Do you get frustrated while trying to make the perfect pie crust from scratch? Or maybe you’re a baker looking to up your game a bit when it comes to pies? We had the honor of hosting an Instagram Live with cookbook author, recipe developer, and award-winning food stylist Erin Jeanne McDowell. Erin welcomed us into her kitchen to talk about her new book, “The Book on Pie,” and shared with us some of her professional tips for creating the perfect homemade pie crust.
Erin’s Pie Crust Tips
Without further ado, here are some of the many awesome pie crust tips Erin shared with us, in her own words.
1) Is it difficult to make a pie?
“Pie isn’t necessarily that hard, but it defies in patience. So you cannot be impatient when it comes to a pie. There are some hands-off periods where it has to hang out in the fridge.”
2) How can I create flaky pie crust?
“Flaky pie dough is my thing. I like to leave [the dough] so that the largest pieces are about the size of a walnut halves. A lot of recipes tell you to mix it to be the size of peas, but I find that actually makes a very mealy, crumbly texture. And that mealy, crumbly texture is also delicious! It would be a little bit better for a custard pie or cream pie – something that’s higher in moisture. You can use flaky doughs when you’re making fruit pies, because that flakiness really works beautifully with fruit.“
3) How can I make my pie extra flaky?
“This is something I learned from a chef of mine in pastry school, who said it doesn’t need to be full rough puff pastry. Rough puff pastry is similar to pie dough, but it’s folded many times to create these really light, fluffy layers.
You can actually do this with pie dough without doing as many folds as you would need to make something like puff pastry. It just gives it a little bit of extra flakiness. And I also find that it really helps some of the crimps and kind of decorative effects to stay better in the oven.”
4) Should I use salted or unsalted butter?
“I recommend using unsalted butter because we’re adding salt into the recipe. If you only have salted butter at home, that’s great! You’re just not going to want to add as much salt to the dough itself. Another reason I call for unsalted butter is because you can incorporate other ingredients that might be salty, like cheeses.”
5) Should pie dough be kept cold?
“Pie dough loves to be cold. At all stages, keep it cold. When in doubt, chill it out, that’s the rule of pie dough. Keep your dough nice and cold and your oven nice and hot. That’s how you get the flakiest pie dough.”
6) How do I prevent my crust from shrinking?
“One of the biggest reasons pie dough will shrink has to do with not giving it enough rest time. Any time you’re mixing something with flour in it, the natural proteins that exist in flour create strands of proteins called gluten. And gluten in baking is a very good word! But it can also give things a lot of structure.
Whenever you’re working something that has hydrated flour, you need to give the dough some time to relax for those protein strands that have formed to soften. Sometimes I tell people to make your pie dough the day before you need it, and then you don’t need to worry about that aspect.”
7) Is there a substitute for pie weights?
“Dried beans are one of the most common things that people use [if they don’t have pie weights]. You can use dried beans or even rice or grains. The downside of using those ingredients is that they can’t usually be cooked or consumed afterwards, so it’s a little bit wasteful. But you can use them as pie weights dozens of times before you need to get rid of them.”
8) How much water should I use?
“Hydration of pie dough is one of the most important things. I can’t tell you exactly how much water to use without telling you, ‘you must use this brand of flour.’ Earlier this year, we had a flour shortage, so I don’t want to tell you you have to use one brand of flour. If you learn how to [hydrate the dough] by eye, you won’t have that issue.”
9) How many pie crusts can I make at once?
“By hand, I would make no more than four [pie crusts] at one time. So two double crust pies or four single crust pies. The reason for that is that the hydration gets very difficult to deal with. After a certain point, it gets very hard to ensure that you’re getting everything evenly. I find that when I try to make five or six or seven, I end up with some pieces that are too sticky or too wet.”
10) Do I need an oven thermometer?
“Oven thermometers are not an expensive investment, they’re usually about $12 or $15. You can even buy them in the grocery store. It’s very common for home ovens to become out of calibration. You might actually be baking your pie at 350 when you think you’re baking it at 400. It’s a pretty simple solution of just knowing you have to set your oven a little higher.”
11) What if my fruit pie is too dark?
“Fruit pies are some of the most flexible in terms of the temperature. If you’re baking an apple pie this holiday season and it’s starting to get too dark, just tent it with some tin foil and lower the temperature by 25 or 50 degrees.
It’s gonna take longer for it to bake, but there’s a very easy visual cue with fruit pies, which is that it has to bubble. The filling has to bubble up through the vents or through the lattice. As long as you bake it for as long as it takes for that bubbling to happen, you’re gonna be all set.”
12) Should I use convection or standard mode?
“I love convection always for the kind of uniformity of baking, but I don’t always recommend convection for pies. Because when you’re dealing with pies, you’re dealing with some pretty delicate pastry structure. I just find that the fan can sometimes displace the crust a little bit. So it’s a really great time to use your regular oven settings.
But that said, the convection is amazing if you’re in the finishing stages or you’re baking something like a galette, a freeform pie. Convection’s gonna heat up faster and keep that heat more even.”
13) Which rack is best to bake my pie on?
“Especially if one of the primary heating elements for your oven is in the base, that’s where you wanna keep [the pie] to help get that bottom crust a little bit more brown. I also sometimes enlist the help of a pizza stone or a baking steel on the bottom rack of the oven just to really help drive some heat to the bottom of that crust.”
Which of these tips will you use to take your baking skills to the next level? Let us know in the comments!
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SIDENOTE. This post was last modified on December 17, 2020. However, we regularly update our content as we test more products and new models are released. We also listen to the feedback of our customers and make changes to our product recommendations based on their experiences. So don’t be surprised if you see some old comments below! Since reader comments contribute to the topic, we have decided not to delete them.