12 Essential Tools for Making Great Pie
Any season is the season for pie, whether it’s the warming, spice-scented apple and pumpkin pies of fall, the tangy-sweet berry pies of summer or the bright citrusy tarts that infuse winter days with sunshine and vitamin C.
But as any novice baker can tell you, making pie isn’t exactly as easy as, well, pie.
It takes practice to master a crust that is both flaky and tender, to get the filling just right, to avoid a soggy bottom. It also takes the right equipment. Below, we’ve gathered up the tools you need and the tools you want to make and serve a perfect piece of pie.
All about pie
Pies come in many varieties: sweet and savoury, big and small, filled with fruit, custard, nuts, vegetables or meat. They have been made since at least 2000 BCE, when someone in ancient Sumer jotted down a recipe for chicken pie. Ever since then, cooks have known that pies are an excellent way to use up the odds and ends of meat, fruit or veg in an easily portable, storable and economical format. That makes them especially ideal for foodservice establishments.
Besides, everyone loves pie.
What makes a pie a pie is its crust – typically a short crust pastry, but sometimes made from crumbs, mashed potatoes or biscuit dough – which encases the fillings and, if made properly, stops them from leaking all over your oven. The crust can be open (when it is typically called a tart), closed or latticed. It can also be freeform, casually folded over the edge of the filling, in which case it is a galette.
To make a short crust pastry, fat in the form of butter, shortening or lard is incorporated into flour by rubbing or cutting it together. Sometimes, especially in French pâtisserie, an egg is added for richness and the butter is creamed rather than cut into the flour for a texture that is snappy rather than flaky or crumbly. Meanwhile, many British meat pies call for pastry made with hot water and melted fat, and have a much sturdier structure.
It’s no overstatement to say that the success of your pie rests on the success of your crust.
Essential pie making tools
Technically, you can blend shortening into flour with your fingers, mix it on your countertop and bake it in a cake pan, but that is unlikely to result in good pie. For that, you will need these basic tools.
The first order of business is to gather the right measuring cups, spoons and, above all, a digital scale. Professional bakers measure in weight rather than volume – it is both more precise and a lot easier.
2. Mixing bowls
Vintage-style ceramic bowls and colourful melamine ones are pretty to look at, but lightweight metal mixing bowls are easier to use and less likely to scratch or break. They’re stackable and dishwasher-proof, and if you do somehow manage to destroy one, they’re inexpensive to replace.
This is one of the handiest tools in your arsenal. It’s good for, yes, scraping up and transporting chopped foods from cutting board to bowl or pot, but also for delicately lifting the edge of a pastry sheet and cleaning off your prep space afterward.
4. Pastry blender
Also called a pastry cutter is the classic method for blending fat into flour. This inexpensive tool is useful for biscuits as well as pie dough. It has cutting wires or fine blades in a U-shape attached to a handle. Repeatedly pressing through the fat into the dry ingredients cuts down the fat into smaller and smaller pieces.
If you are using butter or making pie on a large scale for a commercial operation, you might prefer to use a food processor instead. This cuts butter into smaller pieces, faster and more consistently. More importantly, it stops the heat from your hands melting the butter – cold butter is essential for flaky pastry.
6. Rolling pin
Although there are glass, marble, ceramic and chic tapered French rolling pins, the classic two-handled wooden one is all you need to get perfectly smooth pie dough.
There are some beautiful ceramic pie plates on the market, but truth is that your basic lightweight aluminum tin will get you a crisper and more evenly browned crust. If you’re planning to make quiches, tarts and tartlets, invest in pans with a removable bottom – they make it infinitely easier to remove the tart from the dish without it breaking apart.
Reality is, pies leak. Pop one of these under every pie and you’ll save yourself the aggravation of a messy cleanup later, especially if you line it with parchment first. Baking sheets also make it easier to safely transport your pie in and out of a hot oven and are ideal for galettes.
Cooling a pie on your windowsill is romantically retro, but not really all that efficient. Metal cooling racks let the air circulate all around the pie, helping it cool faster so you can slice and enjoy it sooner.
Nice to have pie making tools
For great, professional quality pies and tarts, you will need just a few more pieces of gear to take your pie to the sky.
Another way to keep your dough from sticking is to roll it out on a silicone pastry mat. Invest in one printed with the measurements for the size of pie you want to make and you can take the guesswork out of the process. The mat is also ideal for lifting and transporting the dough so you can gently place it in the pie pan without risk of breakage.
Aside from the gadget you use to blend the fat into the flour, there are a variety of other cutters you can use to cut the dough into attractive shapes and patterns. There are wheeled pastry cutters, some with fluted edges, that can cut dough into strips for lattice crusts, and cookie cutters and pie stamps for attractive shapes to layer on the crust.
12. Pastry brush
Essential for brushing an egg wash over your dough to get a crisp and shiny glaze. Experts differ on which is best: a natural fibre brush offers the finesse you need for delicate pastry, but silicone is less likely to stick to it and is also easier to clean.
Pie serving tools
If you want your pie to look as pretty on the plate as it does in the tin, you need the right tools to get it there.
Pie Cutters and Markers: Essential for consistently sized pieces, pie cutters and markers take the guess work or eye-balling out of the equation.
Pie server: The tapered design slides right under the crust and the wide base gives the slice the support it needs as you lift it out of the pan. A must if you want to serve pie.
Display stand: If you want to display pie, an elevated cake stand is ideal. Add a clear plastic or glass dome to protect your pie (and make it even prettier).
By Joanne Sasvari