Buying a pie, no matter how impeccable, is simply not an option for a certain breed of home baker. For you, we present a guide to the DIY Thanksgiving pie, from the crust up:
Should I use butter shortening or lard?
“At Black Jet, we’ve used two piecrusts: all butter with a little bit of sour cream; and half butter, half shortening," says co-owner Gillian Shaw. "With shortening, you get a beautiful flake and nice crunch, and you can bake it longer than an all-butter crust. With butter, you get a blonder crust. An all-butter dough is also reliable, consistent, and kind of a joy to roll out. You can really beat it up. And then there’s lard, which gives you a flavor difference—you can taste it on your tongue, and the texture isn’t as light. I’m a sucker for the bottom piecrust, and the lard one is always just a little bit crunchier, which I love. But personally, I love half butter and half shortening: It’s crunchier, and you get that buttery, caramelized flavor. It’s the best of both worlds.”
Can I use canned pumpkin?
Fresh versus canned pumpkin: It’s a source of eternal debate among bakers. In an era when handmade everything is equal parts fetish and dogma, using canned pumpkin is, in certain circles, sacrilegious. Still, the processed stuff has its advantages. “Because of the pumpkin’s water content, consistency is often an issue,” says Black Jet Baking Co.’s Gillian Shaw. “yYu never have to worry about it with canned. I use Libby’s, and I love it.” but PieTisserie owner Jaynelle St. Jean falls firmly into the fresh-is-more camp. ”When I started roasting my own pumpkins, [pumpkin] pie took on new dimensions,” she says. Like Shaw, St. Jean cautions that pumpkin varieties differ in water content, texture, and flavor. She prefers river Dog Farm’s organic sugar pie pumpkins and kabocha, or Japanese pumpkin.
What about a mince pie?
There’s help for the brave souls who want to take on the one-time Thanksgiving mainstay. “Mince pies go back a few hundred years in Britain,” says British-born jam maven June Taylor. “It was originally made with meat, spices, fruit, and booze, but the meat was gradually replaced by kidney linings or suet. It’s a very rich filling.” Making a mince pie from scratch can be spectacularly time-consuming: Some recipes mandate letting the filling marinate in alcohol for at least three days. Fortunately, Taylor makes a vegetarian filling overflowing with local fruit. All you need to do is roll out the crust. Vegetarian Mincemeat, $26 Per Jar, junetaylorjams.com
Originally published in the November issue of San Francisco