There’s a lot of potential for stress during the holidays. Perspective, if you can manage it, helps.
Take the pie crust. It’s the bottom of the pie. You’re not even going to see it and whether it looked perfect before baking. Still, making a pie crust can be a major source of anxiety - for me included!
“It’s actually an easy process,” says Tiffany MacIsaac of Buttercream Bakeshop in Washington, D.C.
If you want to achieve that level of Zen, you can. Just take some of these simple tips into account.
• Pay attention to temperature. Cool is the way to go when it comes to pie crusts. David Guas, owner of Bayou Bakery, says his team chills absolutely everything, from bowls and food processor blades to flour and, of course, butter. Keeping things cool, even the air and your work surface, means you get a nice laminated (translation: layered) dough that will bake up flaky.
“You’re not connected to the ambient temperature of your kitchen,” Guas says. Meaning you may not think it’s hot, but it can be. Using a food processor can minimize the possibility of melting too much butter (our hands are especially warm). But if you work with cold butter and use your fingers even a little bit quickly, as MacIsaac does, you’ll be fine. Aim for small, consistent pieces of butter you can see in the mixture, about the size of a pea. Even if you’re slow and overwork the butter, the world won’t end. I promise.
• Get rolling. MacIsaac finds it easier to roll a crust if it’s not too cold, so she typically chills it in the refrigerator for only 15 minutes (Dorie Greenspan even preaches the heresy of immediately rolling the crust, sans chilling). To get an even round, she recommends rolling in only one direction, from the middle to the top and then rotating the crust 1/8 of a turn. Lessen the pressure as you get closer to the edges to avoid making them too thin.
• If it sticks, don’t panic. Use a bench scraper or thin metal spatula to gently lift it and see if you can find the troublesome spot before carefully prying up the dough. Dust the counter with more flour and pinch or patch accordingly. You can also fix any tears with extra bits of dough. Same if you hit snags in the transfer to the pie dish. MacIsaac likes to fold the dough into quarters and then unfold it in the dish, while Guas uses the drape-over-the-rolling pin method.
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Really, you can probably skip the blind baking. Blind baking - prebaking a weighed-down pie crust before the fillings are added - has been passed down to many of us as some kind of gospel from the wise ones. MacIsaac’s take: “Blind baking is a pain in the butt.” She used to do it but doesn’t bother in most cases now. The idea is that it prevents the dreaded soggy bottom, especially for wetter fillings, but Guas doesn’t even blind bake for something like chess pie, a Southern version of a custard pie.
• Chilling the crust in the pan will help set it. If you’re worried about a soggy crust and don’t want to blind bake, you can place a baking sheet in the oven as it preheats. (You can even start at a higher temperature and then drop it as soon as the pie goes in.) That will help give a boost to the bottom crust. MacIsaac is also a fan of precooking her apple pie filling, which not only keeps excess liquid off the crust but also means all she has to worry about is browning it, rather than making sure the apples aren’t raw, as well.
• Don’t fear the lattice. I had never made a lattice pie crust before testing an apple cranberry pie for a previous story, partially because it seemed so intimidating. But it’s not. It basically involves laying down all the strips in one direction and then lifting them up in alternate groups as you lay down each of the strips that will be put down perpendicular to the first set.
• Or don’t make a traditional pie crust at all. There’s no need to get hung up on the classic pastry crust. By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, MacIsaac is so sick of pie that she makes a cheesecake instead with a graham cracker crust. That’s a great way to go - basically crush graham crackers and butter and then press it all in. A press-in crust made with chocolate wafers is another option. You can choose a tart with a shortbread crust - the hazelnut shortbread in this pumpkin caramel tart is fantastic - or even a gluten-free nut crust.
• Let go, and enjoy whatever you make. You saw how imperfect my pie crust was in the photos above, right? Well, look how it turned out anyway. And it tasted delicious, which no one complained about. So please stop stressing - it’s dessert! You get major points for even attempting a homemade pie. Grab some ice cream and some whipped cream, and call it a day. “Every pie tastes good,” says MacIsaac.