I’m sure you have tips of your own—share them with us too and we’ll all become better pie chefs.
Remember when you were in school and your teacher gave the trick quiz with the first step of “read the entire quiz first.” If you forgot and started answering the questions, you were caught when you got to question 10, which said “Don’t answer any of the questions; just write your name on the top.”
Pie baking can be like that.
Read the whole recipe to make sure that you have the time, the ingredients, and the enthusiasm for this particular pie. Does it have to chill for two hours before serving? If so, maybe that’s not the one for tonight’s dinner party, when you’re starting to bake at 5:00. Does it require four eggs and you’ve only got three? Make sure you understand what’s involved before you start.
It’s tempting to read the list of ingredients and just start making the pie. But then you find yourself with something cooking on the stove and it’s time to add the egg yolks—but you haven’t separated the eggs yet. Or you carefully squeezed the lemon juice for Lemon Meringue Pie but only later remembered that you were supposed to grate the rind first. Or you have to add 1 tsp of vanilla to the Pecan Pie but all your measuring spoons are in the dishwasher. Or you're missing some essential equipment. Get the picture?
So before you start, get out all the ingredients and implements you’re going to need and have them close at hand. Do any preparation that’s needed (sifting, grating, squeezing, separating). Once that’s all organized, then you’re ready to peel and/or slice fruit or nuts. Then you can put the whole thing together.
I know organizing ingredients isn’t glamorous, and it’s hard to do when you’re impatient to MAKE THE PIE. But like preparing the walls before painting, it helps assure a successful outcome.
Pies are quite forgiving. If you are making a mixed fruit pie, like the blueberry cranberry Political Unity Pie, feel free to vary the proportions of fruit. If your taste buds say you like a pie sweeter than my recipe, add a bit more sugar. As I developed this site, I’ve had fun trying things like adding cut up grapefruit bits to the Grapefruit Meringue Pie (which I found added a tangy treat and a surprise for the tastebuds). It’s hard to mess up with good ingredients, so play around.
I had a few leftover egg whites from the Boston Cream Pie, and I thought I’d make some meringues. My daughter came up with the idea of flavoring them with maple syrup rather than sugar, and thus were created Marvelous Maple Meringues!
Sometimes you end up with little bits of leftover pie crust. You can freeze them for later, or you can have some fun. I like to make little mini pies. I have some small pans left from my daughter’s childhood baking kit, and they work fine; you can also buy small tart pans. I’ve made mini apple pies, mini strawberry pies, and even a mini grape pie. Just mix a small amount of sugar and flour with some cut up fruit and bake. Or fill crust with applesauce or jam. Mini pies are cute and tasty and make a nice little treat.
If you don’t have enough leftovers or don’t feel like rolling crust again, just use your hands to shape some dough into a circle with a small lip and fill the center with jam.
I am always amazed at people who can cook without an apron. Particularly with pies, where you have flour, fruit juices, etc., it’s smart to protect your clothes. Plus it makes you look more professional.
This may seem obvious, but many people don’t remember to do it. You’re handling food, and you need your hands to be clean. If the recipe involves using raw eggs, be sure to wash your hands again after handling them.