Picture-perfect pie
We won't take sides in the pumpkin pie versus sweet potato pie or apple versus pecan debate. But pie is simply a must-have dessert.

For the harried cook, the dilemma is whether to make a pie or buy one. A 12-inch pie from Costco is hard to beat ... or is it? For the sake of convenience -- and those who are dough-challenged -- it's probably worth it. The pie yields about 12 slices, which comes out to about 68 cents per serving.

If you plan to make your own pie, you can make the dough three days ahead and refrigerate it or two months in advance and freeze it. Make the pies up to three days in advance.

We found recipes for two delicious pies -- an apple-pear and a pumpkin -- that guests will rave about and won't break the bank.

You can use store-bought crust or make your own. And, yes, it is easy as pie, and cost-effective, to make your own dough. It costs about $1 for ingredients for a double crust.

I rely on an adaptation of the Foolproof Pie Dough from Cook's Illustrated for nearly all pie crusts. It uses vodka -- yes, the kind that gets mixed in drinks -- to make the dough easier to roll. Trust me, it's a breeze.

Here are some surefire tips for making pies from scratch:

Have all the ingredients well-chilled, including the flour. Use water with ice cubes to keep the water cold. Cut the butter and shortening in pieces and stick them in the freezer to chill them. You can use all-purpose, unbleached all-purpose or pastry flour.

If using a food processor to mix the ingredients, place plastic wrap over the work bowl before putting the top on. This way the flour won't fly all over. If mixing by hand, cut in the butter and shortening using a pastry blender or two knives in a crisscross motion.

Mix the dry ingredients, then the fat and then slowly add the liquid. Add only enough liquid so the dough comes together and doesn't crumble.

To save a step, shape the dough into a disk -- not a ball -- wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate it.

Roll out the dough between pieces of plastic wrap or wax paper to make transferring it to the pie pan simple.

For a 9-inch, single-crust pie, roll the dough out to an 11-inch circle to allow for fluting a pretty edge. Or trim to the edge of the pan and make a decorative edge out of dough scrap s with mini cookie cutters.

To prevent soggy-bottom crusts, brush with beaten egg white before adding the filling.

Foolproof pie dough

Makes: One 9-inch double crust
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Total time: 20 minutes

Note: If you do not have vodka, add 1 tablespoon cider vinegar and more water as needed. We cut back on the amount of shortening from the original recipe and got the same result: an easy-to-roll and flaky dough.