Pie Tips from Four & Twenty Blackbirds
Clear Your Schedule
From start to finish, a homemade pie takes about 3 to 4 hours. Part of the reason it takes so long is because you have to chill the pie dough after every single step. Don’t kip out on any of the chilling time—this “resting” is an essential part of producing a tender, flaky crust.
Before you embark on making your pie crust or filling, have all of your ingredients measured out and ready to go. This is especially important with the crust, as you need to work quickly so your ingredients stay cool.
Buy the Right Tools
There are three inexpensive tools that are essential for pie making (besides the obvious pie dish and rolling pin): a handheld pastry-blender—the Elsens recommend this over a food processor so you don’t overwork the dough; a pizza cutter—this is genius for cutting out a lattice top! I’ve always used a knife before, but the pizza cutter makes much cleaner cuts; and a bench scraper, for cutting your butter, dividing your dough into sections and cleaning off your work surface.
Prep the Base Crust
A great trick for preventing a soggy bottom crust: When baking fruit pies, sprinkle the bottom of your crust with a teaspoon of flour and a teaspoon of sugar before baking it. This helps absorb some of the excess fruit juices and helps the bottom crust to crisp.
Underbake the Custard
When baking a custard pie, don’t bake it all the way through. You want the sides to be puffed slightly, but the middle should be jiggly like gelatin. It will continue to cook once you remove it from the oven, so don’t worry about it not being firm. Eventually it will cool to the most perfect silky texture (like the Maple Buttermilk Pie on p. 161).
Adapt Your Crimping Style
When shaping the edges of a crust, fold the overhanging edges under for a single-crust pie and over for a double-crust or lattice-top pie. Then shape the dough with the index finger and thumb of one hand and the thumb of your other hand to create the little U-shape indentions. It takes a little practice, but it helps tremendously having that extra dough to work with. I used to cut the excess off, but the Elsens’ fold-under/fold-over trick was really useful.
When prebaking a pie crust (as for the Maple Buttermilk Custard Pie or the Black Bottom Oat Pie), bake for 20 minutes with foil and pie weights (or beans), then remove the foil and brush with an egg wash. Bake for 3 more minutes and let it cool completely. This moisture-proofs the bottom to protect it from getting soggy when you add the liquid filling later. Great trick!!