I’m not sure where the saying “easy as pie” comes from, because anybody who’s rolled out a pie crust before knows it is the very antithesis of anything remotely resembling “easy”. I realize that (only very slightly) hyperbolizing the difficulty in rolling the dough out does little to inspire confidence. But that’s the reason for the primer! To teach you all the things I’ve learned along the way. I love pie, and I love people who love pie, and I assume that if you’re here, you either love me or love pie, so either by reflexive property or transitive property of pie, I love you. And so I share.
We need to discuss pie pans and plates. Often, recipes seem to assume a 9-inch pie plate, but there are many different diameters and depths, and therefore many different volumes. Standard plate sizes are as follows:
- 8 or 9-inch (I realize that I’ve given 2 different diameters of pie plate, but I’ve conflated them into one size that I think of as “little pie size”)
- 9 1/2-inch deep dish (“good pie size”)
- 10-inch (“big pie size”)
I also own a 9-inch ceramic Emile Henry pie dish with a whopping 2-inch depth, which makes an enormous slice of pie if that’s what you’re into. Generally, I default to 9 1/2-inch deep dish, but I find that except for Ken Haedrich’s recipes in Pie, most pie recipes don’t state what size pie plate they mean. It took quite a few underwhelmingly unfilled 9 1/2-inch deep dish pies before I realized the 9-inch assumption.
There are basically three options here: aluminum/aluminium (disposable or the sturdy reusable kind), glass (Pyrex), and ceramic. My favorite by far is Pyrex. The pie crust cooks evenly, it’s easy to tell when the crust has cooked sufficiently thanks to the transparency, and they’re easy to find in grocery stores and such. Really the only drawback I can think of is that sometimes the plate will explode in your face after rapid temperature changes, which are common when you move the pie plate from the freezer to the oven, or open the oven door, take the pie out and put the plate on a cooler counter. Anecdotally speaking, I have only been able to explode Pyrex by microwaving honey and butter (both times involved the small pudding dish).
Because aluminum pans can be unevenly manufactured leading to unevenly cooked crusts, the only benefit of aluminum pans is how very disposable the disposable pans are. What they lack in structural integrity, they make up for with cost efficiency, which is an important thing to consider when shipping a pie to foreign lands like Austria, Finland, the Netherlands, or Michigan. Having shipped a pie to all of these places, I can attest that each extra pound matters when the already heavy pie is packed with 5-10 pounds of dry ice (an entry on this later). As for the sturdy reusable aluminum pans, I question how one cuts a pie afterwards without scraping the shit out of the bottom of the pie pan. This relegates the sturdy aluminum pie pan to one niche purpose: placing the disposable aluminum pan inside the sturdy aluminum pan to make the disposable pan easier to handle (pie filling can be very heavy, crumpling the disposable pan under its weight) without fear of Pyrexian explosion.
Finally, there’s the ceramic dish. The ceramic dish’s big claim is that unlike the new explosive Pyrex plates using tempered soda lime glass, it can handle the transition from freezer to oven. They’re also much prettier, which is something to consider if the visual presentation of a pie is important to you.
Now, surely, you’re ready to roll the pie dough out. You will need:
- parchment paper
- kitchen shears/paring knife
- rolling pin
- the pie plate
- a Silpat if you have one
You’ll probably want to take the dough out of the fridge and let it warm up a little, maybe 10 minutes or so. Despite all the emphasis I made on having a cool kitchen and cold ingredients, letting it warm a bit to room temperature will mitigate some of the cracks around the edge of the pastry when you roll it out. Don’t worry about any cracks you do end up getting. We can mitigate those with brute force.
1. Place the Silpat on your counter (bonus if your counters are made of Corian or granite). The Silpat will keep the parchment paper in place so that you’re not chasing the the dough all over the counter while trying to roll it out. Tear a piece of parchment paper about 18-24 inches wide off the roll and place it on the Silpat. It helps if you place it so that paper’s tendency is to roll downward rather than upward. Otherwise you’ll be fighting paper curling in addition to pie pastry, searching for odds and ends in your kitchen to weigh the corners down. Just flip the paper over, for the love.
2. Sprinkle flour over the parchment paper, covering a 15-inch diameter. Later, this will make the paper easier to peel off the dough.
3. Use the rolling pin to roll the dough out evenly to a 1/8-inch thickness. Don’t worry about cracks or other strange deformities in your rolled-out dough. We’ll take care of those later. The diameter of the rolled out dough will need to be about 13-14 inches for a 9 1/2-inch plate, 15 for a 10-inch plate, and 12 inches for an 8 or 9-inch plate.
4. Hold the dough on the parchment paper centered in your dominant hand (love for the left-handers!) with a guide finger where you estimate the center of the dough to be, and grab the pie pan by one edge, holding it upside down with your other hand. Bring the middle of the bottom of the pan to your guide finger (the Pyrex logo is extra handy for this purpose), and carefully flip the whole thing over so that the pastry seems like it’s really getting to know the pie plate by easing into it.
5. Peel the parchment paper off gently without stretching the dough or making any holes in it.
6. Lift the dough and ease it into the pan without stretching it so that the dough is flush to the pan and leaves a 1-inch overhang over the edge of the plate. Stretching will result in shrinkage while baking, which I bet is not the first time some people have heard that complaint. Some places in the dough will not have a 1-inch overhang. They may even have a bit of an underhang, but that’s ok (see below).
7. Trim the dough using the shears (or the paring knife) along the circumference, removing any excess dough beyond the 1-inch overhang. Save the scraps. We’re using them for pastry spackle!
8. Along the edge of the overhang where there are cracks or gaps, place a scrap behind the crack/gap and squish it to the dough surrounding the crack.
9. Trim the crack spackle back down to the 1-inch overhang. Repair cracks as necessary until the overhang is of a consistent length and thickness.
10. Fold the overhang under itself into a 1/2″-inch upstanding ridge.
11. Crimp as you see fit (entry upcoming on how crimpin’ ain’t easy (that’s a lie, it is easy)). You will end up with something like this:
Generally you’ll freeze it for 15-20 minutes and use it immediately for fillings that take a long time to bake, or pre-bake the crust . Prebaking, also known as blind baking, is used for custard pies where the custard is cooked on the stove rather than in the oven, or to avoid the sad soggy crust you so often see with pumpkin pies. Yet another entry on pre-baking forthcoming.
Hey, look. This blog is in its infancy. These warnings are as much for your information as they are reminders for me to write this shit down.