Preparing Pretty Pie Crusts
November 26, 2019 3:32 PM   Subscribe

Every year for Thanksgiving, I make a pumpkin pie, using the Cook's Illustrated recipe for both the pie and the the vodka crust. This year, I'd like to fancy it up a bit, like the picture in this recipe. I have leaf cookie cutters, and I think I have a good idea of what I'm doing, but I'm looking for tips/advice on how to make the decorative rim thing work.

My plan is basically to make an extra batch of pie crust, cut out leaves, and stick them to the main crust with an egg wash before blind baking the whole thing, then use a silicone crust protector thing once I bake the whole pie. Does that sound right? I'm just worried about the leaves burning or falling off. Also, if I decide to do some leaves in the middle of the pie, do I just float them on top at the start of the baking or they go on later?

(Bonus question: every time I've blind baked a pie crust, the bottom never gets browned and is always kind of soggy. I follow the Cook's Illustrated instructions exactly. Is there something I'm missing? Some grandma secret passed down for generations?)
posted by Weeping_angel to Food & Drink (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
For the leaves, yes, this is exactly what I do.
For the undercooked crust, I take the weights out earlier than any recipe ever says, then stand by with a pointy knife for when it starts to bubble. Otherwise the rim cooks way more than the bottom, even with the protector.
posted by HotToddy at 4:08 PM on November 26, 2019

Depending on the diameter, flexibility, and weight of the silicone crust protector and the degree to which the leaf points project, I'd be worried about bending and/or breakage, but I've always protected with foil and it sounds like HotToddy has had success with your approach.

In terms of the leaves on top, I think they'll brown more evenly and look prettier if you bake them on a sheet and place them afterward.

As to the browning, if you typically blind bake on the middle rack, try closer to the oven floor.
posted by jocelmeow at 4:14 PM on November 26, 2019

I also bake the top decorations separately and slide them onto a finished cooled custard (eg pumpkin) pie. Much flakier, control the browning,no risk of them sinking into the pie, I can make lots of decorations and use the prettiest, I can make little support nests of tinfoil for 3D decorations.

Grandma’s crispy bottom crust might have worked because older gas ovens have fierce bottom heat (this is also why cakes were infamously tricky). As jocelmeow says, try the bottom rack. Insanity Rose suggests the actual bottom of a gas oven IIRC (!!)
posted by clew at 4:44 PM on November 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

Agreed that the leaf cut-out plan you have sounds fine. Don't put cut-outs in the middle of the pie at the beginning of baking; they'll sink (see here).

The more shortening your pie dough has, the less distortion you'll get on your cut-out shapes, but in order to really prevent unpleasant changes in the oven, I would recommend that you (1) Roll the dough out thinly. The thicker it is to start out, the more it will puff up. (2) Smooth out the edges of your cut-outs with a paring knife so the edges look nice and crisp, not ragged. When I didn't do this, my cut-out shapes turned into fuzzy little blobs in the oven, but with smoothed-out edges, they still looked good after baking. And, as with all pie dough, (3) Keep the dough cool and chill it after cutting it out.

As far as sogginess goes, it looks like your instructions already say to bake on a preheated baking sheet on the bottom rack, which is the first thing I'd do to prevent sogginess. A couple of other things I'd check are whether you've confirmed (with an oven thermometer) that your oven temperature is what it should be, and what kind of pie plate you're using. Heavy ceramic tends to produce soggy crust.

If all of that is in order, you might consider trying a different dough recipe. It looks like this dough has a somewhat low ratio of fat to flour (about 4.8 oz of butter/shortening vs. 6.25 oz flour). By comparison, my favorite recipe has 10.5 oz fat (butter/cream cheese) vs. 10 oz flour, and this popular recipe has a 1:1 ratio of butter to flour. The extra fat helps to sort of waterproof the dough and prevent sogginess, so I would try a higher-fat recipe (in a non-ceramic pie plate) and see how that goes. Of course, at this stage you may not want to risk trying something new, but you could experiment with it in the future.
posted by LNM at 5:47 PM on November 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

I like glass pie pans so I can monitor the crust.
posted by clew at 8:01 PM on November 26, 2019

The leaves in the photo were almost certainly baked separately and placed on later. Don't stress out trying to do baking magic.
posted by zennie at 8:34 AM on November 27, 2019

Hi, just to clarify, I have done my pumpkin pie like this every year for 10? 12? years. I use egg wash to apply the leaves around the edge, then after they are firm but before they brown too much, use a pie guard. If they’re firm enough it will be fine (I guess maybe contingent on your pie guard not being some weird configuration). You might not even need the guard. Applying the leaves afterward and getting them to stay put would be challenging!

The ones for the middle of the pie I bake separately. I’ve never tried to put them on the filling but I’m sure it would be a disaster. Also I use a Pyrex pie pan because it is definitley superior for browning.
posted by HotToddy at 10:06 AM on November 27, 2019

I have also done this for years. For the edge of the crust, I just firmly attach the leaves with water and have never had a problem. I use a Pyrex pie pan and an aluminum pie guard from start to finish. For the leaves to place in the center of the pie, I bake those separately in a toaster oven and place them gently but firmly when the pie is almost cool. Good luck!
posted by at 10:46 AM on November 27, 2019

Y’all, I’m pretty freaking proud of this pie. Thank you so much for your help!
posted by Weeping_angel at 5:00 AM on November 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

« Older What happend to the President's Volunteer Service...   |   New job, same awkwardness: Is it me? Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments