The Dimonds, our good friends back in Minnesota, invited us over for Thanksgiving. We arrived with a load of pies. They were kind of experimental pies, none that followed a recipe closely. I don’t remember what they were—probably a chocolate, maybe a couple cream pies, and certainly a couple fruit pies. The fruit pies wouldn’t have been plain but loaded with something—maybe a blueberry pie with a layer of cream cheese filling on the bottom or a cherry pie with melted chunks of chocolate. When the dinner was done and settled, we went back to the kitchen to attack the pies. It was fun watching the kids–older kids–try a sliver of each trying to decide which was best and making sure that they didn’t miss out on something good.
I’ve always been the pie maker in the family. If company was coming or for a holiday, my assignment was the pies. I made lots of pies. I loved to experiment with different fillings. I’ve added blueberries to a peach pie or a layered ganache beneath my pecan pie filling. For family events or maybe on a cold Saturday afternoon, I would line up pie pans and make lots of crusts. I would make whatever met my fancy at the time.
I still do lots of experimenting with pies but the mode and objectives have changed. Most of it is in our test kitchen at work and often with a staff of very good bakers. Now it’s not just an adventure; we’re trying to develop and perfect recipes that we can share with friends and readers. We usually focus on a particular pie type, exploring recipes, and trying to evolve them into something better. Last year we spent days experimenting with pumpkin and sweet potato pies. From that came a very memorable pumpkin-like pie. Before that were lemon pies with a resulting royal lemon pie recipe that is outstanding. The exploration of apple pies has been a bit different, an episodic affair that has evolved over time. But we settled on several apple pies that we like very well.
Today you’ll find recipes for pumpkin, lemon, and apple pies that we developed in our test kitchen, but first, I would like to share two tips that will change your approach to pies.
First, find yourself a good pie crust mix. We sell a just-add-water pie crust mix that I use almost every time but you can find others online. My pie crust mix saves me a bucket of time. It’s as good as scratch and it goes together in a snap.
Second, I almost always slip the pies from the pans to serving plates for presentation, slicing, and serving. There are two reasons. I’m not going to mar my ten dollar pans by cutting pie slices in the pan and it’s convenient and impressive to place a whole pie on a plate on the table for all to see.
You can ease a cooled pie from the pan if the pan has a very good, slick surface. (We sell a slick-surfaced professional grade pie pan at The Prepared Pantry. At the moment, it’s half off.)
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My Loaded Apple Pie
There’s nothing wrong with a plain apple pie. If the apples are good, the pie will be great. But I love to load them up—with plenty of cinnamon and in this case, sour cream, cranberries, and walnuts. I use plenty of apples to make a big ol’ mound of a pie. I like my apples on the tart side, maybe some pippins or jonathans. At Thanksgiving time, I’ll use fresh cranberries instead of the dried ones.
I’ll serve that pie hot to family and friends and of course, save a too-large slice for myself. I’ll crown each slice with a scoop of vanilla ice cream drizzled with a little caramel sauce.
For the crust:
9-inch double crust. Use your favorite recipe or a pie crust mix.
For the filling:
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ginger
8 cups apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
1/2 cup walnut pieces
1 cup dried, frozen, or fresh cranberries
4 tablespoons butter
For the topping:
1 large egg white
1 tablespoon water
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 to 3 tablespoons turbinado sugar
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
1. Prepare and press the pie crust into a deep-dish pie pan setting aside the dough for the top crust. Trim the crust. Do not bake the crust.
2. In a large bowl, mix the sugar, flour, sour cream, lemon juice, and spices together into a smooth paste. Add the apples, nuts, and cranberries and mix until coated with the sour cream mixture. Scrape the apple mixture into the unbaked pie shell.
3. Roll out the top crust. Brush the top edge of the bottom crust around the rim with water to help the two crusts seal. Place the top crust over the pie. Trim the crust and seal the two crusts with the tines of a fork or press and shape the crust edge with your fingers.
4. Mix the egg white, water and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon together. Brush the mixture over the top of the pie. Sprinkle the top with turbinado sugar.
5. Cover the edges of the pie with a pie shield to keep it from burning. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until the pie is bubbly and the crust is golden. Cool slightly before serving.
Sweet Potato Pie with Pecan Streusel in a Gingersnap Crust
In our test kitchen, we were experimenting with sweet potatoes, yams, and pumpkin puree to see if we could tell a difference. (Yes, there is a difference but it is slight.) From that journey came this pie beefed up with ginger and topped with a streusel.
I’m more of a baker than a cook so I don’t use a lot of fresh ginger. But the ginger in this recipe, along with the butter rum flavor, makes a wonderful pie. Of course, the pecan streusel helps.
This is an outstanding pie. While it certainly works for holiday dinners as an alternative to pumpkin pies, this should not be relegated to holidays. This is a pie to turn to whenever fresh fruit is not in season.
For the crust
1 1/2 tablespoon freshly ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 cup just-add-water pie crust mix
2 to 3 tablespoons cold water
- Mix the ginger, sugar, and cinnamon with one-fourth cup of the pie crust mix. Stir well to distribute the ginger. (The key to this crust is getting the fresh ginger evenly distributed in the crust.) Stir this mixture into the remaining pie crust mix until it is well distributed. (You may also use a food processor to mix the ingredients.)
- Add the water. Stir with a fork to form a dough ball.
- Roll out the dough and form the crust in a deep dish pie pan. Form a decorate edge that also acts as a dam to reduce spills.
(See picture for a recommended edge.)
For the filling
2 cups cooked and mashed sweet potatoes
3 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons butter rum flavor
In your stand-type mixer with the whip attachment, beat the sweet potatoes until well mashed. Add the other filling ingredients and mix until combined.
For the streusel
3/4 cup pecan pieces
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup butter
In a medium bowl, combine the pecan pieces, flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon. With a pastry knife, cut in the butter until the pieces are no larger than peas. Set aside.
To assemble and bake the pie
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Pour the filling into the unbaked pie shell. Spoon the streusel over the top.
- Place a pie shield over the edges of the crust or form a shield from strips of aluminum foil.
- Bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees. Reduce the heat and continue baking at 350 degrees for another 40 minutes or until done. Baking times will vary depending on the oven. As it bakes, streusel top will look wet and soft. When done, all but the very center will be set and the interior of the pie will register 170 degrees with an insta-read thermometer when done. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.
Serve with whipped cream.
Royal Lemon Meringue Pie
I’ve always loved lemon pies so they’ve been fun to tinker with. This one has two changes that make quite a difference. Orange juice is substituted for part of the lemon juice—not enough to be pronounced but enough to temper the tartness and add a bit of sweetness. And cream instead of water is used in the filling. The cream makes it richer and smoother—not as light as you might expect from a lemon pie but very much a delight.
This recipe was designed for a nine-inch deep-dish pie pan and the meringue is piled high with five egg whites–not three or four.
1 nine-inch deep-dish pie shell
4 teaspoons lemon zest
1 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup orange juice
1 cups granulated sugar
dash of salt
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 cup whipping cream
3 large eggs, whisked
5 large egg yolks
1/4 cup butter
5 large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup granulated sugar, preferably superfine
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Bake the pie shell at 450 degrees for about ten minutes or until it just starts to turn brown on the edges. It will help the pie shell keep its shape during baking if you line the shell with aluminum foil and then place beans, rice, or pie shell weights in the shell to hold the crust down.
2. Grate the zest from one large lemon or two small lemons. Avoid the white, pithy part of the peel for it is bitter. Add that to a saucepan with the lemon juice, orange juice, sugar, and salt. Stir and heat until it just starts to boil.
3. While the filling is beginning to heat, mix the cornstarch with the whipping cream. Add the eggs and egg yolks and mix until smooth.
4. Drizzle the hot lemon mixture into the egg mixture while stirring constantly. Return the combined mixture to the stove and heat until it thickens and starts to boil. Add the butter and stir until melted. Scrape the filling into the pie shell.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
5. In a medium metal or ceramic bowl, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar together. When soft peaks are formed, drizzle in the sugar while beating. Continue beating until stiff peaks are formed. Fold in the vanilla.
6. With a spatula, spread the meringue topping on the filling. Press the topping against the crust so that the meringue will adhere to the crust during baking.
7. Bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees or until the top is a golden brown. Let cool for an hour on the counter and then two hours in the refrigerator.
Dennis is the founder and general manager of The Prepared Pantry www.preparedpantry.com in Rigby, Idaho, a full-line kitchen store and online retailer of food, baking mixes and ingredients, and kitchen tools.