Preheat Your Oven: 6 Crowd-Pleasing Holiday Recipes

I love to bake, and the Holiday Season gives me the perfect excuse to be in the kitchen and bake a batch of cookies to take to work or a holiday party. I mean, what’s the point of baking if you’re not going to share? Below are some of my favorite holiday treats.

Pumpkin Bakes
To me, it’s not the holidays without pumpkin. So, I am always looking for good pumpkin recipes. However, most of my family doesn’t like pumpkin. (What is wrong with them?)

The winner for my whole family is Pumpkin Chip Cookies, which taste enough like Chocolate Chip Cookies to fool my father and my nephew. The pumpkin makes them extremely moist, so they remain gooey on the inside, and the subtle pumpkin flavor combined with the cinnamon gives these cookies a nice holiday zing.IMG_0032

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21 Tips & Tricks for Baking a Perfect Pie

Grab a slice! It’s National Pie Day! Why is National Pie Day celebrated on January 23 (or 1/123)? According the the American Pie Council (yes, there’s a council), it’s because celebrating the wholesome goodness of pie is as easy as 1-2-3. Despite their corny motto, they have created this day on the calendar to celebrate the American culinary heritage that takes the form of pie.

I’m a baker by hobby. And, well — modesty aside — I make good pies. Crowd-tested, clean-the-plate good. So to help you celebrate National Pie Day, I’m sharing some of my pie making tips and tricks. Take notes.

1. If you’re going to the trouble of making your pie crust from scratch, you want it to be perfect. So, start by keeping your ingredients chilled until you’re ready to make the dough.

2. And speaking of keeping things cold, make it easier to deal with by refrigerating the dough for about 30 minutes before you roll it.

3. Traditional dough recipes may not call for sugar, but adding a bit may help the crust turn out more tender. Make sure your recipe calls for butter and shortening if you want a flakier crust.

4. Depending on what pie you’re making, you can also choose to add spices to the pie crust dough to bring out the flavors. Try adding nutmeg, ginger or cinnamon.

5. If you’re intimidated by making pie crust from scratch (or just don’t have the time), buy a ready-made refrigerated one at the grocery store. No one will judge you — or perhaps even notice.

6. Having the right pie plate or pan can really make a difference. I swear by my heavy ceramic pie pan because it retains heat so well for even baking.

7. Just before you put your pie in the oven to bake, whisk an egg with a touch of water (or milk or cream) and brush the egg wash over the crust edges and top to create a nice, golden glaze.

8. Or, if you want the pie crust to look dull rather than have a glossy finish, brush the crust with milk only.

9. If you’re making a fruit-filled pie, put your pie plate/pan on a baking sheet to catch any drippings and save yourself a big mess to clean up later.

10. Recipes for fruit pies which call for cornstarch are the way to go. It thickens the fruit filling for a scrumptious and less-runny treat.

11. When making an all-American apple pie, slice your apples thin for best results and even baking of both the fruit and crust.

12. With the exception of apple pie, butter doesn’t do you any favors in making fruit pie filling. It actually can dull the flavor of your peaches and berries, so go without.

13. Dark, unsulphured molasses is the secret to enhancing your pumpkin pie’s rich and hearty pumpkin-y flavor.

14. To achieve picture-perfect pecan pie, use whole pecans instead of chopped. And be mindful of your source. Whenever possible, buy local for the freshest nuts.

15. If you notice the pie crust is browning too quickly in the oven (especially with double-crusted pies), cover the pie loosely with aluminum foil and put it back in the oven on the bottom rack.

16. Once you remove it from the oven, your pie will continue to bake as it cools. So don’t be afraid if it’s a tad wobbly in the center when you remove it.

17. Let your pie cool and settle for at least 20 minutes before you even think about digging in. Some pies call for even longer cooling times or overnight refrigeration.

18. For your cream and custard pies, whip up your meringue topping with a pinch of baking soda to beaten egg whites. It helps meringue stand up higher.

19. When slicing a pie that has meringue on top, dip your knife in cold water before you cut a slice to keep the meringue looking all fluffy and picture-perfect.

20. Make sure read the entire recipe ahead of time. You don’t want to be an hour away from a dinner party and find out you needed to refrigerate something overnight.

21. When in doubt, follow the recipe. Most often, they’ve been tried and tested and will likely guide you to the best possible outcome. But once you feel comfortable, by all means, experiment!

Wishing you each a lick-your-fork-clean slice of pie today.  

Now go eat, drink and be merry – Meredith

Photo Source: Frame By Frame Baking: A Visual Step-by-Step Cookbook by Parragon Books, available at your local HPB store and online on the HPB Marketplace.

Meredith is Associate Creative Director at Half Price Books Corporate.
You can follow her on Twitter at @msquare21.