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Welcome to Blooper Week, where we'll be polling various cooks and food writers -- as well as the Food52 staff -- about their biggest Thanksgiving bloopers and their essential tips to avoid future disasters.
Today: Legendary baker Rose Levy Beranbaum, author of 8 cookbooks plus next year's The Baking Bible, saves us from Thanksgiving pie flops.
I suspect people think I was born baking, but far from it. It's perhaps because I grew up so entirely ignorant of the process that I became so detail-oriented and also like to share the tips that empower others so that they never feel the helplessness I experienced when starting out with zero info!
My disaster story: I was 19 and making my first pumpkin pie for my New England husband. I had only ever made a cherry pie with Cookstock cherry pie filling before. I was not expecting to like anything with pumpkin and sure enough it tasted dreadful.
"How can you like this?" I asked. "It tastes like a barnyard." He quite agreed, asking me what I put in it. "Pumpkin of course," was my reply. "What else?" he asked. You get the rest. I had that little idea that there was a difference between pie filling and a canned pie ingredient. Now pumpkin pie is one of my favorite pies. Amazing what a little brown sugar, cream, egg, and spice can do for pumpkin!
The classic pies for Thanksgiving are pumpkin pie and pecan pie. Each is wonderful by itself but the combination of the two can be a welcomed variation, in fact, I've created a pumpkin pecan pie for my upcoming book The Baking Bible. Apple pie is another favorite seasonal pie and is often found, in its varying forms, on the Thanksgiving dessert table.
Here are my top 5 tips for Thanksgiving pie baking:
1. To keep a pumpkin pie from having a soggy crust, press cookie crumbs into the crust after lining the pie plate. Process together about 1 ounce (2) gingersnaps or other cookies and 1 ounce (about 1/4 cup) pecans until fine crumbs. Use the back of a spoon or your fingers to press the crumbs into the bottom of the crust and about 1/2 inch up the sides.
2. Bake the pie directly on the floor of the oven or lowest rack on a preheated baking stone or baking sheet. If you use a glass Pyrex pan, you can see when the bottom gets brown (about 20 minutes) and then raise the pie to the middle level. (Note: The crust border should not be too raised or extend past the pie plate when baking so close to the heat source at the relatively low temperature required for this pie as a large border will droop and break off.
3. Pumpkin pie is a custard, so avoid overbaking to prevent it from cracking. To test for doneness, insert a knife halfway between the center and the edge and if it comes out clean, it is done.
4. When making pie dough, freeze or chill all the ingredients well before starting to achieve a flaky texture. If the butter starts to soften or the dough becomes sticky, instead of adding too much more flour, slip it onto a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and chill until it is firm again before continuing to roll it.
5. Apple pie is ideal to make ahead and freeze. If baked from the frozen, the bottom crust has a chance to start baking before the juicy apples thaw and bakes for a longer time than usual. This helps to ensure a crisp bottom crust. You will need to add 25 to 45 minutes to the overall baking time, depending on the amount of filling.
What are your secrets to perfect Thanksgiving pie? Let us know in the comments!
Photos by James Ransom