Press On

Conquer pie fears by making crusts you pat in the pan

November 21, 2007|By Elinor Klivans | Elinor Klivans,Special to The Sun

There is no debate about Thanksgiving dessert. It is pie. Not one pie either; our annual feast calls for at least two or three. And that is the dish that can cause high anxiety for even experienced bakers.

You can't blame the easygoing pie fillings; they usually only need to be stirred together or require some fruit to be peeled. It's the crust that inspires fear, and there is no getting around it - every pie must have at least one crust.

For years, I was a member of the fearful pie-bakers group, until I took the proverbial bull by the horns or, in this case, by the pie pan. I reasoned that if thousands of good pies and their crusts could be made every Thanksgiving, I could bake them, too.

Crumb crusts were one option, and these worked well for my cream pies. But fruit and nut pies needed a traditional crust. To further the challenge and make the crust super-easy, I also decided that my crust would eliminate rolling.

The solution was to mix my favorite butter-cookie recipe to a crumb stage, rather than to a smooth dough. The crumbs could be dumped into the pie pan and simply pressed onto the inside of the pan. Eureka! I produced tender, buttery crust after buttery crust and joined the fearless group.

For my cream pies, I still prefer crumb crusts that are made from cookie crumbs. Store-bought chocolate wafers, graham crackers (cinnamon or plain), gingersnaps and plain shortbread cookies are all good choices for these crusts. It's simple to crush the cookies into crumbs with a rolling pin or to process them in a food processor. Even easier is to use the boxes of graham-cracker crumbs that can be found in supermarket baking sections. Add melted butter and any desired spices to the crumbs, press them into a buttered pan, bake for about 6 minutes and the crumb crust is ready to fill.

Press-in crusts are made from a crumbly butter-and-flour mixture that is usually sweetened. Chopped or ground nuts or grated citrus peel are other flavor options that can be added to the crust mixture. These crusts can be mixed with an electric mixer or stirred with a large spoon.

Press the crumbs of dough evenly into the baking pan. Although the unbaked mixture may look as if it barely holds together, baking melts the butter in the mixture and a tender, solid crust forms.

Some crusts, such as those for a pumpkin pie, should be partially baked before you add a filling. Prebaking (also known as "parbaking") produces a crisper crust that remains separate from the filling. Drier fillings, such as apple, generally do not need prebaking.

I prefer shiny metal or ovenproof glass pans for baking pies. Ceramic or ovenproof stoneware pie pans are another option. I find metal and ovenproof glass pie pans will bake pies evenly and at the same oven temperature and require about the same baking time. If a pie pan has a dark finish, the best plan is to reduce the baking temperature 25 degrees. Watch the pies carefully at the end of their baking time.

Dark metal pans do not reflect the heat as shiny metal pans do, so crusts can darken or burn quickly.


Press the dough into the pie pan to fit the pan without pulling or stretching.

If the dough tears or develops a hole, repair it by pressing scraps of dough onto it.

When you're pressing the dough into the pan, it often collects where the bottom of the pan meets the sides. Use the side of your thumb to press extra dough out of this crevice and up the sides.

Once the pie dough is pressed into the pan, fold the overhanging edges under to form a smooth edge. If you're using a butter crust, you can crimp the edge by pressing the edge of the dough between your thumb and forefinger in a pattern.

Have leftover dough? Sprinkle scraps with sugar, bake along with the pie in a separate pan, and use for snacks.

[Elinor Klivans]

Butter Crust

-- Makes 1 crust for a 9-inch pie; serves 8 to 10

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup cake flour

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) butter, at room temperature

1/4 cup sugar

1 large egg yolk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 9-inch pie pan.

Sift both flours, baking powder and salt into a medium bowl. Set aside.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter and sugar until smoothly blended and lightened in color, about 1 minute. Mix in the egg yolk and vanilla.

On low speed, add the flour mixture, beating until it is incorporated and small crumbs form that hold together if you take a small clump and press them together.

Transfer the crust mixture to the pie pan. Press the mixture evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan, dipping your fingers in flour if the dough sticks to your fingers. Check to see that there are no holes.

Refrigerate for 30 minutes or overnight.

Elinor Klivans

Per serving (based on 10 servings): 197 calories, 2 grams protein, 12 grams fat, 7 grams saturated fat, 20 grams carbohydrate, trace fiber, 51 milligrams cholesterol, 70 milligrams sodium

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