Technique: Baking Frozen Pie: Be Your Own Mrs. Smith

This isn’t about ice cream pie.  We’ll save that subject for summer.  No, this is about making a whole fruit or savory pie ahead and freezing it before baking.  Last week I had gorgeous Harry’s Berries and the first rhubarb of the season.  I had to make pie before the picked ripe berries went south.  So I started the process: rolled out dough, lined pie pan, hulled berries, cut rhubarb, sweetened the mix, added starch for thickening, dumped berries and rhubarb into the dough lined pie pan, topped it off with another slab of dough, lacquered the top with a perfect egg mixed with good cream and finished it off with a dusting of demarara sugar.  Then a visiting cousin said, “Aren’t we going out now?”.  Oops. In my experience a fully loaded fruit pie takes a full hour to bake.  I didn’t have an hour before we were leaving the house.  So I pulled out the freezer drawer and carefully nestled the pie (unwrapped) amidst plastic bags filled with who knows what and ran out the door.

Cut to the next morning.  I’m meeting the cousins for brunch.  I should bring pie!  I preheat the oven to 400 then take the pie (which is in a glass pyrex pan) out of the freezer and put it directly into the oven.  I bake at 400 for twenty minutes then turn the oven down to 375 and continue cooking the pie until the fruit is tender and juices thickened, about another 40 minutes.

Oh, I almost forgot, the crust was more flakey and crisp than ever. Very delicious, even the next day. I wondered if freezing the dough changed the gluten so I asked food scientist Harold McGee. Here is his response:

When you freeze the dough, some of its water migrates out of the gluten and collects into little ice crystals. Then when the dough thaws and cooks quickly in the oven, the gluten is drier and denser to begin with, and the pockets of water from the ice crystals create more local pressure and lift than a more even and diffuse distribution of water could. So: crisp and flaky.

Here’s my advice:

  • If you’re going to freeze a homemade fruit pie do it as soon as you’re finished making the pie.  Don’t let the pie sit around and warm up or get soggy!
  • Freeze the pie, then wrap it.  It’s easier to work with a frozen pie then a soft just made pie (think hockey puck vs wet clay) and you’re less likely to smush the top dough.
  • Wrap the frozen pie first in paper towels (to absorb any moisture.  Then double wrap in plastic wrap, the kind that sticks to itself really well.  If you have a ton of stuff in the freezer and the frozen pie will be moved around a lot, then wrap it in foil.
  • DO NOT DEFROST THE PIE BEFORE BAKING!
  • Be strong, put the FROZEN pie directly into the preheated (or heating) oven.
  • I use pyrex for all my pies.  I can’t guarantee that a pyrex/glass pie pan has never broken going from freezer to oven but it’s never happened to me.

 

5 thoughts on “Technique: Baking Frozen Pie: Be Your Own Mrs. Smith

  1. In other words “steam”. The frozen ice crystals are more effective at quickly releasing the steam that helps create “flaky” layers. Ahh. Very sensible. I like it. GREG

  2. I have been making and freezing fruit pies for years. I make eight to ten rhubarb or peach pies and freeze them to have “fresh” pies all winter. I put the newly made pies into a large freezer bag and freeze them as soon as they are made. (The number of pies you make is determined by level space in your freezer – they can be stacked after they are frozen.) Don’t use store-bought pie crust bwcause these crusts get soggy when baked – you must use home-made crusts.

    • Thank you Vivien for advice clearly from an experienced pie maker. Also I love that you make so many pies for wintertime. Do you make them all at once or a few times though the season?

    • Hi Jeanne,

      I know you are taking my Craftsy class. It was filmed in Denver so everything you see happened at altitude. We had to bump up the heat occasionally by 25 degrees, we used convection and we baked longer.

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