Want to impress your guests with a perfectly baked pie? Check out tips from these 10 Atlanta chefs below, get recipes for guaranteed winners including Old Fashioned Soda Cracker Pie and Georgia Coast Shrimp and Stone Ground Grits Pie and check out photos of 14 of the most mouthwatering pies in Atlanta.
Charles Fricke (left, with Joey Stalling) head chef for Sweet Auburn Barbecue: “Don’t be afraid to switch up time-honored classics. At Sweet Auburn Barbecue, we like adding bourbon, rum or other spirits. They can really enhance flavors to take your grandmother’s delicious traditional pies to a more sophisticated level.”
Chrysta Poulos, Creative Director of Pastry for Ford Fry Restaurants:
- Read entire recipe before you begin
- If possible, do recipe in stages. For example, make dough ahead of time and let it chill overnight so it is ready to roll out; peel/slice fruit.
- If it is a dough crust (not a crumb crust), always let your dough chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or more before baking to allow the gluten to relax and for your butter/fat to get cold.
Danielle Smathers, pastry chef at ONE.midtown kitchen and winner of “Most Creative” at the Sweetest Chefs of the South 2016 competition:
- Always use cold, cubed butter and add a couple of cubes at a time when incorporating. It matters.
- Chill dough for at least an hour or two before using/rolling.
- Handle the dough with as little flour as possible when rolling.
David Campbell, executive pastry chef for The Ritz-Carlton, Reynolds Lake Oconee:
- First, look at the fruit that you want to showcase in your pie and ask, “How am I going to bring out the best of its flavors? Do I cook it?”
- When baking with fresh or dried fruits, keep in mind the balance of sugar, acid and salt. Just as you would cook a steak, you will season it with salt and maybe a squeeze of lemon to balance and bring out the flavor. If the fruit is in peak of ripeness, maybe you don’t need to add sugar. Above all, taste your fruit!
- Try substituting different crackers (finely ground), such as buttery crackers or pretzels, for 30 percent of your flour in a pie crust.
- Use leftover pie dough and turn it into hand pies. These will be even better if you make your own jam to put inside before sealing the edges.
Eric Wolitzky, executive pastry chef for Fifth Group Restaurants (Alma Cocina, Ecco, La Tavola, Lure, The Original El Taco and South City Kitchen in Buckhead, Midtown and Vinings):
- Always have a bowl of ice nearby while working with dough. Many of us have hot hands, which is often the culprit when dough shrinks or becomes tough. Before you touch the dough, dunk those hands in ice water, dry them off quickly and then proceed.
- Don’t be afraid of your dough! Many new bakers assume that you have to slowly and laboriously roll out dough, but the longer you leave it out, the warmer the dough is going to get. Warm dough is more difficult to roll. You also don’t want to work the dough too much, as that will build up gluten. As with all baking, work quickly and efficiently. Don’t worry too much about perfection – it will happen with practice.
- Let it rest. Once you have finished crimping the dough in the pie pan, put it in the freezer and let it sit for at least 30 minutes before baking or par baking. The gluten needs to relax in order to get the light, flaky dough we look for in the perfect pie.
Kathleen McDaniel, executive pastry chef for The Indigo Road (Colletta and Oak Steakhouse in Alpharetta):
- First, I love to use a combo of butter and shortening in making my crust. Both have different melting points – butter brings great richness in flavor and shortening makes a nice flakiness.
- I also make my dough by hand. I don’t use a mixer.
- Work the dough until large pieces form. Don’t over mix!
- When making apple pies, I like to use a variety of apples. Granny Smith (tart and tangy) with other varieties such as McIntosh, Cortland, Braeburn or Honeycrisp. If you use Gala apples, you need less sugar because of its natural sweetness.
- I don’t blind bake my pie shells. I like to cook my filling first and then cool the filling before adding to the pie shells. I then brush milk on top of pie and top them off with sugar in raw. Great extra crunch!
Kelly Lovett, pastry chef for The Southern Gentleman:
- When making a pie dough, it’s very important not to over mix or over work the dough. Over working will cause the gluten to develop and the dough to be elastic and tight which is the opposite of what you want. You want your dough to be tender and soft to ensure a crispy flaky crust.
- Always chill the dough before rolling it out and lining the pie pan. Once you’ve shaped the crust, it’s very important to place it back in the refrigerator to firm back up. This will help the crust keep its shape while baking.
Pamela Moxley, pastry chef at Miller Union:
- Freeze all the dry and butter cubes for 15-20 minutes before mixing it.
- Always let the dough chill and rest before rolling it out.
Sarah Dodge, pastry chef for 8ARM:
- I love fruit pies and recommend using wonderful in season fruits or foraging fruits yourself. Georgia has an amazing selection of produce and whether it’s apples, strawberries, peaches, blueberries or even pecans, buying them locally and in season seriously starts your pie out at perfect.
- Pair fruits with herbs for your pies and tarts. You smell before you taste, and the fragrance that comes from marrying a fruit and an herb is wonderful. One of my favorite combination is peach and lavender.
- I love the idea that pie doesn’t have to be perfect and it doesn’t always have to be in a pie pan. For example, when I’m not in the mood to do the lattice work, I turn my pie dough into galette dough, and voila! I have a delicious and no fuss ‘rustic tart.'”
Zeb Stevenson executive chef at Watershed:
- The fat you use makes a big difference! Lard is truly the best thing to use but some people are turned off by it… so sad. Vegetable shortening is second in effectiveness and (believe it or not) butter is the least desirable in this chef’s opinion.
- In order to shorten the gluten in flour effectively a pure soft fat that is workable at room temperature is best. Butter is an emulsion that actually contains liquid that can lengthen the gluten and cause toughness.