With Thanksgiving around the corner I’ve been getting a lot of questions about pies. Since the pies are my favorite part of the holiday, and usually the one I’m in charge of, I do have some tricks of the trade to pass along. So pull out a chair and come into my parlor.
Five Tips for Amazing Cream Pies
1: Use a cooked custard for your filling. Whether you use the recipes from Cornabys (And we have some great ones), or you love your Jello, go with the cooked versions. The benefits of the cooked versions are two fold. Part the first, the cooked custard sets more firmly and will be much easier to slice without making a huge mess. Part the second the lactose (milk sugar) in the dairy when cooked caramelizes and tastes fantastic, so you’ll get a much richer flavor from the cooked versions than the instant ones.
2: If you don’t use a cooked custard make sure to decrease the amount of liquid going into your instant pie filling so the starches can give you a more stable set.
3: Watch your heat! When cooking a pudding or custard there is the vast temptation to get the job done and kick the heat to high. Dairy does not like heat and in particular it doesn’t like to boil. When you boil your puddings you end up with scorching and a curdled mess. So cook your fillings on medium heat. It takes longer, but it gives you a better result.
4: Do not add flavorings or fruit to the custard until it has cooled for at least 10 minutes (the exception to this is cocoa powder which in a homemade custard you’ll add at the beginning and cook the product with the cocoa in it). Many of the extracts we use in cooking have an alcohol or oil base and if the custard is still too hot that will boil off immediately and many of those flavors will be lost. As well fruit can partially cook and brown and cookies will go soggy. So be patient.
5: Wait to top with whipping cream until your pies are completely cool. If they’re still warm they’ll liquify the cream and that is not a happy thing. As well…do your wonderful pies the justice of really good whipping cream. Many non dairy creamers are stable, but not particularly tasty or good for you. So look for a good real cream whipping cream. If you’re worried about your cream falling, just add 1 tsp of Ultra Gel per pint of cream when you’re whipping it and watch the magic.
Now, speaking of toppings, one of the toppings that many people like but struggle with is the meringue. Meringue is usually a combination of egg whites and sugar which has been whipped and then cooked just long enough to get a good set and a crispy exterior. Some recipes include a little cream of tartar to help stabilize the whip. Given all of that this is still a topping that many people struggle with because it can weep and break. So there are a few things I can suggest to keep this topping fantastic.
1: Always make sure your meringue comes all the way to the edge of the pie. If it’s just sitting in the center as it cooks the sugar around the edges will cause the meringue to melt and ooze. As long as you get the meringue to the crust or edge of the pie plate it will have something to bind to that isn’t sugary and won’t be as prone to break down.
2: Add a little Ultra Gel to your recipe (about 1 tsp per egg white). Add the Ultra Gel early on when you are first bringing your meringue to a foam and it will help to hold the moisture in the meringue and keep it from breaking both upon the first serving and even into the next day.
Here is our favorite recipe for meringue. We’d love to see yours!
Ultra Gel Meringue
3 egg whites
3 tsp Ultra Gel
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
In large bowl, beat egg whites Ultra Gel and cream of tartar until foamy. Gradually, 1 Tbsp at a time, add sugar, beating until fully incorporated before adding the next Tbsp. Beat to stiff peaks. Spread over prepared pie and bake at 350 until top is just browned. Enjoy!