Last in a series.

There is no debate about Thanksgiving dessert. It is pie. Not one pie either; our annual feast calls for at least two or three. And that is the dish that can cause high anxiety for even experienced bakers.

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    Tips for Your Roll-Free Crust

    • Press the dough into the pie pan to fit the pan without pulling or stretching.
    • If the dough tears or develops a hole, repair it by pressing scraps of dough onto it.
    • When you're pressing the dough into the pan, it often collects where the bottom of the pan meets the sides. Use the side of your thumb to press extra dough out of this crevice and up the sides.
    •Once the pie dough is pressed into the pan, fold the overhanging edges under to form a smooth edge. If you're using a butter crust, you can crimp the edge by pressing the edge of the dough between your thumb and forefinger in a pattern.
    • Have leftover dough? Sprinkle scraps with sugar, bake along with the pie in a separate pan, and use for snacks.
    [Elinor Klivans]



  • Turkey Trials Turkey Trials
You can't blame the easygoing pie fillings; they usually only need to be stirred together or require some fruit to be peeled. It's the crust that inspires fear, and there is no getting around it - every pie must have at least one crust.

For years, I was a member of the fearful pie-bakers group, until I took the proverbial bull by the horns or, in this case, by the pie pan. I reasoned that if thousands of good pies and their crusts could be made every Thanksgiving, I could bake them, too.

Crumb crusts were one option, and these worked well for my cream pies. But fruit and nut pies needed a traditional crust. To further the challenge and make the crust super-easy, I also decided that my crust would eliminate rolling.

The solution was to mix my favorite butter-cookie recipe to a crumb stage, rather than to a smooth dough. The crumbs could be dumped into the pie pan and simply pressed onto the inside of the pan. Eureka! I produced tender, buttery crust after buttery crust and joined the fearless group.

For my cream pies, I still prefer crumb crusts that are made from cookie crumbs. Store-bought chocolate wafers, graham crackers (cinnamon or plain), gingersnaps and plain shortbread cookies are all good choices for these crusts. It's simple to crush the cookies into crumbs with a rolling pin or to process them in a food processor. Even easier is to use the boxes of graham-cracker crumbs that can be found in supermarket baking sections. Add melted butter and any desired spices to the crumbs, press them into a buttered pan, bake for about 6 minutes and the crumb crust is ready to fill.

Press-in crusts are made from a crumbly butter-and-flour mixture that is usually sweetened. Chopped or ground nuts or grated citrus peel are other flavor options that can be added to the crust mixture. These crusts can be mixed with an electric mixer or stirred with a large spoon.

Press the crumbs of dough evenly into the baking pan. Although the unbaked mixture may look as if it barely holds together, baking melts the butter in the mixture and a tender, solid crust forms.

Some crusts, such as those for a pumpkin pie, should be partially baked before you add a filling. Prebaking (also known as "parbaking") produces a crisper crust that remains separate from the filling. Drier fillings, such as apple, generally do not need prebaking.

I prefer shiny metal or ovenproof glass pans for baking pies. Ceramic or ovenproof stoneware pie pans are another option. I find metal and ovenproof glass pie pans will bake pies evenly and at the same oven temperature and require about the same baking time. If a pie pan has a dark finish, the best plan is to reduce the baking temperature 25 degrees. Watch the pies carefully at the end of their baking time.

Dark metal pans do not reflect the heat as shiny metal pans do, so crusts can darken or burn quickly.


Maple Pumpkin Pie

Makes 8 servings

1 Butter Crust, chilled in a 9-inch pie pan (see recipe)

FILLING:

3 large egg yolks

1/2 cup (packed) dark-brown sugar

1/2 cup pure maple syrup

one 15-ounce can (about 2 cups) pumpkin

2/3 cup whipping cream

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup cold heavy (whipping) cream, whipped to firm peaks with 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line the chilled crust with aluminum foil and fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake 10 minutes. Carefully remove foil and beans. Bake about 10 minutes more until the crust is firm and the edges just begin to color.

Set aside and make the filling. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.

For the filling: In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and brown sugar together until smoothly blended. Whisk in the maple syrup , pumpkin , cream, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and salt until blended. Pour into the partially baked piecrust. Bake until the filling is set in the center, about 35 minutes.

Transfer to a rack to cool completely. Cover and refrigerate for at least 5 hours or overnight. Serve cold with a spoonful of whipped cream.

Per serving: 569 calories, 6 grams protein, 35 grams fat, 21 grams saturated fat, 60 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams fiber, 208 milligrams cholesterol, 192 milligrams sodium


Butter Crust

Makes 1 crust for a 9-inch pie; serves 8 to 10

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup cake flour

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) butter, at room temperature

1/4 cup sugar

1 large egg yolk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 9-inch pie pan. Sift both flours, baking powder and salt into a medium bowl. Set aside.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter and sugar until smoothly blended and lightened in color, about 1 minute. Mix in the egg yolk and vanilla. On low speed, add the flour mixture, beating until it is incorporated and small crumbs form that hold together if you take a small clump and press them together.

Transfer the crust mixture to the pie pan. Press the mixture evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan, dipping your fingers in flour if the dough sticks to your fingers. Check to see that there are no holes.

Refrigerate for 30 minutes or overnight.

Per serving (based on 10 servings): 197 calories, 2 grams protein, 12 grams fat, 7 grams saturated fat, 20 grams carbohydrate, trace fiber, 51 milligrams cholesterol, 70 milligrams sodium


Pecan Pie in a Butter-Pecan Crust

Makes 10 servings

CRUST:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup cake flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons (1 stick) soft unsalted butter

1/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup ground pecans

1 large egg yolk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

FILLING:

3 large eggs

1 cup packed light-brown sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

1 tablespoon molasses

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups coarsely chopped pecans

For the crust: Butter a 10-inch pie pan. Sift both flours and the salt into a medium bowl. Set aside. Beat the butter and sugar in the large bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed until the mixture looks smooth and creamy.

Mix in the ground pecans. Mix in the egg yolk and vanilla until they are blended. On low speed add the flour mixture, beating just until it is incorporated and crumbs form that hold together if you take a small clump and press them together. Transfer the crust mixture to the pie pan. Press the mixture evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan, dipping your fingers in flour if the dough sticks to your fingers. Check to see that there are no holes.

Refrigerate for 30 minutes or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

For the filling: In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, brown sugar, corn syrup, melted butter, molasses, salt and vanilla until smoothly blended. Use a large spoon to stir in the pecans.

Pour the filling into the crust.

Bake 10 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Bake until the pecan filling is set, about 35 minutes. Cool on rack. Serve at room temperature.

Per serving: 601 calories, 7 grams protein, 39 grams fat, 11 grams saturated fat, 60 grams carbohydrate, 4 grams fiber, 120 milligrams cholesterol, 160 milligrams sodium


Apple-Cranberry Crumb Pie

Serves 10

1 recipe Butter Crust chilled in a 9-inch pie pan (see recipe)

FILLING:

4 apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced

1 cup cranberries, fresh or frozen and defrosted

3 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

TOPPING:

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup packed light-brown sugar

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

For the filling: In a large bowl, mix the apples, cranberries, sugar, melted butter and cinnamon together. Transfer to the prepared crust.

For the topping: In a medium bowl, stir the granulated sugar, brown sugar, flour and cinnamon together. Pour the melted butter over the mixture, stirring until the mixture is evenly moistened and fine crumbs form. Sprinkle the crumbs evenly over the filling.

Bake until the crumb topping is golden brown and the apples and cranberries are soft when tested with a toothpick, about 45 minutes.

Cool at least 30 minutes and serve warm or cool completely and serve at room temperature.

Per serving: 421 calories, 4 grams protein, 20 grams fat, 12 grams saturated fat, 57 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber, 72 milligrams cholesterol, 75 milligrams sodium


Mocha Cream Pie

Makes 8 servings

CRUMB CRUST:

1 1/2 cups chocolate-wafer cookie crumbs

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

FILLING:

2 cups whole milk

5 large egg yolks

2/3 cup sugar

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup (3 ounces) bittersweet chocolate chips

1 teaspoon instant coffee dissolved in 2 teaspoons warm water

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup cold heavy (whipping) cream, whipped to firm peaks with 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, 1 tablespoon instant coffee and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the crust: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9-inch pie pan. Stir the cookie crumbs and melted butter together until evenly moistened. Press the crumbs evenly in the pan. Bake 6 minutes. Set aside to cool, about 30 minutes.

For the filling: In a medium saucepan, heat the milk over low heat until it is hot. It will measure about 150 degrees on a food thermometer; do not let the milk boil. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until smoothly combined. Whisk in the flour until smoothly incorporated.

Whisking constantly, slowly pour the hot milk into the yolk mixture. Return the mixture to the saucepan and bring to a boil, over medium heat, stirring constantly. Continue cooking at a gentle boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove the pan from the heat. Strain the pudding into a medium bowl. Discard any bits in the strainer. Stir in the chocolate chips, dissolved coffee and vanilla. Stir until the chocolate melts and the filling is smooth.

Carefully spread the filling in the cooled crumb crust. Press plastic wrap onto the top of the pie and poke a few holes in the plastic wrap to let steam escape.

Refrigerate until cold, about 2 hours or overnight.

Spread the whipped cream over the filling. Serve the pie or cover it carefully and refrigerate up to 6 hours.

Per serving: 464 calories, 7 grams protein, 26 grams fat, 14 grams saturated fat, 54 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 187 milligrams cholesterol, 166 milligrams sodium



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