Popping bottle caps with a dollar bill, softening butter with a cheese grater, chilling your beer in a frozen paper towel—we've all attempted our fair share of kitchen life hacks with varying degrees of "nailed it." But Thanksgiving dinner is no time to be experimenting with questionable advice from the depths of the internet. So we asked Pie School professor and Driscoll's ambassador Kate Lebo to do some Mythbusters-style debunking of the most common pie baking tricks and tips. Vodka in the crust? Dough in the food processor? Scroll down to separate the good, the bad, and the delicious.
"The best way to make pie crust is by hand. I like to say that the secret ingredient for great pie crust isn’t a certain butter or fancy flour or an egg or vinegar—though all those things can contribute to great pie. The secret ingredient is how you touch the dough. When you make dough by hand—not in a food processor—you can use your sense of touch, sight, and smell to know exactly what the dough needs at any particular time. With food processors, you touch that button one too many times and you’ve overworked your dough. By hand, you have to trust yourself and go by feel. It’s like playing in the mud, but edible."
"Use vodka in your pie crust. Actually, this trick works. Gluten doesn’t develop as quicky in the presence of vodka, the way it does with water and other liquids we traditionally use to make pie crust. The myth is you don’t NEED vodka to make great pie crust, and I for one don’t want to have to go to the liquor store every time I make pie. Just keep your water cold, add it slowly and toss it to distribute it evenly—DON’T KNEAD the dough—and you’re good to go."
"Use fresh berries when you can. Frozen berries are a good alternative if you can’t find fresh, but you can’t beat fresh for flavor, texture, and predictability when baking. Berry flavors are more true when they’re at room temperature, so when I developed this Raspberry Pie with Walnut Crumble and Raspberry Pie with Figs and Bay I used only Driscoll's fresh raspberries. That's how I knew just how good the filling would be as I experimented. Regardless of whether we're developing recipes, I tell all my Pie School students to taste their filling and adjust flavors before pouring fruit into a pie crust. Great filling is half of what makes a prize-winning pie. Fresh fruit also tends to thicken up a bit better when it's baked, which means when you cut into your pie, it won’t gush all over the plate."
"A pie plate, fancy bowl, special mixing tool, or some other kitchen gadget is the secret to making the perfect pie. I’m pretty sure products are marketed this way because kitchen-gadget-makers know we pie-makers and would-be-pie-makers can be an anxious lot. I'm here to tell you that a particular pie plate is not going to make your pie perfect. Keeping the butter and water cold, not overmixing the dough, working fast, and getting the pie in a hot oven immediately after you’ve put it together--that's what makes a perfect pie. That and not worrying so much about what 'perfect' means. If it tastes good, it's perfect. The oven will take care of the rest."
"Always serve pie a la mode. Of course we Americans would translate the French for “with style” into “with ice cream!” It’s a charming Americanism, but for the sake of mom and apple pie and all things good, please don’t put your ice cream on top of your pie. It soggs up that lovely crust you just made. Put it on the side."