The fastest way to someone’s heart is through his or her stomach, and since everyone loves a sweet treat, we’re thinking that perfect pies are the ticket to being the most popular guest at any party. And while a good pie certainly needs a good filling, a great pie needs an incredible crust. According to Melissa Clark, food columnist for the NY Times, “pie is an iconic American dessert, and there are few kitchen projects as rewarding as baking one. The best pies start with a flaky homemade crust, which is a lot easier to make than some people fear.”
So where do you begin with the best pie crust recipe? How do you know which piecrust recipe truly is the BEST? We’re not exaggerating, when you Google the phrase “piecrust recipe” you get over 4 million hits. We’re not experts, but it’s hard to believe that there can be over 4 million best pies out there. So where do you start? What makes a piecrust so great?
For starters, you need to know that there are several different schools of thought when it comes to perfect pies. First, there is the crew that believes the flakier the better. (We happen to agree with them.) Others prefer a more compact and crumbly dough for their piecrust. And depending on your recipe, you may opt for a completely different type of crumb-based crust (think graham cracker). See what we mean? Lots of options, and it’s hard to determine what is “best” since it’s really a matter of opinion.
Read Related: The Sweet Life: The Key to The Perfect Key Lime Pie
If your taste buds crave a buttery, rich yet light and flakey crust, here are some tips. First, make sure your fat ingredient (butter, lard, oil etc.) is cold. This means you should use cold butter when you first mix your dough, and for good measure, throw your pie in the freezer before you bake it to make sure that the dough is cool once again when you bake it. That pro tip will guarantee a flaky crust. In addition, do not overwork your dough. Once your dough is ready to be rolled out, if you over-manipulate it or use too much flour for rolling you’ll just end up with tough dough. And nobody wants that.
Another common mistake when it comes to pie dough is jumping to the rolling step too quickly. According to Bon Appétit senior food, editor Dawn Perry, and assistant food editor, Claire Saffitz, “the dough has to be at the optimal temperature for you to roll it out—too cold and it will crack; too warm and it’ll be sticky and gummy. Expect to be moving your dough in and out of the fridge to maintain that perfect temperature.”
Another option if you want to ensure a crunchy and flakey crust is to blind bake it. And no, that does not mean you bake while blindfolded. That is just a really dangerous idea. As per the NY Times, “Blind baking means partially baking a pie crust before you add the filling, which helps keep the crust crunchy. After the filling is added, you return the pie to the oven to finish baking.” This is a great idea if you are a) pressed for time and making your crust ahead of time (you can do this up to 24 hours before adding the filling) or b) making a custard pie (like pumpkin) that is prone to getting a little soggy.
Lastly, you need to think about your top crust as well. While the bottom crust might be the foundation for a perfect pie, the top crust is all about presentation and about sealing in the delicious flavor from your filling. Leave it to kitchen guru Martha Stewart to come up with tons of decorative ways to top off your pie. You can use a traditional single crust with cutouts, a lattice crust, or a crumble topping. If you’re going with a traditional dough for your top crust (in other words, not a crumble topping) then there’s one more important step you cannot and should not skip. If you want a golden crust that makes people drool, you need to apply a glaze. According to The Kitchn, “getting a golden color on a pie crust usually doesn’t have to do with the crust itself—it’s what you brush on top. From milk to egg yolks, the sugars and proteins in the glaze will caramelize before the crust itself, giving the pie extra color and a burnished look.”
Ok, so now you’re ready to make the perfect pie with the perfect piecrust. Pick a recipe and filling that speaks to you, and let the baking fun begin. Soon your guests will be shouting: “all hail the dessert queen!” You’re welcome for that.