10 tips from a pie expert on overcoming pastry-phobia
There’s something about pie crust that scares the pastry out of people. Otherwise confident cooks avoid pie-making, deeply fearful of failing to make a flaky crust. Such a loss. After a few decades of baking and judging pies, I’ve learned a few practical secrets. Here, in honor of National Pie Day on Thursday, Jan. 23, is all you need to know about mastering pie baking, along with a recipe for my favorite, wild blueberry pie.
Ten tips for better pie
1. Don’t cheap out • Your pie is only as tasty as the ingredients inside it. Use the best. For my blueberry pie, I use only the pricier frozen wild blueberries because they taste more “blueberry-y” than your bloated, flavorless conventional blueberries. Besides, how often do you make a pie from scratch these days?
2. Be a butter cubist • To ensure flakiness, you don’t want the butter (or shortening or lard) to melt into the flour. Slice sticks of chilled or frozen butter into tiny cubes and bits that get coated with flour and eventually create flakiness.
3. Glass rules • Metal and ceramic pie pans work, but glass pie plates hold and distribute the heat more evenly. Most important, you can see if the bottom crust is baked.
4. Make it moister • Low humidity means that your flour is drier than it would be in, say, Oregon. Don’t be afraid to sprinkle in a little extra ice water as you work the dough. By the way, the altitude doesn’t really affect how pies bake.
5. Avoid a sticking situation • Roll out your chilled, floured disc of pie dough inside a freezer bag, plastic produce bag or between sheets of waxed paper. Then it will be easy to transfer the rolled-out top or bottom crust into the pie pan without tearing.
6. Gentle on the pastry • Don’t overmix the crust unless you like edible cardboard. You’re making a delicate pastry, not giving a Shiatsu massage.
7. Waiting is the hardest part • If you want to make a great pie, put in the time. After you make the crust, leave it in the refrigerator for at least three hours before rolling it out. Leave it in the oven long enough so it is really baked. Then wait a few hours, better yet overnight, to eat it. Patience pays off taste-wise when it comes to pie.
8. Protect the crimp • Sometimes the crimp, the crust around the top of the pie, browns before the rest of the pie is fully baked. Protect it from burning by making an aluminum-foil tent to shield it.
9. Seek ye the pie elders • Tips and cookbooks are handy, but the best way to understand pie-making is to make pie with a master piemaker. These older bakers have often made thousands of pies in their lifetime and don’t use a recipe. Seek one out in your family or neighborhood, and tie on an apron. Consider shooting a video you’ll cherish in years to come.
10. Practice makes flaky • To get good, make pies — lots and lots of pies. What of all those extra pies? Give them away. In my experience, nothing makes people happier than feeding them pies made from scratch.