Why Do So Many Pie Recipes Ask You to Dock the Dough?

Photo by Joseph De Leo, Food Styling by Kaitlin Wayne

As recipe developers, we’re often begging our audience not to skip certain steps that might seem superfluous at first glance. Setting up an ice bath when blanching green beans or bringing your eggs to room temperature for chocolate chip cookie bars may elicit an eye roll from many of you, but if we didn’t think these tasks were indispensable, we wouldn’t include them in the first place. But there are certain tasks that even the experts debate the necessity of—to dock or not to dock your pie dough is one of them. And as we get close to Turkey Day, you too might be wondering whether skipping this extra step is truly a make-or-break situation for your Thanksgiving pies.

What does it mean to “dock” your pie dough?

The process of docking is simple: It involves rolling out your dough, then pricking a bunch of holes across the surface with a fork or a docker. This is done specifically for the blind baking process—you set the dough on a pie dish, line it with parchment or aluminum foil, fill it with pie weights or assorted grains, beans, and even granulated sugar, and then fully or partially bake it. As the butter starts to melt, it creates steam, which causes the crust to puff up.

For the most part, the puffing is a good thing—it’s what makes your crust flaky. But without the weights, the steam turns into large, uneven air bubbles across the bottom while the sides start to slump and shrink. And docking functions as reinforcement against these air bubbles, allowing the steam to escape during the blind baking process.

Pie and tart recipes that involve a pastry crust, like chocolate pudding pie, or a cookie-dough base, like banana cream pie with chocolate-chip-cookie-crust, will often call for docking. In many of these pies, the filling is either no-bake or takes much less time in the oven than raw dough, begetting the need for a prebaked crust.

If you’re making a graham cracker crust for a Key lime pie or a chocolate cookie crust for a chocolate cream pie, you can probably skip the docking step. In these instances, the butter is already melted and is used as a way to simply bind the ingredients to form a sturdy base for a liquidy filling. Additionally, old-fashioned fruit pies, like apple or berry, don’t involve any blind baking as both the crust and the filling take about the same time to finish, thereby eliminating the need for docking altogether.

Docking can help keep the pie crust even and flat while baking

Chocolate Pudding Pie - IG

Docking can help keep the pie crust even and flat while baking
Photo by Elizabeth Coetzee, Food Styling by Tiffany Schleigh

Do I need to dock my pie dough?

I posed this very question to our staff’s Slack channel, and many of my coworkers immediately expressed their pro-docking stance. “No air bubbles here!” was the unanimous reason. But test kitchen director Chris Morocco entered the chat with a slightly different take. “It depends,” he said, “if you’re working with a fairly fluid filling, there can be a danger of it seeping through.” If you are going to dock your crust, Morocco suggests gently brushing some egg wash onto the pastry bottom once you remove the weights. After a few additional minutes in the oven, this will help seal the holes created by docking.

For Lauren Ko, author of Pieometry and creator of pies that could very well belong in MOMA, docking is optional. “Honestly, I never [dock my pie dough] mostly because I forget,” she explained to me over email. But Ko has perfected a blind baking method that yields a uniform, crisp base without the need for docking. “I like to freeze the pie shell solid, line tightly with foil, and then fill the cavity full to the brim with weights,” she says. “I then bake for about 20 to 30 minutes, remove the foil and weights, and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes until the crust begins to look golden and flaky.”

According to Ko, the key to this method is to bake the crust until there are no visible raw patches before removing the weights. “Anytime I haven’t baked the crust long enough before removing the weights, it does puff up,” Ko says, “then I have to dock the crust retroactively, which tends to be too little too late.” But the shell is by no means ruined, she explains, just a little misshapen by the time it’s deflated.

Sally McKenny, the brains behind the wildly popular blog, Sally’s Baking Addiction, also has a blind baking method of her own, and to her, holes are an integral part of the process. McKenny, who always docks her pie dough when blind baking, bakes the crust with weights first. “After the sides have set (the sides begin to brown a bit), I remove the weights,” she explains, “and then I dock the bottom with a fork and put the crust back in the oven.” The holes, she says, function as an escape route for steam but eventually meld together as the crust is done blind baking.

Morocco, Ko, McKenny, along with every avid pie baker on our staff, have their own opinions on docking pie dough. And you might too. If your tried-and-true method involves poking holes in your dough, more power to you! But if you, like Ko, sometimes fall victim to the fickleness of your memory, forgetting to dock your pie isn’t necessarily the end of the world. Regardless of the process, the goal remains the same: uniform, crisp, golden brown shell for a cornucopia of fillings. And there is more than one way to get there.

Originally Appeared on Epicurious

More Thanksgiving cooking inspiration from Epicurious