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Frequently Asked Questions about Pies

Every day, we receive lots of emails from people asking for answers to general questions. For a glimpse of this dynamic exchange of ideas and tips, and for answers to questions about food that you may have had yourself, please have a look at this FAQ! You can also browse other answers at other FAQs pages or look for answers in articles in the services page.

If you still have questions, post it in the recipe forum where other visitors may respond to your request.

 
  
 
 
Q. What is lemon zest?

A.  Zest is the outermost skin of citrus fruit, which is removed with the aid of a citrus zester, paring knife or vegetable peeler. Only the colored portion of the skin (and not the white pith) is considered the zest. The aromatic oils in citrus zest add flavor to food. Zest can be used to flavor raw or cooked and sweet or savory dishes.

Q. I'm having problems with meringue pies. Sometimes a layer of water forms between the filling and the meringue, other times the meringue shrinks during baking. What can I do to solve these problems?

A.  Spread meringue over piping hot filling, and spread to the edges to seal. Hot filling is necessary to ensure that the inside of the meringue cooks, preventing weeping. Try this tip: fine cake crumbs sprinkled lightly over the filling will absorb liquid between the layers, another preventative measure against weeping. The preferred baking method is one that combines high temperatures with a short baking time. This prevents overcooking the outside, and thus beading and shrinking are avoided. Bake at 425 degrees F (220 degrees C) for 4 to 5 minutes.

Q.  When I pre-bake my pie crust, how do I keep the pastry from sliding down the sides of the pan?

A.  To prevent sliding, first line the dough with aluminum foil. Take a piece of foil long enough so that when folded in half, it covers the pie plate. Fold it in half, then shape it on the counter by pressing your hand down in the middle and pulling up on the sides (making sort of a bowl shape.) Now put the foil in your pie shell and gently press it so that it evenly covers the bottom and sides of the pie dough. Now put your pie weights in - you can use beans, rice, rock salt -- virtually any small, heat-proof items to weigh the crust down so that it neither puffs up nor slides down. Bake it in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes. Take out the foil and pie weights, and continue baking until lightly browned. Alternately, if you are using metal pie plates, you can line one pan with dough, lightly dust the dough with flour, then place a second pie plate on top of the dough. Invert the pans and bake upside-down for about 10 minutes. Carefully flip the pans over, and remove the top pie plate, then continue baking until lightly browned.

Q.  I want to use fresh pumpkin in place of canned pumpkin.

A.  If you have a fresh pumpkin you want to cook with, cut the pumpkin into five or six big chunks; scrape out the seeds and the stringy bits; place it in a shallow dish; fill the dish with an inch of water and bake it at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for about 45 minutes, until the flesh is tender. Allow it to cool, then remove the flesh and puree it in a blender or food processor until smooth.

Q.  Can pies be frozen?

A.  Some pies can be frozen to save time on busy cooking days. Here are a few pointers:

Double-crust fruit pies (such as apple) can be assembled and then frozen in the raw state. Later, when you are ready to bake, let the pie sit at room temperature for 20 minutes to let the glass plate warm up, then bake as normal. If you are going to glaze the top with egg wash or sugar, do that just before baking. Freezing the pie after it is baked is not recommended. The crust will get damaged in the freezer and will absorb liquid from the filling.

Nut pies such as pecan pies can be frozen after they are baked.

You can freeze meat pies before baking provided the filling is fully cooked before freezing. It would be best to cook the filling separately and let it cool completely before putting it in the pie shell.

Custard and pumpkin pies do not benefit from being frozen.

Q.  How can I make the top of my pie crust shiny?

A.  The trick to shiny-topped pie crust is actually very simple. Simply brush beaten egg on top of the pie before baking. Use a pasty brush and try to avoid having any "pools" of egg. Also avoid getting it on the outside crimped edge, where it will get too dark when baked. You can get the same effect by using egg whites rather than the whole egg. Another trick is to brush the top with water and then sprinkle on some sugar. The sugar will crystallize into a shiny glaze when baked.

Q.  My pecan pie is all hard and chewy - any advice?

A.  You are over-baking the pecan pie. The pie is done at the first signs of solidity in the center of the pie. It will bounce back when lightly tapped and might start to puff up a little, but don't let it puff up a lot.

Q.  How can I keep the edge of my pie from getting too dark?

A.  To prevent the crust from getting too dark, you can cover it with a strip of aluminum foil or a pie shield. You also have the option of reducing the oven temperature if you notice things getting too dark.

Q.  I often find myself adjusting recipes in order to make enough for my family, but it doesn't quite work for some recipes. Do you have any advice for me?

A.  Changing recipes in order to make more or less servings is called "recipe scaling." Whenever you alter the amounts of ingredients for a given recipe, you may also need to adjust the cooking temperature, cooking time, pan size and seasonings. But for food chemistry reasons, recipe scaling simply does not work well for some dishes: delicate foods such as soufflés, baked items requiring yeast such as breads, and recipes for a single large item that is meant to be later divided into smaller portions such as cakes, pies, breads and whole turkey.

Our Recipe Scaling Page will give you a reliable framework for successful recipe scaling: It offers detailed guidelines for recipe scaling.

 


 

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