Bake a perfect pie for Pi Day

Michele Stuart makes perfect pies. Her reputation depends on it.

A 27-time national pie baking champion, Stuart has honed her technique to turn out thousands of memorable pastries. Author of “Perfect Pies & More” (Ballantine), Stuart of course is the perfect person to recommend tips for another food-happy celebration: global Pi(e) Day. That’s Friday. If you’re good in math, you know why; March 14 is as close as the calendar gets to pi, 3.14 (and change).

In math, pi is an infinite number that represents a constant: the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. In baking, pie is another constant –a (usually circular) dessert favorite with infinite possibilities.

Pie has always been at the top of Stuart’s dessert list.

“I’ve been baking pies for as long as I can remember,” said Stuart, 37. “I grew up baking with my grandmother. It was one of our favorite things to do together. I just kind of took up the family tradition.”

Her destination bake shops in Connecticut attract customers from throughout the Northeast. The two shops sold almost 6,000 pies for Thanksgiving (the nation’s biggest pie-eating holiday), but turn out hundreds every day in at least 15 flavors.

She’s learned a lot about what people want in a pie, too.

“We sell a lot of crumb-topped pies in our stores,” she said in a phone interview. “People like the extra-sweet crumbly top.”

That topping also balances the tartness of berries or apples, for example.

Stuart changes her pie menu according to what’s fresh and available.

“My favorite pie is whatever is in season,” she said.

For apple pie, she prefers to use Cortland apples, a favorite in her native Connecticut. But she also likes Honey Crisp.

“The amount of sugar you use depends on the apple,” she noted. “I prefer (varieties) that are a little softer, a little sweeter (than typical tart pie apples).”

Stuart knows her apple pies. Her championships include classic two-crust apple, apple crumb, apple caramel crumb and more variations. She won her first national title in 2007 with chocolate pecan bourbon pie. Her 27 championships were won with 27 different kinds of pie.

“Pie baking is something I just absolutely love,” she said. “It’s kind of a lost art.”

Most people get stuck on the crust, Stuart noted. “Crust is definitely the most intimidating part of baking pies. Anybody can make a good filling, but not everybody makes a good crust.”

Stuart’s advice: Think cold. Chill your crust ingredients as well as your mixing bowl and rolling pin. “You want everything COLD,” she stressed. “Chill the flour, chill the shortening. Use ice cold water. Then, chill the dough before you roll it. It makes a big difference in how the dough handles.”

Stuart recommends chilling the dough for an hour or two before rolling. “You can make it the day before, then roll it when you’re ready to use it,” she added.

For her crusts, Stuart swears by Crisco shortening instead of butter, oil or lard. “I’ve always used Crisco,” she said. “It’s an old-fashioned way to make dough, but it’s the best one. You get the best flakiness and the crust will actually turn a golden brown.”

Stuart’s preference for Crisco led to a natural role as an expert for Crisco’s national pie hotline, 1-877-FOR PIE TIPS (877-367-7438). Stuart’s tips and techniques are now featured on the hotline as well as Crisco’s recipe-packed website,

Pie lovers may have noticed: We celebrate twice. America’s National Pie Day is Jan. 23. Stuart celebrated that day in her bake shops with pie tasting including a twist on an old favorite – turtle pecan pie. This caramel- and chocolate-laced dessert is a sweet treat any time.

Which underlines her point: Any day is a good day for pie.

“It’s the kind of dessert that brings you down memory lane,” Stuart said. “People always enjoy pie.”


Crisco’s Pie Hotline offers recorded tips on pie making, 24 hours a day at 1-877-FOR PIE TIPS (877-367-7438).

Talk to a pie expert via the Crisco Pie Hotline from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. PDT Monday through Friday.

Find recipes and more tips at


Crisco pie crust

Makes one single 9-inch crust

Recipe adapted from


1 1/3 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup well-chilled Crisco all-vegetable shortening

3 to 6 tablespoons ice cold water


Blend flour and salt in medium mixing bowl.

Cut chilled shortening into flour mixture, using a pastry blender, in an up-and-down chopping motion, until mixture resembles coarse crumbs with some small pea-sized pieces remaining.

Sprinkle 3 tablespoons ice cold water over the flour mixture. Using a fork, stir and draw flour from bottom of bowl to the top, distributing moisture evenly into flour. Press chunks down to bottom of bowl with fork. Add more water by the tablespoon, until dough is moist enough to hold together when pressed together.

Tip: Test dough for proper moistness by squeezing a marble-sized ball of dough in your hand. If it holds together firmly, do not add any more water. If the dough crumbles, add more water by the tablespoonful, until dough is moist enough to form a smooth ball when pressed together.

Shape dough into a ball for single pie crust. Flatten ball into 1/2-inch-thick round disk.

Tip: For ease in rolling, wrap dough in plastic wrap. Chill for 30 minutes or up to 2 days.

Roll dough from center outward with steady pressure on a lightly floured work surface (or between two sheets of wax or parchment paper) into a circle 2 inches wider than pie plate for the bottom crust. Transfer dough to pie plate by loosely rolling dough around rolling pin. Center the rolling pin over pie plate, and then unroll, easing dough into pie plate.

For a single pie crust, trim edges of dough, leaving a 3/4-inch overhang. Fold edge under. Flute dough as desired. Bake according to specific recipe directions.


Turtle pecan pie

Michele Stuart, a professional baker and 27-time national pie champion, offered this recipe suggestion for Pi Day. Author of “Perfect Pies & More,” Stuart also supplies pie baking tips for Crisco’s Pie Hotline.

Adapted from Michele Stuart’s “Perfect Pies & More” (Ballantine, $26, 256 pages).


Classic Crisco Pie Crust for single 9-inch crust

1/4 cup heavy cream (to glaze the crimped pie edges)


3 large eggs

1 cup sugar

1 cup light corn syrup

2 tablespoons salted butter, melted

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 cups pecans

1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup caramel sauce


1/4 cup hot fudge sauce

1/4 cup caramel sauce


Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

To prepare pie shell, on clean, lightly floured work surface, roll out dough with rolling pin until it forms a 10-inch circle. Fold circle in half, place it in 9-inch pie plate so that edges of circle drop over rim, unfold dough to completely cover pie plate. Using thumb and index finger, crimp edges of pie shell. Brush edges of pie shell with heavy cream to create a perfect, golden brown finish.

To prepare filling, using electric mixer on medium speed, mix eggs, sugar, corn syrup, melted butter and vanilla together until they achieve a cream color. Remove 1 cup of mixture and set aside. Stir pecans into remaining mixture until they are combined evenly throughout.

To assemble pie, sprinkle chocolate chips across bottom of pie shell. Pour pecan filling over chocolate chips, spreading evenly across. Stir 1/2 cup Caramel Sauce into cup of reserved filling, making sure to blend well. Pour caramel mixture over pecan filling, spreading it evenly across.

To bake, place pie plate on prepared baking sheet and bake about 50 minutes, or until middle of the pie is firm to the touch. Transfer pie plate to wire cooling rack and allow pie to cool and set for 11/2 hours before serving. To serve, drizzle top of pie with hot fudge sauce and caramel sauce.

For hot fudge sauce: In medium saucepan, combine 1/4 cup sugar, 3/4 cup heavy cream, 1 tablespoon light corn syrup, 1 ounce unsweetend chocolate (finely chopped) and 1 tablespoon butter. Over medium heat, bring mixture to boil, stirring constantly. Let cook about 5 minutes, stirring often, until the sauce nearly separates. Remove from heat; whisk in 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Chill sauce in refrigerator for five hours to thicken. Keeps in refrigerator at least two weeks. Makes 1 cup sauce.

For caramel sauce: In medium saucepan over low heat, combine 1/3 cup water and 1-1/2 cups sugar. Cook until sugar is dissolved. Once the sugar is dissolved, increase the heat and bring mixture to a boil, then turn heat down a notch to let simmer until mixture starts to turn brown. (During this process, don’t stir the mixture.) Once the sugar mixture turns brown, add 1 tablespoon butter. Then, slowly add 1-1/2 cups heavy cream. Stir occasionally until the caramel thickens and looks smooth. Stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla. Chill sauce in refrigerator for five hours (or more). Sauce will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks. Makes 1-1/2 cups sauce.


Mixed berry crumb pie

Makes one 9-inch pie.

Recipe courtesy Michele Stuart and Crisco.


Classic Crisco Pie Crust for single 9-inch crust

1/4 cup heavy cream (to glaze crimped pie edges)

Crumb topping:

1/2 cup unbleached all-purposes flour

1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/2-inch cubes


1 cup sugar

1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 cup blackberries

1 cup blueberries

1 cup hulled and quartered strawberries


Heat oven to 425 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

To prepare pie shell, on clean, lightly floured work surface, roll out dough with rolling pin until it forms a 10-inch circle. Fold circle in half, place it in 9-inch pie plate so that edges of circle drop over rim, and unfold dough to completely cover pie plate. Using thumb and index finger, crimp edges of pie shell. Brush edges of pie shell with heavy cream to create a perfect, golden brown finish.

To prepare filling: In small bowl, whisk together sugar, flour and cinnamon. Wash and dry all berries thoroughly. Place berries in large bowl and sprinkle with sugar mixture, gently spreading it throughout, making sure that all berries are evenly coated. Place berries evenly along the bottom of unbaked pie shell.

To prepare topping: In a large bowl, mix together the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt. Using a pastry blender, incorporate the butter by cutting it into the flour until the butter forms small, pea-size pieces. Sprinkle crumb topping over the berry filling, covering it completely.

To bake, place pie plate on prepared baking sheet and bake 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 375 degrees and continue baking about 40 minutes, or until crust is golden brown and juices are bubbling.

Transfer pie plate to wire cooling rack and allow pie to cool and set for 1-1/2 hours before serving.


Lemon meringue pie

Makes one 9-inch pie.

The key to Michele Stuart’s perfect lemon meringue pie: The lemon curd is cooked on top of the stove, then used to fill a pre-baked crust. A quick pass through the broiler (or with a kitchen torch) browns the meringue topping.

Recipe courtesy Michele Stuart and Crisco.



2 large eggs

5 large egg yolks

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

Pinch salt

1 cup fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup water

1 1/2 tablespoons grated lemon peel

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

Classic Crisco Pie Crust for single 9-inch crust


4 large egg whites, at room temperature

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Pinch salt

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


To prepare lemon filling: Whisk together eggs, egg yolks and sugar until mixture is pale yellow, about 2 minutes. Add cornstarch and salt and continue whisking until all ingredients are well combined. Add lemon juice, water, lemon peel and butter. Continue whisking until fully incorporated.

Pour mixture into medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan and place over medium heat. Whisk continuously, scraping sides with spatula and taking care not to burn bottom. Keep saucepan over heat until mixture thickens and deepens in color, about 7 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat and continue to whisk mixture 1 more minute.

Pour mixture into pre-baked pie crust. Cover pie with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator to cool at least 1 hour.

To prepare meringue: Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat egg whites until they become foamy. Add cream of tartar and salt and continue mixing until soft peaks form. Slowly add sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time. Once all of sugar has been added, add vanilla and beat 30 more seconds. The meringue should be light and fluffy. Test meringue to see if it will hold by inserting spatula into meringue mixture and quickly pulling it out. If meringue forms little peaks but does not fall, you have achieved desired consistency. If meringue falls, continue beating and retesting with spatula at 30-second intervals until peaks remain in place when spatula is removed.

Scrape meringue out of bowl and place it on top of lemon curd in pie shell. Smooth out meringue to cover entire pie and form a mound of meringue in middle of pie. Use a spatula to pat and lift meringue across the top of the pie, forming peaks.

To brown meringue, place pie in oven broiler on an oven rack placed in middle position for 3 to 4 minutes (or until desired brownness has been achieved). Chill pie; serve cold.

Tip: A kitchen torch can also be used to brown meringue. Spread flame evenly across entire surface of pie for a consistent finish.