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It’s apple pie season! Since we answer more questions on pie than any other cooking dilemma, here are the most common pie pitfalls:

1. Dough is too warm. Flaky pastry is the result of a cold dough hitting a hot oven. Plus, warm dough absorbs more flour. Flour does not add flavor! Be sure that the dough is cold when mixed, refrigerated for at least 20 minutes, cold when rolled out, and cold when the pie goes into the oven.

2. Dough is overmixed. Pie dough is known as “short” pastry, because the strands of gluten in the flour have been cut by lumps of fat. A flakier crust comes from bigger, not smaller, chunks of fat. I cut the fat into pieces the size of nickels.

3. Dough is kneaded into a perfectly smooth, round disk. Yes, I know the cooks do it on TV, but nobody eats those pies. Bring the dough together so that it just sticks, but do not knead it. It’s okay if it looks ragged; your pie is not judged on how the dough looks, but how it tastes after baking. Overworked dough makes for a tough pastry.

4. Dough does not roll out into a perfect circle. Patching is okay! Again, we only care how the pie tastes. Do not ever be tempted to squish the dough up and reroll it; then the pie crust will taste terrible because the ratio of flour to fat will be too much.

5. Filling is too runny. The combination of cooked fruit and sugar equals a lot of juice, so a thickener is required. Flour always tastes pasty and a lot of flour is needed to thicken fruit juice. The best thickener for pie filling is potato starch; corn starch is second best. Tapioca tastes gelatinous to me. Cook the pie until the fruit juices are bubbling up — which means that the fruit and starch have coalesced.

6. Do not over fill the pie. I know there are pretty pictures of “mile-high” pies, but if the pie filling is overflowing, you will have to clean your oven. All those wonderful fruit juices will no longer be in your pie, but burnt on the oven floor.

7. Pie crust is over brown or under brown. Brush the top crust with an egg wash (1 egg yolk mixed with one tablespoon water), but do not brush the edges of the pie, which will get too dark.

8. Pie is refrigerated. The crust of a refrigerated pie tastes terrible. Just eat it. Any leftovers will be consumed at breakfast.

For more pointers (and plenty of apple pies), our next pie class is American Pie on Sunday, October 5 at 1 pm.

Need some essential pie equipment? To make a pie, I always use the bench knife, pastry blender, gravy separator, rolling pin, rollpat mat, flour duster, pastry brush, and pie plate.

2 Comments for “Principles of Pie”  

  1. Liza

    Gravy separator?? What do you use it for in making an apple pie?

  2. Chef

    I was hoping for that question! I was tired of picking ice cubes out of the dough when I poured in the ice water. The gravy separater is the solution, because only the cold water — not the ice cubes — comes out of the spout.