As mentioned, I feel strongly about pie for cultural reasons. If you can’t make it, find a decent bakery where you can buy one. To my way of thinking there aren’t many. Usually a manufactured crust (the kind you see in the freezer at the grocery store) is a dead giveaway that the product will suck. So is a big blocky rim on the pie or anything that looks like this.
As I’ve said, making pie crust from a mix is not hard. You just follow the directions on the box and fill the damn thing with fruit, sugar, flour and butter and shove it in the oven. But a few tricks are worth pointing out:
You can mix the dough with a fork. If I’m feeling particularly lazy, and I usually am, I use the electric mixer (for me, the Kitchenaid stand mixer is a gift from God) for about 15 seconds, just until the dough comes together.
Recipes always tell you to chill the dough before rolling it out, but if you leave it in the fridge for more than about 10 minutes it gets too hard to roll. Just saying.
For pumpkin pie, do not, I repeat DO NOT, bake the shell before filling it. That’s just crazy and the rim will burn before the filling is set. Speaking of which, never use anything but canned pumpkin. Fresh pumpkin pie is stringy and dealing with a whole pumpkin is a giant pain in the ass from start (lugging it home, cutting it up, seeding it, removing all that stringy stuff) to finish (Do I have enough puree? Too much? What is all this stringy crap in my pie? Eww). It is always disappointing, especially if you spent a whole freaking day making it when you could have just opened the damned can (always use plain puree and add your own spices, eggs, etc.) and caught up on Project Runway while it baked.
Making a prebaked shell for one crust pie gives me fits. The crusts always collapse or they shrink and become unusable, or the recipe calls for pie weights (what?) or tells you to fill the thing with dried beans while you bake it. Screw that. Just avoid them. Make a graham cracker crust (or use ginger snaps) or chuck the whole project and make brownies instead.
You can crimp the top and bottom crusts with a fork if you must, but I think this looks gross and it always burns because the crust is too thin. Plus the crust bonds with the pie plate and makes it really hard to cut and serve. See?
Better to use your thumb to pinch the edge between your index and middle fingers. It’s a tad Martha, but it looks so much nicer and the pieces hold together better. Look.
Apple pie: For the love of God, use only Macintosh or Rome apples. Any guest who requests a slice of cheddar for his pie should be asked to leave. Enough said.
Fill ‘er up: Go on, mound the fruit up high. There is nothing worse than a skimpy layer of filling. See top photo.
Lattice top pies: What are you on, crack?