Pie Making Tips

Pie Crust and Pie Making Tips

Ok, so you are still convinced that baking pie is something only your mother can do. So instead of buckling down and making that first pie crust you keep returning to the frozen food section of the super market to get your pie fix. Pie Crust and Pie Making Tips is here to give you the information that you need to get you past the first-time jitters and anxiety from the fear of failure. Click through the listed tips and you will be on your way to making a great pie crust or pie.

For all others who venture here and read through these links you just may pick up a new pie-making trick or at the very least validate the fact that you know it all already. How cool is it to say, “Hey any idiot knows that”.

Making Pie Crust

Always remember that your ultimate goal is making a pie crust is to achieve maximum flakiness, crunch, and taste. In support of this goal, here are some thoughts that you should take into consideration when putting together a pie crust.

Temperature

Many recipe authors emphasize the necessity of keeping the shortening cold when making and rolling out the pie crust. Some authors become so obsessive as to have you traveling to the refrigerator or freezer after each step of the crust making process. While I concede that temperature of ingredients does factor into quality results, I would also emphatically state that it is not the single contributing factor to a successful crust. Certainly cutting in cold butter is highly recommended and chilling a crust made from butter prior to rolling out and baking will produce a better crust. However, I stand firmly on the fact that shortening crusts can be put together, rolled out, and baked with all ingredients (except the milk that is used for the liquid) at room temperature. My mother, who is well known for her pies in the community where she lives and never chilled a crust in her life, summed it all up when she said, “Nobody ever complained about my pies”.

Flakiness and Crunch

Pie was a way a life where I grew up in central Illinois. Pie making abilities were the measuring stick of life. My father, who had trouble boiling water, was not bashful when it came to being a pie critic. After returning from many a Sunday dinner at a neighbor’s house, it was not uncommon for my Dad to critique the pie that had of course been served for dessert. Interestingly enough if the pie did not meet his expectations, his complaint was seldom about the pie filling, but rather the crust. The statement that he commonly made was “Boy, that pie crust sure was tough”. What he was really identifying was the end result of the qualities of flakiness and crunch coming together, or not. “Tough” refers to the fact that the crust is devoid of both flakiness and crunch. You can instantly tell whether or not a crust is “tough” when you cut the first piece.

So how do you achieve flakiness and crunch without creating a tough crust? Let’s start with the factors that contribute to a tough crust. Firstly, too much or too little liquid will definitely create tough results. Only enough liquid should be sprinkled into the flour shortening mix. What’s enough? Start with the proportions that are listed in the recipes. The dough should be moist enough to hold together when lightly compacted into a ball with your hands. A dough that is too moist will certainly hold together better, but will require a good deal more flour dusted into it when rolling out. Conversely, a dough that is dry will crumble when rolling out. Ultimately is will be about feel. After several attempts you will begin to develop a feel for just the right ratio of liquid to dry ingredients.

Although seemingly unrelated, one factor that determines how much liquid that needs to be mixed into the dough, is the flour to shortening ratio. Too little shortening will require you to mix in too much liquid to create the right dough consistency, with too much shortening not allowing you to add enough liquid.

In my opinion the correct mix of shortening to flour mixture is ultimately the key to a successful crust. Considering that the ratio of shortening to flour will vary each time you make a crust due to identifiable variables such as the moisture of the flour to more random and unidentifiable elements that the pie crust gods inflict upon your crust, would lead one to believe that making that perfect crust is unattainable. What you should be looking for in the finished product is a mixture that has a pebbly consistency to it. In addition, the mixture should begin loosely sticking together. If you are using a pastry blender, you will notice that as you cut the shortening into the flour, the mixture will begin compacting slightly on the upper part of the cutter’s tine. It is my belief that erring on the side of too much shortening will create better results than erring on the side of too much liquid.

Creating the right mix of flour to shortening will never be about exact measurement, rather it is about feel and visual consistency. A good crust will have a specific feel as well as a visual representation to it as you mix it together. Again start with the proportions that are listed in the recipes. As you are mixing the ingredients together observe both visually and tactilely the results, then compare them to the results of the finished product. It the crust tastes like a cardboard box and requires a chef’s knife too cut, alter the proportions till you get it right. Over time you will begin to see a pattern which will bring you closer to being able to create consistent desired results.

While it may not seem so, creating that perfect crust is not as arbitrary as it may sound. It will only seem arbitrary if you are a slave to recipes. Using your hands to mix and feel the dough you will soon learn to alter flour, shortening, and liquid proportions to create a dough that will yield consistent results. Stay with one crust recipe, repeating it until you get it right. To some extent this is what makes the exercise rewarding and challenging all at the same time. Because when it all comes together, you will know that it is a magic moment.

If you have actually managed to read this far, you really should seek professional help.

Picking Up the Crust

This undoubtedly is the hardest part of making a good pie crust. Once you roll the crust out, getting the dough off the counter top and into the pie plate in one piece can be be a daunting task.

After struggling with this challenge over the years, I developed a guaranteed technique for transferring the rolled out dough to the pie plate successfully every time. The technique is called the Super Deluxe Pie Crust Flip ™. I have outlined the technique in detail, using pictures to help guide you through the process. Click Here to view a step by step approach to getting your crust into a pie plate perfectly everytime.

Lattice Top

A lattice top crust really sets off a fruit pie such as cherry or raspberry. It allows the natural colors to shine through. Making a lattice crust is not really difficult once you understand how to construct it. Click here to view a step by step tutorial, complete with pictures, that will walk you through the process.

Frozen Fruit

What is better than a fruit pie? Conversely, what is worse than biting into a fruit pie that seems to consist of nothing more than fruit marmalade on a crust. As you walk down the baking aisle of the grocery store, and as you near the fruit pie filling section, KEEP WALKING. You can have a respectable if not good fruit pie anytime of the year, thanks to refrigeration. Frozen fruit not only represents a great alternative to those awful canned fruit pie fillings, but even on some occasions, be of better quality than so called “fresh” fruit, especially if the fruit in question is out of season or is not indigenous to your area of the country. As we all are aware, fruit that is shipped to your super market has been bred, raised, and picked to look good on the shelf, but not necessarily to taste good. We have eaten those beautiful, plump strawberries or perfect looking peaches that have absolutely zero taste.

Cook Books

A friend of mine rightly noted that there is an inverse ratio to glossiness of a cook book to the true value of the recipes. For me, pies are not necessarily made to be fancy. Rather, they represent good, down to earth food, with simple fresh ingredients blending together for an uncomplicated taste experience. It is less about titillating the taste buds than satisfying the taste buds.

One of the best cookbook that I have come across is “Pie” by Ken Haederich. Great recipes with lots of great comments about the people and places from whence come the recipe.

Another great source for cookbooks is from your local church or community. When I was growing up, one of the most common church fund raising projects featured the church ladies combining their best recipes into a bound cookbook. For the uninitiated (or heathen, depending on who you talked to)these recipes were very difficult to follow as they were full of assumptions. Ingredient measurements were at times “iffy” and you had to fill in the gaps in the instructions. It was assumed that any good Christian woman could certainly decipher the recipe code.

If you can read these recipes, I would say that they represent some of the best pie recipes that you will find, especially if you know the person who wrote the recipe. Do not be mistaken, recipes in these cookbooks reflect the character and skills of the author and your results will vary. I know that Aunt Mattie’s sugar cookie recipe has to be the best one in the world because I had the priveledge of eating her incredibly soft and chewy sugar cookies. I also know that I will never be the baker that Aunt Mattie was because I can never replicate her sugar cookies from her printed recipe.

I believe that as it relates to pie, simple is better, and the cookbook that represents that concept is the one for me.

One last piece of advice and you can take this to the bank. Never buy or trust anything that has the word “gourmet” in its title or description.