Turns out it’s the little things.

By Stacey Ballis
July 30, 2020
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It is peak summer pie season, people, and while I love to make pies (and am a pretty experienced baker), I’ve had issues ranging from super soupy fillings to being chronically unable to effectively remove slices from the pan cleanly. You feel my pain? I thought so, which is why I went to my favorite pie pros out there to source the insider tips and tricks for making those pies perfect.

1. Prep your pie plate

From Shauna Sever, author of Midwest Made: Big, Bold Baking from the Heartland: “Prep the pie plate as you would a cake pan: Spray with nonstick spray, flour lightly, tap out excess.” This is SO HELPFUL for getting slices out of your pie plate, especially if you might have some syrup overflow. I have also now used baking spray with flour in it with great success and laziness.

2. Try a tart pan

Chicago’s Big Jones chef and cookbook author Paul Fehribach gave me his secret weapon: deep tart pans with removable bottoms instead of pie plates. If you have a good solid crust recipe, this makes life so much easier!

3. Paint the bottom crust

This hot tip came from a number of pie gurus, so I offer it without specific attribution. For fruit pies, paint your bottom crust with beaten egg white to seal and stabilize the pastry. I especially love this tip for really wet fruits like peaches.

4. Paint your pre-baked bottom crust… with melted white chocolate

Sandra Holl, chef/owner of Floriole Bakerysays that when pie recipes ask you to pre-bake and then fill—such as with lemon tarts, cream pies, and fresh fruit tarts—paint the baked crust with melted white chocolate and let it harden before adding the filling, to create a seal between the filling and the crust.

5. Go tapioca

Strawberries for Supper blogger Christina Austin is a fan of my personal favorite, tapioca starch, for thickening fruit pies. It delivers a cleaner flavor than cornstarch or flour, and we both think it works better.

6. Make sure your crust is really chilled.

Stephanie Lock, owner of Ready to Roll Dough, a company that makes premium discs of handmade dough for your home baking pleasure, emphasized how important it is to bake with a chilled crust. If you bake when the pastry is too warm, all the fat will melt out, leaving you with a crust that bakes faster than the filling and will then eat dry. Even 30 minutes in the fridge after forming or filling makes all the difference. Bonus tip: Lock also recommends painting the top crust with cream and sprinkling with coarse raw sugar for crunch, shine, and sparkle.

7. Layer tins, sheets, and stones in the oven for a perfect crust

Food writer Tara O’Brady, author of Seven Spoons: My Favorite Recipes for Any and Every Day and my new personal pie whisperer, says she likes to bake in metal tins set in the lower third of the oven on a baking sheet on top of a pizza stone to ensure that the bottom crust really gets baked properly. I have been preheating my baking sheet in the oven before putting the pie in, which is also helpful especially if you don’t have a baking stone.

Bonus tip: O’Brady preaches post-baking patience—always let a fruit pie cool completely before even attempting to slice. “This allows the juices to gel completely, and act as mortar for the fruit.” It’s always better to rewarm slices of a cooled pie than try and slice a warm pie, she adds.

8. Slice two pieces before serving

Celebrity chef Carla Hall is a proponent of slicing two slices before trying to remove the first one, to have a little bit of give. Genius! I have expanded this to my own technique of slicing three slices, and then I remove the one in the middle, which seems to be working best for me.

9. Throw away the pie server

James Beard winner Kelly Fields, chef/owner of New Orleans’s Willa Jean, counseled me on how your slicing and serving pieces can make all the difference. First, she says, use a super sharp knife for slicing, and never fuss with a traditional pie server. Stick with a flexible large offset spatula.

10. Think outside the box (and inside the pan)

And finally, for a bonus, chef and food writer Allison Robicelli recommends eating pie straight from the pan, while chef/owner of Tuk Tuk Lexington Samantha Fore adds “WITH A SPOON”, both of which are very good and appropriate recommendations. Who needs a plate of pie when you’ve got the whole pie plate?