Clambake is around the corner. The annual pie bake-off has begun! This year, I plan on baking 2 each of apple, peach blueberry, strawberry rhubarb, rhubarb custard, blueberry cranberry, and Shaker lemon.
Pie making can be very intimidating because, as I can attest, lots of things can go wrong. Why did anybody ever think a crust underneath a couple pounds of fruit would actually bake into crispy perfection? Or that humid New England fruit season would be a good time to bake anything? Having made several dozens of pies, I now share my most helpful pie-baking tricks. And despite the many pitfalls, making homemade pie is absolutely worth it.
1. Replace half the water in your pie dough recipe with chilled vodka
This comes from Cooks’ Illustrated, and though I do not always use their recipe exemplifying the rule, I apply the rule to Rose Levy Beranbaum’s flaky cream cheese pie crust recipe (yes, I find cream cheese off-putting in desserts, except here). The vodka gives your pie dough the malleability necessary to roll it out, but evaporates quickly during baking for a flaky rather than gummy pie crust.
2. Freeze the whole thing
Baking homemade pie from the freezer allows you time to assemble up to a month in advance, and keeps your so-carefully crimped crust from wilting in the oven. It is also a great way to use surplus fruit at its ripest. If you are preparing and baking on the same day, I recommend at least 30 minutes in the freezer to firm up the crust before baking. Add about 30 minutes to the baking time for a fully frozen pie, or about 10 minutes for a partially frozen pie.
3. Glaze the crust
The simplest step of all, and the most visually rewarding. For a glistening, bronzed, and crisp upper crust: brush it with a beaten egg and sprinkle liberally with sugar before baking (or before freezing). Why would anybody not do this? I implore you to do this!
4. Bake on a preheated sheet pan
Place a foil-lined sheet pan on the oven rack before you turn the oven on; its heat will help bake the bottom crust. Or, put the pie directly on the oven floor for the first 10 minutes of its baking time for a crispy under-crust.