How to Prepare and Cook Pies

How to prepare and cook pies. Includes how to roll pie crust, recipes for whole wheat and graham cracker crusts, key lime pie, vegan apple cider pie, whiskey sweet potato pie and mocha ice cream pie.


I have found that in the food processor age, pie baking can be faster and easier than it was in the good ole days. And since homemade pies are rare, they're impressive.


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How to prepare and cook pies. When your son asks, "What's a rolling pin?" it's time to put him to work using one. 

Not long ago I sent my mother a card showing a '50s photo of a June Cleaver look-alike rolling out a pie crust. The inside caption read, " I don't know what she's doing either. Must be some kind of ancient household ritual." Which brings me to why I'm writing about pie-making in the fast-paced '90s. Besides the fact that my editor and I both love pies, the truth is that I fear for the ancient household ritual of how to prepare and cook pies. As soon as the year 2000, rolling pins could become artifacts. (Just the other day in an antique store I heard a teenage girl ask her mother the purpose of this artifact.) At this very moment my teenage son is rolling out a pie crust and muttering words that aren't allowed in this house. All because I don't want homemade pies to be nothing more than a happy memory because the art died out with his generation of the Vassal-Bokram clan. I don't think my two sisters could make a pie to save their lives. (Bye, bye Miss American Pie) I don't want future generations to think that pies are born in bakeries.

When I was first married, I used to make lots of pies. I pursued my pie-baking hobby after buying a vintage rolling pin at a flea market. I found it relaxing, rolling out the dough and seeing if I could make it resemble a circle. (I've often thought I could make millions by inventing a square pie pan.) Back then I was big on whole grains, natural sweeteners, and tons of butter. For '90s pies, I've had to cut back on fat and time since I'm not hanging around the stove all day. For those reasons, I rarely make a double-crusted pie. I usually resort to quick-bake, no-bake, or an occasional store-bought pie shell. But I have found that in the food processor age, pie baking can be faster and easier than it was in the good ole days. And since homemade pies are rare, they're impressive. (Wow, Herbie, did you see that fabulous round thing that Phyllis made?) So dig out that rolling pin and relax a little. Don't forget, you're leaving a legacy.

Here are some easy, basic pie crusts.

Food Processor Whole Wheat Pie Crust*

Makes one 9-inch crust

1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or unbleached white flour if pastry flour is unavailable)
1/2 cup unbleached white flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, well chilled
3 tablespoons soy or safflower margarine, frozen
pinch of salt
2-3 tablespoons cold water

Put all the ingredients in a food processor except the water. Pulse the dough about 4 or 5 times until there are pea-sized butter balls. Drizzle a little water and pulse until it starts to clump together a bit, adding more water if necessary. Don't over mix; the dough should have little bits of butter in it. Empty the dough onto a large sheet of wax paper and shape it into a ball. Flatten the ball into a half-inch circle and wrap it in plastic wrap. Freeze for 10 minutes if you're going to roll it out immediately. Otherwise, the dough can be refrigerated for up to a week or frozen for up to two months.

*For a non-dairy, vegan crust, replace soy margarine for butter.

Processed by Hand Pie Crust (For an upper body workout.)

Have a large, shallow mixing bowl and a pastry blender handy. (A pastry blender is a hand-held utensil with whisk-like wires for mixing. A strong fork will also work in a pinch.) The butter and margarine don't need to be as cold since there's no danger of over-processing by hand. Mash the butter and margarine into the flour with the pastry blender until there are pea-sized balls of dough. Add just enough water to get the dough to stick together. Empty out on wax paper and work the dough just until it's blended. Roll into a ball and proceed as above.

Roll, Roll, Roll Your Pie Dough

Here's the part that scares some people but it's really quite easy; just regress a bit and pretend it's Play-doh. Here we go:

• Place the flattened dough circle on a large piece of wax paper with another piece covering the top. Roll and press the rolling pin from the center of the dough away from you. Then turn the waxed paper an inch or so clockwise and roll again. Keep it up until you are all the way around.

• You now have a weird looking circle. Don't panic. Peel off the waxed paper and put it back on the dough. Flip over, peel off the other piece, and put it back on. (The waxed paper gets crumpled, and this will fix it.) Repeat the rolling ritual until the circle is one inch bigger than the inverted pie pan.

• Keep cutting off any pieces of dough that deviate from the circle and use them to patch up the bare spots. Eventually you'll end up with enough of a circle to call it a pie. Try not to work the dough to death because that will toughen it. Peel off the top waxed paper and invert the dough onto the pie pan, centering it before peeling off the other waxed paper.

• Pat the dough into the pan. Turn the ragged edges under so that they're even with the rim of the pan. Here's the fun part, crimping the edging. There are a number of ways to do it; here's my method. Press your left index finger against the inside rim of the pie while your right thumb is pressing the outer rim on an angle. Keep moving the pan counterclockwise until the pie is finished.

A Partially Baked and Baked Crust

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Lay a piece of foil inside the crust and covering the rim. Press down lightly so the foil is pressing against the dough. Some cooks weigh the foil down with uncooked beans, but I don't usually bother with it. If the crust puffs up anywhere, just press it down or deflate it by poking a hole with a fork. For a partially baked crust, bake for 7-8 minutes. The crust will be puffy and starting to harden. Remove and cool a few minutes before adding the filling. Bake according to directions. For a baked crust, do all the above and remove the foil (beans) after 7-8 minutes. Stab the bottom of the crust a few times with a fork and bake for another 5 minutes or so until the crust is lightly browned. Remove and cool on a rack. Add the filling and refrigerate according to directions.

Graham Cracker Crust

Why use a store-bought graham cracker crust when this is so easy and tastes so much better? I use a natural graham cracker such as "Hain" or "Frookie."

1 cup crushed graham crackers (about 6 whole crackers)
2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons melted butter

Break up the crackers into small pieces. Place in a food processor and pulse until there are fine crumbs, not powder. (Or . . .Put the crackers in a large, zip-lock freezer bag and crush with a rolling pin.) Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse 2-3 times just until blended. Using a 9-inch pie pan or springform pan, pat the crust around the sides up to the rim, making a flat edge with your fingers. Make sure the edge isn't too thin, or it will burn easily. Evenly pat down the bottom of the crust. Bake for 20-25 minutes at 325 degrees Fahrenheit until it starts to brown. The crust will still be a little crumbly. Add filling and bake, or cool first before adding the filling for a refrigerated pie.

Or . . .Chocolate Graham Cracker Crust.

Some pies taste better with a chocolate crust. Just use chocolate graham crackers and omit the cinnamon.

Key Lime Pie Recipe

Graham cracker crust in a 9-inch springform pan, baked (see above).

4 egg yolks
2/3 cup fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon grated lime rind
1 (14-ounce) can low-fat sweetened condensed milk


1 pint whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar or to taste
I teaspoon vanilla

Bake crust and let cool on a rack while you prepare the filling. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a mixing bowl, whisk the yolks until creamy. Whisk in the rest of the ingredients. Pour into the crust and bake for 30 minutes until the center of the pie is as firm as the exterior. (Touch with your finger.) Let cool for one hour at room temperature. Then refrigerate until serving. Just before serving, whip the cream and spread a thin layer over the pie. Decorate each piece with a lime slice or lime zest. It's best eaten the same day since, after a day or so, the crust will soften.

Vegan Apple Cider Pie Recipe

It's up to you if you want to peel the apples. I don't like to take the time and waste the fiber so I choose thin-skinned apples. (A store-bought Granny Smith has a thick, tough skin.) Usually I use whatever apples are left out in my root cellar such as Pippin, Fuji, Gala, Empire, or Mutsu.

Prepare one 9-inch whole wheat pie crust and partially bake. (See above.) Leave the oven temperature set at 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

Pie Filling:

10 medium-sized firm apples
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 cup apple cider (I use unfiltered cider.)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon arrowroot flour

Cut the apples in quarters, cut out the seeds, and slice across into quarter-inch slices. Put in a large, nonstick skillet with the maple syrup, 1/4 cup of the cider, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Cover and cook on medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk the arrowroot flour into the remaining 1/4 cup cider. Add to the apples and cook on medium-high heat uncovered until the juice bubbles and thickens. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes before evenly spooning the filling into the pie shell.


1/3 cup each: brown sugar, whole wheat pastry flour, chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons soy margarine or butter, well chilled

Cut the margarine or butter into small cubes. In a food processor, pulse the sugar and flour. Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse until small pebbles are formed (or use a hand pastry blender). Remove and press evenly onto the pie. Put your hand over the edge of the crust as you get near the edges so the topping stays on the pie. Place the pie in the center of the oven with a piece of foil on the bottom shelf to catch drips. Reduce oven temperature from 425 degrees Fahrenheit to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake for 40-45 minutes until browned. Cool at least one hour on a rack before slicing so the juices can solidify.

Whiskey Sweet Potato Pie Recipe

The whiskey really makes this pie, but you can make it without the booze. This was a good way to use up some liquor that was left at our house.

Prepare one 9-inch whole wheat pie crust and partially bake. (See above.)

3 cups sweet potatoes; cooked, peeled, and mashed
3 eggs
1/4 cup real maple syrup (or honey is OK)
1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon allspice
2 tablespoons Scotch whiskey

Start cooking the sweet potatoes while you prepare the crust. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the 3 cups mashed sweet potatoes in a blender when they've cooled. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth. Pour into the pie crust and place in the center of the oven. Bake 50-55 minutes until an inserted knife in the pie's center comes out almost clean. Cool for at least one hour on a rack before slicing. Place a spoonful of whipped cream on each slice if you wish. Refrigerate any leftovers.

Mocha Ice Cream Pie Recipe

This is the world's easiest pie so have the kids help you on this one. You can use whatever ice cream flavor you prefer so go ahead and experiment.

1 chocolate graham cracker crust (above)
2 pints coffee, espresso, or cappuccino frozen yogurt or low fat ice cream

Drizzle Topping:

1/4 cup chocolate chips (I use barley malt sweetened.)
2-3 tablespoons milk or soy milk

I prefer a 9-inch springform pan for this recipe because it's easier to serve, but you can use a pie pan if you like. Press the chocolate graham cracker mixture into the bottom of the springform pan and about one inch up the sides. Bake according to the above directions and cool thoroughly. If the ice cream is rock-hard, let it sit out for 10 minutes or so until soft enough to handle.

In the meantime, make the drizzle by melting the chocolate chips in a small sauce pan on low heat. Whisk in the milk until the chocolate is thin enough to drizzle off a spoon and remove from heat. Spoon the ice cream carefully into the crust until you've emptied the cartons. Smooth out the ice cream with a spoon or spatula. Heat up the drizzle topping again. Coat a teaspoon with chocolate and drizzle zigzag lines across the whole pie until it's covered. (If you put too much chocolate on the spoon it'll leave chocolate puddles instead of lines.) Freeze an hour or two until the pie is hardened. Let it sit out a few minutes before cutting.

Topping ideas:

Yogurt or "lite" sour cream.

The Great Pie Crust Dilemma

When it comes to pie crust, we have one little problem—the fat. I'm not even trying to make fat-free pies. I'll settle for less fat and easy on the sugar. Now the dilemma: which fat should I use? As I roam the Midwest in search of the perfect pie (and I came close at a diner in northern Wisconsin), the pie experts tell me that lard makes the best crust. No argument there, but I'm not crazy about using a highly saturated animal fat in my food. (Only tropical oils and butter beat lard when it comes to the saturated fat percentage.) We've read about how evil saturated fat is raising the bad LDL cholesterol in our blood. Butter is a saturated fat that makes a tough crust. So we'll substitute margarine, right? That depends.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest is trying to confuse us by reporting that trans fatty acids (margarine) are no better than butter. Margarine contains large amounts of chemically altered (partially hydrogenated) vegetable oils. Adding hydrogen atoms to liquid oils to make them more solid creates trans fatty acids. Altering the fat causes it to act like it's saturated fat in the bloodstream, increasing our risk of heart disease.

So now what; should we fling pies at each other like "The Three Stooges"? While that may be a healthy (but messy) solution, it's not likely that we'll overdose on trans fatty acids because we make an occasional pie. (Just as long as we don't eat the entire pie ourselves.) I like to use a little butter in the crust for flavor, and the rest of the fat is margarine. If you don't mind using animal fat, use lard. Life is for living, pies are for pleasure. Enjoy.