Pie is the capper to any and every Thanksgiving celebration, but mastering it is perhaps the most challenging part of the meal. Sogginess, underbaking, and the wrong equipment are all baking sins that have probably sent you out of the room with your head hung low. If you’re beginning to doubt your skills as the big day creeps closer, take some advice from the pie man himself, Derek Kaplan of Miami's legendary Fireman Derek’s Pies.
1. Don’t screw up the crust.
A buttery, flaky crust is crucial for supporting a hearty filling, but for us non-pastry chefs, achieving the ideal consistency and color is intimidating. Don’t sweat it, though — even Kaplan says it’s OK to “leave it to the professionals” and opt for a high-quality, store-bought one so you’re not stuck with a last-minute crust crisis.
If you’re confident you can take on the challenge yourself, Kaplan says the most common pie-making mistake is undercooking the crust. Be sure to leave the dough in the oven until it’s fully golden to avoid a soggy situation.
2. Focus on the filling.
One element of this dessert that you definitely shouldn’t cut corners on is the filling. Make sure your pie is stuffed with the ideal amount of sweetness – not too much, not too little. And, of course, fresh ingredients are always preferred.
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3. Use the right equipment.
Even the most experienced baker can be hindered by the lack of the right tools. When it comes to custard-based desserts, cookware can make or break the taste of your dish, so use a nonstick pan. “You don’t want to use something that you’re going to get a bottom layer that’s going to get burnt and give your filling an unsavory flavor,” Kaplan says.
4. Bake it to perfection.
By now, Fireman Derek has his recipes down to a science. Here’s how to bake your pie to perfection. You just have to know what to look for, like the color of your filling. “If you’re going to do something with fruit, like an apple pie, you want it to where the liquid in the fruit is a caramelized golden brown,” Kaplan explains. He also cites bubbles as another sign of readiness. “You want to see those bubbles in that pie. The liquid in your pie should be bubbling out and golden brown to know that it’s really done. For the less liquid varieties, like pecan pie, feel for firmness. “When you put something in the center to see if it’s done, what comes out should have a thick, viscous type of look to it. But if it’s like watery where it just oozes out, then it needs more time."
5. Make it ahead — sometimes.
The last thing you want this Thursday is to be stuck scrambling in the kitchen. By making food ahead of time, you’ll have one less thing to worry about. But before you pop your pie into the freezer, make sure it can hold up to the cold. Kaplan says feel free to freeze certain pies up to a week beforehand, but fruit-filled ones should be made fresh. “Things that freeze well would be like pecan pie, chocolate pecan pie, a custard-based pie, a key lime pie — stuff with milk products or with egg products,” Kaplan says. “But when you involve fruit... they have a water content, and when it freezes [and then] you unfreeze it, it gets soggy.” If the prospect of pie baking is still too daunting or your attempt turns into a last-minute disaster, Fireman Derek’s still got your back. Head to his Wynwood shop and pick up a full pie for $28 to $33 this Tuesday (call-ahead orders for Thanksgiving ended Saturday, so supplies are limited). There’s no shame in taking a little shortcut, so leave the desserts to Fireman Derek and concentrate on what Thanksgiving is really about: sharing time (and food) with family.
“Pies are very comforting,” Kaplan says. “It’s a dessert that’s easy to share with others.”