Pie-Baking Tips

Dessert, Recipes
on November 11, 2007
Mark Boughton Photography / styling by Teresa Blackburn

Before stepping into the kitchen to make Sour Cream Raisin Pie, we decided to telephone P.J. Hamel at the King Arthur flour company in Norwich, Vt., for pie baking tips. Hamel, senior writer and editor, has been at King Arthur for 17 years and during that time has baked hundreds of pies. She swears by every recipe that comes out of the King Arthur test kitchen and has been known to bake a single pie six times before she’s satisfied. “We do the legwork for people,” she says.

Our primary interest in making the call was to talk about Sour Cream Raisin Pie, an adaptation of the Pennsylvania Dutch Raisin Pie called Funeral Pie, served at funerals, and a Midwestern custard pie with sour cream.

As often happens when the subject is pies, the conversation quickly turned to making flaky crusts, a perennial problem for even the most experienced home bakers. To make a flaky crust, it helps to understand what happens when a pie bakes. The fat, which is cut into the flour, coats the flour. As the fat melts, the flour forms flakes or layers, and the spaces left by the melted fat separate the flakes. To prevent the fat from melting before the flour network has a chance to set, the fat should be cold. Cutting the fat into pea-size pieces and chilling the crust before baking also promote flakiness. Cooks have been so intimated by warnings to avoid adding too much water, they don’t add enough and end up struggling with dry and crumbly mixtures that are impossible to roll. Hamel recommends adding the amount of water called for and an extra tablespoon. If the pastry is too moist, the flour on the rolling board will absorb the extra liquid. Hamel has one last tip. Don’t cut into a hot pie, she says, it will be “a lava flow.”

—By Jean Kressy, a food writer in Ashburnham, Mass.

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