With Thanksgiving next week, I thought it would be appropriate to share my secrets to a perfect pie crust. I’ll be honest, the first time I made a pie, the crust was hard as a rock and tasted like cardboard. I lived in a college apartment and no one ate it. That’s a true testament to how bad it was. Good thing it’s only been up hill from there! I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes, and I’ve made them all- a tough crust, soggy crust, the filling boiling out and ruining the presentation, and a shrinking dough.

Problem: Soggy Bottom

This means that the crust has soaked up too much moisture from the filling.

  •  First, use a mealy dough. Mealy dough soaks in less liquid than a flaky dough. (See mealy dough vs. flaky dough below.)
  • Bake the pie at the bottom of the oven to cook the dough. Also start baking at a higher temperature to set up the crust, then lower the oven temperature.
  •  Add fillings after they have cooled to about room temperature. Hot filling will melt the dough before it has had a chance to bake.

Problem: Dough too Stiff or Tough

  • If your pie dough is typically hard and crunchy, one possible solution you could try is to add more fat. Fat makes for a nice tender crust. If you’re adding more fat, cut back on the water just a little.
  •  Try mixing/kneading the dough less. Dough that has been over worked develops too much gluten which makes for a tough crust.

Problem: Shrinkage

  • Again, not enough shortening and too much water.
  •  Dough over worked. Let your dough rest before putting it in the oven and don’t stretch the dough when you lay it in the pan. Have you ever tried to roll out a pizza dough, but it just shrinks right back down? This is the same concept. The gluten needs to rest.

Problem: Crumbly crust

  • Add more water. This is probably the most obvious. If your pie dough isn’t sticking together, stick it together with some water! But only a little at a time!
  •  And now that you’re adding more water, cut back on the fat. I think I’m seeing a pattern here!
  •  Improper mixing. Make sure that the water and fat is evenly distributed in the flour.

Problem: Filling boils out

  • Cut more steam vents in the top. Those cuts in the top aren’t just for looks, the steam has to go somewhere! If there aren’t enough holes, the steam will make it’s own.
  • If the filling boils out around the edges try pinching your top and bottom crusts together better. You can even use an egg wash to make them stick.
  • Use less filling. I know we like our pies to look nice and full, but over filling pie can cause a disaster in the end. Try using a little less filling.

Mealy vs. Flaky and When to Use Them

Mealy – When someone says a mealy pie crust, this refers to how the butter has been cut into the flour. If you are trying to make a mealy pie crust keep cutting in the flour with either a pastry cutter, a fork, or rubbing the butter and flour in between your fingers until the mixture looks like corn meal. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Use this dough for in soft, custard type pies like pumpkin where the filling is runny. When in doubt, use mealy pie dough.

Flaky – For flaky doughs, the fat is cut into the flour until the fat looks about the size of peas. When you roll out the dough, you will see fat that hasn’t been blended all the way and that is okay. This is best used with fruit pies.

Don’t be afraid to play with your pie dough to find what’s just right for you, which means more pie for you! Remember when adding more fat, use less water and when adding more water, use less fat. Watch out tomorrow for my favorite pie dough recipe and a few more tips!

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