The Importance of Pie Weights

Only 24 days until CHRISTMAS!

And that's all that really matters in my world.

Yes, yes, Thanksgiving was lovely. Daniel and I celebrated our first Thanksgiving as a married couple and in our new house. Daniel roasted a 12 lb. turkey, made garlic mashed potatoes and green bean casserole while I was in charge of the stuffing (which we do not stuff into the bird carcass for various reasons which Daniel will be more than happy to go into should you require further explanation), and the pumpkin pie. Because I married a foodie, the term "convenience food" is near to taboo in our household. I suggested maybe, possibly, perhaps, using a bag of that nifty Pepperidge Farms, already seasoned, ready to go, stuffing mix, and got a look of incredulous horror.

So, we got loaves of bread, no, not Wonder Bread, the locally baked artisan bread, let it dry out, cubed it and then mixed it with sauteed celery, mushrooms and onions, rubbed sage, dried marjoram, poultry seasoning, fresh parsley, and fresh thyme, salt, pepper, and chicken stock. Chicken stock from a box! Sometimes a line simply has to be drawn. Then I spooned it all into our slow cooker (aka: crock pot) and let it go on low for about four hours.

Verdict: Very, very tasty, but slightly drier than I would have personally liked it. And I think the bread could have been cubed a bit smaller. So, next year, smaller cubes and more chicken stock.

Pumpkin pie. Gotta have it, right? Now, when it comes to pie, I do say no to those horrible refrigerated pie crusts that taste like cardboard. Sorry, there's just no substitute for homemade pie crust. And despite being a mild culinary disaster just waiting to happen, I have made my fair share of pie crusts.

One year, Jennifer and I made a shit load of apple pies over the holiday season to sell to people who hate making pies (everyone!) and I was mostly in charge of the crust creation. I've even made pumpkin pie before as well as elderberry and grape (it's an Erie thing) pies. Yet, somehow I have managed to avoid "par-baking" or "blind baking" a pie crust. All recipes I've ever used, just call for dumping the uncooked pie ingredients into the uncooked pie shell and popping the whole thing into the oven. Which, honestly, seems like the way to go.

In an effort to make a pumpkin pie that wasn't printed on the side of a can or involved evaporated milk, I decided to make this pie:

A half-recipe of your favorite pie crust, chilled
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk 3 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
1 cup drained candied yams from 15-ounce can
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon table salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Roll out dough on generously floured (up to 1/4 cup) work surface to make 12-inch circle about 1/8-inch thick. Roll dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll into pie plate, leaving at least 1-inch overhang all around pie plate.

Working around circumference, ease dough into plate by gently lifting edge of dough with one hand while pressing into plate bottom with other hand. Refrigerate 15 minutes. Trim overhang to 1/2 inch beyond lip of pie plate. Fold overhang under itself; edge should be flush with edge of pie plate. Using thumb and forefinger, flute edge of dough. Refrigerate dough-lined plate until firm, about 15 minutes.

Remove pan from refrigerator, line crust with foil and fill with pie weights or pennies. Bake on rimmed baking sheet 15 minutes. Remove foil and weights, rotate plate. Bake 5 to 10 more minutes until crust is golden brown and crisp. Remove plate and baking sheet from oven.

Make the filling: While pie shell is baking, whisk cream, milk, eggs, yolks and vanilla together in medium bowl. Combine pumpkin puree, yams, sugar, maple syrup, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in large heavy-bottomed saucepan; bring to sputtering simmer over medium heat, 5 to 7 minutes. Continue to simmer pumpkin mixture, stirring constantly and mashing yams against sides of pot, until thick and shiny, 10 to 15 minutes.

Remove pan from heat. Whisk in cream mixture slowly, until fully incorporated. Strain mixture through fine-mesh strainer set over medium bowl, using back of ladle or spatula to press solids through strainer. Re-whisk mixture and transfer to warm pre-baked pie shell. Return pie plate with baking sheet to oven and bake pie for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 300 degrees. Continue baking until edges are set (instant-read thermometer inserted in center registers 175 degrees), 20 to 35 minutes longer.

Transfer pie to wire rack and cool to room temperature, 2 to 3 hours. (The pie finishes cooking with resident heat; to ensure the filling sets, cool it at room temperature and not in the refrigerator.)

As you will have noticed, unlike the famous pie recipe that includes evaporated milk, this pumpkin pie requires a par-baked pie crust. WTF? Okay, fine.

The directions were explicit and I followed them exactly...sort of. I had no idea what pie weights were. You may be wondering how a person can reach the age of 33 without ever having come across pie weights, but there you have it. So, where the recipe directs the pie maker to "line crust with foil and fill with pie weights or pennies", I thought, "pennies. okay, I can do pennies". Having no inkling as to the purpose of pie weights, I dug in the bottom of my purse and found a handful of pennies, dimes and quarters and tossed them in the foil lined pie crust thinking I had nailed it!


As some of you may already know, pie weights are these little ceramic balls which ensure not only even baking of the bottom and sides of the pie crust, but also prevent it from bubbling and from shrinking. Having since done some research, people also have used dried beans or rice or stones in lieu of tiny ceramic balls like these. Also, crucial to the success of pie weights is filling (or nearly filling) the crust with pie weights. A smattering of a few coins is pointless. Needless to say, my crust shrank like nobody's business.

But, I soldiered on and completed the recipe - even the fine mesh sieve step, which is a HUGE pain in the ass but made for a really smooth silky pie filling.

The pumpkin filling entirely engulfed the pie crust, but I baked it according to the recipe anyway and it actually came out tasting really really good. The crust, even though it shrunk, was flaky and buttery and the pumpkin pie filling was WAY better than the evaporated milk version.

VERDICT: Delicious pumpkin pie recipe, but DO NOT underestimate the importance of pie weights.

Note to Self: Ask Santa for pie weights.


Mars Girl said...

First off, I love pumpkin pie. So thanks for talking about how wonderful pumpkin pie is. Yum, yum, yum.

Secondly, I am not repulsed by the idea of grape pie. That sounds GREAT!! (or, hehe, GRAPE.) Where can I get one??? I've always wondered, too, why they dont sell grape yogurt... cuz they have just about every other fruit... and Ilove grapes (and not just for drinking in their fermented form).

cathryn said...

MG - I don't know if it's the maple syrup or the yams that made it extra special, but this pumpkin pie recipe yields one extremely delicious pie!

Grape pie is awesome...if you like the purple Concord grapes :) My grandparents have a vineyard, so Concord Grape Pie has always been a family tradition.

Jennifer said...

I actually just saw pie weights the other day at Bed Bath & Beyond and instantly thought of you and our pie-baking days!!! I also recall you love to 'decorate' the pie (and think of you every time I see the leaf cookie cutter you used). One of the girls who bought pies from us begged me to make her an apple pie - I didn't cave (for once) and said no way!!

I don't like pumpkin pie (pumpkin roll, yes. pie no.) but will forward your recipe on to the foodies in the family who do - sounds like something Renee would love.

Glad you had a nice holiday!!

I am curious about the no-stuff turkey but Daniel has to tell me how to trade currency before he tells me about the bird-carcass-stuffing-aversion!

Mars Girl said...

I love to eat concord grapes... wine made out of them is too sweet for my tastes. This concord grape pie sounds FABULOUS. I think need to go find some...

Alison said...

Ask Santa for a bag of dried beans. They're cheaper! Even Santa's got to cut corners somewhere! Beans work, but you do have to use a LOT.

Note to self: do not read Cathryn's food-related posts while hungry. Even worse, I just read the post about your stepfather, and now I'm hungry for KFC and Twinkies.

mom said...

Pie weights? who knew. The pumpkin pie sounds devine...also sounds like a project that would take me an entire day to put together. Maybe some snowy, winter day, that's just what I'll do. yummy

cathryn said...

Jennifer - Good for you for not caving (a first!) :)

Alison - When Santa's bringing you a bag of dried beans, you know times are tough!

Mom - The pie actually didn't take too terribly long. I made it Wednesday night after work. Although I did go to bed before it was done baking and had Daniel take it out of the oven for me.