Pies are for freelance baking. You can choose your own filling, crust, method, and ingredients.In this piece, we’ll explore some of these choices—the pro’s and the con’s—to help you make that special pie recipe uniquely yours.
Flour vs. Cornstarch in Pie Recipes
All fruit pies have thickened slurries made with either flour or cornstarch to get the right consistency for the filling. Each requires a different method. Cornstarch slurries are made on the stovetop while flour slurries are usually created by tossing the fruit with flour or mixing the flour into a slurry in a bowl and pouring it over the fruit. The two methods are interchangeable. What are the advantages of each?
- Stovetop slurries are easier to control. You can get them as thick or as thin as you would like.
- Since most stovetop slurries are made with added juice, you can introduce more or a different flavor—like mango juice in a peach pie or cranberry juice with apples or pears.
- Cornstarch makes a clearer slurry that gives a shine that attractively presents the fruit. Flour makes a more milky slurry.
- Flour slurries don’t require you to use the stovetop–just toss the fruit with the flour.
- Making a flour slurry is quick and easy and makes a fine pie—though getting the right amount of flour to match the amount and juiciness of the fruit is a bit of a guess.
Fresh Fruit vs. Canned in Pie Recipes
You can make a fine pie with canned fruit. Consider canned fruit when you are in hurry—you don’t need to peel and slice the canned fruit—or when the desired fruit is out of season.
If you make a pie with canned fruit, make the slurry on the stovetop. Drain the juice into a saucepan and thicken it with cornstarch. If you want more slurry, add juice.
When you bake a pie using canned fruit, use a baked or partially packed crust. If you bake the pie as long as you would a fresh fruit pie, the canned fruit is likely to turn mushy. A great choice is to put the filling in baked shell and then top the pie with a streusel for a crumble topping.
Butter vs. Shortening in a Pie Crust Recipe
Shortening makes an easy-to-form crust. Because shortening has a higher melting point, you can work with shortening-based crusts without as much care to temperature. With butter-based crusts, you need to keep it cold to avoid a big mess. Shortening makes a more tender crust while butter makes a crisper crust.
We prefer butter crusts or crusts partially made with butter. We like to reduce the hydrogenated fat when we can, and we love the taste of butter. Butter makes a more pastry-like crust; shortening adds no flavor.
Metal vs. Glass vs. Ceramic Pie Pans
Metal, glass, and ceramic pans transfer heat differently. Light-colored aluminum pans reflect heat and are not suitable for pies that need a crisp, well-baked crust. Juicy pies often come out soggy when baked in light-colored pans.
Heavy, dark steel pans conduct heat evenly and make for a well-baked crust. Glass is a good conductor of heat, though not as good as dark-colored steel pans. Ceramic insulates the crust from the heat and often the crust is not well baked. We recommend ceramic pans for pre-baked shells and crumb crusts.
(Updated from May 15, 2014)