pictures of that.

4. The fourth time, I tried my hand at peach pie again. This time, I went for an all-butter pie crust using good old all-purpose flour from The Four & Twenty cookbook. Scarred from my last experience, I used frozen butter and kept the liquid chilling in the refrigerator until the very second I was supposed to add it to the butter and flour mixture. 

I let the dough, which came together like magic, chill in the refrigerator while I freaked out about the pie filling and topping. How should I top the pie? Should I try to redeem the lost lattice?

Luckily, my very decisive roommate set her heart on a crumble top, and I found this recipe on Epicurious for deep-dish peach pie with pecan streusel. But then, the filling: Since I wasn't making a deep-dish pie, I needed to choose another recipe for that part. I put my faith in Deb Perelman and looked to her 2012 no-frills version. At this point, I was using three different recipes: one for the crust, one for the filling, and another for the topping.

Next stop on the anxiety train: par-baking. I just couldn't decide whether to do it (I even tweeted out a call for help—that's desperation!). I was having day-mares of a soggy crust, but I had no pie weights or expendable dry beans. All I had was popcorn. Would that be a worthwhile sacrifice? It was recommended in none of the 3 recipes I was using, so I was my on my own with this one.

I read up on all the par-baking literature and spiraled into a dark hole of soggy pie self-help. Here's what I learned:

  • Par-baking will give you a crisp bottom crust, but it might be hard to join that half-cooked crust with a top crust. Luckily, I was doing a crumble top, so that was not a concern. Most fruit pie recipes actually do not call for par-baking. 

  • Some people recommend skipping the par-bake and baking the pie on a pre-heated baking sheet so that the bottom crust gets direct heat. 

  • For juicy fruit fillings, it's a smart idea to separate out the juices and reduce them on the stovetop before re-adding them to the sliced fruit.

  • Many bakers swear by instant tapioca as a thickener. All I had was cornstarch.

  • Adding a sprinkling of flour to the unbaked pie crust before the filling goes in has been known to reduce sogginess. 

My peach pie was not nearly as beautiful as this one.

I decided, for extra protection, to incorporate practically all of these tips:

  • I rolled out the pie dough (again in close proximity to the A.C.) with an empty wine bottle. I imagined how proud Erin McDowell would be to see the spots of butter in my dough. I transfered the pie dish to the freezer while I poached (yes, poached) and sliced the peaches. I mixed the fruit with white sugar and set it in a colander over a bowl to drain. I made the crumble top that I put it in the fridge to chill.

  • I docked the crust, draped parchment paper, filled it with all of my popcorn, and baked it at 425° F for 15 minutes on a preheated pizza stone. Things were going so well! I was walking on sunshine!

  • BUT THEN: When I took it out of the oven, butter was bubbling everywhere. Was the oven not preheated? Was the butter low-quality? What had happened??? I didn't know whether to let the parchment and popcorn cool in the pie shell, but I had to step away from the apartment for my own sanity, so I left it in there. When I returned, 20 minutes later, there was no more liquid in the crisp, almost-cool shell. Had someone from Heaven had smiled down on me?

  • While the crust cooled, I reduced the accumulated peach by half on the stove. I let this cool for a few minutes, then added it back into the peaches with the other filling ingredients. I poured the filling into the crust. Then I realized I had forgotten the rest of the sugar. I just piled that on top of the peaches, then crumbled the streusel on top.

  • I baked it for 15 minutes at 425° F, then reduced the heat to 375° F and baked it for 30 more.

  • THE MOMENT OF TRUTH: When I took the pie out of the oven, the peach juices had bubbled over the sides of the par-baked, slightly shrunken crust, flooding the nook between the crust and the pie dish. Was it all for naught? Would the crust be soggy anyway?

Good news: It wasn't! I let the pie cool for 3 hours while we zizzed and zazzed and zoodled all of the other food for the party. When we cut into the pie the crust was crispy and flaky. Ah, sweet relief. But would anyone have cared, or even noticed, had the crust been slightly soggy, the filling a little too runny?

There were no leftovers by which to judge next-day sogginess.

Do you put this much thought into baking for guests? Please reassure me in the comments below.

34 Comments

Jaye B. August 17, 2017
I just love that wide lattice design! I've never seen that before so thanks for putting up the photo. Peach pie is my No. 1 all time favorite dessert, bar none! I learned from my mom (a superb baker) to add almond extract to the filling instead of the typical cinnamon, nutmeg, etc. She also always used tapioca as a thickener.
 
bobbe August 16, 2017
Just discovered the fresh blueberry pie recipe from Genius Recipes . . . this is one spectacular discovery. The peaches are perfectly ripe this evening on the tree out back, so we are harvesting ALL (this is how it goes with peaches) in the morning where I anticipate the sweetness will reach perfection! I have the pie crust in the butter tray container ready to roll out and bake. Will cooked peaches and fresh peach slices (or roasted, that's another idea for early morning risers) be as successful as the blueberry adventure? I believe it will.
 
Laura O. August 16, 2017
I used a pie bird for my cherry pie- and it turned out perfect! My last cherry pie was too runny but I use a recipe with flour versus corn starch and no pie bird I cheated and used Pillsberry piecrust
 
Robbie B. September 25, 2015
In a pinch you can use rice for weight in your par baked shells
 
Cheri M. September 18, 2015
Sarah just had a thought maybe you need to scrunch scrunch, that is a pie in a dish with scrunched up filo pastry topping is that a pie. So easy to.<br />
 
Frances B. September 18, 2015
Its not hard to make a crust as long as you have time to prepare the pie crust I always make sure I have enough time to finish my crust or crust's depending on what kind of pie I am making at the time you know what I'm talking about and take a little bit more time to make it !! Then start your pie crust as you would if you were going to par-bake it because the only time you need to par-bake is when you are going to make a pudding type pie so: you just buy a pack of beans and only use then for par baking like the cheap ones then you can afford them!! I think then you will find its pretty easy to par-bake it and then just do what you did and then you wont stress over a pie crust at least making it at least !!! So if you have problems just consult a cook book and it will always let you know what you are doing or doing wrong Ok .....
 
Mary September 18, 2015
I can't afford to go nuts over baking a pie, Frances...I'm holding onto the little bit of sanity I have left enough as it is...It's not the BAKING of the pie, but the pie CRUST. I destest it. I don't like pie...including apple pie, which is weird, really, because I love apples. I love pie with graham cracker crust because I LOVE the taste; the fact that it is so much easier to make than dough is just an extra-added bonus.
 
Frances B. September 18, 2015
I think you go a little nuts over baking a pie !! My first pie was very good I was only 18 years old and now I have made several pies and some were by mistake that they turned out good. But I've made a chocolate pecan pie and it was my first pecan pie I had ever made.. But when I took it to our Church pie social it was almost all gone and one woman wanted the recipe but I told her the truth I just adapted it from a regular pecan pie to a chocolate pecan pie and I wasn't sure as to how I made it !!! So I will make it again this coming year and I will make an apple pie which I love but I love cake better !! All you have to do to be a successful baker is have confidence and a little bit of a knack for making whatever you want to bake !!!!!!
 
Cheri M. September 14, 2015
That should read pond!
 
Cheri M. September 14, 2015
Mary, Mary your list for the use of the GC, is never ending they even beguil the uninitiated across the one, I love soft fruits love blueberries (favourite bilberries) Favourite super favourite black cherries! Oh, peaches, ah! Nectarines you see what I mean, got some really good tips about cherries from Food52 this is an amazing site. My granddaughter Coco will love the idea for toasting mashmallows with GC, & the very famous Hershey chocolate on top.<br /><br />My Mum told us during the war the American servicemen would give her & her sisters chocolate bars & stocking, the mind boggles. All this talk all from a GC. & a pie. Pie pie for now Mary thank you for your unique insight into all things GC! I will look out for you bye bye. often wondered about S,Mores!
 
Mary September 14, 2015
I tell you what, Cheri, I will send you Graham crackers. I will send you Graham Cracker crumbs for the pie crust, too with a recipe for blueberry cheese pie my mom used to make for my birthday as a little girl. I LOVED blueberries and my mom's cheese pie (not cake) was my favorite. You have no cream cheese, either, so I'll send you that, too. We use them for S'mores (a combination of the words some more). We make them while camping over an open fire. We place marshmallows on sticks and put them over the fire until they melt. Then we take two half pieces of graham crackers, place 4 squares of Hershey's chocolate on one and the melted marshmallows on top and place the other half of cracker over it and press down until the chocolate melts and you have the MOST delicious sandwich EVER! S'mores...as in "I'll have some more, please." They started years ago in girl scouts over an open campfire. So, now everyone eats them while camping or at a bonfire on the beach. I love mine with ice cream, too. I make an ice cream sandwich with them. My best friend in college used to spread chocolate cake frosting on hers. Another loved hers with butter and jam. Little kids dip them in milk like a cookie. AND they make a great pie crust, too. Now you know the many versatile uses for graham crackers. (When they got stale, we crushed them up and fed the ducks).
 
Cheri M. September 14, 2015
That is so funny , we have play dough here still intrigued to taste Graham's crackers. May I say Mary it is so nice that we can have differences but still love pie!
 
Mary September 14, 2015
I hope I am not insulting pie crust makers on other continents...or ANYWHERE for that matter. I just don't like pie crust. (I DO love Play Doh...and all it's nifty colors...but not to eat...that was my cousin's favorite food).
 
Cheri M. September 14, 2015
Excuse me I have no Graham crackers Mary! Living in the UK so pie wit h pastry is the way to go!
 
Mary September 14, 2015
I've never baked a pie crust...and for good reason...I hate it. (If I want to gnaw on a wet clump of flour I would make it that way. My mother insisted on using Betty Crocker pie sticks...it tasted like salty Play Doh...and it didn't even come in nifty colors. I love pies with graham cracker crust...so simple and delicious...graham, sugar, butter...the end. (I pre-bake the crust...it makes it toasty, sweeter and less crumbly. It takes minutes to prepare (I zap my own graham crackers in my trusty ol' food processer); it comes out beautifully every time; it tastes delicious and no Cortizone cream is needed (for the hives) and no EMTs need to be called.<br />
 
Mary September 14, 2015
Oh dear Sarah...let me put it this way...if hives were considered as beauty marks, then I would be considered freaking beautiful!
 
Laurie September 14, 2015
That rye pie failure description made me laugh out loud. So you WOULD recommend the rye crust? It sounds....like it has potential.
 
Cheri M. September 12, 2015
I was trembling with anticipation-what a relief it worked amazingly good, but how you waited 3 hours before you dived in I will never ever know! Erh! I have peaches...............!
 
Angela September 10, 2015
You're my rustic fruit dessert twin! Loved reading this!
 
PieceOfLayerCake September 10, 2015
Pie crust senses fear....the moment I began making delicious, flaky pie crusts was the moment I slapped it around and showed it who was boss. I had a few failures along the way, but instead of letting it win, I was motivated to succeed! In general, I still freak out about WHAT I'm going to make guests....I ask myself: "is this impressive yet approachable enough for company?", "is this executable in the time I have?" "Am I familiar enough with this technique to be absolutely sure its going to turn out?", "can I afford this?"...then I ask myself again: "is this impressive?!". In the end, even after serving a few complete failures with a smile on my face, I've learned that even a bad homemade pie is lightyears better than a store-bought crust and a canned filling.
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. September 11, 2015
There should be some sort of flowchart/quiz/computer program where you put in a few variables (season, how many guests, how important they are to impress, what kind of people they are...) and it gives you the perfect dessert or pie to make!
 
PieceOfLayerCake September 13, 2015
Yes! Didn't they have a book like that in the 80's where you looked up your features and it told you what color to wear? :)