There is perhaps no better time for pie than Thanksgiving. And whether you crave pumpkin pie during the holidays, or something different, you have plenty of options to satisfy your appetite.
Home bakers say that if you want to show off your kitchen skills, try making your own pie. All it takes is a little patience, a few helpful tips and quality ingredients.
Pie expert Michele Stuart, author of "Perfect Pies & More," has been making pies for years and learned early on that the key to a great pie is the crust — rich, flaky and flavorful.
"Anyone can make a good filling," says Stuart, a 27-time national pie baking champion and owner of Michele's Pies in Connecticut. "But the hardest part is always the crust. And as I often tell people, you have to be patient."
For starters, make sure your ingredients are well chilled, especially the vegetable shortening. She also likes using a marble roller because it has a cool surface.
While others use butter, lard or a combination of fats, Stuart prefers shortening since that is how her grandmother taught her.
Mixing is also important. At her store, Stuart uses an electric mixer, but at home she likes using her hands.
"I like being able to feel the consistency that I am looking for," she says. "And what I want is to have pea-sized pieces of shortening in the mix. You don't want to over mix it."
The small pieces of shortening help create a flaky crust, Stuart says.
Although Stuart has made hundreds of pies over the years, she still loves every minute of it.
"For me, pie is something I grew up with, so it brings back lots of great memories," she says. "And I have so many people who come into the store and say that pie reminds them of so and so. It's like pie has a story that goes with it."
Fresno-area pie makers say that while baking a pie can be a challenge, it's worth the effort.
"This is the time of the year to splurge, so why not splurge on making a quality pie," said Marc Wickliffe, owner of Eddie's Bakery Cafe at 7089 N. Cedar Ave. in Fresno.
Wickliffe, who helps make the pies at Eddie's, says that in his store and at home, he uses fresh ingredients for the filling whenever possible.
"The quality of the ingredients is key," Wickliffe says, "If you are making apple pie, try to find fresh apples. Use fresh-squeezed lemon juice or make your own banana custard, not a pudding mix."
Wickliffe also uses a mixture of lard and butter in his crust.
"There is no way around it, lard has a tremendous amount of flavor," he says.
Longtime pie maker Marcy Masumoto of Del Rey combines equal parts butter and shortening to make her crust. She says the combination gives her the right amount of flavor and flakiness.
Masumoto, who along with her family wrote the "The Perfect Peach" cookbook, advises home cooks to be careful not to over knead the dough. It will get tough. She also says it's important to cut small slits in the top of your crust to allow steam to escape.
"If not you could end up boiling the crust right off," Masumoto says.
Also, to prevent over-browning cover the edges of your crust with foil.
For Thanksgiving, Masumoto plans to make a pumpkin, lemon meringue and an apple pear or apple cranberry. The great thing about pie fillings, she says, is that you can be creative with flavor combinations.
But even Masumoto says that when it comes to pumpkin pie you almost can't beat the Libby's pumpkin filling.
"People really should not be intimidated to try and make pie," Masumoto says. "It really is not that hard once you learn how to do it."
If you are interested in buying a pie for Thanksgiving, try these stores:
Marie Callenders (various locations): The restaurant recommends you pre-order your pie at least a week in advance. Pies will be available on Thanksgiving Day on a first-come, first-served basis.
Eddie's Bakery Cafe, 7089 N. Cedar Ave., Fresno, (559) 323-0900: The bakery will not be open on Thanksgiving so ordering ahead is recommended.
Dough Ray Me Bakery, Madera Ranchos. Call to order, (559) 284-0754: They will deliver to your home or office the day before Thanksgiving.
Whole Foods Market, 650 W. Shaw Ave., Fresno. (559) 241-0300: The store will open on Thanksgiving Day, but customers are encouraged to call ahead and place an order.
Summertime Pies, (559) 326-7294: Call and order at least three days in advance of Thanksgiving.
Moms Pies & Goodies, 7709 N. First St., Fresno, (559) 439-6667: Pre-ordering is recommended. The store will be open the day before Thanksgiving.
Ida Mae's Sweet Potato Pies, (559) 274-1747: Call and pre-order. Pies will be delivered on Monday and Tuesday during Thanksgiving week.
Pumpkin Meringue Pie (in three steps)
1 traditional pastry pie crust dough for a 9-inch single-crust pie (see recipe below)
1/4 cup heavy cream (to glaze the crimped pie edges)
1 cup canned or fresh pumpkin puree
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
11/2 cups heavy cream
Classic Meringue (see recipe below)
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Pastry: Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. To prepare the pie shell, on a clean, lightly floured work surface, roll out half the disk of dough with a rolling pin until it forms a 10-inch circle. Wrap the remaining half of the dough tightly in plastic wrap and reserve it in the refrigerator for future use for up to 5 days. Fold the circle in half, place it in a 9-inch pie plate so that the edges of the circle drop over the rim, and unfold the dough to completely cover the pie plate. Using your thumb and index finger, crimp the edges of the pie shell. Brush the edges of the pie shell with heavy cream to create a perfect, golden brown finish. Set the pie shell to the side while you make the filling.
Filling: To prepare the pumpkin filling, using an electric mixer set on medium speed, combine the pumpkin puree and eggs. Add the brown sugar, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg. Mix the ingredients together, scraping the bowl several times. Add the heavy cream and mix once again, until all of the ingredients are thoroughly combined. Pour the pumpkin mixture into the unbaked pie shell.
To bake, place the pie plate on the lined baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven and bake it for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the filling is firm in the middle but still soft to the touch. Transfer the pie plate to a wire cooling rack and allow the pie to cool for at least 2 hours.
Meringue: When the pie has finished cooling, preheat the oven to 400°F. Place the meringue on top of the pumpkin pie, forming a mound of meringue in the middle of the pie. Use a spatula to pat and lift the meringue across the top of the pie, forming peaks. Take care to spread the meringue all the way out to the edges of the crust.
To brown the meringue, place the pie on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 4 to 6 minutes, or until the desired brownness has been achieved. If you have a kitchen torch, you can also use this method as an alternative, but be careful to spread the flame evenly across the entire surface to achieve a uniform look.
Pumpkin Meringue Pie is best served the same day and can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons Crisco, cold
5 tablespoons water, ice-cold
1/2 cup heavy cream
In a medium bowl, mix together the flour and salt. Add the Crisco to the flour mixture. Either with a pastry blender or with your fingertips, mix the ingredients together with an up-and-down chopping motion until the dough forms, coarse, pea-size crumbs. Note: Take care not to overhandle the dough. In the perfect pie, the Crisco will have a marbleized look when the dough is rolled out and you will actually be able to see Crisco swirls within the uncooked dough.
Add the ice cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time, delicately incorporating each tablespoon into the flour mixture before you add the next. You may have to use 1 more or 1 less tablespoon of water than the amount recommended, depending upon the humidity in your kitchen at the time of baking. You will know you have added just the right amount of water when the dough forms a ball that easily holds together.
Use your palm to form the dough into a disk shape, wrap it with plastic and place it in the refrigerator to chill for at least 30 minutes. Once the dough has chilled, divide the disk in half. You now have enough dough for either one 9-or 10-inch double crust or two 9-or 10-inch single crusts (pie shell only). If you are making a single-crust pie you will use only one half of the dough per pie. Wrap the remaining half in plastic and reserve in the refrigerator for future use; the dough can be reserved in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Alternatively, you can make a second single crust pie shell, wrap it tightly in plastic and freeze for future use. It will keep for up to 1 month.
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Using an electric mixer set on high speed, beat the egg whites until they become foamy. Add the cream of tartar and salt and continue mixing until soft peaks form. Slowly add the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time. Once all the sugar has been added, add the vanilla and beat for 30 more seconds. The meringue should be light and fluffy. Test the meringue to see if it holds by inserting a spatula into the meringue mixture and quickly pulling it out. If the meringue forms little peaks but does not fall, you have achieved the desired consistency.
— Michele Stuart, "Perfect Pies & More"
Marcy's Cranberry Apple Pie
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
11/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup vegetable shortening (not margarine)
6 to 7 tablespoons ice water
6 cups (approximately 2 pounds) sliced fresh apples, preferably Pippin, Granny Smith or other variety good for baking
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (or juice of ½ lemon)
1½ cups fresh or frozen cranberries
2 teaspoons orange zest (or zest of 1 small orange)
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour or tapioca flour
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon cold salted butter, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
1 tablespoon heavy cream or half-and- half (optional)
1 teaspoon turbinado sugar (optional)
In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, and salt, mixing well. Distribute the butter and shortening over the flour mixture. Using a pastry blender or fork, work in the butter until it is the size of small peas. Add the water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and work it into the flour mixture until it is moist enough to hold together and you can shape it into a ball.
With your hands, knead the ball only 3 or 4 times to bind together into a dough. Do not overwork the dough or the pastry will be tough.
Alternatively, combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse to mix well. Distribute the butter and shortening over the flour mixture and pulse until the fat is the size of small peas. Add the water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and pulse until the mixture comes together in a rough mass. Remove the dough from the processor and shape into a ball.
Divide the dough into 2 balls, one slightly larger than the other. Flatten each ball into a disk 1 to 11/2 inches thick. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate the disks for at least 1 hour or up to 2 days.
When you are ready to assemble the pie, remove the pastry from the refrigerator 20-30 minutes prior to working with it to warm at room temperature. Unwrap the pastry and dust your work surface with flour. Place the larger disk on the floured surface, and roll out into a round about 12 inches in diameter and 1/8 inch thick. Transfer the round to a 9-inch pie pan, gently fitting it into the bottom and sides. Trim the edge of the pastry to leave a 1-inch overhang around the rim of the pan.
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Place the apple slices in a large bowl. Drizzle them with the lemon juice and stir gently to coat evenly. Add the cranberries and orange zest. In a small bowl, stir together the granulated sugar, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt. Sprinkle the sugar mixture over the fruit and toss gently to coat evenly. Pour the fruit filling into the pastry-lined pie pan. Distribute the cubes of butter evenly over the fruit filling. Roll out the second pastry disk the same way into a round at least 10 inches in diameter and 1/8 inch thick. Brush the edges of the exposed pastry in the pan with a little water or milk. Gently lay the second pastry round over the filled pastry, then trim the edge to match the overhang of the bottom layer. Fold the overhang either over itself or under itself to create an edge, pinching the top and bottom crusts together to seal the edge securely and fluting it for an attractive appearance.
For decorative purposes, (optional) brush the top pastry with cream or half and half, then sprinkle it with the turbinado sugar.
Cut at least 6 large slits in the top pastry to allow the steam to vent during baking. Cover the edges with foil or a crust protector if needed to prevent over-browning.
Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and place the pan on the lower rack of the oven to catch drips as the pie bakes. Place the pie on the center rack above the pan and bake for 60 to 70 minutes. Check the crust after 40 minutes. If the edges are not the same color as the exposed top of the crust, remove the edge cover. When the filling is bubbling (visible through the vents) and the crust is evenly browned, the pie is ready.
Remove from oven on a wire rack and let the pie cool completely before serving.
— Marcy Masumoto
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6327, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FresnoBeeBob on Twitter.