The Great Thanksgiving Pie Challenge

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Forgive the coarse language but there's no other way to put this: The State of American Pie? It sucks. I'm four months into The Great Hunt for Homemade Pie, ordering pie at every restaurant that claims to make 'homemade' pie. From truck stops famous for mile-high pies to white tablecloth glitzy restaurants, I've dipped my fork into slice after slice. Here's what I've learned.

Homemade? Ha. It seems that 'warming' a pie counts. So does buying frozen pies and baking them in the kitchen. Canned fruit counts. So does custard from a box. In four months, I've come across place after place that sells 'homemade' pie that isn't actually homemade. In four months, I've found only one slice worth eating, at an upscale spot in Jackson, Wyoming. The pastry chef was so thrilled that someone actually appreciated his pie, crust and filling both, he visited our table.

So I'm on a mission, challenging all cooks to make homemade pie, just once, between now and the end of the year. No time like the present, yes? so let's start with Thanksgiving pies, some of the easiest pies ever to make. Will you take the challenge?

I've collected some recipes especially geared to new pie bakers.

PIE CRUST
Homemade or store-bought? That's the first question and while I'm biased to homemade pie crust, not everyone's up for that. I've had great luck with Pillsbury pie crusts. They come two to a box in the refrigerated section and are all rolled out. I do have one tip to improve them, however. Let warm according to the instructions, then roll out the pie crust so the dough is a little thinner. It'll still be easy-easy to handle and you can slice off the excess (saving a few calories) and the crust will be thinner and much more edible. Some times I sprinkle a little sugar on the dough before rolling it out, that adds a little something too.

But. If the challenge is homemade pie, then the place to start is the crust. Does a no-roll crust count? You bet. A graham cracker crust? Sure, just make it at home!

My own advice? Watch for recipes that maybe don't look Martha Stewart-perfect because chances are, they're all-butter crusts and all-butter crusts are for tarts, not pies. (Yes, I know that reasonable people disagree on this point. Just remember, though, that I've been making a study of pie crust since age 16!) This means a crust that includes lard (yes, lard) or shortening or better still, a mix of shortening and butter both, shortening for tenderness and butter for flavor. Here are some homemade pastry recipe that caught my eye, especially for beginners, especially for nervous beginners who want to be pie-baking stars.

For the Love of Cooking ~ Pumpkin Pie with Homemade Crust
"I wanted to make homemade pie crust this year so I decided to use Ina Garten's pie crust recipe. She makes the best pastries and desserts so I knew her crust would be excellent. It was simple to make and took very little time. This pie turned out amazing. The crust was so flaky and delicious."

Joy the Baker ~ Easy No-Roll Pie Cruts
"I’ve come up with the pie crust recipe of your dreams. Seriously. Fluff the ingredients in a bowl, throw in some moisture, then press the dough directly into your pie pan. No chilling. No rolling. No stress. I’m looking out for you."

Andrea's Recipes ~ Whole Wheat Pie Dough
"The texture is quite different from the standard all-purpose flour pie dough, not light and flaky, a little hearty but not chewy. The baking powder offers a little lift to the crust and keeps it from being too heavy. The flavor is bold and unmistakably whole wheat, though the addition of orange juice and buttermilk powder softens the edgy flavor somewhat."

APPLE PIES
Rice and Spice ~ Apple-Gruyère Pie
"I borrowed the idea of grating Gruyère into the crust. ... the Gruyère is a stroke of genius. Imagine a perfectly flaky, tender pie crust flavored with the salty piquancy of Gruyère, like a cross between a pie crust and a gougère. Unlike the cheddar traditionally used in pie crusts, Gruyère doesn’t turn oily and leathery when melted and cooled, but instead takes the texture of the surrounding flour. The crust holds between your teeth for just a moment, then shatters delicately into the juicy apple filling. And those apples! So juicy and fresh, they tasted like they had been picked that morning."

Noble Pig ~ Upside Down Apple Pie
"This pie is absolutely fantastic and after the hubby and I ate our share, we both agreed we prefer this apple pie to regular apple pie any day. That shocked me, but it's that good. The flavor is out of control gooey, cinnamony and just overall out of this world. "

PUMPKIN PIES

The Bitten Word ~ Triple-Chocolate Pumpkin Pie
"This pie is a smooth, creamy treat. And the chocolate and flavors actually play off each other extremely well. The pumpkin taste doesn't compete, really. It just adds an amazing depth to the chocolate flavor -- almost an earthy, husky, semisweet taste that balances the chocolate and keeps it from being too sweet."

Bitchin Camero ~ Pumpkin Mascarpone Pie with Gingersnap Crust

And you?
And you, is homemade pie part of your Thanksgiving plan? Leave a recipe or a link to a recipe in the comments!

BlogHer food editor Alanna Kellogg provides details, tips and techniques (and photos!) to help cooks make homemade pies, starting with a flaky, tender pie crust.

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