We might as well call the holiday season “pie season” if you ask me. That’s honestly what it is—or at least what it should be. Who’s with me? Even if you’re not (and we’ll settle this later), Thanksgiving and the winter holidays create the perfect excuse to bake up a pie or seven which, despite what the saying suggests, is pretty easy to do. Especially if you follow these 8 easy tips for how to make homemade pie like the not-quite-pros but really enthusiastic home cooks that we are..
1. Start with a great recipe.
It’s simple: A great pie comes from a great recipe. Especially when baking for holidays and special occasions, make a pie that you know works or go to a recipe source that you know and trust. The time to experiment is not an hour before your pie is expected at Grandma’s Thankgiving dinner.
For starters, we love Melissa Clark at the New York Times who offers up three amazing Thanksgiving pie recipes in her Essential Thanksgiving guide like the Chocolate Pecan Pie seen here. Martha Stewart is always a go-to for classics like Pumpkin Pie (at top). We also like Food and Wine for pie recipes that are a little adventurous without being crazy, like their Apple Cider Cream Pie. Yum.
2. Use homemade pie crust.
I will say that our editor Liz disagrees, and she’s big on saving time with frozen pie crust. However making pie dough is easier than you think–I’m determined to convince her!–and requires just a few pantry ingredients. Of course it does take more time than opening a packaged pie crust, but one look at some of those ingredients labels may convince you that it’s worth the effort. Especially since pie dough can be made ahead of time and freezes beautifully.
My favorite pie dough recipe calls for butter and a food processor; you can check out my super simple recipe and method on One Hungry Mama. If you prefer to use shortening, take a look at the recipe for homemade pie crust on Pics and Pastries.
3. Chill out. Well, the pie crust. And you too.
You aren’t the only one who needs time to chill during the holidays. Your pie dough does too. First, start with cold ingredients: Cold butter or shortening and ice cold water. Don’t cheat! It makes a difference.
Once the ingredients come together into a dough, remove it from your bowl or the food processor, split it into two equal portions, roll each portion into a ball, and flatten each ball into a disc. Wrap the discs in plastic wrap (or in one of our favorite plastic wrap alternatives) and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
The chill time allows the butter or shortening to re-solidify, which will make for a flakier crust.
If you’re making pie dough ahead of time and going to store it in the freezer, you can skip the chill time in the fridge and put the wrapped discs of dough straight into the freezer. And be proud of yourself: This is a super smart move.
4. Roll it and roll it and pat it with glee.
Once the dough has chilled, it’s ready to be rolled out. You’ll want to do this on a lightly floured surface so that the dough doesn’t stick to the work area. You’ll also want to flour your rolling pin for the same reason. Just be careful not to over-flour or the crust will get tough. Have I made you nervous? Don’t be! I know that properly rolling out dough can be a nerve wracking task if you don’t do it often, but there’s help in this awesome video on how to roll out pastry dough on Food52.
Once you’ve got a handle on how to roll, do the job until your dough forms a circle with a circumference 2-inches wider than the circumference of your pan.
5. Transfer the pie crust with care.
With the dough rolled into a flat, circular crust, you’ll need to move it from your work surface to the pie plate without it falling apart. This is not always an easy feat, unless you use my foolproof method. Included with my pie dough recipe is a step-by-step guide for how to make a smooth transfer, complete with pictures. As you can tell, there is folding involved.
6. Fill ‘er up.
Most pie fillings are simple business. However if you’re making a fruit pie like my own Salted Caramel Apple Pie for example, you run the risk of a soggy crust. To avoid this, be sure to add enough flour, cornstarch, arrowroot or whatever your recipe calls for to soak up excess liquid.
Huge tip: If you’ve made a fruit filling before rolling out your pie dough, leave behind any juice that’s collected in the bowl; don’t add it into the crust.
7. Top, crimp, and bake.
I have to be honest, my pies always taste fantastic, but usually have a rustic look, if you know what I mean. I’m not much of a crimper or fancy decorator and I find this guide on how to make a special edge on a pie crust from Better Homes and Gardens super helpful. I also like Saveur’s easy to follow video on how to weave a lattice top pie crust. Lattice crusts are usually saved for fruit pies but, honestly, the crust is my favorite part of any pie, so I’m down for doing them even on Thanksgiving favorites like pumpkin and pecan pies.
One more tip: To make your top crust shiny and sparkly, consider brushing the top with an egg wash made with one egg combined with one tablespoon of water. You can also sprinkle the top with sanding sugar, which is the fancy name for extra-large crystals of sugar.
8. Give it a rest.
I know you’ve done a lot of work at this point, but I’m not talking about you resting. It’s your pie that needs to sit a while. Make sure to time your recipe so that the pie has at least half an hour to rest, untouched, before you serve and cut into it. If you do, you’ll end up with a little slice of heaven like this Sweet Potato Pie with Ginger Pecan Crumble.
Sooo worth it.
Be sure to check our archives for more baking tips and keep your eye on our Thanksgiving Dinner Pinterest board should you want ideas for what to serve besides pie. Not that we’d turn down an all-pie Thanksgiving dinner.