Perfect Thanksgiving Pies: tips for pie success

Thanksgiving is stressful. The prep, the multiple sides and appetizers and desserts that need to be made, and all those dirty dishes… it’s enough to overwhelm even the best planner.

While we’ve got the perfect blog to help with all the savory meal planning, we feel a certain special responsibility to our fellow bakers in dessert land. So I sat down and talked to one of our King Arthur Flour bakers specialists about the #1 reason each of the most popular Thanksgiving pies fail – and how to remedy the issue.

We’d love to share with you our top test-kitchen tips for perfect Thanksgiving pies.

Because we want you to create perfect pies EVERY TIME. The creamiest chocolate cream, an apple pie that will be remembered for years to come – they really are possible. Every time.

Really.

Take a deep breath and read on.

Perfect Thanksgiving Pies via @kingarthurflour

1) Runny apple pie

Apple Pie is one of America’s most iconic desserts. It also seems to be one of the most stressful to make. Our baker’s hotline gets so many calls from home bakers with apple pie anxiety. The most common question: is the first cut going to reveal a soupy mess?

First off, as tempting as it may smell, waiting until ANY and ALL pies have fully cooled will go a long way to ensuring a set filling.

The type of thickener you use also really makes a big difference in the search for the perfect pie. Our Pie Thickener Chart is handy tool to have whenever you bake. Some prefer cornstarch, others like flour, but just know that the thickener can be easily swapped out of your recipe.

I personally prefer Pie Filling Enhancer in my apple pies. The blend of thickener, superfine sugar, and ascorbic acid really brightens up my flavors, as well as giving me the perfect thickness. But again, refer to our chart and figure out what you prefer.

Perfect Thanksgiving Pies via @kingarthurflour

2) Cracked pumpkin pie

You mixed and prepped and poured your Pumpkin Pie perfectly. Phew.

But, darn it – it cracked when you pulled it from the oven. Sure, whipped cream could cover it up well enough, but we know you crave perfection. So what to do?

Pumpkin pie filling is basically a custard; the eggs in the filling will continue cooking as the heat from the edge of the pie moves toward the center, which is why it’s important to remove the pie from the oven before the center is completely set. Leaving it in the oven too long will cause the eggs to overcook, tightening the proteins and causing the pie to crack in the center.

Another option? Use your instant-read thermometer to take the pie’s temperature at its center (which will still look quite soft). It should be about 175°F (for a softer pie) to 180°F (for a firmer one).

So don’t throw this baby in the oven and run off to the store. Timing truly is key. If there are any fellow visual learners reading along, PJ’s blog on Spicy Pumpkin Pie is great to use as a reference when baking.

Perfect Thanksgiving Pies via @kingarthurflour

3) Soupy chocolate cream pie

Chocolate Cream Pie is a holiday favorite. Because chocolate.

So yes, you will definitely still eat it, even if it comes out like soup in a crust – but you shouldn’t have to!

Once you add the eggs and cream, you want to make sure you cook the filling enough to thicken the mixture. You want a thick layer to stick to the back of the spoon when dipped. Any sooner, and the filling won’t set, resulting in a chocolate-y soup.

And while we’re here, let’s talk about whipped cream. Is anyone confused about how long to beat it? My fellow blogger MaryJane wrote a terrific post about how to perfectly whip cream. It’s worth a read!

Perfect Thanksgiving Pies via @kingarthurflour

4) Corn syrup-filled pecan pie

People seem to have great success with baking their pecan pie. They know to take it out while the center has a bit of a wobble, but is no longer liquid – resulting in the perfect pie when fully cooled.

What they do have an issue with is all of the corn syrup used in the filling. Some can’t live without it; others… can. For those with that issue, we suggest you give our Old-Fashioned Pecan Pie a try. This classic dessert uses brown sugar and a longer bake time to thicken and flavor this buttery-sweet pie.

Another option would be the use of cane sugar instead of corn syrup. Lyle’s Golden Pecan Pie is a King Arthur favorite, and we know you and your family will love it as well.

Perfect Thanksgiving Pies via @kingarthurflour

5) Apple pie… again

I know I already covered Apple Pie, but our bakers just have so many questions. So one more: why the huge gap between the top crust and filling?

Making a mile-high apple pie requires a lot of apples – but the thing about apples is they cook down. And the top crust typically bakes and sets in place before the filling cooks down, leaving behind a bit of empty space. So what to do?

Try slicing your apples thinner. That way you have more apples in the filling and those thinner slices have less room to shrink.

If you’re worried about those thin slices turning your pie into apple sauce, try switching your apples up to firmer ones like Granny Smith or Gala. They’ll hold their shape better in the oven. Thinner sliced apples also make for an easier time slicing your pie. A win/win/win? We think so!

If apple pies still seem pretty daunting (and for my fellow visual learner friends!) Posie’s blog on The Perfect Apple Pie will walk you through the whole process, with even more tips and tricks included.

Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be stressful, truly. With these pie tips, we’re hoping that at least the dessert will be easy-peasy. And as always, give our friendly Baker’s Hotline a call with any baking questions. They’ve heard it all, so they’ve got all the answers!

So bake to your heart’s delight with confidence, and remember to be thankful for the wonderful company of whoever is sharing dessert with you this Thanksgiving. Happy baking!

Gwen Adams
About

Gwen Adams grew up in northern New Hampshire, on top of a mountain, surrounded by nature and not much else. After graduating from Lyndon State College in 2010, Gwen sought a career that combined her passion for writing with her love of baking. She found ...

comments

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Freezing before or after may depend on the type of pie. Some are only at their best when fresh such as pumpkin or chocolate cream. Apple can be frozen before or after. Increase the baking time if baking straight from the freezer. Should you decide to defrost first, do so in the refrigerator. Additional baking time may be in order in this case, too. You may bake pecan pie and then freeze. Allow to defrost in the refrigerator and allow to come to room temp before serving. 15 minutes in a preheated oven can’t hurt either! I know we are always trying to save on time, but fresh is best! Elisabeth@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Barbara, my first thought is that the pie is either being overbaked or the oven is on too high of a temperature. To dig deeper into this issue, please consider giving our Baker’s Hotline a call so we can help you get to the bottom of this issue! 855-371-2253. Happy baking! Bryanna@KAF

  1. Margy

    Just to make people aware, corn syrup for home cooking (eg., Karo(c) syrup), is NOT the same as high fructose corn syrup (used in manufactured foods as a sugar substitute). Just in case that was the concern people had about using it.

    Reply
    1. Fro37

      I agree as well–use the ‘No high fructose’ corn syrup, such as Karo. They actually carry this as their syrup brand. The taste (and easy measuring) is still there without the refined additive.

  2. Kay

    Thanks for the tips! Unfortunately my pumpkin pie has a big ol’ crack in it because its the first time I’ve made it, but I’ve got whipped cream on deck for presentation time. I always over bake my pies, cheesecakes, and brownies, alas. I always err on the side of over baked.

    Your pumpkin pie recipe is delicious and I’ll make it again for sure! I also used your pie crust recipe and it worked out well. I am a pie crust novice so it’s good practice to make.

    Reply
    1. Kay

      Follow up question: is there any way to keep a pumpkin or custard pie from getting watery when you transport it? I brought a pumpkin pie to work, kept it in the fridge until lunch, but it was watery when I pulled it out to bring it to the table.

    2. The Baker's Hotline

      Kay, a watery–or weeping–pie is usually a sign of being overcooked. When it’s cooked for too long, the protein in the eggs squeezes the water out (think those watery scrambled eggs at the summer camp buffet). Try blind baking, or pre-baking, the crust for a little bit before adding the filling. Then look to see that the pumpkin pie is still a bit jiggly in the center when it’s done baking. Hope this helps! Bryanna@KAF

  3. Loretta

    I am uncertain as to how long to wait to check the temp of my pumpkin pie. Do you check the center o by visually for amount of doneness to decide when to insert a thermometer? Or do you pull it out within a certain time range after the beginning of baking? I was thinking of a time range within five minutes or so to allow for oven variance.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      If the range is 45 – 50 minutes, begin to check at 35-38 minutes. Give the pan a little shake. That should tell you pretty quickly where you (the pie!) are and where you need to go. Feel free to stick the thermometer in at this point (or any point) if you are unsure. As Gwen states, the filling will still be a little jiggly even with a reading of 175 degrees F. Good luck! You can do this! Elisabeth@KAF

  4. Ava Cohn

    Love your advice on pie baking. What would you suggest to make eggless pumpkin and pecan pies? I’m allergic to all egg products and crave the favorites from my childhood when I could still eat eggs.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      I’m sorry, Ava. These types of pies are in the custard family and rely on the eggs for structure and flavor. Perhaps try searching for vegan versions? I’m not sure how they would compare though. Jon@KAF

  5. Shelly

    Pies are the best part of thanksgiving dinner! We usually have 20-25 people for dinner, and at least 8 different pies. Thank you for the troubleshooting post. We usually have all of the above pies at our gathering, so this will be very helpful. Question: in one of the comments for a pecan pie recipe on your site it is mentioned that 200 degrees is the goal to make sure it’s done. Is that usually true for all pecan pies or just that recipe?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We haven’t tried all the pecan pie recipes, but it seems to be a reasonable guide. Laurie@KAF

  6. Jackie

    I realize I have the advantage of living in an area where there is a huge selection of apples for eating and/or pie. I make a freezer full of apple pies every fall. I freeze them raw and bake them straight from the freezer. I never get anything but rave reviews for my apple pies. The one thing I would never ever use is Granny Smith. I know they are recommended many times and I think it’s because there are so few choices in parts of the country. Granny Smith,in my opinion, are tasteless and hard. I find they never cook up so that you end up eating crunchy apple pie. My favorite, early gold, is from our wonderful orchards close by. Yellow delicious, Ginger golds, and a multitude of others also work really really well. Just never Granny Smith. I think a variety of apples is even better. Just never Granny Smith.

    Reply
  7. DB

    Good pointers for classic pies; I was also happy to find the “pie any way you slice it” blog. I’ve been baking for many years, but am often unsatisfied with piecrusts. Last weekend I tried the pie crust techniques outlined in the blog, and the delicate crispy crust elevated my pie from good to sublime!

    Giving thanks for the King Arthur website 🙂

    Reply
  8. Barbara

    I can never get my pecan pie out of the pie plate without it sticking and eventually having to be chiseled out. How can I prevent this from happening?

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid

      Barbara, do you grease the pie plate before putting in your crust? This step can go a long way toward eliminating that “sacrificial slice”. Spray the pan, line it with pie pastry, and be sure to chill it while you assemble the filling-this will help keep the crust from shrinking. Greasing the pan will also help make your bottom crust more crisp. Susan

  9. Liz

    You’re right, Jackie: I think Granny Smith are recommended because they are such a good tart eating apple, and because back when people started to realize that there were different apples they were readily identifiable as “not Red Delicious.” But nowadays, in my area as well, there are many other choices that are better. I like JonaGold: big, easy to peel, and tasty. It is true that some of the other popular apples are not a good choice, like Macintosh, which cooks to mush. I think your recommendation of several varieties is spot on.

    Reply
  10. Vincent

    To eliminate the Apple Pie gap, I like to briefly pre-cook the apples on the stove top. Combine 1/3 cup flour, 1/2 cup white sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon salt for the filling. Peel, core, and thickly slice 3 pounds of apples, cutting each apple into 12 wedges. Heat 3 tablespoons of butter in a dutch oven over high heat until sizzling and fragrant. Add the apples and toss to coat with butter. Reduce heat to medium high and cook for exactly 7 minutes, stirring often. Add flour and sugar mixture and cook for about 2 minutes until the juices star to thicken. Spread apples on baking sheet and cool. Prepare the crust, fill with the cooled apples, dot with 1/2 tablespoon butter, cover with top crust, cut vent holes, and bake at 425 for 40-50 minutes until golden brown and filling is bubbling.

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid

      Makes perfect sense to us, Vincent. If you don’t want to babysit the apples on the stove you can also bake the filling for 25 minutes at 350°F in a 9″ x 13″ pan for the same results. Susan

  11. nlwhite911

    When making apple pies with a top crust, I always cook my filling for about 5 mins after the mixture comes to a simmer. That way they have reduced down and it avoids the ‘gap’. I rarely use a top crust but go with a streusel topping and then I don’t have that problem. Only when I make a walnut crusted upside down apple pie do I use a top crust. Oh yeah, that’s some apple pie!
    P.S. Boiled cider is an absolutely necessity in apple anything. yum, yum, yum!

    Reply
  12. Corrie

    I am a novice pie baker. Can you tell me how to keep the bottom crust from getting soggy on an apple pie?

    Thanks so much…

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Corrie, choose a darker-colored metal pie pans that will more readily conduct and transfer heat (rather than stoneware, ceramic, or glass which can take longer to heat). The metal pan will help your crust brown more quickly and prevent it from becoming soggy. You can also try brushing the bottom of your crust with an egg wash and pre-baking the crust before you top it with any filling. This is known as “Blind Baking,” and we have a helpful blog written about How to Blind Bake Pie Crust: Pre-Baking Yields Perfect Results. I hope this helps! Kye@KAF

  13. Debbie

    Love reading all these tips and others questions help me also!
    Sometimes my pumpkin pie crust sticks to the metal pan and I’m not sure why.
    Could I spray the pan like you suggested for the apple pie?
    Thank you.

    Reply
  14. Suzanne R

    I’ve been making pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving for years – and this year, for the first time, I made the filling about 36 hours ahead, and stashed it in the fridge. That simple step made a huge difference in the finished pie! Not only was the filling ready to go when I baked the pie on Thanksgiving morning (one less item to measure and mix!), but the flavor was incredible! My MIL declared:”this is how pumpkin pie should taste!”

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel

      Bette, I’d thaw it at room temperature overnight, then reheat it for maybe 30minutes at 350°F just prior to serving. Enjoy! PJH

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