The Perfect Fall Pies

It's become that time of the year. Our warm summer nights have slowly given way to crisp air. Layers have started to enter our daily fashion. Pumpkin spice adulterates all nearly everything.

Yes, fall is here. That also means it's harvest time for the last sweet ripe crops in Ontario. Food preparation starts to gravitate towards warmth and decadence; what better way to prepare for impending winter?

And what better way to celebrate fall-time sweets than with the pie? Or, in our case, three pies.

Pie is the perfect way to make use of piles of local fruit before they go out of season. And the perfect pie - light, flaky crust juxtaposed with perfectly sweet and oozing filling - can be the crowning glory to any holiday feast.

A quick search of pie recipes yields an endless sea of crust and filling combinations; each with seemingly disparate methodologies. Choosing the right one can be daunting. To help you, we put three distinct crust and filling recipes to the test.

The Pies 

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KIM’S PEAR & GRUYERE PIE

"America’s Test Kitchen was one of my first cookbooks. They have since modified their recipe from the original with one special ingredient... And the recipe is one more excuse to sneak both booze and cheese into something!"

Kitchen Nerd Alert: Vodka's 40% alcohol content will make the dough wet without binding to flour molecules to form strands of gluten, leading to flakiness, rather than breadiness.

Kim selected a crust recipe from a kitchen standard: America's Test Kitchen. It's a cornerstone for any home cook, with an emphasis on foolproof simplicity. Her crust uses unbleached white flour married with a shortening/butter combination plus a twist: vodka. Shortening is often used by bakers to yield a more tender crust. The substitution of vodka for some of the water typically used to bind a crust together is supposed to yield an even flakier crust.

Kim's filling is an adaptation of a port-poached pear pie recipe from The Kitchn (fans of the TV show, Pushing Daisies, may recognize this one). This time of year is pear season - we used anjou, but you can easily swap with another semi-firm pear such as Bartlett. Those were poached in port with whole spices, with the reduced liquid poured into the filling before baking.

What We Thought 

If you’re looking for a crust recipe, Kim's gruyere crust was a showstopper; it was a puffy, flaky masterpiece that held its shape yet yielded to a fork. For us, this was a surprise; while mixing, the crust simply looked too wet. If you choose to follow this recipe, just keep that in mind. It won't end in disaster.

The poached pear and port reduction worked very well together. In hindsight, using a little cheesecloth sachet to hold the poaching spices will save you time fishing out the bits of clove and cinnamon before reduction.

Abhi: Spiced Pumpkin Pie 

"Pumpkin pie is such a Fall classic - I had to do it. I wanted to take it one step
further by playing with the spices that make it so warm and comforting." 

Abhi's crust follows a different methodology than the other two pies. At its foundation it’s a recipe from one of the all-time greats in baking decadence: Ina Garten. To hold up to the custard consistency expected from a pumpkin pie, the crust is closer to a shortbread recipe. For extra impact, you can turn any extra dough into cookies to arrange on top of the finished product, like Abhi did. Nobody turns down extra crust; that's a fact.

Eggs, whole milk, and canned pumpkin purée (experts agree it's not worth wrestling with the fresh stuff) were spiced with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, orange zest and - Abhi's secret ingredient - cardamom into a light custard. We used a mortar and pestle on whole spices to create a headiest aroma than pre-ground.

What We Thought

If you like shortbread, you'll like this crust. Ina’s recipe yields two pie crusts, but if you're only making one pie, you, too, should make cookies to serve alongside. Just bear in mind that the blind-baking technique used for this crust means this recipe will take longer than your standard pie.

If you're looking to refresh this old standard for your guests, we have one piece of advice for you: play with your spices. The addition of cardamom really made this pumpkin pie version stand out.

Nick: Olde Meets New Pie 

"I think that even treats should be old-school wholesome, so I opted for whole wheat, apples, and butter. But that doesn't mean we can't apply modern techniques along the way."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Nick's crust recipe is similar to Kim's (they're engaged, after all). The basis of the recipe comes from J. Kenji Lopez-Alt at Serious Eats, who just so happens to have worked at America's Test Kitchen where he developed the recipe Kim used for this project. This time, though, there is no vodka and the crust is an all-butter one rather than half shortening. Nick also swapped the white flour in the recipe for whole wheat; the aim was a pie a mid-Western great grandmother would make.

For the filling, Nick broke out the immersion circulator to cook the apples to perfection. It's another Serious Eats recipe, which claims that cooking the fruit sous vide at 160F will yield apples with the right amount of bite in addition to creating the perfect environment for pectin to form (responsible for the ooey gooey part of an apple pie, or any jam for that matter).

What We Thought

It shouldn't be a surprise that this pie crust recipe will be more dense than its white flour sibling. It's got a nuttiness that works perfectly with the wholesomeness of apples - if you want a more tender crust, consider playing with ratios of whole and white flour.

For the filling, we found that sous vide is a hassle-free way to get the perfect filling consistency. If you've got an immersion circulator, dig it out for any project demanding cooked fruit. It'll also free some space on the stove if you're neck-deep in party prep.

 

The Recipes 

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Kim’s Pear & Gruyere Pie

Adapted from Serious Eats and The Kitchn

Instructions

For the crust:

  1. Mix 1 ½ cups flour, salt, and sugar in stand mixer until combined.
  2. Add butter and shortening in clumps and mix until the dough resembles cheese curds
  3. Scrape bowl and add remaining flour (1 cup).  Mix until dough has been broken up.
  4. Add gruyere cheese, reserving a small pinch for garnish later.
  5. Sprinkle vodka and water over dough.  Mix until dough comes together.
  6. Divide dough into 2 even balls, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 45 minutes to 2 hours

For the filling:

  1. Tie cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg into a cheesecloth sachet.
  2. Combine sugar, wine, water, vanilla, and spices sachet into a medium pot.  Bring to a boil.
  3. Add pears to liquid, bring to a simmer for 20 minutes.  Remove with slotted spoon.
  4. Remove cheesecloth spice sachet.  Reduce liquid by three-quarters.
  5. In a separate bowl, add cornstarch and a small amount of the reduced liquid.  Mix thoroughly, then incorporate the slurry into the larger pot.  Mix, transfer to a measuring cup, and chill for about 30 minutes.

The payoff: 

  1. Preheat oven to 425F (220C).
  2. Remove both balls of dough from the fridge.
  3. On a floured worktable, roll out first ball into 12-inch disk and transfer to 9-inch pie dish.
  4. Arrange pear slices in dish.  Neatly layered or dumped, that’s up to you, chef.
  5. Pour reduced port liquid over fruit.
  6. Roll out remaining ball of dough into a 12-inch round and place on top.
  7. Crimp dough shut with fingers or fork.  Use scissors to trim excess dough from dish.
  8. Cut vent holes into top of crust.  Now’s your chance to be artsy.  Excess dough can be shaped into ornamental toppers.
  9. Use pastry brush, apply thin layer of beaten egg to top of crust.
  10. Bake pie at 425F (220C) for 20 minutes.  Reduce heat to 375F (190C) and bake for another 25 minutes.  In last 5 minutes of baking, sprinkle remaining gruyere cheese on top.
  11. Remove.  Let cool at room temperature for 2-4 hours before serving.

Ingredients

For the crust:

  • 2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
  • 1/4 cup cold vodka
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 85g gruyere cheese, grated

For the filling:

  • 3 pounds Anjou pears - cored, peeled, and sliced
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 3/4 cup port wine
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon clove
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten (for crust)

Ahbi's Spiced Pumpkin Pie

Adapted from the Barefoot Contessa

Instructions

For the crust:

  1. Cut butter into small chunks.
  2. Mix flour, sugar, and salt in stand mixer until incorporated.
  3. Add butter and shortening.  Mix until butter is the size of peas.
  4. With machine running, slowly add water until dough forms a ball.
  5. Remove dough from machine.  Separate into 2 even balls, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  6. Pre-heat oven to 425F (220C)
  7. Remove chilled dough from fridge (1 ball makes one pie crust).
  8. On a floured worktable, roll out dough into 12-inch round.  Transfer to 9-inch pie dish.
  9. Line top of dish with parchment paper.  Fill dish ¾ full with beans.  Bake for 15 minutes.
  10. Remove beans and parchment paper, prick crust all over with fork.  Bake another 5 minutes.  Remove.
  11. Reduce oven to 350F (180C).

For the filling:

  1. If using whole spices, grind cinnamon and cardamom pods in mortar and pestle.  A clean coffee grinder or rolling pin can be used in a pinch.
  2. Whisk pumpkin puree, brown sugar, white sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, salt, orange zest, eggs, cream, milk, and rum in large bowl or stand mixer.  

The payoff: 

  1. Pour filling into pie crust.  
  2. Bake at 350F (180C) for 55-65 minutes, until filling is set and an inserted knife comes out clean.
  3. Remove.  Cool for 30 minutes.
  4. Serve with whipped cream.

Ingredients

For the crust:

  • 12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup vegetable shortening, such as Crisco
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Dried beans

For the filling:

  • 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin purée (not pie filling)
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 6-8 green cardamom pods, ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 3 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum (we used Screech)

Nick's Olde Meets New Apple Pie

Adapted from Serious Eats (crust and filling)

Instructions

For the crust:

  1. Combine salt and two-thirds of flour in stand mixer.
  2. Add butter and mix until dough begins to clump.
  3. Using rubber spatula, push dough down into bowl and add remaining flour.
  4. Mix until flour is barely incorporated into dough.  
  5. Sprinkle with water and mix until dough comes together into a ball.
  6. Remove dough, separate into 2 even balls.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.

For the filling:

  1. Set immersion circulator to 160F (70C).
  2. Vacuum seal sliced apples, set in water bath for 1 hour.  Remove.
  3. Pour liquid at bottom of vacuum seal bags into pot set on medium heat.
  4. Add sugar, cinnamon, lemon juice, zest, cornstarch.  Mix and reduce until liquid coats the back of a spoon.
  5. Add apples, mix thoroughly to cover.

The payoff:

  1. Preheat oven to 425F (220C).
  2. Remove dough from fridge.  On a floured worktable, roll out first disk into 12-inch round.  Transfer to 9-inch pie dish.
  3. Fill dish with apple mixture.
  4. Roll out second ball of dough into 12-inch round.  
  5. Cover pie dish with dough and crimp shut with fingers or fork.  Use scissors to trim excess dough from dish.  Cut vent holes into top of crust, and decorate with excess dough to the fullest extent of your artistic needs.
  6. Brush top of crust with beaten egg.
  7. Bake at 425F (220C) for 20 minutes.  Reduce heat to 375F (190C) and bake for another 25 minutes.
  8. Remove and cool for 2-4 hours.  Serve with vanilla ice cream a la mode.

Ingredients

For the crust:

  • 2 1/2 cups (350 grams) whole-wheat all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon (5 grams) kosher salt
  • 2 1/2 sticks (280 grams) unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pats
  • 6 tablespoons (85 milliliters) cold water
  • 1 egg, beaten

For the filling:

  • 5 pounds (2.25 kg) apples, peeled, cored, and sliced 1/2 inch thick
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup (100 to 150 grams) sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 2 tablespoons (15 grams) cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) fresh juice and 1 teaspoon grated zest from 1 lemon

 

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Written by Nicholas Wong. Photography by Abhishek Dekate.