5 Thanksgiving pie tips from local chefs

We asked a group of experts to share their secrets for baking the perfect holiday treat.

Apple pie from pastry chef Kate Holowchik.
Apple pie from pastry chef Kate Holowchik. –Kate Holowchik/Instagram

After countless slices of turkey, heaping piles of stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and every other side dish squeezed onto the Thanksgiving table, you lean back in your chair, certain that consuming even a single green bean would surely make you burst. And yet, a short time later, your body magically makes room for pie. It’s a Thanksgiving miracle.

Such is the power of pie, whether it’s pumpkin, apple, pecan, blueberry, or some other delicious variety. But in order to unlock its full potential, you need to bake a perfect pie. To help you take your holiday pie game to the next level, we emailed a group of local pastry chefs to get their baking secrets for making any Thanksgiving pie a great one.

1. Plan (way) ahead

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Liz O’Connell, the corporate pastry chef for COJE Management Group (Yvonne’s, RUKA, Lolita Cocina & Tequila Bar in the Back Bay and Fort Point) said you should start your Thanksgiving pie prep as early as you can.

“My biggest recommendation is to do as much as possible ahead of time because it gets too hectic on Thanksgiving Day,” O’Connell said. “Do your pie crust ahead of time, even a week ahead, and put it in the freezer, and bake your pie the day before Thanksgiving so you’re not taking up vital oven space.”

With that extra time, O’Connell said you can add a little extra pizzazz to your pie.

“You can do cute garnishes for the pie ahead of time, like decorated cookies or a nutty crumble to compliment your pie flavor,” O’Connell said. “You can easily impress your guests with fresh whipped cream (spiked with bourbon!) or a warm homemade caramel sauce to drizzle on everyone’s slice.”

A sampling of pies available at Bar Boulud’s holiday pies pop-up. —Courtesy Bar Boulud

2. Hands off the dough

Bistro du Midi executive pastry chef Allen Morter said that pie-making success is all about the crust. Morter and nearly every pastry chef we talked to advocated for leaving the dough alone, not overworking it.

“The most important thing to remember is rest your dough, after you make the dough, after you roll out the dough, after your form your pie shell, and before you bake,” Sweet Cheeks pastry chef Deanne Steffen Chinn said. “I always say, you would perform better if you got to rest after a big workout or doing something strenuous. Think of dough-making the same way. When you rest dough, you are letting the gluten relax, but also, the flour is absorbing the liquid and air is being released.”

3. Pay attention to your measurements

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Pastry chef Kate Holowchik (Lincoln Tavern, Capo), who is baking apple, pumpkin, and French silk pies available for pickup at Capo, said a good ratio is key to a great pie. For her pies, she uses almost equal parts butter and flour in her dough mixture.

“I only think in grams, but let’s just say it’s a pretty good amount of butter,” Holowchik said.

Morter — whose French-inspired Thanksgiving pies at Bistro du Midi this year include apple butter beignet, maple mousse, and pumpkin spice cake — advocated for using as little flour as possible when rolling out the dough (after the ingredients are mixed but prior to baking).

A miniature version of Sweet Cheeks’ Malted Chocolate Pie. —Emma Caffrey

4. All ingredients are not created equal

Bar Boulud pastry chef Robert Differ said that using the highest quality ingredients makes a significant difference when baking his holiday tall apple or traditional pumpkin pies, which are available as part of the restaurant’s holiday pie pop-up this November. Specifically, Differ prefers European-style butter to traditional butter for his pie crusts.

“One my favorite ingredients for a richer, flakier pie crust is using European-style butter,” Differ said. “The butter is churned slightly longer and has a hint of tanginess in the flavor profile; it is ideal for baking.”

Chinn, who is baking malted chocolate, pumpkin, and peanut butter jelly pies for Sweet Cheeks’ Thanksgiving menu, swears by an ingredient that you wouldn’t normally expect in a pie: vinegar. She said adding a tablespoon to your recipe makes the crust flakier and not so tough.

Harvest pastry chef Josh Livsey, who is competing on the current season of Food Network’s Holiday Baking Championship and who will be making pumpkin profiteroles, maple cheesecake, and apple pie for Harvest’s Thanksgiving prix fixe menu, said that adding salt is crucial.

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“I always, always, always add more salt than any crust recipe suggests,” Livsey said. “I think the crust should taste good on its own — a bland crust is a disappointing crust. Salt will also balance the sweetness and enhance the flavor of your filling.”

Livsey said he also uses a particular type of sugar for his crusts.

“I always use an egg wash and sprinkle the crust with sugar in the raw or demerara sugar,” Livsey said. “It caramelizes in the oven, adding texture, sweetness, and the complex flavor of caramel.”

5. Weave that lattice on the counter

When it comes time to construct the lattice — the elegant laced pastry that covers the top of a pie — Deuxave pastry chef Shaun Velez, who is baking apple tatin, pecan, and s’more pies for the restaurant’s Thanksgiving menu, suggested that at-home bakers save themselves a lot of grief by constructing it separately.

“Make the lattice pie top on the counter and then place it on the pie once it is braided,” Velez said. “It’s way easier than trying to do it directly on the pie.”

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December 14, 2017 | 7:18 AM