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Pie Making Basics: A Comprehensive Guide

baked dish

Baked dish.

Pie making is an art that combines the science of baking with the creativity of cooking. This unit will guide you through the basics of pie making, from the crust to the filling.

Different Types of Pie Crusts

There are three main types of pie crusts: flaky, mealy, and cookie crumb.

  • Flaky crusts are the classic choice for many pies. They're made by cutting fat into flour until it forms pea-sized pieces. When baked, the water in the fat turns to steam, creating pockets of air and resulting in a flaky texture.

  • Mealy crusts are similar to flaky crusts, but the fat is cut into the flour until it resembles coarse cornmeal. This results in a denser, more crumbly crust that's great for custard or cream pies, which require a crust that can stand up to a wet filling.

  • Cookie crumb crusts are made from crushed cookies (like graham crackers or Oreos) mixed with melted butter. They're often used for no-bake pies or cheesecakes.

Making and Rolling Out Pie Dough

Making pie dough involves cutting cold fat into flour and salt, then adding just enough water to bring it together. The key is to work quickly to keep the fat from melting, which would result in a tough crust.

Once the dough is made, it needs to rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour. This allows the gluten to relax, making the dough easier to roll out and preventing it from shrinking in the oven.

When rolling out the dough, start from the center and work your way out, turning the dough as you go to ensure an even thickness. The dough should be rolled out to a diameter about 2 inches larger than your pie plate.

Blind Baking

Blind baking is the process of pre-baking a pie crust before adding the filling. This is necessary for pies with a custard or cream filling, which don't bake long enough to fully cook the crust.

To blind bake a crust, line the dough with parchment paper or foil and fill it with pie weights or dried beans. This keeps the crust from puffing up in the oven. Bake until the edges are set, then remove the weights and bake until the bottom is dry and lightly golden.

Different Types of Pie Fillings

There are countless options for pie fillings, but they generally fall into a few categories:

  • Fruit fillings are made from fresh, canned, or frozen fruit mixed with sugar and thickened with cornstarch or tapioca. Some fruit pies, like apple or peach, are baked, while others, like strawberry or blueberry, are filled with cooked fruit and chilled.

  • Custard fillings are made from a mixture of milk or cream, sugar, and eggs. They're cooked on the stovetop until thickened, then poured into a pre-baked crust and chilled.

  • Cream fillings are similar to custard fillings, but they're lightened with whipped cream. They're often used for pies like banana cream or coconut cream.

Making a Lattice Top

A lattice top is a beautiful way to finish a pie. It involves weaving strips of dough over the filling to create a crisscross pattern. While it may look complicated, it's actually quite simple with a little practice.

Baking and Testing for Doneness

The baking time for a pie depends on the type of filling and crust. As a general rule, a pie with a raw fruit filling should be baked until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbling. A pie with a cooked filling just needs to be baked until the crust is done.

To test for doneness, insert a knife into the center of the pie. If it comes out clean or with just a few crumbs, the pie is done. If it comes out wet, continue baking.

Pie making is a rewarding skill that's worth the effort to master. With these basics under your belt, you'll be well on your way to making perfect pies.