Thanksgiving is nigh and pie making questions have begun trickling in. I've posted before on pie crusts, focusing on the baking. Most pie crusts are baked twice. The first time, with no filling, is called Blind Baking. There's no special word for the second time. I always blind bake, even if the recipe doesn't direct it, because the crust is flakier and drier. Especially for a pumpkin pie. I just follow the recipe on the back of the Libby's can, substituting half and half for whatever nasty canned dairy product (evaporated milk, prolly) it is they call for instead.
But when your pie crust doesn't come out right, baking is just one thing that went wrong. The questions I get are always related to shrinking, though not many bakers realize it They just know that they spent a lot of time getting the pie crust to look just right, only to bake it and have its shape morph like a drunk's face.
A few easy steps will prevent this from happening. They're all pretty much equally important. Here they are:
1. Don't overmix the dough. When you mix it (adding the butter and ice water), stop immediately when it begins to come together in the bowl. Chunks of butter chunks should be visible in your rolled pie dough. That mottled appearance promises a flaky crust.
2. Don't overhandle the dough. Heat, generated by your hands, room temperature, and by kneading and handling the dough, is the enemy of many pastry doughs.
3. Use the exact right amount of flour while rolling. This sounds like an impossible order, but don't despair - it takes practice in knowing how much flour to add, and it all depends on the natural humidity in your flour - which can vary greatly - so there's no way for me to tell you how much you will need. The general idea is that too much stickiness will cause you to stretch and pull your dough too much, overworking it, and activating the gluten. On the other hand, too much will dry out the crust and make it tougher and less flaky. Add flour sparingly while rolling, and roll gently. And don't forget to rotate your crust while rolling, flipping it over to ensure it's not sticking to the counter.
4. Once you have a nice big round of pie dough rolled out, let it sit on the counter for 5-10 min before you transfer it to the pie tin. This step allows the gluten to relax before you force it into the pie tin.
5. Lower the dough into the pie tin and firmly press the dough into corners and side edges of pie tin. You don't want to press so firmly that you leave big dents, but enough to encourage the dough to stay put. I like fluted tart shells for this reason - you just press the dough into the fluted sides and it stays put.
6. Chill, baby, chill! You MUSTMUSTMUST chill the lined pie shell for at least an hour before baking. !MUST! Chilling helps for a few reasons: it resolidifies the butter, ensuring a flaky crust, and it allows the gluten to relax. If I run out of room in the fridge, I just use the freezer. No real difference there.
7. The Weight. If you follow 1-6 but not #7 your crust will probably still shrink a little. Why? Heat from the oven will naturally relax the gluten even more. There are two ways to combat this: one by using pie weights, the other with just tin foil. For the pie weight method you will need some parchment paper and something to fill it with - I use rice, dry beans, and have heard of people using pennies, or the ceramic pie weights they sell in specialty shops. Just make sure that your parchment will be able to lift whatever you fill it with (you don't want to end up with dry rice or pennies in your pie crust if the parchment breaks during removal). Bake for about 20-25 minutes at 350, then remove the pie weights, prick the bottom all over with a form, and bake the crust for another 10 minutes. It's done when you see a smidgen of color, and no raw looking parts.
My preferred method these days is referenced here and involves simply spraying the shiny side of a large piece of tin foil with baking spray and pressing it very firmly to the pie crust and wrapping it up and over the sides of the pie tin. Bake for 20-25 minutes and you should be good to go. This method cuts baking time down a bit since there's less interference between the crust and the heat.
There it is. It's likely not going to be my final words on the subject, but maybe a few more pies will be camera ready this Thanksgiving. Good luck!