“Why don’t we just bake all three pies ourselves?” asked my beau. I paused in the middle of my panic attack. My brother, who was hosting Thanksgiving dinner, requested that we bring pies from an amazing bakery by our home. Easy peasy, right? Well, it was…until I went to reserve them online and discovered they were already booked up and not taking any more online orders.
At the time I was frantically considering alternative options, and baking them ourselves wasn’t in the equation. Should I show up early to the pie shop on Thanksgiving morning and hope they had a few extra? Order from Baker’s Square? Swing by the Whole Foods bakery section?
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Or perhaps baking was a viable option.
I was skeptical. We both love to cook but we’re not really bakers. I work a full time job and didn’t plan on taking any time off around the holidays, so the only time we’d really have to do it was on Thanksgiving morning. In the end it was risky, but we pulled it off and our apple, pumpkin, and bourbon pecan pies garnered rave reviews. So if you’re in the same boat for your upcoming holiday celebrations, simply follow these six simple steps to wow your friends with three (or more) amazing pies, all completed before you start thinking about lunch.
1. Do your research, and don’t be a martyr.
Pies range from the super-simple to the uber-fancy. But you don’t need to fall on your sword to make something crazy and complicated to impress your family. In our seemingly endless research for recipes, we found many pies that were simple to assemble but had hundreds or thousands of five star ratings. Our apple pie, for example, used an apple cider syrup which gave it a little something extra, but was super easy to make with cider we already had at home. Beyond that, recipes were pretty straightforward and didn’t use hard-to-find ingredients. Take some time a few days ahead to find highly rated recipes with just a few steps. If there are ones where you can do some prep ahead of time (see number three below), even better, so you’re less rushed come baking day.
2. Buy pre-made crust.
Along the lines of “don’t be a martyr,” pre-made crust is an easy shortcut when you’re short on time. That was a no-brainer for us: I don’t think I had ever made a pie crust from scratch before (or if I had, it’s been a really long time) and if I screwed it up, I wasn’t going to have time to re-do it. While there are some truly amazing pie crust recipes out there, and some people will argue that the crust really makes the pie, if your filling is wonderful nobody will notice that the crust is store bought. Pie crusts are easily found at any grocery store; simply let them warm up a bit, roll them out, and voila: You’re ready to go.
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3. Prep whatever you can the night before.
I didn’t get home from work the night before Thanksgiving until after 7 p.m. and we had dinner reservations for our anniversary at 8 p.m. However, in that hour we quickly whipped up the pumpkin pie filling and left it in the fridge overnight so the flavors could develop–the recipe’s recommendation. The next day we simply poured it into the pie pan and popped it in the oven before we had our morning coffee. Pie number one was done in a flash.
Related Reading: 13 Twists on Traditional Pumpkin Pie
4. Create a bake day timeline.
When you’re on a tight time schedule, be sure to look at how much time each pie needs to bake, along with how much time each needs to be prepped. And make sure the timing is realistic! For me, any time a recipe says “30 minutes to prep,” I know it will take me an hour because I’m slow. Time your prep for one pie while the other is in the oven; for us, since the pumpkin was already mixed the night before, it went into the oven right away while we assembled the other two. Similarly, the pecan pie took less time to prep than the apple, so it was next in the oven, even though the cooking time was longer.
5. Have the right tools.
I was singing the praises of our glorious mandoline as I thinly sliced eight cups of apples for the apple pie. It would have taken me forever if I had to do it by hand. I only wish I had an apple corer, as picking out the tough inner core and random seeds from my giant bowl of sliced apples was a big pain and added an unexpected delay. I also dug out the rolling pin I rarely use but was soooo glad I hadn’t given away, as rolling out the dough using a makeshift pin (pint glass, perhaps?) would have been a time-consuming disaster as well. If you don’t have essential tools like these, they may be worth a purchase, as you’ll have opportunities to use them in the future. If you don’t want to buy them, chances are you’ll have a friend who will be happy to lend them to you. Especially if you promise them a slice later.
6. Leave time to cool.
Nothing will ruin well-made pies faster than if you wrap them up to take to a party before they’ve fully had a chance to cool. Fillings will collapse or remain watery, crusts will get soggy, and all that effort will result in mediocrity instead of fabulousness. So when planning your timing up in number four above, make sure to account for at least an hour or two to cool on a wire rack before you transport them.
PieBox Pie Carrier, $35 on Food52
Protect your precious pies in transport.
10-Inch Thanksgiving Paper Pie Boxes, 2 for $9.99 at World Market
Or go with a cheaper option you don't need to bring back home.
Now that you have the plan, below are some examples of pies that should be delicious and fit the bill for easy, fast baking, starting with the three that we made. Get ready to impress your friends without taking up all your vacation time!
Related Reading: The Best Way to Store Pie
The little something extra in this recipe was the apple cider concentrate, also known as boiled cider, which gave this pie a super-kick of apple flavor. You can buy it in bottles, but we made it with cider we had in the fridge. Simply pour a generous amount in a saucepan, bring to a rolling boil, then turn down to a simmer until it reduces down to as little as 1/7th of its original volume. It will still be pretty liquidy, but once you remove it from the heat, pour into a glass container, and put in the fridge for an hour, it will gel into a delicious, apple-y syrup.
If we were to do this again, I’d make the concentrate the night before to save some time, but as long as you keep your eye on it, you can let it reduce down while you work on other steps. We skipped the vanilla, but as for the rest of the recipe, we followed it exactly. Get the King Arthur Apple Pie recipe.
This was so incredibly easy and the clear winner at Thanksgiving dinner. Mix all the ingredients the night before, let it rest in the fridge, then just pour it into the crust and into the oven it goes. I’d recommend brushing the crust with an egg white wash, made from whisking one egg white with one tablespoon water, to keep it from burning in the super hot oven. The flavors were perfect. Get the King Arthur Flour Pumpkin Pie recipe.
The recipe doesn’t actually call for bourbon, but my beau, who believes that pecan pie is “the greatest pie to ever be a pie,” wanted it, so we threw a few tablespoons into the mix. We overloaded on pecans so they didn’t sink to the bottom, but if that happens to you, simply layer on decorative pecan halves to the top before you put it in the oven. Get Ree Drummond’s Pecan Pie recipe.
Key lime pie is one of my favorite pies, so I look forward to making this one over and over again. This pie uses a graham cracker crust that’s actually pretty foolproof and easy to make, so if you wanted to give yourself a little bit of extra time to try a homemade crust this is probably the one to do. If not, premade graham cracker crusts can be found in the baking aisle, already pressed into disposable pans.
The key to key lime pie, so to speak, is actually making sure you’re using real key limes and not regular limes that you find in the grocery store. You’ll get a delicious tang along with the sweetness of the rest of the pie. Get our Key Lime Pie recipe.
Who doesn’t love chocolate in their pies (or really in any form, at any time of day or night)? Don’t be scared off by the supposed need for a stand mixer for this one. If you’ve got a little bit of elbow grease or a hand-held mixer, you’ll do just fine. The nice thing about this pie is that it’s a no-bake. Once you’re done you just throw it in the refrigerator for a while to set up while all the other ones are doing their thing in the oven. Get our Chocolate Mousse Pie recipe.
Fruit pies are always refreshing, and this one is a cinch to pull together. Simply mix and go. It’s also really easy to finish the different steps in this one, as you can prep the streusel while the main pie bakes and press it in as soon as it’s done. Get our Peach Melba Pie recipe.
Another refrigerated option! Cream pies lend a certain decadent mouthfeel and elegance, and banana and coconut is a winning flavor combination. You’ll need a thermometer and it will take a little time as you need to keep your eye on it, but as soon as this pie is done, just set it in the fridge and you’re good to go. Get our Banoconut Cream Pie recipe.
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This serrated-edge pie server makes dishing up dessert neat and easy.
For more tips, tricks, hacks, and recipes, see our Ultimate Guide to Thanksgiving.
Related Video: The World’s Fastest Pumpkin Pie
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