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If there is one task that strikes fear into the hearts of novice bakers, it’s pie making. But does it really justify all the anxiety? After all, pie dough is a simple affair with a short ingredient list consisting of flour, salt, sugar, fat, and water. What could possibly go wrong? A lot, as it turns out—which you know if you’ve ever ended up with a misshapen, sticky dough or overflowing filling.
But it need not be a vexing endeavor. Here we address every problem that may have befallen your pies in the past, from top (a tough and dry crust) to bottom (soggy bottom crust), and everything in between (exploding filling). Read on for “aha!” moments, and then put your newfound knowledge to the test with our Blue-Ribbon Apple Pie.
Problem: Crust is tough and dense, not flaky
Solution: Keep your ingredients cold
Keeping the fat cold when mixing it into the flour is the key to a tender, flaky dough. Always chill the butter and shortening before making the dough and make sure that your water is ice cold. On particularly warm days, we even recommend chilling the flour and mixing bowl. And once the dough comes together, don’t try to roll it out immediately. Instead, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least one hour before attempting to roll it out. Cool dough is easier to manage and less apt to break or tear. If it softens when rolling or shaping, slide it onto a baking sheet and place it in the refrigerator or freezer to firm up.
Problem: Dough is misshapen and sticky
Solution: Turn the dough and flour the counter
Keeping the dough as evenly round as possible when rolling makes fitting it into a pie plate easy. The dough should be in the shape of a flat disk before you start to roll it, and the counter should be lightly floured. Every few times you roll the dough, rotate it by a quarter turn and lightly flour the counter to prevent it from sticking. Keep checking the dough as you roll it: If it starts becoming lopsided, use your hands or a bench scraper to reshape the dough.
Problem: Crust edges are too dark
Solution: Wrap the edges with foil
Sometimes the crimped crust around the edge of the pie can get quite brown before the pie has finished baking. If this happens, simply wrap a piece of foil loosely around the rim of the pie. The foil will help to deflect the heat and prevent the rim of the crust from getting too dark or burning.
Problem: Bottom crust is soggy and undercooked
Solution: Bake until the bottom is well browned
For both single- and double-crust pies, two essential steps can assure a crisp bottom: Bake your pie in a glass pie plate and preheat the baking sheet on which the pie will bake. Glass holds heat well and promotes better browning, and preheating the baking sheet jump-starts the baking of the crust. Before taking a pie out of the oven, lift up the pie plate and check to make sure the bottom is nicely browned. For a double-crust pie in particular, since the bottom crust is more likely to be undercooked (and therefore soggy) than the top crust, be patient and don’t pull the pie out of the oven too early.
Problem: Pie explodes and bubbles over
Solution: Cut vent holes
When fruit pies bake, the juices released from the fruit start bubbling, which creates a tremendous amount of steam. Without proper ventilation, the top of your pie can explode. To prevent this from happening, it is important to cut vent holes in the top crust of the dough to allow the steam to escape during cooking. For most pies we recommend cutting four vent holes. However, for particularly juicy pies, we recommend cutting eight vent holes. Sometimes, even when you have taken this step, the juices will bubble over slightly, dripping to the bottom of the oven and creating a big mess. Baking your pie on a foiled-lined baking sheet ensures that the juices will not hit the bottom of the oven (and the foil makes cleanup easy).
Making a Double-Crust Pie
1. After rolling out the top crust, loosely roll it around the rolling pin, then gently unroll it over the filled pie crust bottom.
2. Using scissors, trim all but ½ inch of the dough overhanging the edge of the pie plate.
3. Press the top and bottom crusts together, then tuck the edges underneath.
4. Crimp the dough evenly around the edge of the pie, using your fingers. Cut vent holes attractively in the center of the top crust with a paring knife (drier pies only require 4 vents, while very juicy pies require 8 vents).