7 helpful hints for baking a pie.

This is a bragging post.  My fifteen year old daughter baked the pie in this photo.  Her first pie ever!  The crust is an all-butter recipe and the fruit filling is inspired by the classic bumbleberry combination.  The rhubarb in our garden is not quite ready but we managed to cut two stalks.  She sliced them fairly thin, about 1/3″, so the rhubarb would retain its shape but there would be enough so that most bites would have some rhubarb.  We used store bought strawberries and a pint of blackberries in addition to a couple of apples.  The filling had a lovely sauce and delicious flavor.  Pie crusts can be intimidating to even the most experienced baker but she managed well.  Here are some hints to improve your luck with pie pastry dough.  This is not a complete how-to but rather my tips…

Keep the fat pieces large when cutting into the flour.

Pastry made with chunks of solid fat (doesn’t butter sound so much more appetizing than fat!) will be flakier. When the fat melts then gaps are created in layers.  Plus butter has some water in it that evaporates during baking creating a leavening effect. If you cut in the fat until it resembles a coarse meal then you will have a tender crust but it may not be flaky.

Rest the dough after mixing.

You may be able to see from the photo above that there was some shrinkage.  This is called dough relaxation.  Pie pastry should be chilled after making it so that the dough can rest and relax. Most recipes suggest a minimum of two hours but it can easily be left in the fridge over night. Not only will this make it easier to shape and roll but it also allows the fat used to solidify creating a flakier crust.  An added benefit to resting the dough is the water used to bind the ingredients can distribute itself evenly through the pastry.  Without even distribution you can have crumbly spots where there isn’t enough water and other places that are soggy because of too much water.  Pie pastry dough in particular benefits because they are lightly mixed and contain only a small amount of water. That is why you can put a crumbly pile of dough, barely held together in a ball, into the refrigerator and two hours later pull out a much more uniform piece of dough. If I am making a pie with a time consuming filling, I put the pie dish in the fridge or freezer to ensure it stays chilled.  Again, this minimizes pie shrinkage.

Use minimal flour on the counter when rolling the dough.

Do not over work the dough. Just handle it enough to get the dough into a ball, begin wrapping with plastic wrap and then flatten into a disc shape.  I do this while I am wrapping it as it keeps the dough tidy plus less sticks to my hands.  Also do not dust the counters with too much flour when rolling.  To maximize tenderness you want to not add anymore flour than necessary.  I believe this has to do with the protein content in the flour. I keep flour on the rolling pin and lightly dust the counter.

Roll, quarter turn, repeat.

The secret to rolling out pie crust is to relax.  Don’t fret about a piece breaking off or that it is not a perfect circle.  Roll it out to about 1/8″ thick.  Make sure the outer edges are the same thickness as the centre of your circle.  There are lots of videos online that show how to roll out a pie crust so I will not detail it here.  I roll it one direction, usually away from me, then turn the dough disc a quarter turn, roll it again, repeat.  I use a flat spatula to work the flour under the dough after every couple of turns.  This way I keep pushing flour back under the disc and keep the dough from sticking to the counter.

Wrap the dough over the rolling pin to lift into the pie plate.

Put the rolling pin near an edge and gently lift the dough wrapping it around the pin.  Set it on top of the pie plate, and carefully unroll.  The dough should fall into place.

Fold the top layer in.

If your pie has a top crust, I find that it is best to tuck the top layer in under the edge of the bottom layer.  Then pinch it together.  I find this helps seal in the juices and minimizes the boiling over of the wonderful sugary filling on to the bottom of your clean oven.

Be patient and practice.

I was not a patient baker when I started out.  Truth be told, I have had many temper tantrums in the kitchen while baking.  If the dough did not roll out perfectly, I failed. If I had to patch up a couple spots, it was a disaster.  I know realize that a fresh baked pie is always delicious and the more I bake, the better looking they become.  Funny how that works.  So keep practicing and enjoy many wonderful pies in your future.