The biggest question when freezing a pie is whether it’s best to do it before—or after—you bake it. Another important question is whether a custard filling, such as that in pumpkin pie, can be successfully frozen at all. To find out, we froze one baked and one unbaked version of five different kinds of pies—apple, blueberry, peach, pumpkin, and pecan—and compared the results.
Freeze Fruit Pie Unbaked
We found that the crusts suffered when we baked apple, blueberry, and peach pies before freezing. The thawed crusts were noticeably soggy, and some tasters thought the fillings weren’t as bright-tasting as freshly made pie. But the pies frozen before baking were indistinguishable from freshly made pies.
It’s not surprising that the crust on a frozen baked pie with a wet fruit filling would be less crisp and flaky than a pie that’s frozen before baking. As soon as it’s out of the oven, the pie crust begins to absorb moisture. And freezing a pie tacks on a lot more time for moisture to be absorbed. First the pie must be cooled, then it takes hours to freeze, then more hours to thaw. For most of that time, moisture is migrating into the crust.
Don’t Wrap the Pie Until It’s Frozen
We wait to wrap the pie until it has frozen solid so that we can cover it tightly in plastic wrap without risk of damaging the crust.
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To freeze a fruit pie: Assemble the pie, but wait until you’re ready to bake to apply any egg wash or sprinkling of sugar to the crust that the recipe may call for. Freeze the pie, uncovered, until firm, then wrap it in a double layer of plastic wrap followed by aluminum foil and return it to the freezer. For optimal freshness, freeze the pie for no longer than 2 months.
To bake a frozen fruit pie: Do not thaw. Brush the crust with egg wash and/or sprinkle with sugar if the recipe calls for it, and bake the pie at the specified temperature, increasing the baking time by 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the pie. If the crust is browning too fast, create a pie shield.
Tip: Save yourself the trouble of hunting down your recipe when you’re ready to bake the pie by affixing a label with the baking instructions to the outside of the wrapping.
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Don’t Freeze Pumpkin Pie
Though some sources claim you can freeze a baked pumpkin pie, that was not our experience. The thawed custard filling was grainy and wet, and the extra moisture made the crust soggy. We had the same experience when we froze an unbaked pumpkin pie.
Here’s why freezing a custard pie, and particularly one with a pumpkin filling, is problematic: Pumpkin pie filling has a lot of added water (from dairy and the pumpkin itself). When egg proteins unravel (which they do as a result of either baking or freezing) they form a gel that can hold some water. When the filling is frozen solid, though, the linked proteins tighten, taking on a clumpy consistency, and ice crystals strain at the bonds of the gel, weakening them. When the filling is thawed, the damaged proteins can no longer contain the water as effectively, so some of it weeps out.
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Freeze Pecan Pie Baked or Unbaked
Though its filling contains eggs, pecan pie can be frozen baked or unbaked with no ill effects. That’s because it contains very little added water and a lot of dissolved sugar. Less water means less opportunity for ice crystals to form that can damage the egg gel, and less water that needs to be held in place when the pie is thawed. Dissolved sugars interfere with the freezing of the limited water that does exist. The upshot is that whether the filling has been baked or not, the water remains trapped in the gel where it belongs.
Why Do We Double-Wrap in Plastic and Then Foil?
Plastic wrap’s flexibility means it can adhere closely to the pie to keep out air, and a double layer adds even more protection. But because some plastic wrap is permeable and allows odors to penetrate, we also wrap a layer of foil (which is completely impermeable) on top of the plastic wrap.
To freeze an unbaked pecan pie: Pour the filling into the pre-baked shell, cool completely, then freeze, uncovered, until firm, making sure to place the plate directly on a freezer shelf so the pie remains level. Wrap the frozen pie in a double layer of plastic wrap followed by aluminum foil and return to the freezer. To bake: Do not thaw. Bake the pie at the specified temperature, increasing the baking time by at least 30 minutes. If the crust is browning too fast, create a pie shield.
To freeze a baked pecan pie: Cool the pie completely and freeze, uncovered, until firm, then wrap as instructed above. To thaw: Unwrap the pie and thaw on the counter, which will take at least 3 hours. You'll know the pie has fully thawed if a paring knife inserted into the middle of the filling slides in easily.
For optimal freshness, do not freeze a pecan pie for more than 2 months.