6 Mistakes That Ruin Pie (and How to Fix Them)
Pictured recipe: Pumpkin Pecan Pie
From a creating a flaky, tender crust to perfecting the filling, we know all too well that pies can be a little tricky. Luckily we've learned a thing or two along the way that can help you achieve a pie you're proud of. Here are six common pie baking mistakes to avoid.
Mistake to Avoid #1: Your Pie Dough Is Too Crumbly
Pictured recipe: Butter Pastry Dough
So you've followed the recipe for homemade pie dough and as you begin to roll it out, your pie crust is falling apart into a million little pieces. It's too dry. Where did you go wrong? Before you start pointing fingers at yourself, it's important to remember that pie dough is a finicky thing. Even if you follow the recipe perfectly, environmental factors (like how much moisture is in the air, for example) can give you variable results. The key to a pie dough that isn't too dry is to get it right in the beginning, before you roll it out. Here are some hot tips: When you measure your flour, spoon it into the measuring cup as opposed to scooping it straight from the bag. This "spoon and measure" method prevents the flour from compacting in the measuring cup. Too much flour = dry pie dough. Once mixed, your dough should stick together when you pinch it between your fingers. If it doesn't, you need to add more moisture. Even if you think your pie dough resembles the Sahara desert, show some restraint when adding more water. A teaspoon at a time is all you need. And keep the mixing to a minimum after each addition—the more mixing you subject your pie dough to, the tougher it will become. And lastly, it doesn't hurt to let your pie dough chill out —literally, in the fridge—to let the flour absorb some of the moisture.
Mistake to Avoid #2: Your Pie Dough Is Too Sticky
Pictured recipe: Pecan Pie
A perfect pie dough walks a fine line between dry and moist. If you're rolling it out and it's sticking to your rolling pin like crazy, your dough has too much moisture. What now? Adding more flour is always an option, but too much flour and your dough will end up like a cracker—not a pie crust. Remember: the more you mix your pie dough, the tougher it becomes. To keep the mixing to a minimum, try rolling out your dough between two pieces of parchment paper. The dough won't stick to the rolling pin and once you have it rolled out, all you have to do is peel off the top layer of parchment and invert the dough into the pie plate. Also, make sure your dough is well chilled before you roll it. This not only makes a sticky dough more manageable, it also prevents the fat in the crust from melting into the flour, which helps keep pie dough flaky and tender.
Mistake to Avoid #3: A Sad, Dull-Looking Crust
Pictured recipe: Maple-Ginger Apple Pie
Does your pie look like filling shoved between two pieces of cardboard? You might have forgotten to put egg wash on your pie crust, a small, but important, step. An egg wash gives your pie crust a shiny, golden color and it also helps things adhere to the crust (like a dusting of sugar) while it's baking. Are your top and bottom crusts not sticking together nicely? A little egg wash between the layers will help solve your problem. If you've baked your pie without an egg wash, it's not the end of the world. Your pie will taste the same. The egg wash is just the finishing touch and will break out all the oohs and aahs.
Mistake to Avoid #4: Your Pie Is Burning Around the Edges and Raw on the Bottom
Pictured recipe: Our Best Traditional Pumpkin Pie
Once you pop your pie in the oven, you're free to just walk away, right? Not so fast! Even during its time in the oven, your pie might need a little TLC. Pies have hills and valleys—parts of thin exposed crust (think the edges) and parts buried beneath layers of yummy filling. Not all of these extremes are going to cook at the same rate, but you can help the process along with some simple tricks. Pies should be baked on a lower rack in the oven. The heat from below will help the bottom of the pie (the part buried in all that sweet glorious filling) bake faster. Aboveground, you have the edges, which tend to be thinner and much more exposed. If you notice the edges of your pie browning too quickly, you can cover them with a pie crust protector. You can buy one, or just fashion one out of aluminum foil. And, last but not least, if your pie is cooking very unevenly, it might be time to look at your oven. Pies bake best at lower temperatures—around 350°F. Too hot for too long, and you'll end up with a pie that's overdone in some parts, and underdone in others.
Mistake to Avoid #5: Your Apple Pie Is Too Wet
Pictured recipe: Brown Butter Apple Pie
Apple pie filling (or any fruit filling) should have some viscosity. If it doesn't, your filling is too wet. There are a number of ways to avoid this messy mistake. First, make sure you are including a thickener with your filling—there are several options out there, including cornstarch, flour and tapioca, and they all basically work the same way. Thickeners bind to water as the filling cooks, making your pie less likely to end up like a swimming pool. Another trick is to precook at least some of your apples (or other fruit) before you bake your pie. This not only releases some of the water in the fruit, but also can help concentrate the flavors. And, finally, as much a steaming-hot slice of apple pie sounds appealing, let your pie rest for at least an hour before slicing. The filling will thicken as it cools and don't worry—your pie will still be plenty warm enough to gently melt that scoop of vanilla ice cream on top of it.
Mistake to Avoid #6: Your Pumpkin Pie Filling Has Curdled
Pictured recipe: Coconut-Rum Pumpkin Pie
You've made a gorgeous pumpkin pie. You go to slice it only to discover a layer of scrambled eggs in your once-beautiful filling. The trick to getting smooth pumpkin pie lies in two steps: the mixing and the baking. It's important to thoroughly whisk the egg whites and yolks together before combining them with the rest of the ingredients so they get fully incorporated. And when it comes to baking, low and slow is the way to go. To ensure the crust gets nice and crisp, we blind-bake it at a high temp, then reduce the heat to cook the filled pie so the custard doesn't curdle (the technical term for that scrambled-egg look). Overbaking your pie can cause the same result— so take it out of the oven when the center is just set and still a little wobbly (it will firm up as it cools).