Once you master the basic techniques for making pie fillings from scratch, you'll never go back to canned again -- the same techniques work for similar pies with only small tweaks for different ingredients. The fresh taste, complex layers of flavors and your ability to control the level of sugar yield pies worthy of the extra effort.
Choose a basic pastry crust for these pies, or add a hint of flavor that matches the fruit, such as minced fresh ginger in a crust for a peach pie or a few pieces of crushed lavender blossoms in an apple pie crust.
- Wash, dry and cut the fruit. Precision isn't necessary when cutting fruit -- medium-sized slices or chunks work well.
- Stir in a thickener, such as flour, cornstarch or tapioca. Use the proportions indicated in your recipe, typically between 2 tablespoons and 1/4 cup of thickener for every 4 cups of fruit.
- Add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice to brighten the flavor of any fruit pie, even tart ones such as rhubarb.
- Add sugar for a caramelized texture and to bring out the essential flavor of the fruit.
Most custard pies, such as pumpkin, lemon meringue or coconut, rely on a combination of eggs and cream or milk to form the custard. Others -- such as nut pies like pecan -- use corn syrup instead of a dairy product.
Flavor a regular pastry crust with one of the flavors in the pie, such as shredded coconut for a coconut pie or cinnamon for a pumpkin pie. Or, use a buttery shortbread crust that you prebake for lemon meringue or key lime pies.
Tips for Custard Pies
- Don't increase the heat when baking a custard pie. Recipes typically call for low temperature so that the eggs in the pie don't toughen.
- For pies such as lemon or lime meringues, simmer the cornstarch-thickened mixture at a low temperature for at least two minutes to cook the thickener without curdling the eggs.
Chocolate, banana cream, coconut cream and peanut butter are a few of the flavors of pudding pies that differ from custard pies in that they don't rely on a cooked custard base. Instead, pudding pie fillings cook on the stove top and use eggs, gelatin , cornstarch or flour for thickening.
Many pudding pies come with crumb crusts, made with a mixture of butter and crumbs from graham crackers, gingersnaps or chocolate wafers.
Tips for Pudding Pies
- Use a whisk to incorporate eggs into the thickening agent and liquids so that the pie filling stays smooth and creamy.
- Whipped cream folded into the pudding mixture after it has cooled adds a lighter, more airy texture to the pie.
- You don't need to cool most crusts for pudding pies, with the exception of banana pies where the bananas turn dark if the crust or filling is hot.
- Place a piece of plastic wrap over the top of the pie for cooling so that the filling doesn't develop a tough "skin" on the top.
- Let a pudding pie chill and set for at least three hours before serving it.