Tag Archives: pie

Making the Perfect Pie Crust

Making a great pie crust at home isn’t pie-in-the-sky thinking.

It’s actually VERY doable.

It’s a BIG secret and no secret at all. Throughout the years, there’s been NO shortage of experts out there to tell everyone how to do it. And you know what? It’s likely that every bit of advice they might have given about how to make a crisp, flaky, delicious pie crust is pretty much true.

Making the Perfect Pie Crust

So how come you can’t make one?

The answer is probably one of the following:

A) You don’t believe in it.
B) You’re living in denial, thinking you can cheat on the recipe and STILL make a great pie crust.


Actually, I think I know what the problem has always been here. Pie dough is SO simple in its ingredients that it just isn’t fair that you have to be so careful about how you combine them or follow the recipe.

At the end of the day, making a great pie crust is a combination of science, technique, good ingredients and patience–more patience than most people are willing to give to get the superior results they’d like in return.

Science? Patience? Isn’t baking supposed to be fun?

It certainly can be. And it’s even more fun when you create something wonderful and delicious. And that’s where we’re headed here.

The Ingredients:

2 ½ Cups CHILLED, Unbleached, All-Purpose Flour
1 ½ tsp Sugar
1 tsp Salt
½ Cup (1 stick) CHILLED Unsalted Butter
(Cut Into 1/2-inch Cubes)
½ Cup CHILLED Lard or Frozen Non-Hydrogenated, Solid Vegetable Shortening (Cut Into 1/2-inch Cubes)
5 TBSP (or more) Ice Water

The Lecture:

Yes, CHILLED means chilled, frozen means frozen and ice water means ice water, not room temperature or cold water. ICE WATER, please! Non-hydrogenated means NO Crisco. Crisco is hydrogenated (sorry, Crisco lovers). Lard and butter do combine for THE best flavor; get over it.

The Science:

By using chilled and frozen ingredients, you’re ensuring that the fat is separating from the flour into fat pellets and not being accidentally mixed into dough pellets instead. When the water is added, mixed to a dough, and then eventually flattened, the pellets of fat will form separate layers (like plywood). When you bake your pie, the dough gets hot enough to create steam, and the layers will flake apart and give you a tender, flaky crust.

The Technique: Chop, chop, chop the fat with the flour (salt and sugar) into pea-shaped pellets. A sharp knife is best. Avoid any mixing, pressing, or smashing. The fat pieces will get coated with the flour, but you don’t want the flour to actually mix INTO the fat pieces. When it comes time to add the ICE COLD water, drizzle it over the chopped fat and flour pile, and gently fold it in. Avoid kneading the dough into a clay-like ball. That will only invite gluten to toughen the dough, and that’s trouble.

You may not think you have enough water after 5 tablespoons. Perhaps a 6th might help but not more. The more water, the tougher the dough will be later.

Gently gather and gently press the crumbly pie dough into a disk-like form, and wrap it in waxed paper. Chill it in your fridge for at least 30 minutes, but 1 hour is best. This will allow the pie dough to relax and become tender. It will also help you roll it out later.

The Patience:

Don’t be tempted to short cut. Wait until ALL the ingredients are chilled before chopping them together, and DO let the finished dough rest an hour. Don’t be in a hurry. Your patience WILL pay off.

The Payoff:

When you’re ready to roll out your dough to make your pie, use additional flour sparingly. Use just what you need to prevent the dough from sticking to your counter or board. Typically, a pie crust is rolled to a thickness between 1/8” and ¼”. That’s 3/16”, but who is that precise? Think of a pencil and roll your dough out to just thinner than that.

Not all pies call for the same baking temperature, but your CRUST would prefer 375 F if possible.

Good luck! Now, make me proud!

Nino’s Acorn Squash Recipes

Acorn Squash is one of the hard-shell “winter squashes” that are widely enjoyed, particularly in the fall and winter months.

Personally, I love Acorn Squash because it’s such a versatile vegetable, and because of that, I’m surprised it’s not used more often by chefs. In the end, its sweet-potato-like qualities put its use halfway between a starch and a vegetable, making it as suitable as an ice cream flavor as it is along side a roast.

Good Tasting and Good for You

A cup of Acorn Squash is only 56 calories, only one of which is from fat. It also has other great nutritional components, such as fiber, vitamin A, C, B-6, iron, and potassium. Its sweet, golden-orange flesh is particularly suited to dishes like soups, casseroles, stuffing, and pastries. Of course, it’s also great as a vegetable side dish.

In recipes, Acorn Squash pairs exceptionally well with bacon, brown sugar, butter, garlic, honey, maple syrup, nutmeg, cinnamon, Parmesan cheese, pepper, and sage. It’s also an excellent plate companion with roasted chicken and pork.

The Basic Cooking Method

The most common method of cooking Acorn Squash involves cutting it in half lengthwise (through the stem) and then scooping out the seeds (like a pumpkin), buttering and seasoning the exposed flesh, and finally turning each half, cut side down, on a cookie sheet with a little water, and roasting at 375 F until tender (about 45 minutes).

From there, the squash can be turned flesh side up and finished with a glaze or scooped away from its rind-like skin and mashed, pureed, or cubed for other uses.

If you’d like to try a new recipe for Acorn Squash, below is one I particularly like that uses 2 cups of this cooked, mashed squash. It tastes surprisingly like pumpkin pie!

Say what?

Acorn Squash & Honey Pie

Makes 1 – 9” Pie
Serves 6

2 Cups Acorn Squash, Cooked, Mashed Well
4 Eggs, Extra Large
¾ Cup Evaporated Milk (or Half & Half)
¼ Cup Honey
½ Cup Brown Sugar
1 ½ tsp Cinnamon
¼ tsp Ground Ginger
Pinch Nutmeg
½ tsp Salt
1 9” Pie Shell (unbaked)

To Garnish:
Sweetened Whipped Cream
Toasted Pecans

Mix together the above ingredients until well blended, and then strain and pour into an unbaked 9” diameter pie shell (homemade or store bought).
Bake at 375 for approximately 1 hour or until the custard-like filling is firm.
Chill and serve with whipped cream and toasted pecans.

You can find other great squash recipes and information in Nino’s recipe archives. Just click on the links below, and we’ll take you there!

Nino’s Squash Guide
Squash Your Appetite
Roasting Vegetables


Pies, Crisps and Cobblers

The Grunt, the Slump, the Buckle, the Sonker and the Brown Betty? They sound more like the names of dance moves than what they REALLY are:

Namely, pastries…

Pies, cobblers and crisps to be exact.

So, no doubt, you’re familiar with pies, or at least you should be.

Especially during THIS time of the year.

Pies grace our American table each holiday season and are anticipated as our “final” treat as we wade through the roasts and side dishes that precede them. In particular, apple, cherry and pumpkin pies dominate the dessert landscapes throughout the calendar season, with pecan, peach, blueberry, and other cream and custard pies close behind.

Where did pies come from?

The American pie itself is a carryover from its ancestral English and European origins, where you’d just as likely see it filled with meats, cheeses and vegetables as fruits. Even the wives of Welsh miners made a pocket-size “pie” filled with meats and potatoes for their husbands to take into the mines each day. Their “Pasty” eventually came to this country, and with little change, accompanied our Northern Michigan Copper miners to work. It lives on today as a Northern Michigan regional specialty.

Most of us, however, think of dessert when we think of pie, and our country has had such a love affair with it that it’s since become synonymous with pleasure and goodness. “As sweet as pie,” “as easy as pie,” and of course, “pie in the sky” offer the hopes of a culinary utopia that only pies seem able to offer.

Of course, strange names aside, what exactly IS the difference between a Pie, a Cobbler and a Crisp??

Pie is typically made with a firm pastry crust, which fully lines the bottom and many times covers the top to “sandwich” its delicious filling in between. Cream- and custard-type pies are usually bottom crust only and may be topped with whipped cream or meringue. Fruit pies may be either topped with a pastry crust or a crumbled mixture (called a streusel) of flour, butter, sugar, and sometimes oats and nuts. This topping is the same topping used on a crisp. What makes this pastry “technically” a pie is its bottom crust.

Cobblers and Crisps are nearly ALL filled with fruits, berries, and/or vegetables (rhubarb), sometimes with the addition of nuts. Neither have a bottom crust. The cobbler is topped with either a pastry crust, a biscuit-like dough (which looks like stone cobbles on an old street) or a batter. The crisp (sometimes referred to as a “crumble”) is instead topped with a crumbly streusel mixture. Both are then baked.

Unlike pies, cobblers and crisps are usually served with a large spoon in a shallow bowl rather than on a plate (they lack a bottom crust to encase the filling). And although it is not a prerequisite, you’ll more often find cobblers and crisps served warm and with ice cream (a la mode) than pies. However, pies are no less delicious served in the same manner.

Other cobbler-like methods include the Brown Betty, one of the first documented apple desserts in the United States and very popular during colonial times. This dessert is made by alternating layers of bread crumbs, butter, brown sugar and fruits to create a bread-pudding-like filling. The Buckle, on the other hand, is made using yellow cake batter to create the cobbler topping.

Whether cooked on the stove, in a cast-iron skillet (the Slump and Pandowdy) or in the oven, pies, cobblers and crisps are as easy as…well…pie!

Ready to get started? Here are some great recipes to try:

Our Apple Guide has our classic version of apple pie and a simple but delicious pie crust. And finally, our Rhubarb & Apple “Butter Crispin” and White Peach & Blueberry Cobbler are excellent examples of the many fruits that make these two desserts so versatile.

Whether you enjoy baking these traditional desserts at home or you choose to stop by Nino’s in-store bakery to pick up one of our own freshly baked pies, we hope you’ll enjoy a memorable pie, cobbler or crisp this holiday season.


Try My Foolproof Meringue Recipe

Fall is a great time to bake, especially when you can open the kitchen windows and together enjoy the cool, fall breeze and the aroma of fresh baked goods in the oven. And with all of the upcoming holidays on the calendar, you know you’ll have lots of “appreciators” to enjoy all of your favorite recipes.

Just the thought of that instantly transported me to a mental image of warm pies on the windowsill of a small bungalow, with a white picket fence and mom in her polka dot dress and white apron, wearing a warm smile on her face and glasses of chilled milk on the table awaiting her dessert…(shades of Ozzie & Harriet and Father Knows Best or the idyllic Parker family in the 1998 movie Pleasantville.)

Of course, the pie I think almost everyone would imagine sitting on that windowsill would be an apple or cherry pie, probably with a lattice top.

And I thought to myself, whatever happened to meringue pies? It seems that you see them so seldom lately. They used to be so popular. Did people stop liking them or just stop making them at home?

Well, if you love meringue pies, but you’ve never had much success with them, I’ve got a fool-proof recipe and technique you’re going to love!

I learned this meringue technique at my Alma Mater, the Culinary Institute of America, and when I saw it for the first time, I was amazed. First of all, the two reasons most meringues fail is that they lack a firm structure and collapse, and that all of the sugar is not dissolved in the egg whites, so they “weep.” This method solves both problems.

The recipe is simple. Two parts granulated sugar to one part egg white. It can be either by volume or weight. The method is that you place that mixture in a double boiler and slowly heat that mixture while constantly stirring (I use my hand) until the mixture is quite warm and ALL of the sugar crystals have dissolved into the egg whites.

When properly done, the mixture will feel slimy with NO grit, and it will appear somewhat more shiny or glossy.

Of course, you don’t want to heat the mixture past 156 F (which is hotter than most any tap water usually is). Otherwise, the egg whites will actually cook.

Once the mixture is ready, just whip it. And don’t worry about over-whipping it because unlike whipped cream, it’s almost impossible to over-whip this meringue. What you will have is a meringue SO STIFF that you can literally turn the bowl upside down with the whip still in it, and the meringue WILL NOT budge.

Once you’ve fully whipped your meringue, you can add in a flavoring (vanilla, almond extract, lemon extract) or even cocoa to make a chocolate meringue. Just how much is really up to you.

I use this meringue to make a lot of things, from Baked Alaska (and I have an Awesome Pumpkin Baked Alaska recipe that I’ll be doing a video of soon) to meringue kisses, Swiss butter cream icing, and of course, lemon meringue pie.

As for amounts, 1 ½ cups of sugar to ¾ cup of egg whites and 1 tsp of pure vanilla extract make more than enough meringue to mound a nice dome on a 9” pie.