Making the Perfect Pie

Making the perfect pie starts with making the perfect crust. Following are tips and techniques to accomplish both.

Review the recipe

Carefully, review the recipe before starting to familiarize yourself with the steps. It is best to read it twice before beginning. Then carefully follow the recipe as you move through each step.

Prepare the pie pan

For most pies, use a glass, ceramic or dull-finished metal pie pan. The shiny metal pans keep the crust from browning properly. If you are using a glass pie pan, reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees. For a tender flaky pie crust, do not oil or grease pie pans. Greasing the pan will change the texture of the crust.

If you want to remove the pie from the pie for serving, lightly grease the pie pan with Pan Release or lightly spray with cooking spray before lining it with the pastry. It will then be possible to slide the pie out and unmold the whole pie after it has cooled completely. Greasing will result in a slightly rough texture to the bottom crust.

Prepare the ingredients

All ingredients should be pre-measured before beginning to make sure that you have sufficient quantities of each ingredients needed for the pie. Then place them near the preparation area to make sure they are easily available. Once you start your dough it is difficult to stop and run to the store without effecting the outcome of the pie.

All liquids should be ice-cold when preparing your crust. Butter and shortening should be chilled before using. Slice the butter into small pieces to make it easier to incorporate. Some professionals recommend chilling all ingredients including the flour and salt.

When measuring the flour, spoon it lightly into the measuring cup; do not scoop it out with the measuring cup, and do not pack it down.

Mix the pie dough

When the recipe calls for the butter or shortening to be "cut in", that means to work it into the dry ingredients by pulling two knives or a pastry blender across the butter or shortening in different directions, breaking it up into smaller and smaller pieces. When it has been properly "cut in", the dough should resemble crumbs that are the size of peas.

As you sprinkle the cold water over the butter/shortening-flour mixture, toss quickly and lightly with a fork, until the particles stick together when gently pressed. Do not add too much water resulting in a sticky dough or the pastry will turn out tough. If there isn't enough water added, the dough will be crumbly and hard to work with.

Mix the ingredients just until the dough holds together and looks like pie dough and forms a smooth, malleable ball. Overmixing makes pie dough tough and hard to roll out.

The food processor method for making pie crusts is the easiest. It is faster than mixing by hand, and because the dough is handled less, the ingredients are kept chilled. All that is required is several pulses just until the dough starts to get noticeably crumbly; do not wait until it turns into a ball.

One tablespoon of cider vinegar relaxes pie dough and makes it easier to roll. It will not diminish the crust's flakiness but will diminish shrinkage as it bakes.

Refrigerate the pie dough

Gather up the particles or dough and form a chubby disk by pressing gently and avoiding handling the dough too much. Wrap the disk in plastic wrap and rest it in the refrigerator for at least an hour before rolling it into a circle. To avoid tough crusts, it is essential to keep the fat cold through the entire pie making process.

Prepare the oven

Adjust rack to the center position and place a baking pan in the bottom of the oven to catch any juices that may overflow while the pie bakes. This will avoid any messy cleanup later.

Always preheat the oven to the temperature indicated in the recipe before placing the pie in the oven.

For the flakiest crust with the most attractive border, preheat the oven for at least 20 minutes before baking.

Roll out the pie dough

Use a heavy rolling pin for rolling out a pie crust. A stocking (or stockinette) for the rolling pin will aid this process.

For the paper method of rolling out the dough, tear off two square sheets of waxed or parchment paper. Lightly moisten the countertop and place one sheet of paper on it. Place a dough ball on the paper and cover it with the other sheet. Using a rolling pin, press on the dough, rolling it from the center out to the edges. Keep rolling until the pastry is larger than an upside down pie pan. Be careful to keep the dough as even as possible.

For the flour method of rolling out the dough, sprinkle your work surface lightly with flour. Flatten the dough gently, then sprinkle the top of the dough with flour. Rub some flour into the stockinette covered rolling pin. Roll from center to edge, in all directions, forming a circle about 2 inch wider than an inverted pie pan. You can pinch cracks together. Turn the pie crust dough frequently while rolling to prevent the dough from sticking to the work surface, dusting the workspace with flour occasionally.

For even thickness, using equal pressure start rolling from the center and work your way outward to the edges in all directions easing ever so slightly when reaching the outer edge. Keep rolling until the pastry is larger than an upside down pie pan.

If the edges of pie dough crack when rolled out, the dough could be too cold. Let it set on the counter for a few minutes to warm up.

If pie dough falls apart when rolled, add a few sprinkles of water.

Place the crust in the pie pan

If rolling the crust between waxed paper or parchment paper, peel off the top paper. Use the bottom sheet of paper to flip the dough into the pie pan. Carefully peel off the second sheet of paper, holding the paper close to the pie crust so as to not tear it. Then ease the pastry into the pan, pushing down to the bottom and sides of the pan.

If rolling the crust on a floured workspace, fold the pastry in half, then in half again to form a 1/4 circle, and lift into pie pan. Unfold and ease into the pan. Gently press into the bottom of the pan, easing the dough down. Don't pull or stretch the dough. The dough can also be wrapped around the rolling pin, then transferred to the pan and unrolled.

Avoid pulling or stretching pie dough when fitting it into the pan to prevent the shell from shrinking as it bakes.

Use kitchen shears to trim away excess pie dough after fitting it into the pan.

The bottom crust should be placed in the pan so that it covers the surface smoothly. Air pockets will push the crust out of shape while baking.

Prepare the crust for filling

After placing the pie crust in the pie pan, refrigerate for 15 minutes before filling or seal the crust by brushing with a slightly beaten egg white or sprinkling it with an equal mixture of sugar and flour, then refrigerate for 15 minutes. This will prevent the crust from becoming soggy.

For a one crust pie with a chilled filling, it is necessary to bake the crust first. To do this, line the crust with foil and pour unbaked dried beans into the crust. Place the crust in the preheated oven. Remove the foil and beans for the last 3 minutes of baking time so the crust can brown.

When making pumpkin, custard or fruit pies, prevent the crust from becoming soggy by brushing the unbaked shell with a beaten egg white before adding the pie filling mixture.

Filling the pie crust

Use a generous amount of filling when making fruit pies, as it settles slightly while it cooks.

Topping off the pie

When baking a two-crust pie, brush a little water around the edge of the bottom crust before placing the top crust. This will create a good seal once the two are crimped together.

If rolling the top crust between waxed paper or parchment paper, peel off the top paper. Use the bottom sheet of paper to flip the dough onto the pie filling. Carefully peel off the second sheet of paper, holding the paper close to the pie filling so as to not tear it. Then ease the pastry to cover the filling.

If rolling the crust on a floured workspace, fold the pastry in half, then in half again to form a 1/4 circle, and lift and place on top of the filling. Unfold and arrange to cover the filling.

Fold the edge of the top crust under the bottom crust and pinch to seal. Then pinch the edges together between your thumb and forefinger, or use a fork to press the edge down. Form the pie crust edge into a pattern. One suggestion is to use your thumb and forefinger of one hand and forefinger of the other to make a scallop, or attach dough cutouts with an egg wash.

Cut decorative vents in the top of a double-crusted fruit pie; vents allow steam to escape and prevent the fruit juices from overflowing.

To make a lattice top, roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to a 10-inch square. Use a pizza wheel, pastry wheel or sharp knife cut the dough into 1/2-inch-wide strips. Place 5 strips evenly spaced on top of filling. Fold the outside and center strips half way back. Starting at the center lay down another strip crosswise over the two strips. Unfold the 3 strips. Take the other two strips and fold them back and lay a strip of dough over the 3 laid down strips. Unfold the two strips and repeat until the top is completely woven.

Preparing the finished pie for baking

Loosely place aluminum foil around the pie crust edges. Fold a 12-inch square of foil into quarters. Cut a 7-inch circle out of the center. Unfold and loosely mold the foil over the pie's edge. This will prevent the edges from browning too quickly. Remember to remove the aluminum about 10 minutes before pies are ready to come out of the oven for the crust to be properly browned.

For a glossy or glazed appearance, brush the top crust with a beaten egg white, then sprinkle with sugar, if desired.

For a shinny appearance, brush the top crust with milk.

For a sparkling appearance, sprinkle the top crust with granulated sugar.

Bake the pie

Some recipes call for the temperature to be adjusted during baking. The temperature starts off high, then later it is lowered.

To check the doneness of the filling, insert a knife into the center of the pie. If it meets with little or no resistance, the pie is done. If the pie is not quite done but the top or edges are becoming too dark, loosely cover the top of the pie with aluminum foil to shield it from the heat.

Remove the aluminum wrapped around a double crust about 10 minutes before pies are ready to come out of the oven for the crust to be properly browned.

Add a meringue top

When using a meringue topping, be sure to spread the meringue on top of the filling while it is still hot making sure the meringue touches the crust all around the pie. This will prevent the meringue from shrinking after baking.

Use egg whites at room temperature for greater volume when making meringue.

Cool the pie

Cool hot pies on cooling racks to allow air to circulate under them. This also helps prevent the bottom crust from becoming soggy.

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