This week, bakers and nonbakers take to their ovens to produce a pie they probably haven’t thought about making since last Thanksgiving. Therein lies the pitfall: You can run into snags in the sweet kitchen when you make something infrequently. Some tips are in order, things I learned from years of working as a professional baker and food stylist.
If you’re a first-time pastry maker, roll the dough between two sheets of parchment paper to a round that is 2 inches larger than the pie pan. The key to circular dough is to start with a round disc. With each roll of the pin, turn the dough ½ inch to
1 inch and roll again. You will develop a rhythm of roll and turn, roll and turn.
Then, peel off the top paper and flip the dough into the pan. Pull back the remaining paper and ease the dough into the corners. Rather than crimping the edges, use a fork dipped in flour to prettify the rim.
Far too often (this is the case in both home and professional kitchens), pies are pulled from the oven when the crust is still pale. Fruit-filled pies (especially with a top crust) need over one hour; custard pies, like pumpkin, take less time. Don’t remove the pie from the oven before those edges are golden and the filling is bubbling up. A nicely browned crust is flaky, caramelized, and nutty.
Then to the serving, or more precisely, how to avoid the pitfall of a crumbly first slice. We agree with the Cook’s Illustrated ratings that the Oxo steel pie server, a simple spatula with sharp edges and a comfortable handle ($9.99 at Macy’s, Target, and Bed Bath & Beyond), is the best. But if you only bake once a year, don’t make the investment. Just use a knife, say the pros.
Joanne Chang, owner of the Flour Bakery + Cafe chainlet, suggests using a really sharp chef’s knife so that you can easily cut through both the filling and the crust. Hot water to dip the knife in between slices will help with a clean cut.
To cut a pie: Press the knife two or three times into the wedge you’re cutting to make sure both filling and crust are cut all the way through. Cut several slices before removing one from the pan. Dip a knife into a pitcher of hot water and wipe it dry with a paper towel before each use.
Krystin Rubin, co-owner of Mission Pie in San Francisco and former owner of Bread & Butter Baking Co. in Jamaica Plain, takes an abstract view. “Stand directly in front of your pie. Imagine it’s a clock. Think of the time you spent making your pie. Start your knife at 12 o’clock and cut firmly down to 6.” Then the size of the slices are up to you. (Disclaimer: I worked at both Flour Bakery and Mission Pie, as pastry chef and general manager, respectively. Between the two, I have taken part in the production of thousands of pies.)
When planning, it’s OK to prepare dough in advance; let it sit at room temperature for 20 minutes before rolling. It should still be firm and cool. You can roll out the dough, transfer it to the pan, cover with foil, and refrigerate for up to two days.
If all this seems like too much effort, go ahead and take any short cuts: Buy a frozen crust, order your pie from a bakery, or ask a guest to bring one.
And if you botch the first slice? Whipped cream is your best friend.