We asked seven local pie-makers for the secrets to success when making a pie at home. Meet the experts:
Tara Coleman, Hot Hands Pie & Biscuit
Favorite Thanksgiving pie: Pumpkin, until recently. Now, it’s banana cream pie: “a nice change.”
Coleman always reaches for homemade pies over store-bought at family gatherings or holidays. This year, reach for one of hers; she has half a dozen Thanksgiving pies on her shop’s menu for its first Thanksgiving in business. And they’re not just apple and pumpkin (though you can get those, too). Toasted vanilla and pecan chess are among the options. Coleman loves experimenting, like the time she made a pie inspired by her step-grandma’s tiramisu recipe. “I think pie is a good vessel to try out new desserts,” she said. “There’s so much room to be creative.”
272 S. Snelling Av., St. Paul, 651-300-1503, hothandspie.com
Fritz Ebanda, B’beri Desserts
Favorite Thanksgiving pie: Apple cinnamon.
You won’t find pie, exactly, from this Coon Rapids-based baker. Ebanda, who was born in the former French-colonial part of Cameroon, trained in the fineries of French pastry, to which he mixes in tastes of West Africa and the Caribbean. He’s turning out buttery, ultra-flaky crusts for quiche, and peppy tarts with lime zest, coconut, pear or blueberry. (Chocolate and crème brûlée tarts, too.) Here’s his secret: “A good crust makes a good pie.” Find his at the Maple Grove and Minnetonka farmers markets this winter, or order direct for delivery.
Alicia Hinze, The Buttered Tin
Favorite Thanksgiving pie: “Anything with custard,” banana cream pie making the top of her list.
Hinze’s St. Paul cafe and bakery offers daily slices and hand pies, and her new thing is frozen pies for Thanksgiving, available in five spots across the Twin Cities. But she has a special reverence for folks who bake their own. “If someone makes you a pie, that is love,” she said. Her favorite pie memory comes courtesy of her then-4-year-old nephew with a serious sweet tooth. As guests sat down to eat, he “went into the kitchen and stuck his hand in a pie that I had made and screamed from the kitchen, ‘I love pie TOO much!!!’ ”
237 E. 7th St., St. Paul, 651-224-2300, thebutteredtin.com
Louis Hunter, Trio Plant-based
Favorite Thanksgiving pie: His grandmother’s sweet potato pie.
One Thanksgiving, Hunter’s cousin dropped their grandmother Lillian’s “famous” sweet potato pie. “She was so upset,” Hunter recalled. Things are going a little better these days for Lillian’s pie. It’s sold by the slice and whole at Hunter’s groundbreaking restaurant Trio Plant-based, the first Black-owned vegan restaurant in Minnesota. Hunter makes his pie with feeling. That’s because love is the special ingredient, he said. “You’ve got to put a little love in all your pies.”
610 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-326-1326, trioplantbased.com
Heather Keogh, Heather’s Pies
Favorite Thanksgiving pie: “Well? Pumpkin, of course.”
This pie educator’s three-hour classes are on hold for now, but you can still order curbside pickup from her St. Louis Park home, where she designs pies with intricate latticework and little dough acorns, flowers and leaves. (Her Thanksgiving orders are sold out.) Not only humans love her pies. One night before Thanksgiving, her dog Beeks woke her up with his growling. When she went downstairs, she discovered her cat digging in to her peach pie, still cooling on the stove for the next day. “He had just started in,” she said. Beeks “saved the pie. What a good dog!”
St. Louis Park, 952-905-0608, heatherspies.com
Erin Lucas, Flour & Flower Bakery
Favorite Thanksgiving pie: Apple pie with streusel topping. “Love me some crumbles.”
With her fiancé, chef Mateo Mackbee, Lucas relocated from Minneapolis to St. Joseph, Minn., to open Krewe, a New Orleans-style restaurant with adjacent bakery and flower shop. There, she turns out baguettes, croissants, doughnuts and, of course, pie. For her, pie is practically a meal. One of her grandmothers always let her eat it for breakfast, and she has fond memories of starting the morning after Thanksgiving with a big piece of peach pie warmed in the microwave. “Pie is a love language for me,” Lucas said.
26 College Av. N., St. Joseph, 1-320-557-0170, krewemn.com/bakery
Rachel Swan, Pie & Mighty
Favorite Thanksgiving pie: It’s a “tricky question. I am usually one of those ‘I’ll have a sliver of all the choices’ ” kind of people. But if she had to pick, it would be Pie & Mighty’s smooth cream cheese and pumpkin pie.
There are three rules to making pie, according to Swan, who rose to pie prominence by selling hers via a lottery system and newsletter, the Pie Loop. The first rule: “making people’s day,” she said. Second: “feeling good and fancy.” One quick way to accomplish that is by using exceptional ingredients. But even if you go with Trader Joe’s butter instead of the European stuff, the fancy feeling should still prevail. Don’t believe her? “Just try making pie crust when you’re crabby. It simply does not work.” The last component to great pie? “Love.”
3553 Chicago Av. S., Mpls., 612-822-2132, pieandmightymsp.com
The secret to great pie
Ask for advice: Lots of families have resident pie-makers; go to them before you start. “They’ll likely have an opinion,” said Rachel Swan. If you don’t have that person in your life, just do as Frtiz Ebanda advises: “Look for a great recipe and follow the instructions.”
It’s all about the ingredients: “Whether it’s using delicious Oreo cookies for a crust or nice, tart apples for an apple pie,” what you put in to your pie matters, said Tara Coleman. “You can tell when the ingredients are good to begin with.” For the best flour, Swan suggets home bakers use locally milled Baker’s Field.
Massage your dough: “It really is a simple process, but can make or break your pie,” said Erin Lucas. She starts in a stand mixer, churning till the butter just starts to crumble. Then she puts the mixture onto a wooden work surface and “massages” the dough until it is homogenous.
Butter, butter and more butter: Lucas uses high-fat Hope butter, chilled. It makes up about 70% of her dough. (Chilled water is the other big component.) Hinze also relies on butter, “not only because it adds so much flavor, but because butter chunks equal flaky.” According to Ebanda, unsalted sweet cream butter is the way to go.
Lard, too: Swan uses a combination of butter and lard at Pie & Mighty. Coleman uses all butter at Hot Hands, but “in some cases a butter/lard blend makes a really nice crust as well,” she said. “The lard gives a bit more depth of flavor.”
Apple cider vinegar: While Coleman uses a blend of vinegar and water, home bakers could try lemon juice. “The acid just gives the pie crust a bit more body,” she said.
Perfecting the crust
Give it a rest: Let the dough relax for 24 hours after mixing and before rolling, Lucas said. Once rolled, give it another 8- to 12-hour rest before par-baking or baking. “That helps prevent shrinkage,” she said.
Seriously, chill: “The main thing is cold ingredients,” Coleman said. “You could even chill the bowl, the food processor, anything.” Speaking of which, using a food processor to cut the butter into the flour helps keep warm hands off the dough. Lucas chills her flour, sugar and salt, too.
Parchment is your friend: After mixing, shape your dough into disks and wrap them in parchment paper to chill for at least a couple of hours, said Heather Keogh. “Then roll out each dough still on its parchment paper and don’t add flour. Period!”
How should it look?
Get a great crinkle: Lucas rolls the dough about 1 inch past the pie pan, then pinches and tucks the overhang so it sits just on the edge of the tin. “Using your thumb on one hand and pointer finger and thumb on the other, pinch all the way around,” she said. If you have a tart mold, “you could simply use your thumb to push the crust against the mold and press it down with the flat side of a pointy knife,” Ebanda said.
Crimping takes practice: Don’t push too hard with your thumb, but make sure to push hard enough. Don’t try crimping when the dough is too cold, or too warm. “There is a sweet spot for optimal crimping,” Coleman said.
Don’t get too fancy: “I love the look of a rustic pie,” said Alicia Hinze. “That is what pies are to me: homemade.”
Make it sparkle: With 20 minutes left to bake, Keogh adds an egg wash with turbinado sugar, and then tents the top. “I never baste the top of the pie,” she added.
Tips for the perfect filling
Room temperature: While chilling is key for a great crust, filling ingredients should be at room temperature, Lucas said. Even melted butter should be cooled to room temperature before being added to custard.
Easy on the sugar: “Please do not make it super-sweet,” Hinze said. “More sugar does not equate to a good dessert.”
Put in elbow grease: Louis Hunter mashes the yams in his sweet potato pie by hand. “For some reason, I feel like mashing with my hands helps the process.”
Remove the excess: “Lay a paper towel over the juicy filling and pat it down to grab the excess,” Keogh said. “I’ll sometimes repeat this 3 to 4 times.”
How do you know it’s done?
Bubbles: Coleman looks for juices to be “bubbling all over the pie.”
But not too many bubbles: Keogh takes it out when the juices are “running slow,” she said. “Not a quick bubbling — it’s still in its bake at this point.”
Trust: “Don’t second guess yourself when you’re baking a custard,” which can take 40 to 45 minutes in a 350-degree oven, Lucas said. “Even if the center jiggles more than your gut thinks is right, trust the process.”
Avoid pie mistakes
Wait, wait, wait: Let the pie rest both before baking and after, Lucas said. “Cutting a pie too soon will ruin the structure of the fillings, and rolling a pie out too early won’t allow you to fill it to its potential.”
Freeze before baking: “If you spend lots of time making the pie dough, mixing it and crimping the edges all pretty, then you throw it in the oven when the dough is room temperature, the sides will cave in,” Coleman said. “It’s best to put it in the freezer for as long as you can stand it.”
Use the right rack: “Only cookies/breads/cakes use the center rack,” Keogh said. A pie should bake in the lower third of the oven, placed on a baking sheet.
Know when to use the fridge: Cooked fruit pies should stay out on the counter, Keogh said. Only cream and custard pies should be refrigerated.
Scale properly: If you’re making more than one pie, note that double and triple batches don’t always turn out the way a single pie does, Hinze said. When she opened Buttered Tin, she started making huge quantities of pies, and multiplied her spiced apple filling. “The apple pie ended up tasting like a spiced candle,” she said. “It was awful and I was mortified.”
Creamy Pumpkin Pie
Note: This is one of pastry chef Rachel Swan’s favorite offerings at her Minneapolis shop Pie & Mighty. “We don’t make it often,” she said, “but wow, it is just everything you’d want in a pie.” The filling can go in any kind of crust; Swan recommends “a pastry crust of whatever is easy and joyful for the pie maker.”
• 3/4 c. sugar
• 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
• 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
• 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
• 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
• 8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
• 1 (15-oz.) can pumpkin purée, organic preferred
• 4 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
• 3 large eggs
• 1 (9-inch) pie shell, par-baked and cooled completely
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In the bowl of a food processor, combine sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. Pulse 3 times to mix. Add the cream cheese and pulse until a paste forms. Add the pumpkin purée and butter and process for 30 seconds. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl, then process until the mixture is completely smooth, about 30 seconds longer. Add the eggs and process until completely smooth. Pour the mixture into the prepared pie shell and smooth over the top with a rubber spatula.
Place the pie on a baking sheet in the oven and bake until the filling puffs slightly and the center only moves lightly when jiggled, 30 to 35 minutes, rotating the pie halfway through baking. Let pie cool fully, slowly. Refrigerate after completely cool.
Pâté Sucrée (Sweet Dough Crust)
Makes enough dough for 2 crusts.
Note: “This crust is great for any kind of pie you want to make; not a flaky pie crust but crisp and buttery. And the best part is that it is EASY,” says Alicia Hinze of her recipe from the Buttered Tin in St. Paul. All-purpose flour can be used in place of pastry flour.
• 1 1/2 c. (3 sticks) butter, at room temperature
• 3/4 c. sugar
• 2 eggs
• 1 tsp. vanilla
• 1 tsp. lemon zest
• 4 1/8 c. (18 oz.) pastry flour
In a mixer: Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, until fully mixed in, and vanilla and lemon zest. Sift pastry flour and add half of it to the mixer until almost incorporated, then add the other half. Mix just until it is incorporated. Overmixing will make the dough tough.
Chill the dough at least 2 hours. Roll out and use as a bottom pie crust.