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Thanksgiving is my Olympics. I say this as a person who regularly has smudges of flour on her clothes (and face). I train all year for the one fateful day where it makes total sense to bake as many pies as possible—enough to feed my wonderfully large family and still have leftovers for breakfast pie in the days that follow. This year, as I was finishing my cookbook, I had a little less pie play time on my hands. Instead of dreaming up a towering three-tiered wonder or pies inspired by other desserts, like I’ve done in years past, I wanted to create some pies that looked impressive but were easy to pull off.
Just pour into a par-baked crust and, hey, not too fussy. Photo by Ren Fuller
First up: an incredible version of pumpkin pie that always looks like a million bucks because it will NEVER crack. No fear, here: This pumpkin pie isn’t a true pumpkin pie, which is traditionally a custard pie that uses eggs to help set the filling. The proteins in eggs are wonderful but slightly fickle; if they are overbaked, they can contract, creating a pie with visible cracks on the surface. But this pumpkin-ified version of sugar pie uses flour to set the filling, which means that even if it gets a smidge overbaked, the top is perfectly smooth.
I'm uncrackable. Ok? Photo by Ren Fuller
The pie still tastes custardy, since it’s made with heavy cream and milk, and is insanely silky. Best of all, this pie couldn’t be easier to make—just mix all the filling ingredients to combine and dump in a par-baked pie crust, then bake again until the filling is set.
This, here, is the easiest way you can decorate any smooth-topped pie. Photo by Ren Fuller
The beautiful, smooth surface of this lovely pie opens up a whole new world of décor options, too. A sprinkling of candied nuts or crushed up brittle, a swirly layer of caramel sauce, or a piped topping (I’m down with boozy or otherwise flavored whipped cream). But my personal favorite is also the easiest: I like to dust a pattern onto the smooth surface with powdered sugar. I love to use the doilies I’ve inherited from my grandma to create stunning (but easy) patterns on the top of the pie. Just gently drape the doily (or any other stencil you like) over the pie, and dust it with powdered sugar. Lift the stencil straight up to leave the cleanest pattern.
The second beauty, a single crust apple pie, is amazing because it needs no lattice, no top crust—no finishing on the surface at all! It’s a stunner all on its own, due to some deliberate (but not difficult) arrangement of apples. Best of all, it tastes amazing, the texture of the apples is the perfect combination of soft with a little crispness. They get a sort of roast-y flavor from being uncovered during their bake time. Yes, you can recreate it.
You begin by slicing the apples super thin, then sweeten and season them with spices. I do the slicing by hand, but you can certainly bring in the help of a mandolin or the slicing attachment of a food processor. It also doesn’t need to be insanely thin—just as thin as you can comfortably go. The thinner the slices are, the easier it is to get them to create the final shape.
That beautiful pie? It starts here. Photo by Ren Fuller
I stand by my tried and true method: After peeling, I cut the apple in quarters. Then, with my knife at a 45-degree angle, I cut the core out of the apple, leaving a flat surface where the core was removed. With this flat surface, it’s easier to cut the apples thinly. Then, I sweeten the apples with brown sugar and season them with the typical pie spices. After they’ve been tossed, I arrange the apples in the par-baked pie crust.
Photo by Ren Fuller
Even if you just dump it all in there, it will taste good. Photo by Ren Fuller
I do it in a rosette, but anything really goes: concentric circles, a spiral, even “stripes” of the apples, all fanned out. Or, you can totally dump the thin slices right in the center and leave it at that—it will taste just as good.