Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Pie for All Seasons - Tips for Preparing the Fillings for Your Pies

Most of us will admit to a favorite type of pie. I love a pecan pie or a tart cherry pie still warm from the oven with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. We can all also recall a time when we sat down to a delicious looking pie that had a tough or soggy crust, or the filling was under done, over done, or perhaps even contained a seed or pit of shell. Perhaps you have had a meat pie with bones! It can certainly ruin the enjoyment in a hurry. Here are some general tips to help you be sure the filling is the best it can be.

If currants are used in pies, you should carefully pick over and wash in several cool water baths, dry in a towel and dredge with flour before they are suitable for use. Today you can get currants that are already prepared for you, but if you can find fresh currants, well, all the better. The reason we dredge them in flour first is two-fold. First, the flour helps thicken the juices of the pie, and second, it helps suspend the currants within the pie so they don't all sink to the bottom.

Raisins, and all dried fruits for pies and cakes, may need to be seeded or stoned and dredged with flour before using.You may want to 'plump' some dried fruit. You can do this by soaking them in a hot liquid for 15 minutes or so. some recipes may call for you to boil dried fruit first. For example, if you want to use dried apple for an apple pie, simmer the slices in apple juice or cider for about 30 minutes before draining and using them in the filling. They will make a more tender pie.

Fresh almonds should be blanched by pouring boiling water over them and then slipping the skin off with the fingers. In crushing them, always add a little rose or orange-water, with fine sugar, to prevent their becoming oily. You could also use a few drops of lemon juice from a fresh lemon provided the flavor does not clash with your pie filling. Many fillings however, include lemon juice to prevent the fruit from turning brown.

Other nuts such as pecans or walnuts, release the flavors if they are roasted a bit before using them. The become sweeter and more tender. Place the nuts in a single layer on an un-greased baking pan and bake at 350 degrees F. for about 10-15 minutes. You do not want them to get browned, just warmed through.

When making custard pies, allow cooked custard to cool slightly before filling the pie. Then chill in the refrigerator,not the freezer. Cream pies may be made today using packaged mixes, a great convenience, but I find them somewhat lacking. Be sure to use the freshest ingredients, medium-sized eggs, and follow your recipe for outstanding results.

Great care is required in heating an oven for baking pastry. If you can hold your hand in the heated oven while you count twenty, the oven has just the proper temperature and it should be kept at this temperature as long as the pastry is in; this heat will bake to a light brown and will give the pastry a fresh and flaky appearance. If you suffer the heat to abate, the under crust will become heavy and clammy and the upper crust will fall in. While this advice predates today's ovens, it still holds true. You should follow your recipe or use about 350° for a moderate and 450° for a hot oven. If you can get an oven thermometer, use it. Even though the little dial says one thing, doesn't mean the element inside is listening. Most ovens are off by several degrees. I had an oven once that was off by 50 degrees, so when I thought I was baking cookies at 350 degrees, it was actually closer to 400 and I burned several batches before figuring it out.

Filling the Crust

Pie crust can be kept up to a week, or frozen and used within 6 months, but it is best if used within about 2 days.I usually make up several batches of crust and freeze. This way I can make a fresh pie with little effort any time I am in the mood.

In baking custard, pumpkin or squash pies,to prevent the mixture from being absorbed by the pastry, you will first partly bake the pastry before adding the filling, and when stewed fruit is used the filling should be perfectly cool when put in, or it will make the bottom crust soggy. Remember that when pre-baking pastry you should either prick the bottom, or line it with foil and fill with beans to keep the crust from puffing up too much.

After making the crust, take a portion of it, roll it out and fit it to a buttered pie-plate by cutting it off evenly around the edge; gather up the scraps left from cutting and make into another sheet for the top crust; roll it a little thinner than the under crust; lap one-half over the other and cut three or four slits about a quarter of an inch from the folded edge (this prevents the steam from escaping through the rim of the pie, and causing the juices to run out from the edges).

Now fill your pie-plate with your prepared filling, wet the top edge of the rim, lay the upper crust across the centre of the pie, turn back the half that is lapped over, seal the two edges together by slightly pressing down with your thumb, then notch evenly and regularly with a fork, dipping occasionally in flour to prevent sticking. Bake in a rather quick oven a light brown, and until the filling boils up through the slits in the upper crust.

To prevent the juice soaking through into the crust, making it soggy brush the bottom crust with the white of an egg, just before you put in the pie mixture. If the top of the pie is brushed over with the egg, it gives it a beautiful glaze.

Of course you don't have to stick to pastry crusts for pie. You can make a crumb crust by crumbling cookies, adding a little melted butter and sugar and pressing into a pan. These types of crusts are best used with chilled pies, such as a chocolate cream pie where a pudding like mixture is poured into the pie and the pie is chilled to set. These are fast and easy if you use a packaged instant pudding mix, and almost as fast if you make the pudding from scratch. But that is another article.

If you keep these tips in mind when making your pie, you will be able to achieve the results you want. Pie is making a resurgence lately as one of our favorite desserts. Master the pie and you will tame the family.

I am Barbara Cagle and I have been working and playing online since 1989. I am a certified teacher and as such I find that people are constantly asking me how to do ____. I started in 2001 and it is now my internet portal where you can access information on a variety of subjects to make your life just a little bit easier.

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