Friday, November 18, 2011

Culinary IQ: Friday November 18, 2011; Pie Tips

Tips for Delicious Pies

Making pies can be fun and the results delicious. Here are a few tips for making a successful pie that will make you the hit of the Thanksgiving Feast:

Getting the crust in the pie pan

Flaky, mealy and cookie crusts must be rolled, then fitted into a pie or tart pan. Crumb crusts are dumped into the pan, then pressed into place.

To roll a crust, it is best to start with chilled dough that has been allowed to rest after mixing. The resting allows the protein (called gluten) in the flour to relax. This prevents the dough from shrinking as you roll. Resting also allows the moisture in the dough to be absorbed (thereby requiring less flour on your counter and pin, and making a more tender crust).

Start by lightly dusting your counter and pin with flour. Place your dough on the counter and roll from the center, turning it every couple of rolls to prevent sticking and to keep it round. Hold your pie pan over the dough to test to see if it's big enough. The dough should extend about 2 inches beyond the pie pan all the way around.

To transfer the dough from the counter to the pie pan, fold it in half, then again to form quarters. Gently lift the dough and place it in the pan, with the point at the center. Unfold carefully to fully cover and fill the pie pan.

If it tears, it's OK! Just patch it with some scrap dough from the side. Pie dough is pretty forgiving if it's at the right temperature. If it gets too warm, put it back in the refrigerator (or freezer) for a few minutes. If it's too cold, let it sit on the counter for a few minutes. You should be able to pinch the dough together wherever you need it to patch any mistakes.

Edging pie dough

Flaky, mealy and cookie crusts need to be edged.

And the prettier the edge, the prettier the pie. But when to edge is determined by the number of crusts used in each pie.

For double crust pies (meaning there is a bottom crust, a filling, then a top crust), the pie should be filled, then topped with the second crust before the edges are crimped. A single crust pie (there is no top crust), the crimping should be done before the filling is added.

To crimp either style, begin by trimming the excess dough all around the pie so that you have just  1/2inch of overhang. Gently roll the overhang underneath itself so that it sits on top of the rim of the pie pan.

For an easy and rustic look, gently press all the way around with a fork. For a more decorative and classic finish, you can pinch the edge of the dough between your fingers. To do this, use your two fingers and your thumb to pinch the dough together at regular intervals around the rim.

Placing pies on baking pan

Whatever variety crust you use, it's a good idea to set the pie on a baking sheet when you place it in the oven.

First, this helps conduct heat to the bottom of the pie, ensuring the bottom of your crust cooks as perfectly as the outer edge. 

Second, the baking sheet makes it easier and safer to transfer the pie to and from the over, as well as to rotate it in the oven during baking if needed for even browning.

Third, pies sometimes bubble over. It happens. And when it happens, it's much easier to clean the mess off a baking sheet than the bottom of your oven.

Blind Baking

Blind baking is your friend.

Some single crust pie recipes call for "blind baking" the crust. This means the crust dough is placed into the pie pan and fully baked before the filling is added.

To do this, fit your dough into the pan as directed, then crimp the edge as desired. Refrigerate it for 10 minutes. Chilling the crust just before baking helps prevent it from shrinking.

Just before placing the empty crust in the oven, line it with a sheet of foil, then fill with 1  1/2to 2 cups of dry beans, coins or uncooked rice. Unless directed otherwise by your recipe, bake the crust at 400 F for 15 minutes, or until golden around the edges.

Remove the crust from the oven and remove the foiling and beans or coins. Lower the oven temperature to 375 F and bake for another 10 minutes, or until the crust is evenly golden.
Weighing down the crusts during blind baking prevents the bottom from rising during cooking. This step is not needed with crumb crusts, which do not rise.

Making Ahead

Most crusts can be prepared ahead of time and stored until needed.

Virtually all recipes for mealy, flaky and cookies crusts call for preparing the dough, then shaping it into a disk, wrapping in plastic and refrigerating for a bit before rolling out. At this stage, the doughs also can be frozen for several months (thaw overnight in the refrigerator or at room temperature for 20 minutes) or refrigerated for about 36 hours.

The doughs also can be rolled out, fitted into pie pans and edged, then wrapped and frozen or refrigerated for the same periods of time.

Crumb crusts come together so quickly, advance prep is mostly unnecessary. But the crumbs and any flavorings certainly could be prepared and blended ahead of time.

Follow these simple tips and your pie baking will stress free and the results will be rewarding!

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