Kitchen Q&A: Pie Plates and Crusts

Jenny sent me an e-mail asking about pie plates–

“I have made tarts and have a great tart pan, but have yet to actually make pie from scratch because I don’t have a pan. I want to know what the difference is between the pans and then a good crust recipe. The way people moan and groan about making crust has turned me off of it.

Great question, Jenny!

I, too, have been turned off of making crust because for years and years I watched my mom struggle with pie crusts that tore apart and stuck to the counter. I vowed never to make pie crust.

Then, my husband’s Aunt K*, told me about this wonderful pie crust recipe from his other Aunt R*. What? Really? Can you teach me? I asked.

The Thanksgiving after I got married, she shared the recipe.

Aunt R’s No-Fail Pie Crust

2 cups flour, divided
1 cup shortening
1 tsp. salt
ice water

Mix 1 cup flour and 1 cup shortening together into a paste. To the paste add the remaining cup of flour. Mix until crumbly. Add ice water a little at a time until dough comes together into a ball. Roll out on a well-floured surface. Use as needed.

Makes 1, double pie crust.

Here’s the beauty of this recipe–

It’s nice and soft. It tastes great–maybe not as flaky as a traditional recipe. You can patch it. If it’s too sticky, you can add more flour. If it’s too dry, add a little more water. It’s easy to cut out shapes for a decorative top. It’s seriously a “no-fail” recipe.

Now, once you’ve become comfortable with crust, I would suggest trying a more traditional recipe.

Around last Thanksgiving, Deb over at Smitten Kitchen posted a Pie Crust 101 tutorial. It is excellent. And because she used a Cooks’ Illustrated recipe that has been tested in America’s Test Kitchen, it’s guaranteed to be a winner.

Also, over at marthastewart.com, Martha offers a video tutorial on making her perfect pate brisee, the classic pie and tart dough. (It’s really good, but can be really finicky…so why am I even telling you about this? I’m not sure.) Elise over at Simply Recipes also uses a similar recipe. And The Pioneer Woman also has her recipe for perfect pie crust. (I think I might go this route first.)

Now, if you are still scared (and it’s okay if you are, I still am a little most of the time) then I suggest going the route that I’ve chosen many, many times. And that path goes by the name of: pat-in-the-pan crusts.

My mom uses this method in her Dutch Apple Pie recipe.

The Joy of Cooking offers many options and recipes for pat-in-the-pan crusts. Included in this category are crumb crusts (graham, animal, oreo, etc…) Basically, it’s like making cookie dough and pressing it into the pie plate. This is a great option for cream pies and other pies that call for a pre-baked pie crust.

You are limited in what you can do with them, but unless you are making a double crust or lattice topped pie, you can adapt most recipes to use a PITP crust.

Here are some I’ve used with–
Banofee Pie
Chocolate Cream Pie
Creamy Key Lime Pie
Pat-in-the-Pan Shortbread Crust (you can use this for a 9-10″ pie plate even though I’ve used it for a tart pan in the recipe)

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Now to the part about pans. This is the part I love the most.

I adore Pyrex because their pans are inexpensive, reliable, and see through. See through comes in handy when you are making pies. In fact, Cooks’ Illustrated lists Pyrex glass pie plates their top choice in pie plates. (Other brands of glass plates are just as good, too. I have several Anchor.)

I own quite a few Pyrex plates, as I have inherited them over the years.

I love my deep dish plate (the one pictured at the top of this post.) It has these handy handles, which really do come in handy. I also like how deep it is. Sometimes I overfill my pies and I’m really sorry when the bottom of my oven starts to smoke and turn black. (Or it sticks to the baking pan I have placed underneath.)

I recommend having pie/tart pans in several sizes and styles on hand:

1 deep dish (9 or 10 inch)
2 regular (9 and 10 inch)
1 tart pan with removable bottom

What about tin pie plates?

Well, I don’t have any of these. My mom and grandma do! I don’t have anything against them. If you have them, use them. I really like the glass pans because I can tell when the crust is done.

What about pretty pie plates?

I love pretty dishes and bakeware. Don’t get me wrong, I still think Pyrex is the way to go. But, if you feel like you want a pretty pie plate to take to Thanksgiving dinner, then get one. I have one white, ceramic tart pan that I use all the time. The pie bakes well in it, and it looks pretty if we are going over to dinner at someone’s house.

I’ve had my eye on the Emile Henry pie plates for sometime.

Other things to consider buying for pie making–

Pie weights–for blind baking pie crusts for cream or other pies that don’t require further baking
(Dry beans will also get the job done.)

Pie server–I personally think that everyone should own a good pie server. You will get nicer slices and it will be easier to lift them out of the pan. Also great for cakes.

A good rolling pin–

I love my rolling pin that I got at Williams-Sonoma. It’s heavy. I like that it doesn’t have the handles on it–the handles on my mom’s were always breaking. I love it. Although…I do have a crush on a certain marble rolling pin…the benefit of marble being that it stays cold, which is a benefit to working with pastry.

Rolling Mat–

I’ve been looking at this mat from King Arthur for quite awhile. I just haven’t gotten it yet. I love that you can see how large to roll out the dough. Maybe kind of gimicky, but I like it.

Readers,

Any other suggestions or bits of advice for Jenny? Care to share any easy pie recipes for a beginner? What pie plate do you use and like?

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5 Comments

  1. I have a rolling mat (I think it is KitchenAid?) made of silicone that I LOVE. You still have to flour it, but it makes it so much easier to roll things out without them sticking. And the measured rings are great, especially for someone who is new to the world of pies. Nothing worse that going to all the trouble of rolling out a pie crust and lifting it into the pan and then discovering it is too small.

  2. I don’t use any special recipe for dough, but I learned a great trick for rolling out pie crusts. I take a plastic grocery bag, and put the dough ball in the bag and then roll it out inside the bag. This way it doesn’t stick to the counter, or to my rolling pin. Then when I am ready to put it in the pan, I cut away one side of the bag, peel back the plastic bag and then place it in the pan, and peel off the other side of the bag. It works so great, and it works with every crusts recipe that you have to roll out. If those doesn’t make sense, let me know and I will try to explain it better, or take pictures to show what I mean.

  3. I have that same deep Pyrex pie pan (I have two), and those pie weights. I also use a pastry cloth for rolling out pastry, and swear by it–one area in which Cook’s Illustrated and I have agreed to disagree. ;) I have a heavy rolling pin with handles which needs to be replaced because one of the handles split. I’ve been thinking about trying a french rolling pin (tapered).

    For crusts, I use the basic recipe in Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. I mix them in the Cuisinart, but stop before the dough comes together. Also, I use very very cold butter that has been frozen and slightly thawed. I know if I see speckles of unblended butter when I’m rolling out the dough, it will be good–nice and flaky.

    Lately I’ve been experimenting with using some of my own home-rendered lard (from caul fat). I haven’t been quite as thrilled with the results as I had hoped. Maybe I’ll try some real leaf lard next time if I remember.

  4. I knew you were going to post this soon and I actually dreamed about making pie crust last night! Seriously! I am so excited now.

    Also, I think EVERYONE wants that awesome pie plate from WS. It’s gorgeous.

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