Today we close out our three-part series on Thanksgiving cooking (read about gadgets for cooking the turkey pumpkin pie is far and away the preferred closer for a Thanksgiving meal, though apple and pecan pies also have a respectable following. And while I considered dishing up tools for such alternative desserts as crème brulee and fondue, it seems prudent to stick with tradition; some folks I talked to view even pumpkin cheesecake with suspicion. So I focused on tools that will make your pie baking and serving a little easier this season.and gadgets to help with side dishes ) with--what else?--sweets. An informal poll of eaters around our office revealed that
Baker's Butter Slicer
I'll admit to being rather casual about measuring ingredients, and I'd normally scoff at a single-purpose tool like the Baker's Butter Slicer. But baking under pressure for a holiday changes the game--I want to get the quantities exactly right. This stainless steel tool frees you from approximating based on the (often misaligned) butter wrapper and cleanly cuts the precise amount of butter you need for your crust.
Pie Crust Bag
Not everyone has the skill to roll out a perfectly round, rightly sized, evenly thick pie crust that doesn't stick to counter or rolling pin. This plastic Pie Crust Bag makes rolling the dough ridiculously simple: just zip your lightly floured dough into the bag and roll. When it's the right size, unzip the bag and turn your crust into the pan. As others have suggested, this could be a handy way to let your kids practice their rolling pin skills.
Ceramic pie weights
If your recipe calls for blind-baking an unfilled pie crust, you'll need to weigh it down to prevent shrinking or bubbling during baking. You can use large quantities of uncooked rice or beans as an impromptu weight, but if you bake more than one pie a year it'd be worth it to purchase these washable, reusable ceramic marbles. The weights provide heft to hold your crust in place and, because they're ceramic, help distribute heat throughout the crust.
Also known as pie vents, these narrow ceramic funnels prevent fruit pies from bubbling over by allowing steam to escape. Place the little bird in the center of your pie and distribute filling around it. Then cut a slit in the top crust and place it over the bird, letting the top crust rest on its shoulders. The little guy comes out when you cut the first slice of pie.
My mom had one of these when I was growing up and I was always a little scared of its resemblance to a torture device. But it is hands-down the fastest way to prep apples for pie. You impale the apples on the sharp end, then turn the crank to push out the core and spiral the apple past the peeling/slicing arm. It might be a little too hard core (ouch!) for a single pie, but if you're tasked with baking multiple pies this season, it'd be a worthwhile investment. Works on pears and potatoes, too.
Pie crust shield
No one wants the last bite of pie to be rock-hard and charred. This reusable aluminum shield covers the rim and protects it from burning or drying out. Sure, you could do the same thing with carefully applied aluminum foil, but on the big day every shortcut helps.
Get the thick flavor of preservative-free whipped cream without dirtying yet another bowl. An instant cream whipper contains a multiple-use gas cartridge that puffs up heavy cream at the touch of a button. Top that pumpkin or pecan pie with a dollop of real whipped cream, or just let the kids shoot it directly into their mouths. Also good on hot chocolate all season long.
Pumpkin Pie Artisan Vodka
It never hurts to have a backup plan. Modern Spirits' Pumpkin Pie Artisan Vodka is made with real pumpkin puree and spices and is based on a family recipe for pumpkin pie. The makers suggest pairing the sipping vodka with desserts, but we think it'd make a fun, festive finisher--on its own or in cocktails--for minimalists and drink lovers.