If you’re a regular reader of Sally’s Baking Addiction, then it’s probably safe to say you’re not in the habit of buying frozen pies at the grocery store and passing them off as your own. But have you moved beyond basic to extra yet? Sally is going to show you how, and it all begins with the perfect pie crust.
“All great pies start with one thing, and it’s good pie crust,” Sally says. “The pie crust is in every single bite of pie. You want to make sure you have a delicious, flaky pie crust.” She has a few tricks up her sleeve to make that happen.
Focus on taste. “Pie crust shouldn’t be sweet, because typically, the filling going in pie crust is sweet,” she explains. “So I always add a teaspoon plus a quarter teaspoon of salt to the recipe.”
Use both shortening and butter. “The shortening will help create all of those layers when the pie crust bakes. The butter, of course, ensures a buttery tender pie crust, so instead of using one or the other, I use a combination of both to get buttery and flaky,” she says.
Chill. If you want perfect flakiness, you gotta chill, man. No, really: All your ingredients need to be really cold. “The key to pie crust is really cold ingredients … keeping that butter really cold before you add it to the dough, keeping the shortening really cold, and using ice water,” Sally says. “Make sure that water is really, really cold. And always chill your pie dough before you begin rolling it out!”
The gorgeous pies you see in cooking magazines and food blogs like Sally’s aren’t that difficult to make. There are many ways to create those cool designs, but the simplest is to break out your cookie cutters and shape some extra dough to stick to the top crust. You can even place your dough cutouts directly on the filling if you’re not using top crust.
“My readers have sent me their pictures of pie crust and what they created, and I’m constantly inspired by that,” she says. “I saw one of them was the shape of an owl. I’ve no idea how they did that. It’s beautiful. It’s amazing. You’d be surprised how many fun, beautiful shapes you can make with pie dough.”
“Have fun with the cookie cutters,” she says. “You can make different pie crust designs for any occasion: leaves for the fall or snowmen for the winter months. Hearts for Valentine’s Day, flowers, you name it. The sky’s limit. Options are endless.”
You can use those cookie cutter designs in a ton of different ways too:
Press the cutouts directly on top of your crust or along the edges of the pie.
Bake your pie topless and bake the cutouts separately on a baking sheet, then gently press into the pie filling when it’s still warm.
Place the dough with the cutouts removed on top.
Overlap the cutouts to make a dramatically textured top.
Whatever design you choose, make sure you make about twice as much dough as you would use for a single crust, or another third for a double crust. A few more tips:
Cutouts tend to bake into a prettier pattern when placed on a smooth filling, like a custard, as opposed to a fruit filling, which is usually uneven.
If you’re using a top crust and then placing your cutouts on top, the filling doesn’t matter as much as placement. Just try not to set them on a lumpy part.
Your filling should come just about to the top of the pie plate or mound a bit in the center to make sure the top crust doesn’t sink down.
Use a pastry brush to glaze the top with a thin egg wash for a beautiful, golden finish.
Pie crust can be notoriously finicky, so if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. And make sure you share photos of your creations with Sally!