How to Save A Burnt Thanksgiving Pie

Don't panic.

Pumpkin Chess Pie topped with whipped cream
Photo: Photo: James Ransom; Food Styling: Ruth Blackburn; Prop Styling: Christine Keely

Chances are, a burned pie might be the oven's fault, not yours. The best way to prevent your pastry from burning in the first place is to buy an oven thermometer. Your oven might be running too hot (or not hot enough) and this is the only way to tell. Another way to prevent your crust from burning is to bake it in the lower third of the oven, where it will cook from the bottom up, avoiding the common problem of burnt edges and a soggy bottom crust. Pro tip: bake your pie in a glass dish, so you can monitor how brown it is on both the bottom and sides, not just the top. But if you find yourself with a blackened pie crust on your hands, and a big holiday meal approaching, here's what to do:

Step 1: Take a breath.

It's not the end of the world. It's not even the end of Thanksgiving. Pull the pie out of the oven and take a deep breath. (Not too deep if there's a lot of smoke in the kitchen.)

Step 2: Survey the damage.

How bad is it, really? If the crust is a bit overbrowned but the filling isn't cooked through, shield the crust with a pie shield or cover it with aluminum foil. Check your oven temperature before putting the pie back in the oven to finish baking. Keep a close eye on the pie—it might need less time in the oven than you think. Any dark patches on the crust can be carefully shaved off with a microplane after the pie has completely cooled. Be careful not to apply too much pressure while shaving off the burnt bits, as you can break off pieces of the crust.

If the filling is set, but the crust is burnt you still have options. If it's a single crust pie, like pumpkin, you can simply remove the edges and replace them with a decorative piped whipped cream border, assuming the bottom of the crust isn't burnt. If it's a double crust pie, like apple, remove the entire top crust (again, assuming only the top is burnt) and either cover the top entirely with whipped cream or replace it with a refrigerated store-bought crust. Fit, crimp, and egg wash the new crust, return it to the oven for about 25 minutes, this time watching closely to avoid repeating past mistakes.

Step 3: Salvage what you can.

If the entire crust has burned to a crisp but the filling is cooked through and still tastes good, there may still be hope—you can make a pie parfait. You'll need whipped cream and some sort of crumbly cookie such as gingersnaps, vanilla wafers, or graham crackers. Scrape out the pie filling into a bowl and discard the crust. Using small glasses or dessert bowls, layer pie filling, whipped cream, and cookie crumbles, then repeat until the glass is full, ending with a layer of whipped cream and extra crushed cookies on top.

Step 4: Call in reinforcements.

If the crust and the filling are beyond repair, figure out a plan B. Can Aunt Sally bring an extra pecan pie? Can you go nontraditional and serve ice cream with the caramel sauce and whipped cream that was supposed to top the apple pie that is now in the trash can? Or can you throw in the towel and pick up a pie from your favorite bakery? All of these are perfectly acceptable options. Whatever you choose, hold your head high and focus on the other dishes you didn't mess up—isn't the gravy just delicious?

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