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6 things you can do to make a better pie

Do you dream of making a flaky pie crust? Does yours shrink up and melt in the oven? Do you get frustrated when the same recipe yields different results? You’ve come to the right place. Today I’m sharing with you six tips that the pros use to bake consistently flaky, buttery perfect looking crusts over and over again.

I’ve baked 1000’s of Thanksgiving and holiday pies over the years.

When I really need all my hard work to pay off I rely on these techniques. Try adding one or all of these tips to your pie dough method the next time you bake. Friends, family, and customers are sure to love the improvements!

Here are six changes you can make to your existing pie recipe to give you better results.

Let’s start by taking a look at what we want out of a pie crust.

The following are characteristics of a good pie crust:

  • The crust is evenly browned and golden brown around the edge, somewhat lighter brown on the bottom.
  • The crust is flaky and tender.
  • The flavor of the crust is buttery and has a good mouthfeel.
  • It holds its shape when baked and served.

Cut your fat into small pieces then chill it for 30 minutes 

You may already be cutting your butter, lard or shortening into small cubes, but are you taking the time to chill it after cutting it? Your butter, shortening, or lard could be losing up to 10 degrees during cutting. Every degree counts towards flakiness and cold dough equals flaky dough so take this extra step.

Use a food processor to mix your pie dough. 

A food processor is the best choice for making pie dough because of how quickly it incorporates the fat into the flour. We’ve talked about keeping the fat cold while cutting, this is just an extension of the same thing. Cold fat coats the flour in little pockets. When it hits the hot oven those little pockets become steam which equals flake! Next time you’re making pie dough, take the time to drag out the food processor. You’ll be glad you did.

No matter what sort of fat your recipe is calling for, adjust it to 50 percent butter and 50 percent shortening or lard. 

This is a big one. I know that people are very loyal to their preferred fat in pie dough. Some swear by all butter, while lard crust is deeply rooted in traditional baking. What I’m suggesting is that you combine the wonderful flavors of butter with the excellent baking properties of shortening. Whether you use vegetable shortening or lard, both of these have a higher melting point. They offer a little more forgiveness in the cold dough area.

When cutting the fat into the flour, only use half of the flour at first.

Lets start by explaining why this step helps create more flake. We need the flour to do two things. One, we need the flour to be coated by fat for the little pockets of moisture that fat produces to be evenly distributed. We also need to the flour to absorb enough liquid so the dough can be pliable and roll out without crumbling. All this while not developing too much gluten. By dividing the flour measurements in half, we coat the first amount of flour with butter, then add in the second flour measurement without coating it in fat so it is readily available to absorb liquid.

This step allows there to be some flour in the dough that is not coated in fat. When you proceed to add your liquids the dough will be able to absorb liquid well without overly developing the gluten.

The next time you make pie dough, try setting aside half of the flour to be added after the butter/shortening/lard is cut in. Gently pulse in the second flour measurement until just combined.

Substitute Vodka for half of your water measurement.

That’s right. Vodka! Vodka has a magical property to it. The virtually flavorless alcohol is 60% water and 40% ethanol. Ethanol is a liquid that does not combine with the proteins in the flour to create gluten. This is important because, while gluten may be great if you’re baking a loaf of bread, it is the kiss of death for a flaky pie crust. Too much gluten development gives the pie crust a leathery, tough consistency. By substituting half of your liquid for vodka you can add enough water for the dough to be moist and pliable.

The final change you can make in your pie dough is to make it ahead of time.

Mixing your dough the day before ( or up to a month in advance if you want to freeze the dough) allows the dough to relax and lets the fats chill and the gluten strands relax. A well-rested and chilled crust will hold its shape better when baking.

There you have it. Six changes you can make to improve any pie crust recipe!

If you want to read more about pie, click here to read about how I pit these techniques to the test and won the local pie baking competition….In both cream pie and fruit pie categories!

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