Pie, any way you slice it

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The air is crisp, the leaves are turning, and the apples are coming in.

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It’s my favorite time of year, because it also means I’ll soon be on the road, meeting our customers, and teaching people how to make piecrust. We show people how to do this at our the Traveling Baking Demos featuring, of course, apple pie.

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People are afraid of piecrust. They want to recapture the pies their grandmother made, and taste memories can be awfully hard to compete with.

So we go on the road, hoping to ease that anxiety, because once you enjoy the process, everybody wins. And, hopefully, pie happens. You may not get there the same way I do, but I can show you what works for me, and maybe I can inspire you to give it a go. PJ has a different way to get there, and the pie is just as awesome. The moral of our story? Any way you get to good pie is a path worth pursuing.

Flour. Salt. Fat. Water. Four ingredients, four thousand ways to put them together.

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First things first. Add the salt to the flour so your crust doesn’t taste flat (especially important if you’re using unsalted butter). Stir together. Next? Flaky or tender: both adjectives you want to see applied to your finished crust. Want both? Keep it cool (the butter, that is). Should be right out of the refrigerator.

Apple Pie-cutinbutterCut in the first half of the fat fairly small (this coats the flour, therefore tender). 

For flakiness, cut in the other half, leaving it in big chunks. Bigger than you think you should. This big.

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Really.

Now the tricky bit. Add the water and toss with a fork, but keep things on the dry side. Just enough so that some of the dough will hold its shape with a gentle squeeze, but with about a third of the mixture still pretty dry.

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How to get the rest of the dough to come together, without making it soggy or tough? Turn the mess out on a piece of parchment.

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Organize it into a band the length of the paper, and reach for your new best friend.

Apple Pie-revealbottleThe spray bottle. Give the really dry-looking parts of the pile a few spritzes,

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then use the parchment to fold the dough over on itself.

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Repeat, spritzing as necessary, until the dough comes together, with some dry crumbs still shedding around the edges.

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Divide 60/40 (the bottom crust should be bigger).

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Check out those layers!Apple Pie-Sue Reid-26

To roll out a round crust, put it away round, taking time to smooth the edges. Pat the dough into a disk. It’s OK that there are some crumbs still flying around.

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I use sandwich bags to store the crusts; they’re easier than wrestling with strips of plastic wrap. You’re going to rest the dough for 25 to 30 minutes, and during this time the water will redistribute itself.

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The gluten will also relax, making rolling easier. Smooth edges will keep those dreaded Grand Canyon cracks from appearing when you roll. Which means no desperate wetting, patching, stretching, or (we know it happens) swearing. You can start making your crusts for Thanksgiving RIGHT NOW. Once you’re at this point, no problem to pop your creations into the freezer for up to 2 months. Thaw in the fridge overnight before rolling.

What a difference a little rest makes. See how the dough has changed? Not dusty or crumbly, just ready to go. And still big butter chunks visible (remember, those are flakes in the making!).

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Many moons ago, Mom taught me to roll pie dough between 2 sheets of waxed paper. I’ve graduated to slightly different tools, but the idea’s the same. Take a piece of parchment, flour it. Grab a food storage bag, cut off the bottom and up the sides.

Apple Pie-Sue Reid-32Put your dough disk on the parchment, sprinkle with more flour, and put your nice big sheet of  plastic on top. I use this “sandwich” and one hip to keep the dough where I want it.

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Work from the center of the dough out, but don’t get all contortionist about it. You can pivot your little dough sandwich much more easily than you can bend yourself 180°!Apple Pie-Sue Reid-40

Big enough? Check with the pan above the dough, inverted. Make sure there’s about 2” more dough than the pan’s perimeter. People always ask: “What’s the best pan for pie?” “Any pan with pie in it is a good pan”, I reply.

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Ahh, the poor sacrificial first slice. How many mangled first servings of pie have you experienced? No one tells you this, but you can (and if your dough is relaxed, should) grease your pan. It’ll make taking slices out easier, but will also help brown the bottom.

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Plop your dough in the pan, trim the edges, flute. I’ll be doing a schmantzy top, so no need to wait on finishing the edges.

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Now for the filling. I like to use at least 3 types of apples, for more complex, interesting flavor. This pie has Granny Smiths, Braeburns, and Honeycrisps in it. Sugar, cinnamon, flour. Some boiled cider and lemon juice for brightness and intensity.

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Some of my colleagues swear by a generous dose of vanilla here: this recipe gives you an idea. A little bit of hooch (bourbon, for me, please) never hurt, either. Need a formula? Here’s the recipe we give out at our demonstrations. Stir, fill, set aside (in the fridge) while rolling out the remaining crust.

The easiest, prettiest thing to do is use some seasonal cutters on that dough, Apple Pie-Sue Reid-68

and place the shapes on top of the filling. Easy as… yes, pie to do, and looks just gorgeous. If you want to get all in it, you can emboss the leaves with a paring knife, la de da!

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Place, brush with milk or cream, sprinkle with sparkling sugar, bake. I love this technique because the leaves ride down on the filling as it bakes, avoiding that big old gap you sometimes get with 2-crust pies.

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When I said bake, I meant to say on a parchment-lined pan. Bake at 425°F for 15 minutes, then 350°F until you see some real live bubbles in the center. Remove, cool, slice, share pie happiness.

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By the way, these amazing photographs are courtesy of Julia Reed, our new public relations coordinator (and good company in the kitchen to boot!). I thank her for helping me show you how much fun and beautiful making pie can be.

Susan Reid
About

Susan Reid grew up in New Jersey, graduated from Bates College and the Culinary Institute of America, and is presently enjoying her fourth career after stints in advertising, running restaurants, and teaching at the New England Culinary Institute. She joined King Arthur in 2002 to ...

comments

  1. carolyn

    Thanks for the detailed pie crust post! I’ve made my own frequently, but still depend on Pillsbury for convenience! Our new challenge is that our daughter was diagnosed with Celiac Disease and I have gone gluten free on the advice of my doctor. While I don’t have to worry about cross contamination, she does. Have your bakers come up with a gluten free pie crust? Especially one using your gluten free flour? She really misses her apple crumb pie!

    Reply
  2. Jasia Steinmetz

    I loved the detail explanation and little tips, plus reassurance. I regularly make pie crusts but enjoying learning new things. I teach a food prep class so will share this with the students. One consideration, reduce the use of plastic whenever possible. Since plastic does not decompose and we are finding that plastic in the environment is accumulating and having serious effects on creatures and humans, I am advocating that cooks and bakers lead the way in reducing waste, especially the one time use of plastic. In this regard, your mom’s use of wax paper is a more sustainable option!

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid , post author

      Thanks, Jasia. I get several uses out of each all purpose bag I cut up; it stays on my station until it’s unredeemable. Rolling mats are another alternative, or just using 2 sheets of parchment. I’m a fan of waxed paper sandwich bags, which can be harder and harder to find, but are luckily still on hand at our local coop. Susan

  3. Patrick Perry

    She’s right. There are many ways to skin a cat and just as many ways to make pie paste. My grandmother’s receipt for one crust that every one seems to love: 11/4 C flour, 1 pinch salt, 1/4 C butter (no substitute) 1/4 C lard and approximately 4 T (or more) cold water. Double receipt for a fruit pie with a lid. Enjoy!

    Reply
    1. Juli Nimitz

      I have to second Jasia’s comments. Love the comments on pie baking, especially since my husband loves, loves, loves apple pie, and this gives me new ideas. I am a Chemical Engineer by training and the things I learned in engineering school about plastics (and other things) are very frightening. Since a lot of us bake/cook to show love — doesn’t it make sense to not only show short-term love through our baking, but also long term love toward humans and creatures of this planet? I do use plastic products (over and over). What I object to is one-time use.

      I thank KAF for their high-quality products (I reuse my bread bags over and over) and for offering organic products.

    2. Susan Reid , post author

      Thanks for your thoughts, Juli. Your husband is a smart (and lucky) guy. I hope you enjoy your next pie even more! Susan

  4. Sharon Kuster

    When setting the dough to rest in the sandwich bag, does it need to “rest” in the refrigerator, or at room temp?

    Reply
  5. mary henahan

    Just fantastic…I have gotten past being afraid of pie crusts just as Susan relates that any pan with a pie in it is good…any pie can’t be bad! The pictures and descriptions are just terrific…you can almost feel the dough…which is as we all know the secret to baking… learning to feel and trusting that less is more. Thank you as always for the demystification of our foremothers lost art… now can you fix Washington?

    Reply
  6. Tom | Tall Clover Farm

    Susan, I consider myself a pretty good pie baker and I have to say this is one of the best instructional pie posts I’ve seen online. Nice job. I learned quite a few tricks I look forward to trying next time I bake!

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid , post author

      There’s nothing more satisfying than rolling out that nice disk for the pan, is there? Susan

    1. Susan Reid , post author

      This method lets you get a feel for the dough without overworking it. I hope you have fun and go make some pie!!! Susan

  7. Pam

    I noticed you are cutting/mixing the flour/shortening in a bowl. Why not use a food processor instead? I think I remember seeing this as a recommendation on Alton Brown? (and if you do use one, what would you do differently?).

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid , post author

      The food processor is fine, but you won’t have as flaky a crust for two reasons. The friction of the blade creates some heat, and since it moves so fast it’s nearly impossible to leave any big chunks of fat behind. If you do use a food processor, I’d use a grating blade and frozen sticks of butter, and run them down the tube that way. That said, if you have hand or wrist issues, the food processor is a great help. Susan

  8. Hope

    I have tried many a recipes for crust and always had a problem of some sort. I now use half water and half 80 proof vodka for all my crust. Less water means less gluten and a much flakier pie crust. Use to make a pie about one a year, now make them about once a week.

    Reply
  9. Carol Stamm

    How can I print the directions without the pictures? This looks like a great way to do it! KAF always has great recipes and techniques! Keep ‘em coming!

    Reply
  10. Linda

    I too have baked many, many pies. Hard to believe there was so much that I learned! Great post Susan. Thanks for sharing your expertise.

    Reply
  11. waikikirie

    This is (one of the many) reasons why I love the KA blog. I am someone who learns better by sight then the written word. Seeing the two different sizes of butter as opposed to reading about a smaller and larger size is a great aide to me. Hope to see you here more on the blog Susan but know you are busy with the baking sheet…..

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid , post author

      Thanks for the kind words :-). I am never at a loss for things to do, that’s for sure, but it is a lot of fun to get out here to the blogosphere. Susan

  12. Sharon Sauers

    Wonderful post. I just started making pies and thought your tip on greasing the pie pan was great! Never heard of that before. Can’t wait to try it! Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid , post author

      It never ceases to amaze me that recipe authors don’t tell people the most basic steps for success! If you grease your pie pan it’s important to chill the crust lining it, because you need to have the gluten relax. Avoids shrinking that way….Susan

  13. Louella Garrou

    I have only 1 working hand, due to a stroke several years ago. I would like to bake this Apple Pie but keep looking at the rolling out part and am afraid to try lest I make a mess. Hate to throw food away. Can you help?

    Reply
  14. karelesno1

    Well I got my boiled cider today. Didn’t just get one bottle but two. I am so excited now it’s time to master pie crust. I am no longer afraid..lol I have mastered many things In my kitchen and all the thanks goes to King Arthur Flour.
    THANK YOU KAF
    Karen

    Reply
  15. Karrie

    I wouldn’t be half the baker I am without this blog! Thanks for the great post! When the traveling demo came to Grand Rapids a few years ago, I started to get over my fear of pie crust. I have been sticking to pumpkin pies and others that the crust can be a little more hidden. I finally got it right this summer baking a peach pie.

    I just baked my first apple pie last night. It turned out great! My husband calls it “Apple Crack” lol!! I used SweetTango apples. A new variety here in Michigan. It is a hybrid of Honeycrisp an Zestar. YUM!!

    Thank you for all you do. I am forever a loyal fan. And, by the way, I love the new blog format.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel

      Karrie, thanks so much for your kind words here. Susan and all of our TBD instructors do a great job eliminating the “fear” of pie crust, yeast, and so many other “mysteries” of baking. I hope you and your husband enjoy many more “apple crack” moments as you continue to expand your repertoire! BTW, that apple combo sounds great – I’ve used Zestar, but never seen Sweet Tango. I’m looking forward to a combination of Golden Russet and Northern Spy in a few weeks. Cheers – PJH

  16. Carol Gaidos

    I have been baking for years but always have the same problem with my top crust for my apple pies . The top crust lays flat on the apples but as it bakes it seems that the apples cook down and the crust stays in place causing a “hole” between the crust and the apples .It looks like you have a nice piece of pie until you cut into it I rest and cool the dough and use frozen butter to make the crust and I use different types of apples nothing makes a difference.Have not tried this receipe and spritzing could it be something else? Thanks Carol

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      There could be a few reasons why this is happening (the type of apples you use, not enough filling, your pie crust). I would suggest to give our Baker’s Hotline a call so we can help troubleshoot your question. Jon@KAF 855 371 2253

    2. Susan Reid , post author

      Hi, Carol. You have a couple of choices.If you cut shapes and build the top crust as I did in the blog, they’ll ride down with the apples as the pie cooks, and therefore no gap. The other option is to precook your filling. I put mine in a 9″ x 13″ pan and bake it at 350°F for about 30 minutes, stirring it once or twice. Cool to room temperature, then fill your pie and top it. Since the apples are already cooked, they won’t collapse during the bake, and you won’t get the dreaded gap. Susan

  17. Sandra Baumgardner

    I’ve been a fan of KAF for a long time. Thanks for the step-by-step pie instructions. It’s really helpful to see the dough as it’s being worked.

    Reply
  18. dianadodson

    Wow. That is the best instructions I have ever seen or read. Thank you. I am not a big pie maker or eater. I am a picky eater but I do love a good chocolate pie. I also like to make sausage rolls for the holidays that a English woman taught me to make years ago. Very unhealthy!! But good. I usually just use box pie shell mix. Even if I use that these above tips will help but I feel encouraged to make my own dough next time. I think I will try this first and then maybe try a fruit pie. Thank you so much!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel

      You’re very welcome, Diana – please do give homemade pie crust a try. Once you successfully make it, I promise you’ll never go back to that box mix again! PJH

  19. pie flunky

    Oh my gosh this was simply awesome info. I feel for the first time that I may finally have some success making a great crust and pumpkin pie this year. I look forward to having made the pie and being able to eat it too. Oh yeah, thanky you for the info on pie decorations.
    Thanks again and keep your fingers crossed for me.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel

      Fingers and toes crossed, PF – but I have a feeling you’re going to do just fine, even without any luck. It’s clear your newfound confidence is going to produce great results! :) PJH

  20. Anna

    I let the apples sit in a colander for a while until a “good amount” of liquid has collected into the bowl below, I then take that liquid and reduce it until it’s almost like a thick syrup. When I return it to the apples in the bowl, that syrup hardens and thus returns the apple flavor to the pie but won’t contribute to the liquid in the pie. Yum.

    Your method makes perfect sense. Capture that juice, reduce it, put it back. Way to go! Susan

    Reply
  21. Nancy

    Thank you so much for the rollout demo. That had to be the easiest pie crust I’ve ever rolled! I still haven’t gotten the hang of fluting the edges, but at least there’s no doubt that I made my own crust–ha ha! The pumpkin pie is in the oven and I can’t wait until tomorrow!

    Reply
  22. Petia Yanchulova

    Susan, thank you for this crust recipe. Paired with your pumpkin pie recipe, it made for an enjoyable end to our day today. Nice tip about rolling the dough between parchment paper and a plastic bag. This is my first time making a crust, and also a pumpkin pie, and I am happy because people I made it for liked it a lot. Thanks for the good instructions. Oh, I am just now seeing your video making the pumpkin pie. Aha, so you can mix the eggs right into the dry ingredients. And then bake at two different temperatures. One day I’ll learn to break eggs like you. Now I want to make pies every week! I am going to make your apple pie next. The decorative top crust looks awesome.

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid

      Thanks so much, Petia! We’re happy to be a trustworthy source as your baking adventures continue! Susan

  23. beenz

    I always worry that those big chunks of butter will melt in the oven and leave a big hole in my crust. Especially when I am prebaking the bottom crust for a quiche or other filled pie. Obviously this doesn’t happen, right? I love the taste of all-butter crusts but I’ve never been able to make a flaky one. I’m trying this method for sure!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      This will only happen if you have REALLY big pieces of butter in your dough. Otherwise, you should not get puddles spots of butter in your dough. Also, keeping your dough very cold and filling your parchment lined crust with beans before baking will greatly help when pre-baking. Jon@KAF

      The action of folding the dough over on itself surrounds even the biggest chunks with a thin layer of dough. I’ve never once in all the hundreds of crusts I’ve made this way had a piece of butter make a puddle or hole in the dough. Susan

  24. Sherry P

    Just a couple of”ad to’s”. I use the round zip pastry bag (from KA) to roll out crust, then put the rolled dough still in the bag back in fridge while I am making filling and top crust or cut outs. With the oven preheated, I take the bottom crust from fridge, assemble pie and quickly pop in oven. The extra chill creates a little more steam making the crust even flakier.

    Reply
  25. Lani

    Please describe how you blind bake your pie crust. I’ve been experimenting with all butter recipes and when I bake the shell with pie weights the bottom surface is greasy when I’m ready to remove the pie wieghts, I remove the weights and the bottom puffs up. I don’t have this issue with store bought crusts. Please advise. I would like to try your recipe and technique.
    Thanks
    Lani

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Lani-
      Here are a few recommendations from PJ, one of our long-time baker’s and bloggers here at KAF, from some other blogs we have posted on pies:

      1. Make a flat (not fluted) edge; nest an empty pie plate inside the crust-lined plate; turn the whole thing upside down on a baking sheet, and bake it that way. Gravity prevents the crust from slipping down the sides of the pan.

      2. Try our All-Butter Pie Crust recipe after reading through the preparation techniques (ignoring the Crisco reference) in the “Butter vs. Shortening: the great pie crust bakeoff” blog just to give you another perspective on crusts if you like. Also, I would be sure to use King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour, and a high-quality quality butter (we use Cabot here) as in simple recipes such as these, the ingredient quality will make all the difference.

      If you have any questions or concerns along the way, please call our Baker’s Hotline at 855-371-2253 and we’ll be happy to join you in your pursuit of the perfect blind-baked crust…Happy baking!!! Jocelyn@KAF

    1. PJ Hamel

      Barb, the Pinterest button is on the far left of your screen; if your window is too narrow, it disappears, unfortunately (and we’re working on fixing that). So try widening your window – you should see it. Cheers – PJH

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