Ok, everybody. I need you to understand somethings right off the bat. First, I love pies. No I’m sorry, I don’t think you understand. I LOVE pies!! It has been my favorite dessert since high school. I would go to a local diner and just try every pie as often as possible. I couldn’t choose my favorite one, I just always chose pie! Second, I have been baking pies for almost as long as I’ve been married. Our very first holiday season, I decided I was going to try my hand at pie baking. They were pretty good for my first time, but I wanted my pies to be AMAZING! So over the years, I have tried my hand at different types of pies, and different crusts to make a GREAT pie. Third, I have a pie baking competition coming up at my church that I am determined to, at the very least, place in one of the 3 top spots. My family has been hyping me up, and because of that I’m now a little nervous that maybe they have hyped it up so much that I’m going to fail!
Regardless what the outcome is, I’m always excited to make my pies! I wanted to take you all along on my journey as I baked the perfect prize-winning pie. Well, at least I hope I win a prize…
I figured I would start off by making my basic pie crust that so far hasn’t failed me. It’s a very easy recipe that has proven to be tried and true. But I’ve been scouring the depths of Pinterest to find the ultimate pie crust and see if my simple butter crust will hold up to some of the best ones I’ve found.
I asked several of my family members the most important question during this process, what makes the perfect pie crust? The answers were almost all the same: “it has to taste good”. Well that was no help to me! So back to the internet I went, and I got a better answer. A perfect pie crust has to be flakey, buttery, and complimentary to the filling. You don’t want to have a specialty crust that isn’t cohesive to your filling. So with that in mind, I decided a simple universal pie crust was what I needed. Something that will not take away from the filling, but also not be bland and forgettable.
My pie crust is a simple one, with just 4 simple ingredients.
- Ice cold water
Over the years it has held up with my pies, and there is nothing fancy or incredibly special about this crust. It has a great buttery taste and flakes ok, but would I call it perfect? To be honest, probably not. It’s good, don’t get me wrong! But I want GREAT!
So over to Pinterest I went, in search of a great pie crust. That is when I stumbled upon a blog post titled ‘4 Recipes for A Perfect Pie Crust” by Melissa at blessthismessplease.com. Her pie crust post featured 4, yes you read that correctly, FOUR different types of pie crust! I was sure my search had come to an end!
I read all the different textures and types of pie crusts and decided the best match for what I was looking for was something that was obviously going to taste good, but also be pliable for decorating. So I decided to try my hand at the 1/2 butter & 1/2 shortening pie crust. It wasn’t much different than mine, but the added shorting did help make the crust a lot more flakey than my normal all butter crust.
I decided to try my crust out on my sister in law. I made her a pie with my butter crust and the half & half one. I decided to just make the decorations on top with both the crusts so she could try them and have a comparison with the same type of filling.
After a very enjoyable taste test, the verdict came back that the half & half crust was as flavorful as the butter but it had that flakiness that is expected of a pie crust. Now that I had my recipe for the crust established, it was time to narrow down what filling I would use.
My family is very opinionated when it comes to my pies. My husband and one son were very insistent on me making my classic apple pie. My oldest son suggested pumpkin was my best bet. My mother in law even chimed in with expressing that I should make my pecan pie. Needless to say, I had many options, and even more opinions. 😂
I figured I’d make a few different ones just to ‘practice’ my skills. I made my classic apple, apple crumble, pumpkin, I even tried my hand at Mexican chocolate pumpkin.
What the deciding factor came down to was time. My husband and I had decided a few weeks before that we were going to throw our 2 year old a small party for his birthday, and it happened to land on the day before the pie contest. I knew the easiest pie that I could make successfully, and pretty easily, was my classic apple. I had contemplated on adding a twist and adding extra flavors, such as my pear and ginger or mixed berries, but due to the party being held in the evening, and the fact that I still needed to get some sleep before the next day, I decided to just make my classic apple and let the chips fall where they may.
My classic apple pie filling is simple and delicious. I had made a few practice pies with my usual ingredient of Granny Smith apples, however this year they happened to be unusually sour. My sister in law had even commented that the filling was good, but just a little too sour. So I planned to find my next favorite and was on the hunt for Pink Ladies. Normally I can find them at my Sam’s Club or Costco, but again I was disappointed to find that I simply could not find them. It was starting to feel like maybe apple just wasn’t in the cards for me. Luckily I did find some Honeycrisp which are not usually my first choice for pie making, but they are sweet and keep their “shape”. I also realized when filling my pie dish, my filling was a little less than what I had wanted so I did end up making a small batch of filling with some Envy apples, which again is not my first choice, but they held up pretty well.
If you haven’t made a pie before, especially apple, I’m sure you might be a little confused on why I was on the hunt for a specific apple type. Here’s the scoop; not all apples are created equal! Some apples are more tart and sturdy, where others will turn mushy and don’t have much flavor when cooked. Since I don’t want an applesauce pie, I want to use more sturdy apples that are a bit more tart. The tartness will be evened out by the sugar that is added to the apples. Also, the more juicy the apples are the less likely they will hold their shape and instead turn to mush . This is why Granny Smith are great apples for pie baking, they are juicy but not too much where it will release so much juice to make it mushy. However, I normally like to use a mix of at least 2 types of apples, just using the Granny Smith as my “base”. I will more than likely add the Pink Ladies because they are sweeter than the Granny and help balance out the tartness, but not too full of juice that they get mushy.
I have noticed over the years when buying apples for pie making, if I purchase at Costco or Sam’s Club, on the box or bag it will have a chart, similar to these, that show if an apple is a good pie baking apple.
Now that we have that short explanation out of the way, lets get back to the pie making. I knew that there were 3 main catagories that I would be judged on; Crust, Filling, and Look. Since my pie crust and filling were already set, I had to come up with a plan on how I was going to decorate my pie. This is the fun part! I love making new designs and using different things to aid in decorating my pies. It’s a fun, and delicious, way to show off my creativity. Since most of the time I am constantly in “mom” mode, I rarely get to take a moment to do something that is just for me. Pie decorating is a way I get to unwind and it always brings a smile to my face. I think it’s because I get to make something beautiful and share it with the ones who mean the world to me, my family.
My husband knows that on evenings when I decided to make a pie, I can take hours just in the decorating process. He also knew that this pie baking contest was something that I had really wanted to do, plus he had hyped me up quite a bit over the last few weeks, so that night, when all the party guests went home, and we got the house as much in order as possible, he handled putting the kids to bed and let me do my thing. The only thing that he asked, was for be to add my braided lattice. Seems like a simple request right? WRONG! As much as it looks beautiful, it is very time consuming. Luckily for me, my oldest son stayed up with me and helped document the process.
I decided to add the braided lattice, and just use these leaf cutters for the surrounding crust. I really wanted to do more, and something a little different, but after the long day that we had, I was really glad I kept it more “simple”. I also added a little apple cutout to top, just because.
Since I wanted my pie to be warm and fresh for the contest, I decided to pull an old trick that I learned a few years back. I wrapped the pie with plastic wrap and threw it in the freezer. As long as the pie isn’t in the freezer for more than a couple days, it will bake beautifully and still have that same fresh taste. Actually, in my honest opinion, I think that the frozen pies taste better when baked than when I bake them fresh right away. I’m not quite sure why that is.
I thought I was in the clear and set my alarm so I would have enough time to bake the pie, let it cool and get it ready for transport. The morning had come and I was up at 6 am to throw my beautiful pie in the oven. Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t thinking clearly when it was time to bake the pie. I set my oven for 375 and placed that puppy on the rack, without taking into consideration that my rack was a little too close to the top. Normally I like to set my pie on the middle rack, but for some reason I didn’t adjust my racks and just placed it on the top rack. I set the timer for 50 minutes and headed upstairs to get ready for the day. I had about 10 minutes left on the timer when I went downstairs to check on my pie, and as I peeked to see how well it was baking, I saw that my edges were burning!! How my heart sank. I pulled it out and let it cool. I felt like all my hard work was thrown out the window by a simple mistake. I was able to scrape some off the burnt parts and for the most part my pie was in pretty good shape. I stood there thinking, what a dope I am! I should have set my timer for half the time and then wrapped the crust with foil to avoid burning, which is not necessarily a rookie mistake, but it is something that I really should have considered with my intricate crust.
After a small pep talk from my husband and his encouraging words, I decided I would still enter it in the contest. I was the first one to submit their pie, and was so embarrassed that my burnt crust pie was the first thing people saw. I know I was being too hard on myself, but really when you’re 6 months pregnant and mess up just a little bit you get a little emotional. I’m glad I can laugh about it now, but that day really had me disappointed in myself. However, this story does not end in defeat.
I placed 2nd! I honestly couldn’t believe that my poor, crispy pie actually placed. I may not have taken home the top prize, but I am glad that I did place! I’m hoping that next year I will plan a little better and get my pie in the top spot. Until then, I will keep making my pies and continue to search for the PERFECT pie!
Basic Pie Crust
A simple basic pie crust that anyone can make.
1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbs cold butter, cut into large chunks
4 tbs ice cold water
- Combine flour and salt into a large bowl.
- Add butter and use pastry blender or fork to combine butter into dry mixture until pea size
- Slowly add cold water to dough. Use hands to combine.
- Roll out dough and line pie dish.
Classic Apple Pie Filling
A classic apple pie filling for a delicious homemade pie.
5 apple, cored, peeled and sliced approximately 1/4” thick
3/4 cup sugar
1 tbs lemon juice
4-6 tbs butter
1 tsp flour
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
- In a medium bowl, combine apples, lemon juice and sugar. Coat apples well, let sit for 45 minutes.
- Heat saucepan on medium. Add butter to saucepan and allow to melt, then add apples and all juices.
- Cook apples for 5 minutes to tenderize. Add flour and mix well.
- Once flour is dissolved, add cinnamon and nutmeg. Coat apples as much as possible.
- Remove from heat and let cool.
- Add to crust lined dish and decorate.
- Preheat oven to 350F.
- Place on middle rack and bake 45-55 minutes, until crust is golden brown.