You don’t need the results from a reader survey or online questionnaire to tell you that one of the most classic desserts to serve during the holidays is the pecan pie. Everybody loves it, every homecook makes it, and every family has a favorite recipe they use every year. The recipes may differ in the types of syrup (corn syrup, cane syrup, etc), sugar, and additional stir-ins (bourbon and chocolate, anyone?) used, but the one common element, besides the pecans, is a tender pie crust. If baking a picture-perfect pie crust is your culinary Achilles heel, here are five ways to help you master the art this holiday season.
Keep Everything Cold
When making pie dough you need to keep everything cold – especially your choice of fat, whether you use butter, lard, or shortening. The cold butter, for instance, is coated by the flour but, if warm, the butter will just be absorbed by the flour, creating a tougher crust. Once you take the butter out of the refrigerator, work quickly to make the pie crust, and refrigerate the dough after each step, if necessary, to keep everything cold. If making a pie during hot weather, try to make it in the morning or in the evening when the temperature is a little cooler (and you don’t need to heat up the oven in the middle of the day). If your kitchen is extra warm, you can also refrigerate your rolling pin and cutting board for added measure. Remember: Keep everything cold, work quickly, and refrigerate the final product before rolling it out.
Keep Surface Well-Floured
This can’t be overstated: Make sure your dough is adequately chilled before you begin to roll it out. It will be easier to handle, bake more evenly, and be less likely to shrink. Some chilled pie doughs are a bit hard to work with straight out of the refrigerator, so it is ok to let them warm just a bit – about 5 minutes or so – before you begin rolling. When you do begin to work the dough, it is important to keep it moving and keep your work surface floured. Every two or three times you go over the dough with your rolling pin, lift the dough and quickly dust some flour underneath. Again, remember to move quickly. The longer the dough has to warm up, the stickier it will get.
Prevent Filling from Seeping
It doesn’t ruin the taste of a pecan pie but, when the sticky filling seeps through the crust, causes the pie to stick to the pie plate, and tear upon serving, it creates a visual disaster for the cook who spent so much time preparing the dessert. Whether your recipe tells you to blind bake your crust or add the filling to an uncooked crust, here are three easy tips to prevent the filling from seeping through the crust.
Seal the Surface
One way to prevent a soggy crust is to essentially seal the surface, creating a barrier between the crust and the filling. Brush the surface of the unbaked crust with a beaten egg or egg white mixed with water before adding the filling. As the pie bakes, the proteins in the egg will form a moisture barrier over the crust and provide a layer of protection.
Bake on a Hot Sheet
How do pie crust gets light, flaky and crisp? The heat of the oven melts the pieces of fat (butter, shortening, etc.) inside the dough quickly, forming steam that puffs the crust up. You want that process to happen fast so that the crust sets before it has time to become droopy. Place a baking sheet in the oven as it preheats, then place your prepared pie plate directly on that hot baking sheet. This extra boost of heat can be just what is needed in terms of getting the crust to cook and set quickly.
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Use Two Crusts
These instructions will work for both store bought and homemade crusts: Unroll one piecrust and press out fold lines. Unroll second crust and stack on top, turning so that fold lines do not match. Press edges to seal. Roll crust out to an approximate 12-inch circle. Fit into a 9-inch pieplate. Trim dough to about ½ inch from edge of pieplate, fold under, and flute or crimp as desired. Continue with your recipe instructions, whether you need to blind bake the crust or fill it uncooked.