Your top 5 pie problems, solved
Ok so maybe it's not quite the holidays yet, but we all know that holiday baking season starts way before the actual holidays! So, I wanted to take a moment to write about pies.
I love pies. If you follow me on instagram you know this. I make them pretty much any time I have an excuse to.
There are two main things to care about when you are making pies. Keep an eye on these and you should avoid most problems.
TEMPERATURE: Pie crust must be cold for you to actually do anything with it. You must refrigerate a butter/lard/crisco pie crust before using, because solid fat = flaky crust. And warm crust = a pain in the butt. Which leads to...
TIME: Do not – DO NOT – try and shortcut anything time-related when it comes to pies. It will not work. I don't care how good of an improviser you think you are. Examples:
- Your pie crust needs time to hydrate in the fridge so it's workable when you want to bake with it.
- Handle the pie crust for a little as possible with your hands, because you, Mammal, are full of heat. Every second you spend touching your crust is making it less easy to work with because the fat is melting. And you'll end up with a less flaky crust.
- And finally, your pie needs enough time to bake or it will be a runny mess. I hate runny pies more than almost anything.
OK. On to the top 5 questions I hear about pie problems. If I missed yours, leave it in the comments and I'll do my best to answer!
1) What the heck is wrong with my crust and why is it tearing?
Your crust is tearing for one of two reasons. So lets start with the diagnosis. Is your crust coming apart in flakes, or just straight up tearing?
If you are dealing with flakes, you crust is too dry. Throw it back in the food processor, broken up into chunks. Process with 1-2 teaspoons of cold water, wrap into a disk and refrigerate for an hour before you try again. Your dough should cohesively stay together but not be too sticky. If it turns out on the sticky side, then just make sure to keep it as cold as possible while you're working with it.
If you are dealing with tears, your crust is too warm. Wrap it up in plastic wrap and throw that sucker back in the fridge for an hour at least. No cheating, or you'll have to do it all again. And make sure you aren't working in a place where you're dealing with ambient heat, such as the counter on top of your running dishwasher or right next to the stove when it is on. That will make it a problem, too.
2) Why is my fruit pie runny?
An all-too-common problem, but it has an easy answer. You didn't bake it long enough. The whole process of making a fruit pie depends on you making what is basically a jam inside that pie. The inside liquid has to be heated enough and reduced enough to solidify upon cooling.
This is a big reason that I always use a lattice crust on a fruit pie. You can SEE the juice bubbling. If it looks like it's the consistency of any old liquid, your pie isn't done enough. If its bubbling thickly, and looks like a jam cooking or a syrup, then you are all set. (har har).
SO- that is to say, the crust color is not an indicator of whether the pie is done! Your crust is done when it is a medium brown. None of this pale business. If you are worried about your crust getting too close to done, tent it with foil. In my opinion, I'd rather have a slightly browner crust and a pie that doesn't drip.
And one more tip to avoid runny pies: Most fruit pies involve mixing the fruit with sugar, cornstarch, etc. and letting sit in a bowl for 15-30 minutes before baking. After this point, leave the juice that comes off the fruit in the bowl. It's just more water that will have to bake off for you to get a solid pie. This sugar bowl period is a way of engineering some of the moisture to leave the fruit ahead of time so it doesn't have to bake as long.
3) Why is my fruit pie falling apart?
I HATE it when this happens. But it's another question with a simple answer.
Your fruit wasn't in small enough pieces. Recipes never provide enough information about this – but all fruit, peaches, apples, cherries – anything larger than a blueberry pretty much – needs to be chopped up well enough that when it's cooking in a big pile, it's actually structurally sound. For cherries, this means cut in half or better. For apples, you're going to want 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick slices. Peaches, rhubarb and strawberries should be similar. Then, make sure that you're placing them in the pie so that they are lying flat against one another.
4) Why did my fruit pie sink in the middle?
The short answer is, fruit settles. When you are making a pie, think about how you want it to look when you're done. Consult question #3 of this post to make sure that you're getting a solid foundation. And then, over-fill. It WILL sink, but if you stack everything an inch taller than you think you need, it will settle right where you want it.
Yes, this will probably mean that your pie will bubble over if you've got a lattice top crust (which as you'll recall, I recommend always using for fruit pies). In my opinion, bubbling over is an inevitable part of making a good pie. To make sure that doesn't make a huge mess of your oven, place the pie on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Your intact manicure will thank me later when you spend zero time scrubbing your baking sheet.
5) Why did the outside of my crust burn and not the inside?
Well, because the crust in the middle of pie has two inches of filling behind it dragging the temperature down. Between the edge of the pie tin and the crust, that part will heat up much more quickly.
The easiest way to stop this is, the moment you notice the outside of the crust getting brown faster than the center, cover it with foil. Take a square of foil large enough to cover the pie pan. Fold in half, then in half again, and cut around the edge to make a circle, paper snowflake style. unfold to make a foil cover that protects the edges but lets the center show through. You can add this at any time during the cooking process but I do not recommend using from the beginning.
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