Baking Tips and FAQs 

The Perfect CrustApple pie filling Putting it togetherBaking Tips and FAQsWinning Pie Recipes

Equipment – Crust tips – Apples – Finishing, assembly and baking tips

Learn from our mistakes! 
Even the experts make mistakes and sometimes our pie turns out, well, not so perfect. Here are some pie making secrets we have learned the hard way and answers to frequently asked questions. If you have suggestions or tips you want to share with others, OR if you have a question that is not asked here, send us an e-mail and we will include it.Questions are organized into four categories:

Equipment and general tips
Perfecting the crust
Apples and filling
Pie assembly and baking 
Equipment and general tips 
Q. What is the recommend type of pie plate?
A. Generally speaking it is better to use a heavy ceramic or glass pie plate, rather than aluminum. Oven heat is absorbed and retained rather than reflected.
Q. I’ve tried using a mechanical apple peeler, but it seems to get stuck quite a bit. What am I doing wrong?
A. Mechanical peelers can save you some time, especially if you are making several pies. The key is to have firm apples. If they are soft or have serious soft spots the cutting blade can jam. Leave about 1/16 of an inch gap between the u-shaped cutting blade and the anvil-like head of the arm. Too small, and the peel will stick as it is cut. Too large and the blade will be digging a trough in the apple as it goes around.
Q. I’ve seen marble rolling pins for sale. Are these better?
A. A good rolling pin is a pleasure to use. The marble ones are designed to be chilled before use. It’s possible that can make a difference, but unlikely. We like the hardwood pins with handles that are connected through the center by a metal rod.
Q. It seem like a pastry blender is useful. Is there a type that you recommend?
A. Like anything else, people have their preferences. We like a strong one with flat, sharp blades, not the type that are a group of wires. The image here is with a small (youth!) hand.
Perfecting the crust 
Q. Is it better to use a pastry blender or a pair of knives to cut in the butter with the flour?
A. We find a pastry blender to be extremely useful because it tends to make the butter chunks more even, and if your butter is cold (which it should be) it cuts better. You can get the same results with a pair of knives (working them crosswise) but it’s more work and not as fast.
Q. What type of flour do you recommend?
A. Some people swear by a particular brand of flour. We have found that as long as it is an all-purpose flour, it will work fine, regardless of brand.
Q. I don’t have as much butter that is called for, but I have some extra shortening. Can I substitute shortening for butter, or vice-versa?
A. You can shift the proportion of butter and shortening as long as the total remains the same. However, you probably only want to change the ratio by a couple tablespoons in either direction.
Q. Can I use margarine instead of butter?
A. If you are desperate, you can try it. But generally speaking, this is not a good idea. If you are going to take the time and effort, it’s best to stick with the right ingredients.
Q. Do I need to use an egg-water mixture for the liquid? Can I use water only, or for that matter a different liquid?
A. Adding an egg will help the texture of the crust, but it is not 100% essential. Other liquids are often used. See the section on other recipes, or buy the book! It has lots of crust recipes.
Q. I have a 10 or 11 inch deep pie plate. Do I need to increase the amounts of crust and filling?
A. Yes, most likely. It’s not difficult, just keep the ratios the same. For example 3 cups of flour and a total of 18 tablespoons of butter-shortening etc. for this size plate. Also, you will probably need to increase the baking time by 5-10 minutes.
Apples and filling 
Q. What are the best apples to use for a great pie?
A. This is probably the most asked, and most debated question. This site has a complete section on apples for pies, but briefly: pie baking apples need to be flavorful, firm but not overly juicy, and should be able to “stay together” when cooked. Some eating apples are fine for pies. Some, like Red Delicious and Macintosh should be avoided. Grocery stores usually carry Courtlands, Braeburn, Empire and Gala which will work well.
Q. I have heard the term “utility apples”. What are these, and is it OK to use them for pies?
A. Utility apples are fine for pies, if they are of a variety that makes sense. (Utility Macs, for example would not be recommended.) These apples are usually much less expensive and any blemishes can be easily removed during the peeling and slicing. They’re not “perfect” but perfectly suitable. Farm stands often have utility apples at a great price.
Q. Can I mix different types of apples in a pie?
A. Absolutely. The only thing to be careful of is the ripeness and firmness. Either they should be the same “consistency” or the harder apples should be cut smaller.
Q. I picked or purchased more than a pie’s worth of apples. How do I keep them fresh?
A. Apples look great displayed on the kitchen table. But if you want them to stay fresh, keep them in the refrigerator. Apples ripen many times faster at room temperature than at 40 degrees.
Q. My apples seem too juicy after I cut them and mix in the sugar. Is this a problem?
A. Not really but there are two things that can help. First, when you spoon the apple mix into the pie plate, don’t scoop out the juice at the bottom. Leave it there. Second, add an extra tablespoon of flour to the mix to absorb some of the moisture.
Q. Can I peel, core and slice my apples ahead of time?
A. This is probably not a good idea for two reasons. The apples will turn brown, even in the refrigerator, and the juice will run from them forming a puddle at the bottom of the bowl. It is best to prepare the apple mix when you are putting the pie together.
Q. How much sugar in the filling mix?
A. We debate this at home all the time. Some people like a nice sweet pie, others like it tart. It depends on other factors as well, such as the sweetness of the apples or other ingredients. And it depends on how many apples you peeled and cut. If you have a lot, that means the sugar needs to be a bit more. Generally 3/4 to 1 cup is good for a standard apple pie.
Q. I understand that cinnamon is not all the same. Is there a recommended type?
A. In the process of writing our book and doing research we discovered that there is a big difference in the quality and strength of cinnamon. We don’t want to sound picky, but your average grocery store cinnamon is pretty tasteless compared to specialty spice manufacturers. The better brands may cost a bit more but you use less, and they have a beautiful texture and aroma.
Pie assembly and baking 
Q. My crust does not roll out smoothly and it has large cracks around the edge. What happened?
A. Not enough moisture. Next time use another tablespoon of liquid and make sure it sticks together. You also may have skimped on shortening which is the ingredient that helps with dough smoothness. As for this time, there is not much you can do except keep going; use pieces of trimmed dough to patch places that have gaps. It will taste fine.
Q. How much filling is too much? Can I pile the apples high?
A. No hard and fast rule. Experiment. It can be pretty high, but you need enough top crust to cover it. Make sure the apples are firmly packed in any event.
Q. Can I freeze an un-baked pie? How about a baked pie?
A. Yes to both. If you know you are going to need a pie in the future, freeze it UN-baked, then bake it when you are ready. Store in a plastic freezer bag. To bake, simply remove from the bag/freezer and place directly into the oven. This time, however bake at 425 degrees for 30 minutes, and an additional 25 minutes at 400. If the crust looks like it will be too dark, cover with foil.
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