And let’s pie-i-i-i-i-ie. (Am I dating myself? Because that album goes back to 1997!)
Crimping isn’t always just meant to be pretty and it in fact does serve a purpose. When pies are made with double crusts, crimping ensures that the top crust is properly sealed to the bottom. If the crusts aren’t sealed, the filling vomits out from between the top and bottom crusts as it bubbles and cooks, which makes for a sloppy pie and more critically, an oven with burnt crap all over it. And nobody likes cleaning the burnt crap out of their oven. Pie filling vomit is no good for anybody, just like real vomit.
I’ve irretrievably killed some appetites now, I suspect, which is counterproductive for a food blog. However, the senseless murder of your appetite is a necessary illustration of why you should crimp your pies for practical purposes. But what about aesthetic purposes?
If you’re making a single crust pie, there is very little purpose to the crimping beyond that it makes the pie beautiful. I mentioned in my post on Pie vs. Cake that flavor is the sum of the tastes your tongue perceives and the additional input provided by your other senses, most notably smell and texture. However, the visual appeal of food is also a factor: visual cues are often the first sensory cues we receive when we’re about to eat something (though you could argue that audio cues come simultaneously considering the environment; a hot dog in a packed baseball stadium with fans cheering alongside you is probably much more satisfying than a hot dog eaten all by yourself in an empty upper deck while everybody else is partying below). Visual appeal is why food porn is a thing, and why waitstaff bearing trays full of dessert make us rubberneck and slobber when they walk by. Or maybe you just rubberneck. I know I slobber.
The crimping of the pie crust triggers memories of all the lovely pies we’ve ingested before, whether perfectly crimped by machine (Marie Callander actually makes quite an impressive frozen pot pie) or lovingly crimped by hand.
So, how does one crimp? Whatever method you try really only involves squishing pie dough. Crimping is the easy part though; it’s preserving the crimping while baking that’s somewhat difficult. I have some caveats before going into actual crimping.
- Using an all-butter pastry gives you a super puffy crust, so any intricacy you put into crimping will get lost in the puffiness once the pie crust is baked.
- Not rolling the dough out evenly or stretching it too much when you put it into the pie plate will also affect the crust’s appearance after baking by warping or shrinking it unevenly. I also recommend baking the crust cold whether you blind bake (prebake) or not by placing the plated pastry in the freezer for 10-15 minutes before baking. Pastry that is too warm will also result in warping and/or shrinking. Either misstep results in a hideously deformed Bizarro Crust, like this:
“Me am Pecan Pie! Me am making you angry? That am bad.”
- You’ll probably want to dust your fingers in some flour semi-regularly to keep the dough from sticking to them. I have warm hobbit-like hands, so I usually have to work fairly quickly and flourly.
- Don’t push the pastry past the lip of the pie plate while you crimp. Make sure it rests on the lip all the way around.
- Use a pie shield or aluminum foil around the circumference of the crimped dough to protect it from burning.
I usually crimp one of two ways—the Fluted Crust and the Rope Crust—but am including instructions for a few more for both simplicity and complexity.
This is the method I most commonly use. It’s very simple: you just stagger your fingertips and squish around the crust, making an indentation on both the inside and outside circumference of the dough with each fingertip.
Continue making such indentations all around the circumference. Fully baked and unstretched, the fluted crust should look like this:
Pumpkin Pie at Thanksgiving the way Thanksgiving should be done: with a plethora of pies
You only need one hand for this crust! Pinch the dough at a 45° angle between the meaty part of your thumb and your index finger.
Place your thumb on the other side of the pinched ridge you’ve just made and pinch again. If you’re right-handed, pinch clockwise around the dough. If you’re left-handed, pinch counterclockwise. Continue pinching all the way around. The impressions your thumb leaves will form the valleys of the twists, and the dough pinched between your thumb and finger will form the peaks. If you have chubby hobbit thumbs like mine and not dainty ones and want a higher frequency of twist, you can just use something with a smaller diameter to pinch against in place of your thumb, like the handle of a wooden spoon or your child’s disembodied Barbie limbs. The completed crimp looks like this:
In my experience, the rope crust doesn’t hold up especially well after baking. With a higher shortening-fat ratio it might look better, though at the expense of puffy flakiness. I’m not convinced that twist integrity post-baking is worth using a less tasty crust. Frankly if the filling is tasty enough—the reference pie is a bourbon chocolate chip pecan pie—I’m always willing to overlook crust that isn’t sublimely baked.
Take a fork and mash it around the circumference of the pie. I’m not even going to dignify the simplicity of this with a picture. I’ve never crimped a pie this way because I derive very little pleasure making a pie this way, but I can’t fault the efficiency and simplicity of it. As an added bonus, you never have to touch the crust with your hands, which means no anti-stick flour, which means less mess!
This style of crimping is actually quite similar to the fluted crust, but instead of two fingers on both the inside and outside circumferences of the crust, use the middle section of your index finger against the inside circumference and on the other side of the dough, gently pinch the outside circumference with your other hand.
Other Crimping Methods [Followed by My Thoughts, Like “Some Of These Methods Are Batshit.”]
- Scallop using various utensils instead of your knuckle on the inside circumference. [A spoon, a cheese knife, the bottom corner of your Old Bay tin, whatever.]
- Make little equidistant cuts around the edge of the pie, flip every other tab of pastry out, and then go back and flip the remaining tabs in. [Try this method if you like art deco and impracticality all in one crust. Or if you really like Pinterest.]
- Use leftover scraps to make little cutouts like leaves and stars or some shit and artfully stick them around the edge of the dough. [I have many thoughts on this method though admittedly I’ve never tried it. A) I never have enough scraps for that, B) I don’t own anything that makes cutouts, and C) if I’m going to put cutouts anywhere on my pie, it’s going to be in the middle of a top crust because I find that much less overwrought than sticking them all around the edge of the pie.]
- Use leftover scraps of dough to make three strips of ((π*diameter of the plate)+2) inches and make a pretty braid to go over the top edge. [Who the hell is making so much extra dough that they have enough of it leftover to traverse the circumference of their pie OVER THREE TIMES? Also, good luck keeping that shit cool long enough to braid it before it loses structural integrity. I have enough problems with lattice strips.]
- Use a pie crimper! [Pie crimpers are unitaskers. This particular model is quite phallic. You know what’s neither a unitasker nor phallic? Your fingers.]
It’s just that hobbit hand, crimping a P-I-E…..E….Yeah, there’s a reason Jay-Z writes catchy tracks and I write about pie.