14 Expert Pie Tips for Beginners

Don’t let your Pi Day go haywire.

March 12, 2020

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Every math and baking enthusiast’s favorite date is almost here – and things are about to get nerdy. Any one who’s tried to bake a pie – or bake anything, for that matter – will tell you it’s all about precision. One tablespoon of water too much or a few degrees too warm can make a pie go awry quick.

But don’t let that stop you. If you’re planning to step up to the challenge and celebrate with homemade pie, here are 14 tips – straight from the culinary experts on the Food Network Kitchen app – to make your Pi Day successful (and delicious)!

Pie Dough

Cool Your Ingredients in Advance

For a seamless pie experience, the name of the game is keeping your ingredients, and ultimately your dough, cold.

Contrary to some other baking projects, be sure to refrigerate (or freeze) butter or shortening well before you start baking. Have ice on hand, too, to ice water. And bring these ingredients out of the refrigerator only when you’re ready to bake.

If at any time during the process your dough gets unwieldy, just stick it back in the fridge for a few minutes.

Prepare Your Station Before Beginning

This applies to most baking endeavors, but it’s especially important when baking pie. According to Martha Stewart in her Favorite Pie Crust class, “Make it cold and fast!” You can put the dough together faster if all the tools and ingredients you need are on hand. You’re racing against heat, here.

Keep Climate in Mind

It matters! If you live in a more humid area, or are baking in a particularly warm room, keep this in mind when forming your pie crust dough. Too much heat or moisture can make your dough sticky and unmanageable. This just means you might have to send your half-done dough back to the fridge a few more times, or you’ll have to be more conservative when figuring out how much water to add to your dry ingredients.

“Don’t Overdo It”

When James Beard award-winning cookbook author Dorie Greenspan says, “Don’t overdo it,” you listen. In her Peach Blueberry Pie class, Dorie explains that when it comes to making pie dough, this is the mantra to live by. Gently toss dry ingredients. Add water in small increments (there aren’t exact measurements for water because it depends on climate and flour). And bring together until it’s just right – that is, a cohesive blob that isn’t powdery, but also not sticky to the touch. The finished dough should have some cracks.

If you’re still not sure what to look for, check out Erin McDowell’s class on Cider-Caramel Apple Pie to see the right texture to shoot for.

Plastic Wrap Is Your Friend

Take one from Martha and pour your finished dough mixture straight from a bowl or food processor onto two pre-cut pieces of plastic wrap and manipulate the wrap to bring the dough together. You can even roll the dough into discs with the same plastic wrap around it. This minimizes cleanup for your hands and counter. Watch her technique here.

Say No to Balls of Dough

Be sure to flatten balls of dough into discs before chilling in the fridge – otherwise it will be difficult to roll out into pie crusts later. As Dorie Greenspan says, “Start with a round, end with a round.”

The Right Rolling Pin is Handle-Less

When it comes to pies, a handle-less rolling pin is the way to go. It gives you more control when rolling out dough after it’s been chilled.

Roll Just to the Edge, But Not Over It

The goal is to roll dough to an even thickness throughout. Roll the pin with reckless abandon, and you’ll either end up with edges that slope thin, or a center that can barely hold.

If All Else Fails, Go for Crumb Crust

It happens to the best of us. If you’re too afraid to try making traditional pie crust, or if your dough turns disastrous, go for a recipe that only requires crumb crust like graham cracker or Oreo cookie. It’s much easier but will still taste great!

Filling

You’re Never Going to Know the *Exact Right* Amount of Pie Filling

It’s just something you have to eyeball, and adjust based on your pie dish. Even experts can’t give you an exact measurement. Trust yourself!

Take Time to Arrange Your Filling

This doesn’t apply to custard or cream pies, but to fresh fruit pies. When making apple pie, for instance, Erin McDowell doesn’t just pour the filling in the dish. Instead, she arranges apple slices in concentric circles to reduce the number of air pockets between pieces. This prevents the pie crust from sinking.

Even if you’re making something like blueberry pie, be sure to pour the berries into the shape of a mound, piling the most fruit at the center.

Pre-Oven Prep

Don’t Egg Wash Edges

If you’re making a double-crust pie (i.e. dough on the top and bottom), most recipes will call for egg washing your top crust dough before it hits the oven. Doing this helps it reach a nice, golden brown. But be sure to avoid the edges – those tend to brown quicker than the rest of the pie. Egg washing might make them burn.

Cut Slits into the Pie After Egg Washing

As Erin mentions, a common mistake at this critical stage of the process is cutting slits into the dough before egg washing and sprinkling with turbinado sugar. Doing this can clog up the slits – they’re steam vents, after all. When cutting into the dough, don’t be afraid to open slits up a bit to ensure that there’s a clean way for steam to escape.

Once Your Pie’s All Done Baking…

While It Might Be Tempting to Eat Your Pie Immediately — Let. It. Cool.

Otherwise, your pie will be runnier than you intended. (But of course, you can make your own decision on whether or not to make an exception to that rule 😉).

And now you’re ready to go forth and conquer Pi Day! Put your newfound knowledge to the test with a nearly infinite number of pie recipes to choose from on the Food Network Kitchen app. Or – bake along with the experts themselves with a trove of on-demand classes, like Four and Twenty Blackbirds' Salted Caramel Apple Pie.

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