I’m so excited today because I’ve got my good pal Tricia Buice here, and we’re talking pie. Tricia writes the beautiful blog Saving Room for Dessert, and in my opinion she’s an expert on pies of every kind, so stick around if you’re doing any baking for the big day this week, we could all learn a thing or two. I’m going to ask Tricia some questions, and we’ll be taking and answering any questions you might have in the comment section as they come in today and all week long. Tricia is a native Southerner, a lifetime member of the National Pie Association, and she spent an entire year baking a new pie every week for her 52 pie series, so she really knows her pies. (By the way, that handsome specimen above is #7, Cranberry Chocolate Nut.)
Tricia, why pie? What made you decide to dedicate a year to them?
I’ve always been the pie baker in our family so I felt confident that I could do it. When I initially thought about the commitment, I sat down and came up with 45 pies off the top of my head; I took that as a good sign. I LOVE pie, I LOVE making pie and most of all I love to share pie. Baking is a creative outlet for me, and I love the blank canvas that comes with a pie crust. Baking also embodies all things family and home to me, and my family was extremely supportive and committed to eating pie once a week! :) And last but not least, I’ve always wanted to write a cookbook or an e-book about pies, so that project was a definitely a perfect “trial run”.
Do you have any formal baking training?
I have never had formal training but have been schooled by great bakers. I was only 10 years old when I first learned to make pie crust. My grandmother (Mammaw) had apple trees and just like any fruit or vegetable, they are often ready to pick all at the same time. We picked the ripe apples and made 8 apple pies in one afternoon. Mammaw froze the unbaked pies and baked them when company came throughout the year. She also used the apples to make canned applesauce, apple butter, etc. Harvest was a busy time! My mother was also a very good pie maker so I always helped her too. She was patient and happy I showed an interest in baking. I actually won a blue ribbon for an apple pie in a large County Fair many years ago. I cried when I saw the ribbon on my pie! It was a moment I’ll never forget.
Do you have any favorites from your 52 Pie series?
Yes I do! Lemon Chess, Lemon Ice Box and Key Lime to name a few. Blueberry, peach, apple and pear pies are all winners too. There was a skillet apple pie that was very sweet but so amazing! I’ve found that the simple pies made with fresh fruit are the best. All my taste testers have confirmed!
What’s your advice for the pie-phobic? For me it’s was always the rolling out of the crust that freaked me out…
It’s not as hard as you think. As with any skill, practice helps. Don’t wait until you’re having 15 people to dinner and need the pie to be perfect. Practice when it doesn’t matter.
What’s the secret to a great crust?
Regarding the ingredients, I’m partial to unbleached flour. And when you measure the flour, fluff it a little first, then scoop the flour into the measuring cup and run the flat part of a table knife across the top to level, this will insure that you are getting a consistent amount every time. My favorite crust recipe uses 1/2 unsalted butter and 1/2 Crisco shortening. I am not a fan of all-butter crusts because I find them greasy, and the all-Crisco crusts don’t brown very well. Half and half seems to be the sweet spot.
A few other tips – don’t add too much water, it makes the crust tough; don’t overwork the dough, mix just until it is evenly moist; keep your butter and shortening very cold and allow the dough to rest in the refrigerator before rolling out (at least 30 minutes sealed in plastic wrap), the gluten needs time to develop and it will be easier to work with. Run your hand over the dough when rolling it out to feel for thick or thin parts. Make sure your surface is dusted with flour and if you prefer, roll it out on a piece of parchment paper. When the circle is big enough, fold the dough in half, then in half again (like a pie wedge) then lift the dough into the pie plate with the tip towards the center. Gently unfold taking care not to stretch the dough. Ease it into the dish and crimp the edges as desired. If making a double crust you can brush a little milk on top before baking. That will help the crust brown evenly.
Of all your pies, which one would you suggest for a beginning pie maker?
Blueberry or apple if you want to make a double crust, or Lemon Chess or Hosier Sugar Cream for a single crust. Since it’s Thanksgiving I would suggest making a pumpkin pie. I have two recipes for pumpkin pie and they are both easy to make and come out perfect every time.
How far in advance, if at all, do you think holiday pies can be made, and how would you store them?
A few years ago we traveled over 600 miles to spend Thanksgiving with family. I made 7 pies to carry to Tennessee. They were all made 4 days before Thanksgiving. I refrigerated them until we left on our trip and since the weather was cold, they were all fine. I took an apple, 2 pecan, 2 chocolate pecan and 2 pumpkin pies. This year I will make mine the day before Thanksgiving and store them in a cold garage or refrigerator sealed in a Tupperware container or cake taker. The short answer? A couple of days if kept in a cool place. Bring the pie to room temperature a couple of hours before serving. Store leftovers in the fridge. Some are great slightly heated in the microwave, i.e. pecan, chocolate pecan, etc. Cream pies should be kept refrigerated.
What pies are you making for your family this Thanksgiving?
Chocolate pecan and pecan. Every year they want the same thing!