Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Foolproof Pie Crust Tips

I used to be literally in tears over pie crusts. That old saying "Easy as Pie" seemed to be completely untrue! But after the advice of several family bakers and years of trial and error, I now feel like I have some (almost) Foolproof pie crust tips to share:

You can use your favorite flaky crust recipe, or try mine: Christa's Flaky Pie Crust
  • Have your butter or shortening chilled
  • Use ICE water instead of room temperature water. If you need to add extra water to get the dough to come together, use only a few drops at a time.
  • Chill the dough before rolling it out. I put a ball of dough between two sheets of waxed paper and then flatten in a bit. I store it in the fridge or freezer until I am ready to use it. If I am freezing it for later use, I always put the dough (still in the waxed paper) in a ziploc bag and squeeze the air out.

  • Roll the dough between two sheets of waxed paper (or plastic wrap). You have to reposition the waxed paper a few times, but it doesn't stick to the rolling pin or the board this way. It also allows you to add little or no flour during rolling, which keeps the dough from getting tough.
  • Measure how big your circle of dough is before transferring it into the pan. Seems like common sense of course, but it is easy to think you have made it large enough when you haven't. You can measure by simply holding the pie tin, upside down, over your circle of dough. Make sure it is a couple of inches larger than the pie pan. I also love those Pastry boards that have pie circles on them so that you can measure while rolling, like this one: Pastry Board
  • Transfer the dough into the pie pan using the waxed paper - peel off one side, then place that side into the pan, position it where you want it, then peel off the top layer of waxed paper and ease the dough into the bottom of the pan.

Fill the pie crust with your favorite filling. For Blind Baking instructions (for certain fillings) see below.

Assembling a two-crust pie:
You can cover your pie with a top crust using the same wax paper technique - peel one layer of the wax paper off, lay the exposed crust over the filled pie, then peel off the waxed paper from the top. This allows for easy repositioning if necessary. Seal the top crust to the bottom crust by brushing a little milk on the bottom crust and gently pressing the top and bottom crust edges together. (If it is a fruit pie, I like to use the little bit of leftover fruit juice that is in the bowl after macerating the fruit to brush on the crust instead of milk).  Then follow crimping instructions (same as for a single crust pie) below:

For a single crust pie:
Cut off the excess dough (or for a thicker edge, you can just tuck the excess under the edge and pinch it together). Crimp the edges by lifting a bit of dough onto your index finger then using the  index finger and thumb of your other hand to pinch the dough into a "fluted" shape.  Alternately, you can press the tines of a fork into the edges to crimp them together. As you make more pies, you can experiment with fancy edges, but I like a simple fluted edge myself. 

For Lattice Crust:
Lay your bottom crust into the pan and fill it as desired. Dot with butter (if desired) before starting your lattice. Roll out your top crust and cut it into strips 1/2" to 1" wide (this is a personal preference. I like mine on the wide side so I have fewer strips to work with). Lay strips across the pie in vertical lines, spaced evenly. Then fold back every other strip halfway (see picture below). Add a strip going in the horizontal direction across the unfolded strips, then place the strips back into place. Fold back the alternate strips and repeat the process. When you are done, press your strips into the edge to seal before crimping the edges.

Most Pie crusts benefit from being brushed with milk or egg and then dusted with sugar before baking. For Shaker Lemon (or Meyer Lemon) Pies, I like to use a dusting of course sanding sugar, the kind with very large granules. For Apple pie, I like to use cinnamon sugar. Check your pies about halfway thorugh baking to see if the edges are getting too brown. If they are, you can gently place strips of tin foil around the edges and press them lightly to "hug" the crust edge. You can also use a pie shield, which is sold in most cooking stores. But pie shields are a set size, and crusts don't always conform to that specified size.

Bake according to your recipe's instructions, and then...Voila!

Blind Baking:
Blind baking is where you bake the crust before filling it. This is a requirement for certain types of liquidy pie fillings, otherwise the bottom crust will not bake and will turn out soggy. To blind bake a crust, roll it out and transfer it into a pie pan as instructed above. Then prick it all over with the tines of a fork. Then line the crust with tin foil and fill it with pie weights or dried beans (see picture below).

Bake the crust in a 450 degree oven for about ten minutes. (Time will vary a little based on crust ingredients and type of pie pan used, so watch carefully the first time you do it to make sure yours does not over brown.)