Pie Social

10 Pie Making Tips from a Professional Pastry Chef, and Her Grandma's Pumpkin Pie Recipe

OK, so now you know all about Pie Social -- this Saturday at 2 p.m., Roosevelt Row, blah blah blah -- but you're still on the fence about whether to make your own pie, aren't you?

Chow Bella's here to rescue you. More specifically, Amy Morris is here. Morris is a professional pastry sous chef, which is a fancy way of saying she knows her way around a pie tin. She's an English Lit major who also went to culinary school -- and locally she's worked at Asia de Cuba, now at J&G Steakhouse. Here are her 10 tips for making your best (or first) pie ever.
There are many of us out there aggravated and perhaps even daunted by the task of baking a pie. Sure, it's easier to pick one up at your favorite store, but you know there's a part of you that would like to recreate your grandmother's homemade pie that always left you anxiously waiting with fork in hand at the table.

The smell of freshly baked apples roasting with cinnamon. That flaky crust melting in your mouth mixed with the caramelized sugar from the burnt edge (my favorite part). What's not to love? When I took it upon myself to learn the intricacies of pie making I really didn't know what I was getting into. They made it look so easy! Soon after, I became the new pie lady and the torch was handed down to me evermore and no one was looking back.

Over the years I've learned a few tricks that have helped me with any pie woes I may have. Pies can be tricky and oftentimes the mistakes are simple and easily fixed.

10. Chill the Crust Ingredients. When you're making the crust, begin with chilled ingredients. Put ice cubes in your water to help keep it really cold. Freeze or refrigerate your flour to keep your ingredients cool. The importance of keeping your ingredients cold help you obtain a flakier crust. Gluten works best cold and if you mix it at a warmer temperature it will result in a mealier crust.*

9. Use Lard. The best fat that I have found to use for pie crust is lard. Ask your butcher how you can get some. From my experience, the ones you find on the shelf don't taste as good and you will have a harder time getting that flaky crust.

8. Don't Add Too Much Cold Water. You only need enough to help you incorporate all of your ingredients together. Add more flour if you do add more water than you intended.

7. Go Slow. When in doubt, add a little at first (for instance, your water) and add more as you go.

6. Don't Over Mix the Dough. The result will end up tough and difficult to roll. Stop mixing when the crumbs at the bottom of your bowl are incorporated.

5. Crumbs! To fix a soggy crust, often found in fruit pies, try lining the bottom of the crust with a thin layer of cake crumbs. The crumbs will absorb the extra juices from the fruit and help you have a less runny pie!*

4. Go Mealy for the Fruit. A mealier crust is desired for fruit pies. It is less likely to become soggy.*

3. Cornstarch. When finding fruit pie recipes, look for ones that use cornstarch as a thickener. It gels up your juices well and doesn't add any flavor.

2. Follow Your Recipe! Most of the recipes you will find are tried and true. Very rarely should you need to add anything more or less to a recipe. If there are elevation changes they recommend, use it!

1. Even a Pro Cheats Sometimes. Don't have time to make a crust? Your local grocer carries frozen pie doughs ready to go; I've always had good luck with Marie Callender's.

This is my family's recipe for pumpkin pie. If you're buying canned pumpkin I would recommend getting Libby's--it passed our taste test one year.

Grandma's Pumpkin Pie

1 pie crust
1 ½ cups pumpkin
¾ cup brown sugar
½ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp allspice
½ tsp ground ginger
2 eggs
½ cup half and half
½ cup milk

Beat the eggs and add sugar, spices and salt. Mix in the milk and half and half. Add the pumpkin and stir well. Pour into the pie crust. Bake at 350°F for about an hour, or until a knife comes out clean when inserted in the pie.

(* Tips from "Professional Baking")

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.