Pie, any way you slice it

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The air is crisp, the leaves are turning, and the apples are coming in.

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It’s my favorite time of year, because it also means I’ll soon be on the road, meeting our customers, and teaching people how to make piecrust. We show people how to do this at our the Traveling Baking Demos featuring, of course, apple pie.

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People are afraid of piecrust. They want to recapture the pies their grandmother made, and taste memories can be awfully hard to compete with.

So we go on the road, hoping to ease that anxiety, because once you enjoy the process, everybody wins. And, hopefully, pie happens. You may not get there the same way I do, but I can show you what works for me, and maybe I can inspire you to give it a go. PJ has a different way to get there, and the pie is just as awesome. The moral of our story? Any way you get to good pie is a path worth pursuing.

Flour. Salt. Fat. Water. Four ingredients, four thousand ways to put them together.

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First things first. Add the salt to the flour so your crust doesn’t taste flat (especially important if you’re using unsalted butter). Stir together. Next? Flaky or tender: both adjectives you want to see applied to your finished crust. Want both? Keep it cool (the butter, that is). Should be right out of the refrigerator.

Apple Pie-cutinbutterCut in the first half of the fat fairly small (this coats the flour, therefore tender). 

For flakiness, cut in the other half, leaving it in big chunks. Bigger than you think you should. This big.

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Now the tricky bit. Add the water and toss with a fork, but keep things on the dry side. Just enough so that some of the dough will hold its shape with a gentle squeeze, but with about a third of the mixture still pretty dry.

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How to get the rest of the dough to come together, without making it soggy or tough? Turn the mess out on a piece of parchment.

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Organize it into a band the length of the paper, and reach for your new best friend.

Apple Pie-revealbottleThe spray bottle. Give the really dry-looking parts of the pile a few spritzes,

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then use the parchment to fold the dough over on itself.

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Repeat, spritzing as necessary, until the dough comes together, with some dry crumbs still shedding around the edges.

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Divide 60/40 (the bottom crust should be bigger).

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Check out those layers!Apple Pie-Sue Reid-26

To roll out a round crust, put it away round, taking time to smooth the edges. Pat the dough into a disk. It’s OK that there are some crumbs still flying around.

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I use sandwich bags to store the crusts; they’re easier than wrestling with strips of plastic wrap. You’re going to rest the dough for 25 to 30 minutes, and during this time the water will redistribute itself.

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The gluten will also relax, making rolling easier. Smooth edges will keep those dreaded Grand Canyon cracks from appearing when you roll. Which means no desperate wetting, patching, stretching, or (we know it happens) swearing. You can start making your crusts for Thanksgiving RIGHT NOW. Once you’re at this point, no problem to pop your creations into the freezer for up to 2 months. Thaw in the fridge overnight before rolling.

What a difference a little rest makes. See how the dough has changed? Not dusty or crumbly, just ready to go. And still big butter chunks visible (remember, those are flakes in the making!).

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Many moons ago, Mom taught me to roll pie dough between 2 sheets of waxed paper. I’ve graduated to slightly different tools, but the idea’s the same. Take a piece of parchment, flour it. Grab a food storage bag, cut off the bottom and up the sides.

Apple Pie-Sue Reid-32Put your dough disk on the parchment, sprinkle with more flour, and put your nice big sheet of  plastic on top. I use this “sandwich” and one hip to keep the dough where I want it.

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Work from the center of the dough out, but don’t get all contortionist about it. You can pivot your little dough sandwich much more easily than you can bend yourself 180°!Apple Pie-Sue Reid-40

Big enough? Check with the pan above the dough, inverted. Make sure there’s about 2” more dough than the pan’s perimeter. People always ask: “What’s the best pan for pie?” “Any pan with pie in it is a good pan”, I reply.

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Ahh, the poor sacrificial first slice. How many mangled first servings of pie have you experienced? No one tells you this, but you can (and if your dough is relaxed, should) grease your pan. It’ll make taking slices out easier, but will also help brown the bottom.

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Plop your dough in the pan, trim the edges, flute. I’ll be doing a schmantzy top, so no need to wait on finishing the edges.

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Now for the filling. I like to use at least 3 types of apples, for more complex, interesting flavor. This pie has Granny Smiths, Braeburns, and Honeycrisps in it. Sugar, cinnamon, flour. Some boiled cider and lemon juice for brightness and intensity.

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Some of my colleagues swear by a generous dose of vanilla here: this recipe gives you an idea. A little bit of hooch (bourbon, for me, please) never hurt, either. Need a formula? Here’s the recipe we give out at our demonstrations. Stir, fill, set aside (in the fridge) while rolling out the remaining crust.

The easiest, prettiest thing to do is use some seasonal cutters on that dough, Apple Pie-Sue Reid-68

and place the shapes on top of the filling. Easy as… yes, pie to do, and looks just gorgeous. If you want to get all in it, you can emboss the leaves with a paring knife, la de da!

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Place, brush with milk or cream, sprinkle with sparkling sugar, bake. I love this technique because the leaves ride down on the filling as it bakes, avoiding that big old gap you sometimes get with 2-crust pies.

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When I said bake, I meant to say on a parchment-lined pan. Bake at 425°F for 15 minutes, then 350°F until you see some real live bubbles in the center. Remove, cool, slice, share pie happiness.

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By the way, these amazing photographs are courtesy of Julia Reed, our new public relations coordinator (and good company in the kitchen to boot!). I thank her for helping me show you how much fun and beautiful making pie can be.

Susan Reid

Chef Susan Reid grew up in New Jersey, graduated from Bates College and the Culinary Institute of America, and is presently the Food Editor of Sift magazine. She does demos, appearances, and answers food (and baking) questions from all quarters.


  1. Susan

    So many times the bottom crust has been soggy on my apple pies even though I use the preferred baking apples…is blind baking the crust the only way to avoid this?

  2. Embarrassed baker I hope it works

    I wish there was a VIDEO of this technique. I’m not a baker, for sure, but I can follow directions. I made the single crust for pumpkin pie and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I cannot get the crust to stay together and making that ‘disc’ of dough was nearly out of the question. I ended up cooling in the fridge for the 10-15 min wrapped up in parchment just to keep it together. I am going to try plastic on both sides for rolling as it just couldn’t hold together enough to not stick to the parchment too much. The first one kinda worked and I admit it is DELISH. I just wish I could see this working in a VIDEO instead of stills. I’m continuing to try. Many of them have just fallen apart when I get them in the pie plate and I do a patch job there before blind-baking. Another one–most of the crust rim fell off when I took it out of the oven and touched the crust a bit with the hot pad. Sigh.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hello, fellow baker! We actually do have a series of videos demonstrating the various stages of making pie crust, some of which you can find here:

      There are also some more specific videos on things like double crusts and lattices. We definitely understand that some folks are visual learners. Hopefully, these videos should be able to walk you more comfortably through the process of making a scrumptious pie. Happy baking! Kat@KAF

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