We don’t know about you, but our hands-down favorite part of Thanksgiving is dessert. To help you up your pie game, we spoke to Michael Poiarkoff, the executive chef at Bartlett House in Ghent. The popular café takes its holiday baking seriously. We coaxed him into sharing his secrets to pastry success.
Q. Our crust never comes out right. What’s your secret?
A. Cold everything. Cold bowl, cold butter, cold flour, cold hands. And don’t overmix. Make sure you can see butter. If you can’t see butter, it’s because you smeared it too thoroughly into the dough. Another insider tip: As soon as the blind-baked pie crusts come out of the oven, brush them with a mixture of egg white and sugar. This seals the crust and keeps it from getting soggy.
Q. What do you wish most home bakers knew?
A. Proper blind baking, which is pre-baking your pie crust before filling. A pie crust will not fully bake through if you don’t blind bake it first. The beans are to keep your crust from puffing up and to help cook your crust, as they get hot quickly and transfer heat to the inside of the crust while letting air move around them. Follow this method: Chill your crust, fork your crust, vent your parchment, and use big beans.
Q. Is store-bought pie crust sacrilege?
A. Nope. Purchase at the grocery store (brands like Marie Callender’s or Wholly Wholesome) or check your local bakery—they will often have hand-made, prepared crusts around the holidays.
Q. We love pie à la mode. Is vanilla the way to go?
A. I’m generally a purist when it comes to ice cream, so I’d recommend a homemade sweet cream ice cream. But I’m also a big fan of whipped cream, and an even bigger fan of steeping coffee beans in that cream overnight before I whip it.
Q. If we’re making apple pie, what are the best apples to use?
A. The crispiest, most tart variety you can find. You can always add sweetness and seasoning to the filling. I recommend Pink Lady, Ginger Crisp, Granny Smith, or my favorite, Ashmead’s Kernel. (Picking season is late October to early November.)