A Three-Tier Pie That's Thanksgiving Dinner All-in-One

November  6, 2017

People do crazy things at Thanksgiving. Whether it’s deep frying a 25-pound bird or stuffing different birds inside one another to make one gigantic feast of a bird—this holiday is consistently epic in the food world. And while I normally cede to more traditional holiday dinner plans, this year I wanted to try something epic of my own.

I wrote recently about hot water crust, the amazingly sturdy pie crust that holds up well to heavy or wet fillings. Even more importantly, hot water crust pies are easy to unmold and so sturdy they can be stacked on top of one another to create a tiered pie. You heard right—move over tiered cakes, it’s pie’s turn.

I mulled over a few ideas and finally decided on making a three-tiered pie that’s Thanksgiving dinner all in one. The bottom tier is your turkey—turkey pot pie, to be precise. The next layer is your side dish: creamed kale with pancetta and walnuts, inspired by one of my favorite fall sides that regularly appears on my Thanksgiving table. Finally, the top layer is filled with cranberry sauce. Sure, this project is ambitious, but no more so than making a full Thanksgiving dinner for a crowd. It also requires some special equipment, but, thanks to the internet, you can get your hands on this (and pretty inexpensively, I might add) before it’s dinner time. Plus, this dinner has some benefits of its own, too! The fillings can be made ahead of time (although they don’t have to be), which can seriously streamline your prep on the big day. The hot water crust is easy to work with—you can even opt to press it in instead of rolling it out! Plus, there’s no denying it: This thing’s a show stopper. If nothing else, it’s a conversation piece, perfect for an offbeat Thanksgiving or for Friendsgiving supper. Plus, I can attest it tastes significantly better than a Turducken. All that said, here’s what you need to know:

Different sizes of springform pans, different sizes of tiers. Photo by Mark Weinberg

1. The equipment.

The crust and the filling require nothing more than the equipment you’re likely to already have in your kitchen. But, to build these pies properly, you do need some specific pans. While hot water crust pies are relatively easy to unmold, I prefer to use springform pans. The removable sides make unmolding even easier. Just like a tiered cake, you need different sizes to make the whole tier thing work. I opted for a 12 inch pan for the base, a 9 inch pan for the middle, and a 6 inch pan for the top. (Note: The links provided here are the actual pans I used—they have leak-proof bases and are very sturdy, making them good purchases all-around!) You’ll also need plastic wrap. It makes rolling out the hot water crust a breeze. While you likely have plastic wrap stocked at home already, this project is the time to opt for the largest width roll your grocery store can provide. The bigger the sheets of plastic, the larger you can roll the dough (pretty important for that big bottom pie).

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Finally, I’d recommend purchasing a few cardboard cake circles. Putting the pies on the circles makes them easier to move around and gives them a sturdy base for when you go to stack the pies. It also makes it easier to remove the pies for when it’s time to serve. Since you can serve the largest pie from the serving platter you display it on, I only purchased a 9 inch cardboard and a 6 inch cardboard. You can also trace circles onto the cardboard yourself using your cake pans as a guide, cut them out, and cover them with foil or something food-safe.

There's pot pie, creamed greens, and cranberry sauce hiding in these. Photo by Mark Weinberg

2. The make-ahead options.

Because the pies will get baked in the oven, you have the option to make all of the fillings fully ahead, if you’re so inclined. This can save a ton of time come feast day when all you have to do is make your crusts, shape, and bake the pies. However, because hot water crust is unlike traditional pie crust, it should be noted that you don’t have to make your fillings ahead if you don’t want to. With a traditional pie crust, it’s important that cooked fillings be made ahead of time so they have a chance to cool before they are added to the crust so they don’t melt the fat and create a soggy mess. But hot water crust must be hot when it’s worked with, which means hot fillings can be added to them, no problem. So, the choice is yours! Just know that even if you prep your fillings ahead, you’ll need to make the pie crusts just before you form the pies.

3. A hot water crust primer.

You can find tons of details on hot water crust here, but I’ll offer a quick review as it pertains to these pies:

  • The crust must be made just before you shape the pies. It will only be pliable while it is warm, so have your fillings and equipment ready to go before you begin the process.
  • Rolling out the dough makes for more even coverage, and rolling the dough between two sheets of plastic wrap makes it easier to work with.
  • If your dough tears when you transfer it to the pan, never fear! Hot water crust can be easily patched and it doesn’t even effect the final look or sturdiness.
  • If you have trouble with rolling the dough, you can opt to press in the crust from the get-go, just be sure to work as quickly as possible and keep things even on all sides.
Photo by Mark Weinberg

4. The timing.

The best part about this project is it offers some pretty great built-in timing that really streamlines the process. As the pies get smaller, the baking times get shorter, so if you start with the largest pie, all of them will come out of the oven at about the same time. If you don’t make your fillings ahead, make them first. Then start the crust for the bottom pie, fill it, and put it in the oven. Then make the crust for the middle pie and bake. Finally, make the crust for the smallest pie and get it in the oven. (Note: The recipes call for the springform pans to be placed on parchment lined baking sheets. If you can’t fit three sheets in your oven, the 9 inch pie and the 6 inch pie can fit together on a single baking sheet, or you can just place a baking sheet on the bottom of the oven to catch any leaks or drips and place the pans directly on the oven racks.) Don’t be tempted to make all the crusts in one big batch—they won’t stay warm enough while you build the other pies!

You can take a victory lap now. Photo by Mark Weinberg

5. The stacking.

Once the pies are baked, it’s a good idea to let them cool for at least 15 minutes before unmolding. Working on one pie at a time, remove the sides from the springform pan, then slide a spatula all around the base of the pie. Start by placing the 12 inch pie onto a serving platter (do yourself a favor and measure the platter before you try to move the pie!). Place the 9 inch pie onto a cardboard cake circle and the 6 inch pie onto a 6 inch cardboard cake circle. You can even use the circles to help remove the pie from the base of the springform pan by lifting the pie slightly on one side with a spatula, then sliding the cake circle under. Place the 9 inch pie, centered, on top of the 12 inch pie. Place the 6 inch pie, centered, on top of the 9 inch pie. Then parade around your kitchen or dining room like the champ that you are. I mean, these pies are heavy, but do a little Rocky victory lap. You earned it.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

6. Serving.

After your guests have oohed and aahed over the majesty of your creation, its time to serve—and it’s actually pretty easy! You can remove the two top tiers right at the table and slice them on their cardboards (or transfer them to platters if you’re feeling extra fancy). The bottom tier can be served right from the platter. Each pie will make about 10 servings – but that’s assuming that the portions for the center and top pies are smaller (like a side dish and a scoop of cranberry sauce). Dive in—then get ready for a serious nap.

Erin McDowell is a baking aficionado, writer, stylist, and Test Kitchen Manager at Food52. She is currently writing a cookbook. You can learn more about her here.

Tell us: Will you be adding a three-tier pie to your Thanksgiving table?

This article was originally published in November 2016.

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I always have three kinds of hot sauce in my purse. I have a soft spot for making people their favorite dessert, especially if it's wrapped in a pastry crust. My newest cookbook, Savory Baking, came out in Fall of 2022 - is full of recipes to translate a love of baking into recipes for breakfast, dinner, and everything in between!


Karen L. November 7, 2018
This looks amazing. I'm going to a Pie Party and wanted to just bring 1 savory pie. Do you think it would taste ok to layer a bit of the turkey, greens, and cranberry in one pie?
Sandy B. November 16, 2017
I love showstoppers like this! Please challenge one of your cohorts to do a vegetarian version with glutin free crust.
elsiecat January 28, 2018
Sadly, I don't think it would be possible to do a GF hot water crust. Gluten is the magic ingredient that makes the crust so sturdy and able to hold such heavy and wet fillings. The vegetarian part is easy, though -- Food52 already has a companion recipe using the same crust. Just search this site for Curried Kale, Pumpkin, and Potato Pie.
John November 12, 2017
Having become an unabashed fan of The Great British Baking Show, I would have to say, Erin, that Paul and Mary would definitely award you "Star Baker" for this Show-Stopper on savory pies week!
Phishstyx November 11, 2017
very intriguing. my first thought is to adorn the layers with roasted veg (glazed for a festive appearance) to mimic the frosting flowers or marzipan fruit on a wedding cake. I wanna!
Alicia November 30, 2016
I did this for our Thanksgiving feast and it was a hit! My family was so impressed. It made such a beautiful statement!

The potpie was delicious. the creamed greens were eaten by those who swore they'd never like greens and all were sad that there wasn't enough of the cranberry for them to take some home, like they did the pie and greens.

It took a good bit of time to fix it, but probably no more than fixing the numerous different dishes I usually fix.

The dough I finally figured out. My first batch was exactly like it should have been. My second was kinda greasy like someone else said. But, I had let the water boil instead of just simmer, like the recipe said, so the next batch I made sure that I just simmered the water, instead of bringing it to a full boil.

I will make all of the fillings again because they were such a hit. I won't wait until next Thanksgiving to enjoy them.

I'm looking forward to finding more delicious recipes for our "Italian" Christmas dinner.

Thanks for helping me make such a wonderful surprise for our gathering
Etta November 24, 2016
Three-Tier Thanksgiving Pie success!!! Sort of...

The pies were stacked just long enough to get a picture before I had to disassemble the tower in order to prevent it from collapsing into a mess all over my cooktop.

I have a few questions about this recipe:
1) Is the flour-to-fat ratio off in the crust? My dough was quite greasy and there was a lot of gease on the baking tray when I removed my pies from the oven. I weighed the ingredients, so my crust was true to the recipe.

2) Are the baking times a bit off? My pies needed an extra 30 mintues in the oven, and the smallest one could have done with a bit longer. The recipe says that the smaller sizes require less baking time. In my experience, all of the pies needed an hour+ in order for the crust to brown.

3) Is the cooling time a bit off? We waited 15 minutes for the pies to cool before stacking them, as instructed by the recipe. The crust was firm but still quite warm. My better judgment advised that we should hold off, but dinner was already an hour late (due in part to the extended baking time), so we pressed on. Near disaster. (And I was very glad not to be cooking for guests.) I did notice that the crust seemed much more sturdy after thie pies had cooled completely. In future, I would wait 30-45 minutes - or until the pies had cooled completely - before attempting to stack them.

Has anyone else tried this recipe and had a similar experience?

(I'm inclined to try it again sometime, but would definitely make some changes.)
Etta November 25, 2016
UPDATE: Sufficient cooling is definitely key to successful stacking. The leftover portions of pie that spent the night in the refrigerator are rock solid.
K November 20, 2016
OMG. Perfect for an 18th century Thanksgiving
Cristina S. November 18, 2016
Erin, I have no words for this wonder.
Marisa November 18, 2016
WOW, just wow. Thank you for inspiring all of us. I would like to try this but I live in Germany and they do not have shortening. And the only lard I have seen in stores is pig lard. Can you advise?
They don't celebrate Thanksgiving in Germany, but I figure I could invite friends over for a Pie-surprise.
Jeff P. November 19, 2016
Hi Marisa,

You should be fine to use pig lard — lard is, by definition, from pigs! The recipe Erin uses,, calls for lard by default too.

Shortening and lard are very similar, at least chemically speaking — neither has water (unlike butter) — and their melting points are close (lard's melting point, 95–113°F / 35–45°C, is lower than shortening, 115-120°F / 46–49°C.) While I haven't tested it, presumably it's the slight difference in melting ranges that make differences. So, if you see other recipes calling for shortening and want to try giving them a try with lard, I would expect they'd usually work, although they'd be more likely to "melt earlier", so things like pie crust might slide down a side of a pan if blind-baked without filler weights.

Peggy November 18, 2016
Pure brilliance!!! There are only three of us home this year so it was going to be a small unimpressive celebration but now... now it will be spectacular!!! The guys love pie AND pot pies. The bonus is I already own all the equipment!
anniette November 18, 2016
I've been making all my pies in springform pans, 3 inch high aluminum Magic Lines, since having been served a smooth, high, slice of sweet potato pie at KPaul's in New Orleans thirty years ago. The pie had obviously been made in a springform pan, and it just made so much sense. It was a eureka moment for me, and my pie life has been a confident pleasure since then. As all cooks understand, sometimes when you are served a wonderful meal, there is that one tiny trick you notice and take home, that changes and improves your own game thereafter.
Etta November 12, 2016
This is amazing! My husband and I are going to give it a try. We're in the process of moving to a different state, and this recipe gives us a fun project to look forward to in our new kitchen. Thank you!
Sarah J. November 11, 2016
Erin, you're my superwoman.
jenniebgood November 11, 2016
This stopped me dead in my tracks - what a beautiful presentation! Saving this one definitely!
Melissa November 18, 2016
OMG - genius...and looks fantastic! I don't do a lot of cooking & baking, so this looks overwhelming to me. Ha ha I'd pay someone to make it for me though! Hahahahaha ;)
Vera S. November 16, 2017
can it be reheated?