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Everything You Need to Bake a Pie From Scratch, According to Pie-Baking Experts

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Photo: CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Between apples, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, and all other manner of autumnal produce, fall is truly the ideal time of year to get into pie-baking. It’s admittedly not the easiest of baking projects, but it just might be the most satisfying. (And as someone who baked a pie every single week last fall, I can confirm that it only gets easier with practice.) With that in mind, I spoke with eight pie-making experts, including pastry chefs, bakery owners, and “London’s King of Pies,” about their favorite essential pie-making tools — from digital scales and rolling pins to pastry brushes and pie plates — and exactly how to put them to use. Ahead, everything you need to start making your own pie from scratch just in time for Thanksgiving (or just because).

Our experts say a food scale is a must-have in any kitchen, but it’s especially crucial when it comes to baking. “Weighing ingredients is the gold standard in a professional kitchen,” says Lani Halliday of Brutus Bake Shop, and it’s particularly useful “for something like pie dough that’s notoriously finicky,” she says. Petra Paredez, owner of Petee’s Pie Company in New York and author of the new cookbook Pie for Everyone, agrees. “Since volume measurements can have drastically different weights, it’s important to weigh certain ingredients for optimal results,” she says, namely “the flour in your crust and the fruit in your filling.” Paredez notes that while “a kitchen scale is one item that not many people use frequently, I think it’s an essential tool for making pies like a pro.”

A good rolling pin is another tool that our experts agree on. Baking expert Erin Jeanne McDowell, author of The Book on Pie (due November 2020), calls it “the ultimate essential tool.” And though she prefers a “French-style, handleless pins with slightly tapered edges,” she says she believes “that hand tools are a personal preference — whatever makes you feel most comfortable is what you should use when it comes to rolling!” Both Paradez and British pastry chef Calum Franklin, who has earned the reputation as London’s “King of Pies” and is the author of The Pie Room (due October 27), agree that it should be on the heavier side. “A heavy pin will help you roll more evenly, as it does a lot of the work for you,” says Franklin.

If you’re just starting out in the pie-baking game, you don’t necessarily want to start baking with a ceramic pie dish, the go-to of experienced bakers. “While glass is my least favorite material, I do like to recommend it for beginners,” says McDowell. “Pies typically need to bake longer than home bakers think, so being able to see through the pan is a good way to start to get that bottom-crust muscle memory.” If you’re more advanced, a ceramic or metal pie plate is the way to go. “I love ceramic for its ability to get the bottom crust nice and crisp,” she says. “And I love metal for its nonstick ability.”

As we learned in our guide to the most ingenious kitchen tools, bench scrapers are one of the best multiuse tools you can have in a kitchen. That goes doubly so for pie-making. “It’s one of my most used baking tools, and I use it constantly when making pie,” says McDowell. “I use its blade to cut butter into cubes or portion pie dough after mixing, and I especially love it for scraping my work surface clean when I’m all done.”

If the bench scraper is the flour, then a solid pastry blender is the butter (to speak in pie-baking terms). As Emily and Melissa Elsen of Four & Twenty Blackbirds told us a few years ago, they’re necessary for creating a consistent, smooth pie dough. Just be sure yours is dependable. “There are a lot of styles and makes of handheld pastry blenders out there, but most of them are subpar and fall apart,” they say. “OXO got it right. Comfortable, easy to clean, and lasts forever, so you can make a lifetime of pie crust by hand.”

Halliday says another great tool is a high-quality pastry brush that won’t stick to your pie. “To get a beautiful shiny finish or to slick on an egg wash that helps demerara sugar stick, a fluffy pastry brush is a nice-to-have,” she says. Paredez agrees, saying, “Silicone brushes tend to be extra gentle and the egg doesn’t get caught in the base of the bristles, as is the case with a natural-bristle brush.”

Though pie dough can be made in a stand mixer, most homemade pies begin in a big mixing bowl. “A big sturdy mixing bowl over a stand mixer is best,” says Haliday, explaining that “you’ll get the best texture by staying close with it.” She recommends a stainless-steel option.

That said, working with pie dough can be challenging for those just starting out. Paola Velez, pastry chef La Bodega and Maydan and a co-founder of Bakers Against Racism, says a food processor can help. “I use it to make sure that the crust stays nice and cold,” she says. Paradez agrees. “Using a food processor can help you make a delicate, flaky crust every time — and super quickly, too,” she says.

If you consistently find that the edge of your pie crust browns (or even burns) faster than the rest of the top, there’s a fix for that. “How evenly your pie cooks may depend on your oven,” says Paradez. “If you find that the outer edge of the crust is consistently overbaked by the time the center of the pie is done, get a pie crust shield. The aluminum ones are light so they can protect the crust without weighing it down and crushing it.”

If you’re more interested in making savory pies, you’re going to need a good thermometer to keep track of the pie’s internal temperature, as you won’t be able to crack the pie open to check the doneness. “A digital temperature probe will ensure perfectly cooked pies,” says Franklin. “You can take accurate internal temperatures and remove a lot of the guesswork out of cooking.”

There’s also the British tradition of making savory pies that are served outside of the tins they were baked in. Franklin, who’s the executive chef at London’s Holborn Dining Room, recommends purchasing a good springform cake pan to achieve perfect standing pies every time. “It’s the best vessel for a fully free-standing pie,” he says. “And it’s the easiest to line and the easiest to remove your cooked pie from before serving.”

“When I make a custard pie, like pumpkin or sweet potato, I need to blind bake the crust,” says expert baker Melissa Weller, co-author of the upcoming cookbook, A Good Bake. “Blind baking,” she explains, is “when you bake the crust separately before baking the filling in it.” While some bakers, like McDowell, prefer ceramic pie weights, Weller likes the more affordable option of filling parchment paper with dried beans. “I line my pie crust with a piece of parchment paper, which I push down to mold into the shape of the crust, then I pour in two one-pound bags of dried beans,” Weller says. “I use the cheapest beans I can find at my local bodega, since I won’t be eating them. They are the perfect weight to hold down the pie and they’re economical.”

If you’d rather not worry about keeping beans around, ceramic pie weights are your best bet. Just be sure to purchase more than one pack. “It’s important to remember that you need enough weights to fill the pie plate up to the top edge,” says McDowell. “This usually requires three sets of ceramic weights, not one.”

While silicone baking mats might seem like a one-trick pony — good for baking sheets and not much else — Paredez says there’s more to them than meets the eye. “Silicone baking mats have multiple functions for pie-making,” she says. “You can roll dough on it to avoid making a mess on your counter. You can use it to line a baking tray and put a pie on top, so it catches fruit filling that bubbles over — another way of making clean-up easy. If you get a fancy one with circles of various diameters, you can use them as a guide when rolling out your dough.”

An immersion blender falls into the “nice-to-have” category, but if you’re using raw ingredients (like real pumpkin or squash instead of the canned stuff), you may need to blend it to achieve peak smoothness. “You can get away without one, but these are super handy for blending liquid fillings, like pecan and pumpkin, into a silky-smooth consistency,” says Paradez. The Elsens prefer this professional-grade blender from Waring.

Few pie-making tasks are as stressful as creating a beautiful lattice. (Unfortunately, we can’t all be Pieometry author Lauren Ko.) Luckily, there’s a tool that can take a lot of the stress out of lattice work. “A lattice roller cutter,” says Franklin. “You can roll it through a sheet of pastry and stretch it over your pie. It is a beautiful way to finish a design and saves you hand cutting a lattice out.” For wider lattice work, try a pastry wheel.

You could certainly peel the five pounds of apples you picked at your local orchard by hand, but it doesn’t have to be that way. The Elsen sisters swear by this $20 apple peeler for getting the job done in record time. “We were skeptical of this contraption at first — it looked to be much more trouble than it was worth — but we were so wrong,” they say. “This peeler is the easiest way to peel, core, and slice all at once.” Best of all, it can also be used to peel other produce like potatoes and pears.

Although cherry season is long over, it will be back. (Maybe it’s returned as you’re reading this very article!) Pitting cherries by hand is another thankless and exhausting task, so buy a good cherry pitter and make your life easier. “It’s beyond easy [to use] and likely also the one that your grandma used,” the Elsens say. “Cherry season is important for pie-makers, and so is efficiency in pitting. Don’t bother with anything else.”

You don’t have to watch a single episode of The Great British Baking Show to know that nothing is more disappointing than a pie with a soggy bottom. Enter Baking Steel. “I love to use something on my oven rack to help conduct heat and ensure I get a crisp bottom crust,” says McDowell. “My preferred choice is the Baking Steel, but a pizza stone is another good choice. Just remember not to take a pie from the freezer right onto the hot stone, as sudden temperature changes could crack either the pie plate or the ceramic pizza stone.”

The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural anxiety remedies, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

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The Eater Guide on How to Help During the Crisis

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Not all that long ago it seemed like if the pandemic weren’t exactly over by now, then at least the worst of it would be. But the summer didn’t make things any simpler. Cases continued to spread, and fires and hurricanes ravaged the West and Gulf Coast. As the weather turned colder, more states began allowing indoor activities and face-to-face school. As a result, the virus appears to be surging once more. It is increasingly clear that not only will thousands more Americans likely die as a direct result of COVID-19 by the end of 2020, but the mass misery of the economic devastation it has unleashed — suffering disproportionately endured by Black and Latinx communities — will not lift anytime soon. 

Benefits like the federal $600 a week unemployment expansion ran out or contracted for more than 25 million Americans in July and the federal government has failed to agree on the terms of a new aid package. Organizations that provide food and housing assistance to low-income people across the country, already strained by the last several months of the pandemic and the government’s appallingly incompetent — and at times malevolent — response, are scrambling to meet a tidal wave of need. As roughly 40 percent of restaurants on the brink of closing forever, programs that aid people in the food industry are also seeking further support so they can continue to provide assistance to worker who remain unemployed or underemployed. Groups representing Indigenous communities, undocumented immigrants, farmworkers, and people of color are also mobilizing to get assistance to marginalized people and lay a foundation for a more resilient food system — because while it’s an extraordinary time of need, it’s also not new. 

Hunger and poverty have always been the U.S.’s most shameful open secrets. Despite being the wealthiest country in the world, as of 2018 more than 13 percent of people in the U.S. lived below the poverty level, according to the Census Bureau, while a full 78 percent of U.S. workers lived paycheck to paycheck. The pandemic and its economic fallout have put those statistics into ever starker relief, as the nation’s working class and its poorest residents have faced the largest health burden from the virus. Several studies have estimated that pandemic-related job losses and increased food costs have roughly doubled food insecurity in the U.S., and No Kid Hungry estimates that one quarter of children around the country could face food insecurity in 2020 due to the novel coronavirus. 

In this guide, Eater has identified a range of programs, organizations, and charities fighting hunger, developing sustainable food networks, and providing support to the roughly 31 million people who are unemployed or are working less than they’d like to be due to this global medical disaster. These are places that are stepping in to do work in their communities where governments and elected officials have left people behind. Collected here are opportunities for giving and volunteering in and around the United States and its territories, at both the national and the local level, as well as in the U.K. Editors have done their best to vet the charities included here, but it’s always important to make sure when you give money or time that the organization you’re supporting aligns with your values and has a transparent, proven track record. If you only have time or resources to give, give it, but monetary donations — especially those offered over an extended period — can be even more impactful because charities tend to know where the greatest need is. If you’ve chosen a group and aren’t sure what’s the best way to help, it’s worth reaching out and asking.

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Trump Teases an ‘EPIC’ Election Night Party at His D.C. Hotel Despite Capacity Limits

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Despite D.C.’s ongoing COVID-19 restrictions on large gatherings, President Donald Trump’s campaign has teased plans to host a party for election night on Tuesday, November 3, at the Trump International Hotel downtown. Fundraising emails from Donald Trump Jr. include details on a “sweepstakes” to fly a supporter to D.C. for a party described in all-caps as “EPIC,” “ELECTRIC,” and “INCREDIBLE.”

Under D.C.’s Phase 2 reopening restrictions, mass gatherings are capped at a maximum capacity of 50 people. Restaurants are still limited to half-capacity seating with no standing and no countertop service from bartenders. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser says she wasn’t aware of plans for the party until Monday, October 26, Washingtonian reports.

The location of the election night party is unclear, but the opulent hotel has multiple ballrooms and event spaces. The hotel includes a location of celebrity chef David Burke’s BLT Prime steakhouse. Lobby-level bar Benjamin serves $23 glasses of sangria and $120 seafood towers. Nearby, more affordable pub Harry’s has already seen pro-Trump crowds openly flouting mask requirements and other protocols meant to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. Trump has consistently downplayed the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic. After he survived a case, Trump told Americans, “Don’t let it dominate your life.”

On election night four years ago, the recently opened hotel was the site of an impromptu and raucous gathering for supporters watching the numbers roll in on large TVs framing its gold bar. The controversial Pennsylvania Avenue hotel near the White House has been sold out for weeks on and around Election Day at rates going for $1,200 a night, the Associated Press reports.

The fine print in the sweepstakes notes the campaign can move the date of the trip and the location of the hotel stay at its discretion. The prize also includes a photo op with Trump. The supposedly randomly chosen winner, who is subject to a background check, will be responsible for all ground transportation, meals, and all other expenses during the duration of the trip.

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Eater Staffers Pick Their Favorite Instant Pot Recipes

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Now that we are over the sourdough-and-regrowing-scallions part of the pandemic, but in no way over the actual pandemic, we must prepare for The Hunkering. Every winter is a time for stews, roasts, and hearty pasta bakes, but this winter it feels extra important, both because most of us are going to be indoors way more than any previous season, and have completely lost the energy to do anything but throw a bunch of stuff in a pot. Which obviously means it’s time to break out the Instant Pots.

A few years ago it seemed like electric multicookers, especially the Instant Pot, may have just been a fad. But the fact that in one appliance you can cook anything from soup to pudding to bread makes it pretty ideal for cooking during quarantine fatigue. Eater’s staffers rounded up our favorite go-to Instant Pot recipes, perfect for the many nights when you’re in the mood for something delicious, but you know, wanting to do as little as possible to make it happen. And as Eater Dallas and Eater Houston editor Amy McCarthy noted, you could always go with “just some fucking chicken breasts,” and let the machine do the rest.


Beef barley soup: This is the first that comes to mind. It’s basically a textbook version of this classic soup, and perfect for chilly weather. It’s low-lift, reasonably quick to put together, and freezes well. — Missy Frederick, cities director

Dakbokkeumtang: I make this recipe when I’m craving a savory chicken dish with the volume turned up. All that delicious flavor comes from the sauce. It’s a perfect balance of sweet and spicy from gochujang and sugar. Doenjang and oyster sauce adds another layer of depth. Typically to make this Korean comfort dish, you would need to watch over the pot, making sure that the chicken pieces are soaking up the sauce. But everything is done in the Instant Pot, so the result is fall-off-the-bone, tender chicken with potatoes that just break apart with no effort at all. Also, who doesn’t love a dump-everything-and-press-the-button recipe?! — James Park, social media manager

Mac and cheese: I make this one once a week when I’m lazy and cooking sounds hard. I use whatever cheese is in the fridge, add a little brown mustard to the mix, and usually skip the milk or add it at the very end. Would suggest you grate the mozzarella or it becomes a blob. — Brenna Houck, editor at Eater Detroit

Chinese poached whole chicken: Basically, I get a whole chicken every week, and I got tired of roasting it. This recipe is a really easy — not entirely foolproof, but a good enough way to poach a chicken whole in about 40 to 50 minutes, with not too much work on my part. You can use it specifically as white-cut chicken over rice with, say, a ginger scallion sauce, but just as often I pull the meat off the carcass and use it for meals throughout the week. Two caveats: You really do need an instant-read thermometer to tell when it’s done, and I find it’s much better to salt the chicken 24 hours in advance (I use the method in Salt Fat Acid Heat), so it has enough taste. And after poaching the chicken and pulling off the meat, I often toss the carcass right back into its cooking liquid, cook it on manual for another 60 minutes, and end up with a bunch of chicken stock. — Meghan McCarron, special correspondent

Kosha mangsho: This is a traditional Bengali goat or lamb stew in a heavily spiced, yogurt gravy, and it’s intensely rich and comforting. This recipe uses a pressure cooker to save time, but on the offchance you landed on this page and don’t have an Instant Pot or the like, you can still just simmer it in a large pot. — Jaya Saxena, staff writer

Lemongrass coconut chicken: The sauce is unbelievably tasty for just a few ingredients and it comes together so quickly. The labor to flavor ratio makes it one of my go-tos when I get bored with cooking or can’t be bothered to put in much effort. It’s also great over rice or any other grain. — Brittanie Shey, Eater Houston and Eater Dallas associate editor

Basic chicken noodle soup: I make a basic chicken noodle soup in the Instant Pot probably every week in the winter: The base recipe is two chicken breasts, a carton and a half of broth, a few cups (I eyeball it) roughly chopped diced celery, carrot, and onion, and whatever spices you want. Cook everything together on high pressure for 25 mins. You can quick-release the pressure and remove the chicken breasts, and shred them — while you’re shredding, set the pot’s saute function so the broth remains boiling and add egg noodles. Once the noodles are cooked, dump the shredded chicken back in and you’re done! This is perfect because frozen chicken works just as well (and at the same cook time), and you can experiment with any leafy greens at the end (throw them in when you add the noodles) and any noodle types you want. — Erin DeJesus, lead editor, Eater.com

Pork chile verde: This recipe is very good; I found it last year when I had a truckload of tomatillos from my garden. It is a great comfort food and works well as stew or tacos. — Brenna Houck, Editor at Eater Detroit

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