12 Ways To Avoid Messing Up Your Pies This Summer

Pie deserves the best.

The golden rule in pie baking is "make it cold, bake it hot." If this makes sense to you and it's a motto you follow, great. You're well on your way to baking -- and eating -- beautiful pies this summer. (Especially if you have all these pie recipes at the ready.) But if this statement has confused and upset you, worry not, you've come to the right place. Once we're through here, you're going to bake better pies than Martha Stewart ever dreamed possible. Or, at the the very least, you'll have a nice crust.

Essentially, when it comes to pie, you want to make them with cold ingredients -- flour, butter, bowls, everything -- put them in the oven cold (even if that means it needs to cool down in the fridge or freezer first), and then blast them with heat when you bake them in the oven. Preheating is SUPER IMPORTANT here. Pie crust, when treated cooly, is a wonderful thing. And it's very agreeable. But add some heat before it's ready and you'll end up with some terrible, soggy pies. With that understood, great pie is practically yours.

But temperature mishaps are not the only thing that can go wrong with pies -- it's just a VERY common mistake -- read on and see how to fix any other mistakes you and your pies have experienced. Then, go bake a beautiful pie and reward yourself for your due diligence.

Problem: The pie has a soggy bottom. (That's the worst.)
Soggy crusts ruin otherwise awesome pies. This can happen as a result of underbaking, using a filling that's too watery, or a combination of both. Here are a couple of solutions: to prevent underbaking, make sure to bake your pies until absolutely golden brown and the filling is bubbling. To prevent watery fillings, try adding a light dusting of flour or ground nuts to the bottom of the pie. The flour absorbs excess liquids the filling might release. Another option is to brush the pie dough with a beaten egg white -- it'll form a somewhat impermeable layer that helps keep excess juices from turning the crust soggy.
Problem: The fruit filling is mushy.
Using overripe fruit always leads to a mushy pie. DON'T DO IT. Very ripe fruit should only be used in chilled pies, not baked into pies. Use firm, almost underripe fruit in baked pies. Certain fruits, like apples and pears, have different textures depending on the variety. Some apples -- like Granny Smith, Crispin or Jonathans -- are better for pies than others.
Problem: The custard pie crust is soggy.
Some pies require the bottom crust to be blind-baked which just means pre-baking it without the filling. NEVER SKIP THIS STEP. Blind-baking ensures a nicely cooked crust. To blind bake, pierce the pie dough in the pie plate with a fork. Chill for an hour. Then line with foil or parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake at a moderate temperature (350 degrees F) for about 10 to 20 minutes, or until the crust is lightly browned, removing the pie weights halfway through.
Problem: The crust is underbaked and not at all palatable.
If you're going to be in the kitchen, you can't be scared of a little heat. Many novice pie bakers don't bake their pies at a high enough temperature. The pie ends up stewing in its own liquid and the crust turns almost raw and soggy. What happens is that all the butter in the crust just melts into the dough without evaporating, making it impossible to get a flaky crust. To fix this, start out pies at a high temperature, between 425 and 450 degrees F. Reduce the temperature to around 350 or 375 degrees F after about 20 minutes and continue baking until the pie is nicely browned and the filling is bubbling.
Problem: The crust is dry, hard and practically inedible.
This is a result of overworked pie dough, which toughens the gluten in the flour and turns what would have been a nice dough into a gummy one. Work pie dough as little as possible and keep all the ingredients as cold (cold air allows the gluten to relax, preventing it from seizing up). Use cold butter and ice-cold water. Some bakers go as far as to chill the flour and the mixing bowl. If you've made the dough well, you should see flakes and streaks of butter.
Problem: There's a huge, weird gap between the pie crust and the filling.
This often happens with sky-high apple pies, when the pie is mounded with apple chunks. The top layer hardens up in the oven before the filling is completely cooked. The filling shrinks during baking, and you're left with a giant gap between the top crust and the filling. To prevent the air space, it's a good idea to cut the fruit into smaller chunks or thin slices. Or, you could also precook your pie filling, which allows it to shrink before you place the pie top on. This will dramatically decrease the size of the "gap."
Problem: The pie is pale.
Don't worry, this is an easy fix. Your pie just needs a little color. Brushing the top crust with an egg wash will create a nicely browned and glossy appearance. For a nice touch, scatter the pie with coarse sugar as well. It'll stick to the wash and give a sweet crunch when baked.
Problem: Whoops, the pie filling is bubbling over.
This happens -- especially with lattice pies. Crimp the edges of a double crust pie securely to ensure the pie won't bubble over around the edges. If it's not a lattice crust, make sure there's a vent hole in the center of the top crust or a few slashes. This will help release steam, which would otherwise cause the pie to leak its juices everywhere. The vent hole also lets you peak into the filling to check if the fruit is thoroughly cooked. But either way, bake the pie on a sheet pan just in case. It'll make clean up a lot easier.
Problem: The custard pie is cracked and ugly.
Custard pies, pumpkin and even pecan, have a tendency to crack if baked at a very high temperature. It generally means that their just a tad over baked. Be sure to bake these types of pies at a lower temperature, such as 375 degrees and take them out of the oven when the center is still a little jiggly. You can also try baking in a water bath, like a cheesecake, to help prevent cracking.
Problem: The pie crust has shrunk.
Tisk, tisk. This is a result of blind baking a pie shell without using pie weights (or not chilling the pie shell before baking). Always chill your pie dough before you add the filling -- for at least 30 minutes. This will help the crust retain its proper size.
Problem: The fruit pie filling is all runny.
It's not you, it's the fruit. Since baking fruit draws out the water, this is a common problem. One solution is to use a thickener, such as flour, cornstarch, potato starch or tapioca -- they're highly recommended for fruit pies. Flour and cornstarch tend to create a cloudy filling (most noticeable in cherry pies), so if you prefer, use tapioca or potato starch for a clear filling. Another solution is to precook the filling.
Problem: The crust is burned.
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Some pies are finicky and their filling takes longer to cook than the crust. Actually, most pies are finicky. And they like to burn. That's why pie shields exist -- they protect the crust of the pie from the heat of the oven while allowing the rest of the pie to cook through. If you don't have a fancy shield, you can fashion a makeshift one out of aluminum foil. Easy fix.

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