Let Them Eat Pie!
Is there anything not to like about pie? Flaky crust, yummy fillings from sweet to savory served with ice cream, whipped cream, or maybe a little melted cheese. Although it did not originate in the United States, it is definitely one of those foods that we have made our own. I mean, is there anything more American than the apple pie?
Regardless of the type of pie, the crust is critical to good pie. But making a good pie crust can stump the most experienced bakers. I watched my mom make pie crusts for over 20 years, and have yet to make the same tender, flaky pie crust that she makes—even using the same recipe.
I have tried all the tips out there for making the best pie crusts, from using vodka to ice water. Are there any sure fire tips for making delicious flaky pie crust? Yes, there are. And we put them together with a few troubleshooting hints to help you make the perfect pie crust!
Pie Crust Tips
Chill the ingredients: Keep butter or shortening cold until using. The cold fat will melt into the flour layers during cooking to make a flaky crust. After mixing, chill the dough an hour before rolling out.
Avoid developing gluten: Avoid over handling the crust dough. Use a pastry blender or fork to cut the fat into the flour until the fat is cut into small pea size pieces. Add cold water gradually and mix just enough to form a ball. Chill the dough 1 hour before rolling to allow the dough, and any gluten formed, to relax.
Use proper rolling technique: Using proper rolling will help prevent over handling the dough. Start with well-chilled dough which will help reduce sticking. Avoid adding too much flour onto the rolling surface.
Roll from the center and lift the rolling pin after each roll. Rotate the dough a quarter turn at a time after each roll to help create a evenly round shape. Drape half of the crust over the rolling pin to help transfer to the pie pan. Be careful to not pull or tug on the dough to help prevent shrinkage during baking.
Finish with Style: Crimp the edge of the crust, or use scraps and small cookie cutters to decorate the crust edge. Brush the crust with an egg wash and sprinkle with granulated sugar.
Whether you add water, milk or cream, add 1 tablespoon of liquid per egg to make the egg wash. But the liquid you add will affect the finished look of the crust:
- Whole egg + dash of salt = Shiny surface
- Whole egg + milk = Medium shine
- Whole egg + water = Golden brown finish
- Cream only = Golden brown finish
- Egg yolk + water = Shiny golden brown finish
- Olive oil only = Shiny golden brown finish
- Egg yolk + heavy cream = Shiny dark-golden brown finish
- Egg white only = Crisp, light-brown finish
Need help with crimping? Fine Cooking has a great instructional video on easy ways of decorating a pie crust.
Pie Crust Troubleshooting
Crust is too brown: Oven temperature is too hot. Lower the oven temperature or reduce the baking time. Alternatively, use pie shields to protect the crust and keep it from overbrowning.
Crust is crumbling: Too little gluten formed. Add a touch more water and work the dough a little more.
Crust is tough: Too much gluten formed. Cut the fat into the flour more thoroughly before working with hands.
Crust shrinks: Dough was stretched when place in pie pan and allow the crust to rest 30 minutes before baking. If pre-baking (blind baking), prick the crust before cooking or use pie weights.
Crust isn’t flaky: Fat was cut in too finely. Cut fat into flour using a pastry blender of forks until it resembles coarse meal.
Bottom is soggy: Opt for a glass, dark metal or dull-metal pie pan. They will absorb heat better helping the bottoms to brown and crisp. Alternatively, place the pie plate on a baking sheet to cook, increase the oven temperature, or extend the baking time.
Did you know:
- The first pies date back to early Romans and Greeks
- The first published pie recipe was for a Roman rye-crusted goat cheese and honey pie
- Early pies were mostly meat pies. Fruit pies were first made in the 16th century, and Queen Elizabeth I is credited with the creation of the first cherry pie.
- In the 17th century, Oliver Cromwell banned the eating of pie because is was a “pagan pleasure”. The ban remained in effect for 16 years.
- Pie was brought to America by early English settlers
- The term “upper-crust” came about because in hard economic times, only the affluent could afford both and upper and lower crust on their pies.
- Florida and Vermont both have a state pie: key lime and apple pie, respectively. While in Kansas, it was once illegal to serve ice cream on cherry pie.
- The world’s largest apple pie was made in 1982 at the Hilton Apple Fest. The resulting pie was 18 feet around and 18 inches deep.
- Pie for dessert is a relatively recent practice. In the early 19th century, pie was more often a breakfast food.
- According to Crisco, the top pies are apple, pumpkin or sweet potato, chocolate, lemon meringue and cherry.
Basic All-American Pie Dough
Crisp and flaky, this dough is suitable for any pie.
For a 9-inch Pie Shell
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
3 to 4 tablespoons ice-cold water
For a 9-inch two crust pie
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup vegetable shortening
7 to 8 tablespoons ice-cold water
Your hands are the best tools for making it, so I urge you to plunge them right into the flour and shortening and forge ahead. You will become familiar with the feel of the dough right away, and be surprised how quick and easy it is. When friends taste your pies, they will want you to show them how you did it.
Blending the Flour and Shortening
Put the flour and salt in a large bowl-large enough to hold the ingredients, with room for your hands, and stir them together with your fingers. Drop in the shortening, then with your fingers break it in to several pieces as you push it around the flour.
Now put both hands in the bowl with the flour and shortening, and rub the fingers of each hand against the thumbs, lightly blending the shortening and flour together into smaller lumps and flake-shaped pieces. Your goal is to rub the shortening into the flour while keeping the mixture light-textured and dry.
Work as quickly and comfortably as you can, lifting your hands often and letting the mixture fall back into the bowl. You know when you have blended enough when you do not see any lumps of shortening and you have a mixture of particles the size of coarse and fine bread crumbs.
Adding the Water
Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of water over the dough and stir briskly with a fork or pastry blender. Continue adding water, 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring after each addition and concentration the areas of the dough that seem the driest. When the dough forms a rough, cohesive mass, reach into the bowl and press the dough together into a roundish ball. If it does not hold together, or if parts of it seem crumbly and dry, sprinkle on a little more water.
The amount of water can vary slightly from time to time, depending on your ingredients. If you are in doubt, it is better to add a little too much than not enough, because a dough that is too dry can be difficult to roll out.
Rolling Out the Dough
Chill dough for 30 minutes to 1 hour before rolling. Have a handful of additional flour nearby in a small cup, for lightly flouring your hands and the rolling surfaces. Rub a light dusting of flour on your hands and pat the dough in to a smooth cake about 1 inch thick and 3 to 4 inches across. (If you are making a two-crust pie, pat it into 2 cakes, one slightly larger than the other.)
Lightly sprinkle your rolling surface with flour, spreading the flour to cover an area about 12 inches in diameter. Put the dough in the center, using the larger pieces if it is a two-crust pie. Flatten the dough a little with your hands, and begin rolling it into a circle. Do most of the rolling from the center out to the edges of the dough, lifting after each roll and turning a quarter turn every 5 or 6 rolls to help keep it round.
If the dough sticks on the bottom, slide a long metal spatula underneath to loosen it, chill dough 10 to 15 minutes, or dust with a small amount of flour. If the top of the dough is damp and sticky, dust it with additional flour as well. If the dough tears, simply push it back together.
Although the edges will probably look uneven, keep the shape as round as possible without agonizing over it. When you have a circle 11 to 12 inches across and about 2 inches larger than the top of your pie pan, you have rolled enough.
Putting the Dough in the Pie Pan
If you are confident, you can probably just pick up the whole circle of dough and set it in the pie pan. Otherwise, try this: Roll the dough up onto the rolling pin, like a carpet. Then put the edge of the dough at the edge of the pan and unroll it, letting it drop into the pan. If it is not relatively centered, slide it gently so it is. If it tears, push it back together. Pat the dough snugly into the pan, starting around the edges and easing toward the center.
You should have 1/2 to 1 inch of overhanging dough all around the pan. In places where there is more than an inch, cut it off with scissors or a sharp knife. In spots where there is less, brush the edge lightly with water and press one of the scraps of trimmed dough onto it.
If you are making a two-crust fruit pie, roll out the second piece of dough just as you did the first. Transfer it, either by lifting it or rolling it onto the rolling pin, to a sheet of waxed paper, and set it aside. Then follow the instructions given later, for a two-crust pie.
Cream, custard, and chiffon pies have only a bottom crust, called a pie shell. Depending on the recipe, the shell is filled either unbaked or fully baked.
For an Unbaked Pie Shell
Fold the overhanging dough over itself and pinch it together to make a double-thick, upstanding rim all around. Pinch the rim to make a scalloped edge-this is called fluting or crimping, and the more you do it, the easier it will become and the better you will be at it. Fill the shell and bake as directed in the recipe.
For a Fully Baked Pie Shell
Preheat the oven to 425 F. Fold and flute the rim as directed in the instructions for an unbaked pie shell, and then prick the dough all over the bottom and sides with a table fork. This should be a rapid motion, and I usually prick it 100 to 120 times. These tiny holes keep the dough from puffing up in the oven, and it is better to have too many than too few.
So the dough will hold its shape, press a 12-inch square of heavy-duty foil (or a double-thick square of regular foil) snugly into the pie shell, over the bottom and sides of the dough. Bake for about 8 minutes, until the edges of the dough are beginning to look dry but not browned. If they still look wet, bake the shell a couple minutes longer. Remove the foil and bake for 6 to 10 minutes more.
Check a few minutes after you remove the foil, and if the dough is puffed in the center, prick it with a fork and it will deflate. The pie shell is done when the dough is light brown and looks dry all over. It is fragile now but will become crisp as it cools. It does not matter if it has shrunk a tiny bit. Set the baked pie shell aside to cook completely, and then fill it as directed in the recipe.
For a Two-Crust Pie
Put the filling into the dough-lined pan as directed in the recipe. Using your finger, a small brush, or a wet paper towel, brush the rim of the dough generously with water. Transfer the rolled-out top crust from the waxed paper-either lift if gently or roll it onto the rolling pin-and place it over the filled pie. Press firmly all around to seal the top and bottom crusts together. Trim the edges, using a sharp knife or scissors, so you have about half an inch of overhang.
Fold the overhang under itself to make a thick, upstanding rim. Flute the rim as directed in the instructions for an unbaked pie shell. With the point of a sharp knife, cut 10 to 12 slits, or vents, in the top crust, so steam can evaporate as the pie bakes. Be as random as you want with the vents, making about half of them around the edge and the rest around the center.
Two-crust fruit pies are usually baked at a high temperature for the first 15 to 20 minutes, to help brown the crust and begin cooking the filling, and then the oven is turned to a lower temperature for the remainder of the baking.
Fruit pies with juicy fillings sometimes boil over in the oven. To keep your oven clean, and to prevent a smoky kitchen, place a large sheet of heavy-duty foil on the rack under the pie to catch drips. It might not be needed, but if it is you will be glad its there.
It is okay to open the oven and check your pie a few times during baking. If you see the edges of the crust becoming too brown, remove the pie from the oven. Gently cover the edges with 2-inch strips of foil, bending them to fit the pie, and then return to the oven.
Cherry Pie with Lattice Crust
Share the tradition — lush cherries baked in a flaky crust!
48 oz. water-packed sour cherries
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
2 cups reserved cherry juice
1 1/2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
3/4 tsp almond extract
3/4 tsp red food coloring, optional
3 Tbs unsalted butter, softened
Flaky Pie Pastry
3 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
4 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 cup firm, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup chilled vegetable shortening, cut into small pieces
7 to 8 Tbs. ice water, or more as needed
For Flaky Pie Pastry
Place the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Chill for 15 minutes. Process for 5 seconds to blend.
Add half of the butter and shortening. Pulse 4 to 5 times, then process for 4 to 5 seconds. Add the remaining butter and shortening and pulse again 4 to 5 times, then process for 4 to 5 seconds. The mixture should have the texture of coarse meal and still contain some larger pieces of fat.
Empty the mixture into a large bowl. Add the ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, drizzling it around the side of the bowl. Use a kitchen fork to push the mixture toward the center with each addition.
With floured hands, press the dough against the side of the bowl forming two balls. All of the crumbs should adhere to the balls and clean the bowl. If not, add some additional water, a few drops at a time. Flatten the balls into two, 4 to 5-inch disks.
Dust the disks with flour, then score with side of your hand. Cover with plastic wrap. Chill 1/2 hour or longer before using. Will keep refrigerated for up to 3 days. This recipe makes one double crust 10-inch pie.
To Make The Filling
Set a colander in a large bowl. Drain the cherries thoroughly. Reserve 2 cups of the juice. Line a baking sheet with double thickness of paper towels, and spread the cherries on the towels to dry.
Combine the sugar and cornstarch in a 3-quart saucepan. Gradually stir in the reserved cherry juice, stirring until smooth. Cook over med-low heat until the mixture comes to a boil and is thickened. Simmer for 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Do not over mix. Blend in the lemon juice, almond extract, red food coloring and butter; gently fold in the drained cherries. Set aside to cool.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Generously butter a 10-inch pie plate or pie dish. On a floured board, roll 1/2 of the pastry into a 15-inch circle. Line the pie plate loosely with the pastry. Trim the edges, leaving a generous 1/2-inch overhang. Spoon the cherry filling into the pan and smooth the surface.
Make a lattice top with the remaining pastry as follows: Roll pastry into a 14-inch circle. Using a pastry wheel, divide the pastry into ten 1-1/4-inch strips. Evenly space the pastry, starting with the longest strips in the center.
Place 2 strips on either side of the center strip graduating the length as needed. Turn the pan 90 degrees and repeat process, again starting with the longest strip in the middle. Trim, leaving a 1-inch overhang. Turn the edges under and flute or crimp with a fork. Brush with ice water, then sprinkle with sugar.
Tear two 3-inch strips of 18-inch heavy-duty aluminum foil and mold them around the pie pan to cover the edge of the pastry. If necessary, use tape to hold the strips together. This will prevent it from burning.
Bake the pie for 50-60 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the juices start to bubble. (Place an 18-inch square of heavy-duty aluminum foil on the shelf below in case the juices run over.) Cool on a rack at least 3 hours before serving.
This recipe serves 8 to 10.
Nellie & Joe’s Famous Key Lime Pie
1, 9-inch graham cracker pie shell
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup Nellie & Joe’s Key West Lime Juice
Fresh whipped cream and lime slices for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 F. Combine milk, egg yolks and lime juice. Blend until smooth. Pour filling into pie shell. Bake for 15 minutes. Allow to stand for 10 minutes before refrigerating. Just before serving, top with fresh whipped cream and garnish with lime slices.