It’s time to preheat the oven, throw some flour around the kitchen and bake something special. It’s time to make pie. I pound the pavement on behalf of pie all year long, as I truly believe it deserves a spot on dessert tables, whatever the season. But Thanksgiving is to pie what cake is to birthdays, and this year I could pass on the turkey all together: but I’ll still be baking. Yes, I want to indulge and tuck in to the fruits of my labor, but as many who have ventured into the kitchen this year have found, baking is so much more than the end result. It’s part project, part creative, meditative for some, and always with a dash of science sprinkled in. It makes your home (and you) smell good – and feel good, too. As we close a year where not much has been certain, eating some pie during the third week of November seems like an achievable, celebratory and delicious necessity we all deserve.

At its core, pie is a filling tucked inside a crust. What’s beautiful about breaking it down this simply is that it suddenly becomes clear just how natural and easy it is to mix and match them. Choose a crust, choose a filling, and if you’re feeling fancy (and even for a socially distant feast, why shouldn’t you?) choose a topping to dress it up even more. Whatever your level of pie-baking comfort, we have a recipe (or a few!) for you.

Start by picking a crust. Looking for the lightest lift? Try the press-in cookie crust (it’s foolproof). Looking to satisfy a gluten-free sweet tooth? Try the nut crust, which can be made with any kind of nut and lends a beautifully crunchy, toasty texture. If classic is more your style, my all-butter crust is the way to go: always flaky, always tender.

Next, it’s on to fillings. If you’re a purist, head to my apple filling, which is precooked on the stove top to help ensure the ideal texture post-bake. If tart is your thing, you’ll love the roasted cranberry filling, made on a sheet pan in the oven with no additional thickener (like starch) needed. If cream pies float your boat, my fall takes on classic pudding-style fillings are sure to please. These fillings all share something unique: an adaptability to nearly any kind of crust. Make any of these in a regular 9-inch pie plate, or get even bolder by preparing one in a deep-dish pie plate, then layering one of the pudding-style fillings on top. A little more prep yields a stunning layered slice (either two layers of custard, or a fruity layer below topped with creamy filling).

You could stop there: You’ve got a nice crust and a flavorful filling. But even for the tiniest of holiday celebrations, more is still more when it comes to dessert. Keep it simple with whipped cream, or take it to the next level with a mile-high meringue (toasted or not, it’s the stuff of perfect pastry dreams). Or get creative by covering your pie with beautiful hand-painted cutouts in whatever design you choose.

No matter what else is different about the foods coming out of your kitchen this year – or even if you’re skipping the feast all together – you should still bake a pie. Bake your favorite flavor for yourself, or bake someone else’s and leave it on their front porch. Make a pie, bake a pie, eat some pie: not because it’s tradition, but simply because it’s just about the sweetest thing you can do.

Roasted Cranberry Pie with Meringue and a Press-In Cookie Crust.  Photo by Mark Weinberg for The Washington Post

Roasted Cranberry Pie With Meringue and a Press-In Cookie Crust

Active time: 40 minutes | Total time: 1 hour 50 minutes

8 servings (makes one 9-inch pie)

Meringue topping shouldn’t be reserved for lemon curd fillings. Any tart filling, such as this brightly sour roasted cranberry mixture, pairs beautifully with pillowy, sweet meringue. If you worry that two components feel ambitious, take comfort in this particularly easy, press-in crust, which requires no rolling or chilling. The combination of the three – sour, jammy berries; fluffy meringue topping and crumbly, crisp cookie crust – provides a beautiful textural contrast.

Storage Notes: The cranberry filling can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to three days. Once baked into a pie, it will keep at room temperature, loosely covered, for up to two days.

INGREDIENTS

FOR THE CRUST

8 tablespoons (113 grams/1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar

1 large egg yolk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

1 3/4 cups (218 grams) all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 tablespoon water

FOR THE FILLING

2 3/4 pounds cranberries, thawed if frozen (may need to be drained)

3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar

1/2 cup (106 grams) light brown sugar

Finely grated zest of 1 orange

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/3 cup fresh orange juice

2 tablespoons heavy cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

FOR THE TOPPING

4 large egg whites

1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract (optional)

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Large pinch fine sea salt

STEPS

Make the crust: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium-low speed until smooth, 2 to 3 minutes.

Raise the mixer speed to medium, add the egg yolk and vanilla, if using, and mix to combine. Stop the mixer and scrape the bowl down thoroughly. Add the flour and salt and mix on low speed until fully incorporated, 45 seconds to 1 minute. Add the water and mix just until the dough is smooth, 1 minute more.

Turn out the dough and use your fingers to press it into a deep-dish, 9-inch pie plate, working up the sides. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to overnight. (For the most pristine look, dock the crust all over with a fork, though the crust will bake up nicely without docking.)

Make the filling: Position a baking rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees.

Spread the cranberries over a large, rimmed baking sheet in an even layer. In a small bowl, use your fingers to rub the sugars and orange zest together. Stir in the cinnamon, ginger, salt and cloves.

Sprinkle the sugar-spice mixture over the cranberries and toss to combine. Transfer to the oven and roast for about 10 minutes, or until the berries begin to soften. Stir the cranberries well to help distribute the sugar. Return to the oven and roast for 10 minutes more.

Remove from the oven and, using a potato masher or large fork, coarsely mash the cranberries. Add the orange juice and stir to combine. Return to the oven for 5 minutes more to thicken the mixture slightly.

Remove from the oven, stir in the cream and vanilla and let cool completely.

Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Pour the cooled fruit filling into the unbaked, assembled pie crust and bake for about 35 minutes, or until the filling appears a bit matte on the surface. If needed, cover the crust edges with foil to prevent over-browning. Let cool completely on a wire rack.

Make the topping: Shortly before you’re ready to serve the pie, bring a medium pot with about 2 inches of water to a simmer over medium-low heat. Place a medium bowl on top of the pot, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water, and add the egg whites, sugar, vanilla, if using, cream of tartar and salt, and whisk to combine.

Continue to heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture reaches 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. You can use an electric hand mixer to whip the mixture while it’s heating (to save time), or you can transfer the heated mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.

Whip the mixture on medium-high speed until glossy, firm peaks form that curl down slightly at the ends, up to 5 minutes.

Pile the meringue on top of the cooled pie and spread it to the edges, keeping it piled a bit higher in the middle. If desired, toast the meringue with a kitchen torch.

Slice the pie and serve.

Nutrition | Calories: 537; Total Fat: 14 g; Saturated Fat: 8 g; Cholesterol: 58 mg; Sodium: 403 mg; Carbohydrates: 102 g; Dietary Fiber: 8 g; Sugar: 67 g; Protein: 6 g.

Filling and topping from food writer Erin Jeanne McDowell; pie crust adapted from her “The Book on Pie” (Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020).

Caramel Apple Pie with an All-Butter Crust and Painted Cutout Topping.  Photo by Mark Weinberg for The Washington Post

Caramel Apple Pie With an All-Butter Crust and Painted Cutout Topping

Active time: 1 hour 30 minutes | Total time: 3 hours 20 minutes

8 servings (makes one 9-inch pie)

The luscious filling for this pie is easy to make and bakes to a perfect sliceable consistency. Skip the typical top crust and try this method for decorative pie crust cutouts instead. Cut the dough into any shape – such as circles or leaves. You can even paint them with food coloring for added interest. Baking the cutouts separately allows them to bake evenly. After baking, place on top of the pie while the filling is still warm; they will adhere better for easy slicing.

MAKE AHEAD: The filling can be prepared and refrigerated for up to two days before use.

Leftover pie can be lightly covered and refrigerated for three days.

INGREDIENTS

FOR THE CRUST AND CUTOUTS

2 1/2 cups (280 grams) all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

16 tablespoons (226 grams/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch (13-millimeter) cubes

1/2 cup (120 milliliters/115 grams) ice water, plus more as needed

Gel food coloring, as needed (gel color will be stronger than liquid, which may need less vodka or it can become diluted)

Vodka, as needed

FOR THE FILLING

4 tablespoons (56 grams/1/2 stick) unsalted butter

10 medium (about 4 pounds) apples, such as Honeycrisp, peeled and sliced 1/4-inch thick

1 cup (212 grams) dark brown sugar

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

2/3 cup (132 grams) granulated sugar

2/3 cup (83 grams) all-purpose flour

DIRECTIONS

Make the crust and cutouts: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Add the butter, tossing the cubes through the flour until each individual piece is well coated. “Cut” the butter into the flour by pressing the pieces between your fingers, flattening the cubes into big shards. As you work, continue to toss the butter through the flour, recoating the shingled pieces.

Continue to cut the butter into the flour just until the pieces of butter are about the size of walnut halves.

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Add the ice water to the well and, using a tossing motion with your hands, start to mix the two together (this begins to combine the ingredients without creating too much gluten). As the flour begins to become hydrated, you can start to use more of a kneading motion – but don’t overdo it, as this will make the dough tough. Add more water as needed, about 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough is properly hydrated. The dough should be uniformly combined and hold together easily, but it won’t look totally smooth. (Pie dough that is too dry may have sort of a “dusty” appearance, or pockets of unhydrated flour. It will not hold together and will appear crumbly. Pie dough that is too wet will feel sticky or tacky to the touch, and is often smoother and/or lighter in color.)

Divide the dough in half and form both halves into even disks. Wrap each disk tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to two days.

Roll out the crust: Lightly dust a work surface with flour, and lightly dust a rolling pin, if desired. Roll out the dough to about 1/4-inch thickness, about 12 inches in diameter, rotating it as you work to prevent it from sticking. To transfer the dough to the pan, gently roll it up around the pin, then unfurl it into a 9-inch pie plate.

Using scissors, trim away the excess dough, leaving about 1/2-inch overhang around the outside edge of the pie plate. Tuck the overhang under, pressing gently to make it flush with the edge of the pie plate and crimp as you like.

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees.

Using a fork, dock the crimped crust and chill well, at least 30 minutes. Cut a square of parchment paper slightly larger than the diameter of the pie plate and press it into the base of the crust. Fill with pie weights to the top inner rim of the pie plate. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes, or until the edges begin to lightly brown. Remove the parchment paper and pie weights and bake for 2 to 3 minutes more, or until the bottom of the crust appears dry and set. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely before filling.

Lower the oven temperature to 400 degrees.

Make the cutouts: Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Lightly flour a work surface and roll out the remaining dough disk to about 1/4-inch thick. Using a small cookie cutter or pie stamp, cut as many cutouts out of the dough as you can. Transfer the cutouts to the prepared baking sheet, cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 15 to 30 minutes. (You can use the scraps to reroll up to two additional times to get more cutouts.)

In a small bowl, combine a few drops of the food coloring (if you’re using gel, you only need about 1/8 teaspoon) and 1 to 2 teaspoons of vodka and, using a small craft paintbrush, mix to combine. Repeat as desired if you’re making multiple colors.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and uncover. Using the brush, apply the “paint” to the surface of the pie dough.

Bake for 10 to 20 minutes, or until the dough appears golden brown on the base (use a small offset spatula to gently lift the dough to check the bottom); the timing will depend on the size of your cutouts. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Make the filling: In a Dutch oven or large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, melt the butter. Continue to cook the butter, stirring occasionally, until its solids begin to brown and the mixture smells nutty, 4 to 5 minutes.

Add the apples, brown sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon, vanilla, salt and nutmeg and toss until combined. Cook, stirring frequently, until a smooth, glossy sauce forms and thickly coats the apples, 4 to 5 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk the granulated sugar and flour until combined. Sprinkle this mixture over the apples in the pot and stir well to combine. Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens, resembling a caramel sauce. Transfer to a large bowl, cover and cool completely.

Transfer the cooled pie filling to the par-baked crust and place in the oven. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until the filling appears a bit matte on the surface. If needed, cover the crust edges with foil to prevent over-browning.

Transfer the pie pan to a wire rack and let cool slightly, about 10 minutes. Decorate the warm pie with the cooled cutouts – they tend to “stick” to the filling a bit better, which can allow for easier slicing.

Nutrition | Calories: 647; Total Fat: 26 g; Saturated Fat: 16 g; Cholesterol: 67 mg; Sodium: 425 mg; Carbohydrates: 108 g; Dietary Fiber: 5 g; Sugar: 66 g; Protein: 5 g.

Filling and topping from food writer Erin Jeanne McDowell; pie crust adapted from her “The Book on Pie” (Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020).

– – –

Fall-Spice Pudding Pie With Whipped Cream and a Nut Crust

Active time: 40 minutes | Total time: 3 hours

8 servings (makes one 9-inch pie)

This creamy pudding-style filling can be spiced just right for a fall pie that’s perfect for Thanksgiving. It pairs especially well with this nut crust, which can be made with any kind of nut (so it is gluten-free). The crust bakes up deliciously crisp and toasty, a delicious contrast to the smooth, sweet filling. Top it with whipped cream for the ultimate decadent experience.

Make Ahead: The pudding needs to be covered and refrigerated for at least 2 hours and up to overnight before it’s added to a pie.

Storage Notes: The fall spice pudding can be loosely covered and refrigerated for up three days.

INGREDIENTS

FOR THE CRUST

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick/56 grams) unsalted butter, melted (may substitute oil), plus more for greasing the pie plate

2 1/2 cups (325 grams) finely chopped nuts

3 tablespoons (37 grams) granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 large egg white, lightly whisked

FOR THE FILLING

1 3/4 cups (420 milliliters) whole milk

1/3 cup (80 milliliters/59 grams) heavy cream

1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar

1/4 cup (53 grams) light brown sugar

1/4 cup (28 grams) cornstarch

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

4 large egg yolks

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

FOR THE TOPPING

1 cup (240 milliliters/235 grams) cold heavy cream

1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

DIRECTIONS

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees. Lightly grease a pie plate with butter.

In a medium bowl, stir the nuts, sugar and salt until combined. Add the 4 tablespoons of melted butter and the egg white, and stir the mixture until uniformly combined.

Press the crust evenly into the base and up the sides of the prepared pie plate.

Bake the crust for 17 to 20 minutes, or until it is rich brown and smells toasty. Let cool completely on a wire rack before adding the filling to the crust.

Make the filling: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the milk and cream until the mixture comes to a simmer. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the sugars, cornstarch, cinnamon, ginger, salt and nutmeg.

When the dairy mixture comes to a simmer, whisk the egg yolks into the sugar mixture until well combined. Carefully, in a slow, steady stream, add about a quarter of the warm dairy mixture into the yolk-sugar mixture and whisk well to combine.

Pour the yolk-sugar mixture in the pot with the remaining dairy mixture and whisk until fully incorporated. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture begins to thicken, 2 to 3 minutes.

Switch to a silicone spatula and continue to stir until the mixture comes to a boil – ideally, look for fat bubbles breaking the surface near the center of the saucepan.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the butter and vanilla until fully incorporated.

Strain the warm pudding into the cooled crust and spread into an even layer. Cover the filling directly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

Make the topping: When ready to serve, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or using a large bowl and a hand mixer), whip the cream on medium speed until it begins to thicken, 1 to 2 minutes.

With the mixer running, add the sugar in a slow, steady stream, then continue to whip until medium-soft peaks form that still curl down slightly at the ends, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the vanilla, if using, reduce the mixer speed to low and mix to combine.

Spread the whipped cream in a generous layer all over the pie filling, making decorative, billowy swirls. Slice the pie and serve.

Nutrition | Calories: 631; Total Fat: 46 g; Saturated Fat: 19 g; Cholesterol: 175 mg; Sodium: 345 mg; Carbohydrates: 48 g; Dietary Fiber: 5 g; Sugar: 35 g; Protein: 13 g.

Filling and topping from food writer Erin Jeanne McDowell; pie crust adapted from her “The Book on Pie” (Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020).


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