Holiday Pie Primer

There is perhaps no other pastry that causes more frustration and heartache for bakers than pie – specifically the crust. I struggled for years to figure out why it was so difficult! Now I can pass some helpful hints on to you. This holiday pie primer is intended to help you improve your pie making skills this holiday season! There is a great deal of information here and links to other posts on this blog as well. Keep at your side and enjoy your holiday pie projects!

I tend to make all butter pie crusts. They are easier to roll and have great flavor. The down side is that they tend to be slightly less flaky than pie crusts made with lard or shortening. I recommend all butter pastry for those who struggle to roll out pie crust. Once you master the technique with this delicious crust the skills can transfer to shortening/lard crusts which need a bit more finesse.

I love pie crust made with lard. It is flaky, light, and melts in your mouth. I tend not to use lard very often because it is more difficult to find and it tends to freak people out a bit (all that saturated fat, I guess!)

I don’t use vegetable shortening of any kind. That’s my personal preference but it is a good substitute if you don’t feel comfortable using lard.

To get the best of both worlds, crusts can be made with half butter and half shortening or lard. Buttery and flaky at the same time! Use our favorite recipe for all butter pastry and change the proportions to suit your tastes. This link includes detailed instructions with photographs to help you properly mix and roll out a tender, flaky pie crust.

There are basically 4 types of pies: cream, fruit, custard, and savory. Below are varieties of each of the dessert pies typical for the holidays with links to either full blog posts or recipes that you can use for your holiday baking.


cream pies:

chocolate cream (full blog post)

coconut cream (recipe only)

banana cream

Cream pies have a crust that is fully baked and then filled with a filling that is cooked separately. The crust must be well baked so that the filling doesn’t cause it to become soggy. These pies are kept refrigerated and served cold.

My secret for baking a pie shell is to bake it upside down. Yes, that’s correct, upside down. This keeps the pie shell from sliding down the side of the pie plate and helps it brown more evenly. This can only be done with metal pie pans (glass is too thick and too heavy) – I use the disposable kind and then gently transfer the shell to a decorative pie plate if I want a fancier dish for presentation.

Form the pie shell in the disposable plate.

Press a second disposable pie plate gently into the shell so that the dough is sandwiched between the two tins.

Flip it upside down and place on a baking sheet.

Bake at 400F until the shell is golden brown and no damp spots remain. (The crust pictured below still has damp spots and needs to continue to bake.)

You can check this by using the tip of a paring knife to gently lift the pie tin off. Hint: If the plate is really stuck to the dough, it’s not baked yet!


fruit pies:


berry  (full blog post)


Fruit pies can have either a single bottom crust or also have a top crust that is either full or decorative. These crusts are almost always filled unbaked and then the crust and filling are baked together.


custard pies:

pumpkin  (recipe only)

squash  (recipe only)

sweet potato

buttermilk  (recipe only)

pecan  (recipe only)

Custard pies are either baked in an unbaked pie shell or in a shell that has been partially baked and then finished baking with the filling.

No matter your pie choices, I hope you find this holiday pie primer helpful. Be patient and keep practicing!




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