Secret Baking Hacks: Easy-as-Pie Ideas
Making pie is easy as, well, pie—right? Not necessarily. If you’ve ever spent time carefully mixing ingredients, rolling out a pie crust to be proud of, fixing a sweet filling and sliding your masterpiece into the oven, only to have the whole thing come out soggy or chewy rather than flaky and well formed, then you know what we mean. Pies can be tricky, even for the most experienced baker.
So how do you conquer the Mount Everest of baking? Patience, practice and the heaping helping of pie hacks that cover all stages of the pie-making process. It’s time to tie on an apron, gather ingredients and use these tricks that will help you stir, roll and bake your way to the top.
Most bakers agree that it’s best to mix pie crust ingredients together by hand, as gently as possible. So put away that food processor, mixer and even your best wooden spoon and turn to the BAKER’S SECRET® ESSENTIALS STAINLESS STEEL PASTRY BLENDER to cut the butter or shortening into the flour. This prevents the formation of gluten, which leads to chewiness, something you want in a loaf of bread but not in pie crust. The cut-in butter bits don’t need to be uniform—a combination of large and small pieces is ideal. A fork works best to gently stir in the liquid you add a little bit at a time. Your dough is done when it mostly holds together and feels kind of like Play-Doh. If it’s sticky, you added too much water.
ICE, ICE BABY
Keeping your crust cool during construction is key. Chill all ingredients, even flour, in your freezer. To get water cold enough, add a couple of ice cubes. Pay attention as you cut and mix everything together—if you notice that the dough feels a bit too warm or the butter is starting to melt, pop it into the fridge for 10 to 15 minutes. This will ensure that the butter will stay solid until it melts during baking, binding everything together into forkfuls of flaky goodness.
Did you know that flour + water = gluten? That’s why you use as little water as possible when putting together a pie crust. Even then, the results can still be hit or miss. One prime way to avoid gluten formation is by substituting half of the water or liquid called for in a recipe with hard liquor, like vodka. Yep—you read that right. Adding a shot of vodka helps keep gluten to a minimum and yields a flaky crust. Don’t worry—the alcohol bakes off, so it won’t make anyone tipsy and it won’t affect the taste. If you want to add a hint of flavor, try pouring in a shot of bourbon for a pecan pie or brandy for a rustic apple double-crust pie.
ROLL WITH IT
To ensure that the edges of your pie crust are even, rather than raggedy, form the dough into a ball after you’ve finished mixing in the liquid. Gently roll the ball around to further to smooth all sides before flattening it into a disk, covering in plastic wrap and letting it rest in the fridge for at least an hour. When you roll it out, the edges will stay smooth. Just don’t forget to sprinkle your work surface and rolling pin with lots of flour to ensure both are dry. If there’s moisture on either one, your crust edges will break as you roll it.
If you’re new to pie making, stick with a glass pie plate, like the PYREX® BASICS 9″ PIE PLATE. The see-through sides and bottom will show how your crust is baking with just a glance. Metal or ceramic pans lack the visibility. Shiny metal and disposable pans should be avoided because they prevent browning altogether.
PRIMPING AND CRIMPING
There are all kinds of ways to finish the edges of your pie crust once you have it rolled out and draped in a pie plate. You can pinch the dough to create a scalloped edge, or roll out leftover dough into three long strips to braid and encircle your pie, wetting both the edge and braid to make the braid stick. You could also press the tablespoon from BAKER’S SECRET® ESSENTIALS 5-PC MEASURING SPOON SET onto the crust edge for a fun and easy design. Other ideas? Cut small rounds of leftover crust and overlap them along the edge…use a fork to create a crisscross design…or cut out small hearts or stars from leftover dough and place along the edge.
Does your pie recipe call for you to prebake or “blind bake” the crust using pie weights to hold the pastry in place? Don’t hurry off to the store for an extra spend. Pull out a bag of rice or dry beans instead. First, line the pie crust with a piece of parchment paper or foil, then pour rice on top and bake as directed. Once the rice has cooled, store it for another use.
SOGGY BOTTOM BLUES
Fruit filling can turn an otherwise perfect pie shell into an ooey-gooey mess. To stop sogginess in its tracks, beat an egg white until frothy and use the BAKER’S SECRET ESSENTIALS SILICONE BASTING BRUSH to slather the egg white on the crust before you add filling. The egg white will create a barrier and prevent fruit juices from soaking through the pastry.
REDUCE THE JUICE
Juicy fruit makes a great pie filling, but too much liquid can be a bad thing. To prevent runny filling, be sure to add cornstarch or potato starch to the mix, then bake your pie 5 to 10 minutes longer in order to fully activate the cornstarch and thicken the liquid. It’s also a good idea to fully preheat your oven to 425°F and start baking your pie at that temperature, reducing the heat after at least 15 minutes to the temperature the recipe calls for. If you’re making a cherry pie, cornstarch won’t work (the acid in the cherries actually deactivates it). Swap tapioca for the cornstarch to reduce excess liquid.
SLICE IT RIGHT
As tempting as it might be, don’t cut and serve your fruit pie while it’s hot. Doing that causes the filling to collapse into the empty space as soon as you slide out the first slice. Letting the pie rest until cool—or overnight—will ensure that the filling stays put. To make removing the first slice easier, cut a tiny sliver of a piece first and remove it, thus creating a little extra room to slide your knife and spatula in to cut and remove the next piece. For an especially sticky pie (pecan comes to mind), heat your knife and pie server in boiling water first. Dry each tool and use right away before they cool. The heated blade and spatula will dissolve a little bit of the sugar and make it much easier to remove each piece.
THINKING OUTSIDE THE PIE PLATE
Don’t confine yourself to serving only standard-size pies. Mini pies made by tucking rounds of crust and filling in cupcake pans are all the rage these days. Or hollow out firm Granny Smith apples, fill with a caramel-fruit concoction, cover with strips of pie crust woven into a mini lattice top and bake. For a delightful handheld treat, try Raspberry-Peach Hand Pies, rectangular pockets of pie crust filled with a luscious summer fruit mixture. Yum!
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