There aren’t many ingredients, or even very many steps, but most bakers would agree that creating a tender, flaky pie crust is incredibly tricky to master.
If you manage to not overwork your pie dough, you’ve then got to roll it out and ever-so-carefully place it in the pie pan. If you nail that step without splitting or ripping the dough, then you have to worry about shaping the edges of the crust, and baking it just right to avoid the dreaded soggy bottom.
Perhaps all the potential pitfalls of pie crust are the reason why every experienced cook seems to have at least one trick up his or her sleeve. To demystify the process for the uninitiated among us, we scoured the internet and consulted our Food Editor and baker extraordinaire Merce Muse.
Follow these pro tips to ensure a successful pie crust.
Both Muse and the majority of cookbooks recommend making your pie dough with super cold ingredients. Don’t remove your butter from the fridge until you’re ready to use it, and go ahead and stick your bowl of flour in the freezer for a few minutes. The colder your ingredients, the less risk of the butter melting and ruining the flakiness of your crust.
When you start to work with your dough, do it gently—you really want it to be no more than just combined. You should be able to see pieces of butter in the dough. Again, this helps your crust stay light and flaky.
Typically, pie dough recipes are pretty simple—nothing more than flour, some fat, a touch of salt, and a splash of water. Some bakers, however, have discovered that certain secret ingredients can all but ensure the crust stays tender.
The Kitchn recommends apple cider vinegar, and Scientific American says vodka works best. The reason? Both vinegar and alcohol lubricate the crust, but keep gluten from forming and toughening the dough.
Before you roll out your dough, you’ve got to let it rest for at least an hour. Again, this all has to do with gluten. When water and flour meet, gluten starts to form. These stretchy proteins want to hold their shape, and if you start rolling out the dough right away, gluten will make it resistant to its new shape. Allowing it to rest in the fridge for an hour, though, will cause the strands of gluten to relax, and give you a more malleable dough.
A squishy, wet bottom crust is a baker’s worst nightmare—and yet can be all too common in fruit pies. Prevent this travesty by brushing a coat of egg onto your unbaked bottom crust. A light coating of egg forms a moisture barrier between the crust and filling, keeping any of the liquid from the filling from seeping into the vulnerable crust below.
Some bakers also prefer to “blind bake” the bottom crust of the pie—partially or completely cooking it before adding the filling. Like the egg wash tip, blind baking can help prevent the dreaded soggy bottom. You do have to weigh the crust down with something heavy, such as dried beans or rice, though, so this process can be a hassle.
Photo credit: Paul Delmont
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