Celebrated Chicago Baker Maya-Camille Broussard Shares Her Best Tips for Baking Creative, Delicious Thanksgiving Pies

Now is the perfect time to start planning what type of pie you'll make this year—and Broussard is here to help.

Maya-Camille Broussard baker and cookbook author
Photo: Dan Goldberg

Maya-Camille Broussard knows a thing or two about making pies. The celebrated Chicago baker, racial justice advocate, and star of Netflix's Bake Squad, has even written a book about them: The just-released Justice of the Pies: Sweet and Savory Pies, Quiches, and Tarts Inspirational Stories from Exceptional People marks her cookbook debut.

The tome is named after her Chicago bakery, which is an L3C; the social mission-based company runs nutrition and cooking workshops for elementary-aged children from lower-income communities, and actively contributes to Love Fridge, a community fridge in Chicago that provides food to neighborhoods in need. Inside the cookbook, profiles of social justice and equity activists and the recipes inspired by them are placed in between fan-favorites like Salted Caramel Peach Pie and Brandied Banana Butterscotch Pie.

"When I thought about the book and the ethos of Justice of the Pies, I knew I wanted to shine a light on people who also use their work to positively impact the lives of others," Broussard says. In the wake of the book's release—timed perfectly with pie season—we asked Broussard to share some of her baking wisdom with us.

Change Things Up

Sure, pumpkin, pecan, apple, and even sweet potato pie are the go-to classics for Thanksgiving dinner, but that doesn't mean you need them at your gathering—especially if they aren't your favorites.

Lean Into Citrus

Broussard says her Lemon Espresso Pie (which graces the cover of her book) is a must-have for this holiday. "Most people consider key lime pie and other custard-based pies to be [best] for summertime, because they're served cold. But, as many of us know, citrus fruits actually see their peak in the winter season," she says. She pairs the bright, lemony filling with a chocolate espresso cookie crust, which lends an earthy, umami flavor and fall feel.

Consider Blue Cheese

Bleu Cheese Praline Pear Pie is Broussard's other go-to Thanksgiving pie. It has warm spices like nutmeg, ginger, and cinnamon that you find in traditional holiday iterations—and the blue cheese adds a salty, sweet taste. "Some people will say they don't like blue cheese, but it's the combination that's really important," she says. In fact, you probably won't even taste blue cheese thanks to other notes, like pear and praline. "Many people say it tastes like a Payday candy bar."

Always Make Your Pies Ahead of Time

It's advice you've heard before, but it's worth repeating (and actually doing!): Making, assembling, and baking your pies before Thanksgiving Day means you'll have one less thing to worry about and more time to spend with your loved ones. Some foods inevitably have to be made the day of for peak flavor and texture—but pie isn't one of them.

Bake and Freeze

"Pies have a high water retention, so you can make them 2 weeks in advance," Broussard says. "Bake them, cool them, cover them with plastic wrap and aluminum foil, and then put them in the freezer."

When you're ready to serve, thaw your pies on the countertop, then cover them with foil and reheat them in the oven to revive the crust and filling. Skip that last step for custard pies, she adds.

Chill the Butter

The secret to a perfectly flaky crust? Super-cold butter. "When people are cutting butter into flour using their hands, the heat from their hands naturally melts the butter, so I definitely recommend chilling it beforehand," says Broussard.

Cube and Freeze

Simply cube your butter into smaller pieces (some bakers use a bench scraper, but a knife, a fork, or even a pastry cutter also work), place the pieces on a sheet of parchment paper (to prevent them from sticking together), and freeze for about 15 minutes.

Pulse With Care

If you decide to use a food processor to combine the butter and flour, use the pulse function and stop when you have pea-sized chunks. "Don't turn it on and walk away," Broussard says.

Read the Recipe Carefully Before You Start

Whether you're making something for the first time or returning to an old favorite, read the recipe all the way through before you begin. "There's a temptation to read as you go along, but when you read the recipe in its entirety before you begin, you fully understand all of the ingredients that you need and the steps required," says Broussard. "Plus, you have a better expectation of how long it's going to take."

Review in Advance

Don't just read the recipe through when you're about to make it—reviewing it the day before you bake can be helpful, especially if it requires bringing refrigerated ingredients to room temperature.

Embrace Mistakes and Imperfections

"Baking takes practice. Don't be so hard on yourself or get discouraged if something doesn't turn out exactly the way you thought it would," Broussard says. "There are many different factors that come into play when you're baking, including the temperament of your oven and even your altitude."

Follow the recipe carefully and remember that "practice makes perfection," says Broussard. And, even if a pie doesn't look picture-worthy, it will likely taste incredible.

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