Topping a pie is the finishing touch and is what often makes the pie a showpiece. Some pies are showpieces within themselves and do not require a topping. These pies may be accompanied by a dollop of sweetened whipped cream, the pumpkin and pecan pies are examples.
Here are a few of the more common toppings or pies:
Crust - Often referred to as a two crust pie, the same crust is used to line the pie pan and top the filling. Folding and crimping the edges is important to keep the filling from running out the sides of the pie while baking. Two crust pies are typically fruit pies and sometimes savory pies like turkey or chicken pot pies. Some pot pies only have a top crust.
Crumb or Streusel - Is a topping that is usually made from flour, sugar, spices and an ample amount of butter to create a course crumbly mixture. The mixture is spread over the pie filling and baked to become a rich crunchy topping. Crumb topping can be used on pies that are smooth in nature to give them more texture like a sweet potato pie. When crumb crusts are used on fruit pies they are commonly called Dutch, as in Dutch Apple Pie.
Cream - Whipped cream is usually used for topping cream, custard and chiffon pies. The cream is sweetened and flavored and whipped to firm peaks, it can then be piled high on the filling to give the pie a dramatic look. Piping the cream is also attractive.
Meringue -There are three types of meringue, Swiss, French and Italian, in order of their stability. Italian is the preferred meringue for topping pies as the egg whites are fully cooked during the process of making the meringue. It is safer and the most stable for topping a pie. Once the meringue is arranged on the pie it is "brûléed" or browned by baking it in a hot oven until the ridges and points of the meringue become browned. You can also you a kitchen torch if you are lucky enough to have one. Meringue is the common topping for dense custard pies with intense flavor like lemon. the lightness of the meringue balances the intensity of the filling.
Here is a great recipe for Italian Meringue:
8 oz. sugar
2 oz. water
4 oz. egg whites (about 2-3 eggs)
1. Heat the sugar and water in a saucepan until the sugar dissolves and the mixture
boils. Boil until a candy thermometer placed in the syrup registers 243°F (117°C).
2. While the syrup is cooking, beat the egg whites in a mixing machine until they form
3. With the machine running, very slowly beat in the hot syrup.
4. Continue beating until the meringue is cool and forms firm peaks.
I have now discussed the most common of the three main components of a pie, the crust, filling and topping. As with anything in the kitchen there is not set rule that pies have to be made this way so I encourage you to experiment and create your own signature pie.
Tomorrow I will give you a few tips for successful pie baking.