Fresh is best. How many times have we heard that culinary mantra? When it comes to Thanksgiving and Christmas desserts, most especially the pies, almost everyone I know gets up especially early on Thanksgiving morning to prepare and bake the pies first so the oven will be free for the turkey or prime rib. It is the advent to the season that has long been associated with our beloved tradition of serving a feast on holidays devoted entirely to eating.
And a feast is not complete without special desserts, made even more so by the fact that they are homemade.
Pie making is so integral to American Thanksgiving holiday baking that the meal is deemed incomplete with out at least one. When a mother shares her baking wisdom with her children and grandchildren, you can be certain there is at least one recipe for pumpkin pie included. Cooks I know who never bake will still make the pumpkin pie recipe off the can of Libby’s canned pumpkin once a year.
But we are a nation of busier and more hectic lifestyles, especially during the holidays. Happily, a whole number of delectable sweets can be made ahead and stored in the freezer, waiting for the feast day to arrive.
Freezing pumpkin, pecan, and apple pies? But wouldn’t that affect the taste and texture? Surprisingly, the taste, texture, appearance, and comfort value all emerge remarkably intact, leaving the baker with a whole genre of bake-and-freeze desserts are ready to use throughout the season.
The first step in creating desserts that can be stored in the freezer is to have on hand one or more of the proper baking pans. This means a pie plate or casserole that can take extremes of heat without breaking. Your Pyrex pans cannot do the job of freezer-to-oven. You need either heavy aluminum or specialty ceramic pie pans, like from Emile Henry or Le Creuset (available at good cookware stores). The disposable aluminum 9-inch pie pans will work in a pinch, but they are not deep enough for some pies and they do not look especially attractive on the table. Longs Drugs carries Wilton metal pie plates and even Safeway carries a line of metal pie pans. I also haunt hardware stores, but you can certainly use those old pie plates stored from past trips to Marie Calendar’s or antique ones.
Then the crust. You can make your own the day before, or even freeze 1 week ahead before rolling out. I included here my favorite crust (the one with the secret ingredient–a dash of cider vinegar) conveniently made in the food processor. For those who don’t want to deal with the crust issue for single crust recipes, go for the commercial frozen crusts (although the apple pie needs a homemade double crust). There are many delicious crusts and Whole Foods even carries a whole wheat and a spelt flour version next to the more common white flour one for variety. The following pie recipes are designed to make 9-inch pies. The frozen premade 9-inch crusts are 1 1/2-inches deep and have a maximum capacity of 3 cups; metal are usually 1 1/2-inch deep too. A ceramic pan is usually 2-inches deep with a 4- to 5-cup capacity, known as a deep dish (I have a passion for using my Emile Henry 9-inch pan every chance I get). So if you use a store-bought crust, you can let them defrost a bit and carefully transfer to fit into your own pie pan or just bake in the accompanying foil pan. If using the shallow pie pan, plan on having some filling left over; you can pour it into custard cups and bake alongside the pie.
There are two distinct techniques for freezing pies and desserts. One is to bake the dessert, thoroughly cool it, and then freeze it. That means it only needs to be reheated.
The second technique is to freeze the sweet raw, then completely bake the dessert frozen. The Freeze & Bake Apple Pie uses this method. Of course, the empty raw pie crusts can be frozen as well. Frozen pies and fruit crisps take on an average about 15 minutes longer to bake than if they were baked just after preparation.
Packaging is important for retaining the moisture, otherwise they will dry out. The best way to wrap your pies and cakes for the freezer is to first be sure they are completely cool. Only one time of rushing and freezing a still warm pie and have it fill with ice crystals from the condensation as it rapidly cools is enough to teach you not to rush the process. Wrap the completely cool dessert IN THE PAN then in plastic wrap, then heavy duty foil. The first layer of plastic seals airtight and protects the delicate dessert from the cold, as well as punctures or tears. The heavy foil is better than regular foil in this case. I recommend labeling your packages as well with the type of pie or cake and date. All wrapped pies looks the same after a month in the freezer. After freezing pies can be stacked, but don’t put anything on top of a crisp, since it will flatten the topping.
Defrosting is important for a perfect dessert. Defrost slowly in the wrapping, allowing the moisture to collect on the wrapping, not the food. Never try to rush this process by microwaving, which will cook your pie more. Each recipe gives specific defrosting, reheating, and storage recommendations.
Turning A Pumpkin Into Your Favorite Dessert
There are many wonderful winter squashes this autumn for use in making pumpkin pie from scratch. Not only the favorite Halloween-orange Sugar pumpkin, but green kabocha, butternut, the ghost-white Long Island Cheese, the oversized Blue Hubbard, and reddish Cinderellas all have wonderful, flavorful flesh that is not stringy.
To make pumpkin purée, carefully cut the squash in half (then into wedges or into pieces if very large) with a large knife. Scrape out the seeds with a large spoon or ice cream scooper. Preheat the oven to 375º. Place the halves cut side down in a large baking dish or baking sheet; tent with foil. Bake for 1 hour, until tender when pierced with the tip of a knife. Cool, then scoop out the flesh, mash, pass through a food mill, or purée in a food processor, then use in place of canned pumpkin. Freeze squash purée in 1 and 2 cup-size containers for use all year long.