- Be cool: Before you begin, make sure everything, your flour, your butter, your shortening is icy cold. Why? When you mix your dough, you want it to remain studded with unmelted nuggets of fat. When they hit the heat of the oven, those cool nuggets will create steam pockets—the building blocks of flakiness.
- Stay thirsty: Always add cold water drop by drop and use the minimum that’s called for in a recipe. Water is what jump starts gluten formation, and too much of it inevitably results in a tough crust.
- Add some acid: Try replacing a bit of the water in a recipe with lemon juice or vinegar: Acid impedes the growth of gluten and keeps crust tender. Vinegar was my mother's secret!
- Don’t touch: Take care not to over-handle the dough. Both the heat from your hands and excess stretching can make gluten production go into overdrive—and the pastry seize up.
- Chill out: Before rolling it out, chill your dough again, for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer. This “resting period” gives the gluten that’s formed an opportunity to relax, which prevents dramatic shrinking during baking and makes the dough easier to handle during shaping and rolling.
- Roll right: Sandwiching dough between sheets of parchment paper before rolling keeps your workspace neater (less flour to scatter about!) and helps prevent fragile dough from sticking and tearing. The less flour you have to add during the rolling process the better.
- Let off steam: If you’re making a double crust pie, make sure to slice or cut vents into the top. These will let excess juices and steam escape from the pie and keep the bottom crust from getting soggy.
- Brush up: For a rich, golden hue and a bit of shine, brush the top of your pie with a wash made from egg and a splash of cream.
- Get hot: When your oven’s not hot enough, your crust stews in the pie’s juices—and never crisps up. The solution? Always start baking at 425 degrees F, then reduce the temperature after about 20 minutes. Make sure your oven is completely up to temperature before placing your pie inside.
- Protect and shield: Often fillings and crust cook at a different pace. To prevent burnt bits and scorched spots, place a pie shield or a ring of aluminum foil over the edge of the crust during the last few minutes of baking.
Now that you have the tips on making the perfect pie crust, here are some must-have baking tools to kick your presentation skills up a notch. Helping you bake homemade pies for friends and family this holiday season.
- Blackbird Pie Funnel. These adorable blackbird ceramic pie funnels release steam from your pie to ensure that it bakes evenly, preventing the filling from overcooking and splattering. www.surlatable.com, $4.95.
- Pie Crust Cutters. I love these pie crust cutters make it easy to decorate the top of your pie with festive pastry cutouts or appliqués. They come in Fall and Christmas patterns. www.williams-sonoma.com, $14.95.
- Pie Crust Shield. This decorative shield protects delicate, ruffled pie crust edges from flaking, chipping off or burning. www.williams-sonoma.com, $8.00.
- Pie Marker/Cutter. For the OCD hostess, this tool is a dream! This pie marker/cutter makes sure each slice of pie is exactly the same. Making sure everyone gets their fair share! www.cooksdirect.com, $4.00.
- Pyrex Pie Plate. This classic glass pie plate is loved by bakers around the world, glass cooks pies evenly. The non-porous glass will not absorb stains or odors. Take it from the freezer, oven, microwave and dishwasher. www.amazon.com, $8.50.
- Pie Weights by Norpro. When blind baking a pie crust, pie weights are a must. They prevent bubbling, air pockets and cracking. www.foodnetworkstore.com, $5.95.
- Pastry Mat. If you are unsure or feel the need to get your pie crust to the correct size this mats for you. Personally, I don't use a mat, I guesstimate—as my mother would say—the size. This mat includes measurements and dimensions for various-sized pies and tarts. www.foodnetworkstore.com, $19.95.
- Betty Crocker Pastry Cutter and Crimper. This tool allows you to cut and crimp pie dough effortlessly. www.bedbathandbeyond.com, $4.99.
- J.K. Adams Plain Maple Rolling Pin. This pin capably handles dough with a gentle weight and a slightly textured surface that holds a dusting of flour for less sticking. Its long, straight shape makes achieving even dough thickness and rolling out larger disks easy. www.amazon.com, $13.95.
- OXO Pastry Blender with Cutters. I prefer to blend my pastry dough with my fingertips, but for some a pastry cutter is a must. This OXO brand is affordable and the comfiest to hold. This blender with stainless steel blades cut the quick—it takes just a mere four minutes to make pie dough. www.oxo.com, $9.99.
- OXO Good Grips Pastry Brush. I know from experience you do not want to buy a pastry brush that attaches bristles to a wooden handle via a metal attachment—it will end up rusting and that's not good! However, this OXO brush is made of natural boar bristles that retain their softness and pliability, minus the rust. The pastry brush has a sealed base to keep food and liquids from accumulating. www.oxo.com, 6.99.
THE DOMESTIC CURATOR