November 17, 2015
Editor’s Advice: How To Bake A Better Pie
Food editor Kristen Eppich dishes her secrets for baking the perfect pie.
1. Add a limited amount of water to your pastry. Adding too much water to pastry will cause issues. Water evaporates during baking, and this evaporation causes shrinkage. Too much liquid will also toughen the dough. Properly mixed pastry lubricates the flour with the butter, and a minimal amount of water should be needed to hold it together. For a test, squeeze a portion of your dough together in your hand to see if it holds together. If so, it’s done. If not, drizzle in one more tablespoon at a time.
2. Don’t overwork your pastry. Over-kneading the dough will develop too much gluten, producing elasticity and a tough crust. This is one reason food processor doughs are so popular, because they come together very quickly with little handling. Gluten can trick you, making your dough easier to roll out and more pliable to shape to your pan. However, once overworked dough is subject to heat, it recoils quickly, pulling away from the sides of the pan and shrinking.
3. Let your dough rest for at least one hour before rolling out. This is another way to counter gluten development. After being worked, dough needs to rest fully (in a cold environment) to relax any elasticity that has been developed. Some recipes say 30 minutes, but the longer you can let it rest, the better.
4. Once your pie plate is lined, chill the dough in the pie plate for at least 30 minutes before baking. I often opt for the freezer for those 30 minutes. Cold dough will shrink less. This is particularly important when baking tart shells.
5. If you’re making a fruit pie, consider how you cut up the fruit. Fruit that’s cut into small pieces will cook faster but will also release more liquid meaning it will need more thickening agents. When loading the fruit into the pie shell, be sure to gently press down on the filling to disperse any air pockets.
6. Don’t be afraid to use an adequate amount of flour to roll out your dough. Recipes always call for a lightly floured surface because extra flour can toughen the dough. However if you’re having trouble with the dough sticking, don’t be afraid to use more flour. If your dough is mixed properly, it should absorb very little flour during the rolling process. Be sure to flour the top of the dough and the rolling pin as well.
7. Make a better egg wash. A lightly beaten egg won’t spread across pie dough evenly. Here’s a trick: whisk 1/2 tsp of salt into the egg and let it sit for five minutes before using. The salt breaks down the gelatinous quality of the egg, allowing it to spread evenly.
8. Bake at a high temperature then reduce the heat. Starting with a high heat oven will help your pie develop a structured crust that establishes the shape it will maintain while it bakes. It also causes a chemical reaction needed to help the browning process. For filled pies, a starting oven temperature should be around 425°F for 10 to 15 minutes after which you’ll reduce your oven to 350-375°F and continue baking according to recipe directions.
9. Give the baked pie time to settle before slicing. After the baking process, two things happen as a pie cools. Thickening agents such as flour or cornstarch set, and more pectin is released from the cooked fruit. Both of these will lead to a less runny pie that is easier to slice. Try to bake your pie at least four hours in advance of serving.
Try our recipe for The Best-Ever Apple Pie.