For many years around the holidays, customers at our bakery would plead with us to make a pie that they could take home and bake; they’d get the taste (and all those great aromas) of a home-baked pie without having to actually make it.
I began testing and soon came up with methods for freezing our most popular pies—unbaked—without compromising their quality. As a result, when Fine Cooking called to see if I had a solution for time-pressed readers who really enjoy the process of making a pie—but who would rather not have to do it on the same day as all that other holiday cooking, I had some great tips to offer, not to mention some delicious recipes, too.
The three desserts you see on these pages—Apple Pie with Poached Dried Cherries, Brown Sugar & Sour Cream Pumpkin Pie, Pear-Cranberry Linzer Tart—aren’t difficult to prepare. Rather, they just require a couple of tricks to smooth the transfer into the freezer and then eventually into the oven. And their convenience is hard to beat: Prepare these pies up to six weeks before the holidays, freeze them, and then bake them on the big day. The crusts will be tender and flaky, not soggy, the fillings will be full of flavor—and your holiday entertaining will be that much easier.
Freeze fruit pies fully assembled, custard pies in two parts
How I choose to freeze a pie or tart depends on whether the pie is fruit- or custard-filled. Holiday fruit pies are more forgiving than custard pies, because firm-textured fruits like apples and pears retain a little of their own moisture while they bake, preventing that sogginess that can afflict some fruit pastries (berries come to mind) and custard pies. I assemble these fruit pies completely, freeze them immediately, and then, I’m ready to bake, I transfer them straight from the freezer to a hot oven. By not defrosting them first, I’m further protecting them against sogginess because the crust starts to bake and firm up before the fruit begins to give off juices. These frozen pies take a little more time to bake than a freshly assembled one, but the payoff is worth it.
I freeze custard pies in a “kit” made up of the filling and the pie shell. I find that keeping the custard and the pie shell separate is the best protection against sogginess. The day before I plan to bake the pumpkin pie, I pull the custard from the freezer; it needs to thaw in the refrigerator, not at room temperature. The next day, I blind bake the pie shell—that is, I bake it without the filling to let the pastry get golden brown and slightly crisp—and then I add the filling and finish baking. (For more tips, see below.) By handling the two elements this way, I keep the custard from weeping.
Tips for freezing:
The fruit pie & tart:
- Freeze immediately after assembling. It’s important to freeze the fruit pies as soon as you finish preparing them. Once fruit is mixed with sugar, it begins to exude moisture. This can cause ice crystals to form during freezing, which would melt and dampen the crust during baking.
- Wrap the pies tightly in several layers of plastic and label them.Wrapping well will keep out moisture and prevent ice crystals from forming. (If freezing for longer than a week, add an outer layer of foil as well.) To remember where to find the baking instructions for the pies, label the pie with the issue and page number from Fine Cooking’s Holiday Baking—and the date, too.
The pumpkin pie:
- Immediately freeze the custard to prevent off flavors. Put the finished custard mixture in a clean, airtight container and put it in the coldest part of your freezer. If allowed to sit even overnight in the refrigerator, the pumpkin can start to ferment, thickening the custard and eventually giving it a sour flavor.
- Immediately freeze the pie shell. Freezing pastry quickly prevents the butter from melting, which will mean a flaky, tender texture when the shell is baked.
Tips for baking:
The fruit pie & tart:
- Go directly from freezer to oven. Don’t defrost the pie first. Unwrap it and put it in the heated oven so that the crust begins to bake before the fruit has a chance to start thawing.
- Use a heated baking sheet or pizza stone for the crispiest crust. To cook the frozen pies evenly, I recommend baking them on the bottom rack of the oven on a heated baking sheet. This setup mimics the strong bottom heat of my bakery’s oven. Using a pizza or bread stone is even better. A stone does a wonderful job of radiating heat and crisping the pie shell to a beautiful golden brown.
The pumpkin pie:
- Defrost the custard a day ahead. I thaw the pumpkin custard in the refrigerator overnight and then thoroughly whisk it to make it smooth and incorporate any icy bits that might be floating in the liquid.
- Blind bake the shell. For a crisp crust, bake the shell first (see the recipe directions) and then fill it with the pumpkin custard and finish baking.
Want to skip the freezer?
If you want to skip the freezer and go straight to the oven, just watch the clock. While these pies are versatile enough to withstand the stress of freezing, you can also bake them immediately after assembling them. Bake the pies according to the recipes’ instructions, but start checking for doneness about half an hour before the indicated times. On average, these desserts should take about 15 minutes less time to bake than the frozen ones.