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Pie Techniques

The foundation of a stellar pie is an excellent crust. At Thanksgiving, expectations run especially high. That's why we've created this foolproof guide for every baker.
Martha Stewart Living, November 2009

If the thought of using a rolling pin makes you anxious, try our easy press-in piecrust. If you're practiced but not a pro, try our intermediate version, made with a wonderfully forgiving dough. 

And if you'd really like to impress, go for our advanced pie, topped with decorative pastry cutouts. There's something here for all levels -- and all appetites.


Easy 

Pumpkin Pie with Press-In Shortbread Crust 

Our satiny, fragrant pumpkin filling finds a perfect partner in this sweet shortbread crust, which is easy to make. Because the dough isn't rolled out, you don't need a rolling pin -- just a mixing bowl and a spoon. Press the buttery crumbs evenly into a pie pan, and then bake the dough briefly before adding the custardy pumpkin filling. The finished crust is crisp, cookielike, and sophisticated.

Intermediate 

Pecan Pie with Cream Cheese Crust

A combination of butter and cream cheese produces a forgiving piecrust that's supple and a joy to roll out. The cream cheese gives the crust a lovely tang that pairs well with the rich pecan-and- butterscotch filling. The simple fluted edge is a traditional finishing touch.

Readying the Ingredients 
Cold ingredients are essential to a flaky piecrust. Measure all the ingredients, cutting the butter and cream cheese into small cubes, and then refrigerate everything (including the flour and salt) for 30 minutes before you start.

Making the Dough 

Avoid overmixing as you cut the butter and cream cheese into the flour mixture. The dough is meant to be a bit crumbly, with pieces ranging in size from coarse crumbs to about 1/2 inch, all evenly coated in the flour mixture.

Using Plastic Wrap 

Wrapping the crumbly dough in plastic compresses the ingredients while protecting the dough from warming under your hands. Before chilling it, flatten the wrapped dough with a rolling pin. The plastic will prevent the dough from sticking, so there's no need to flour the work surface or pin.

Trimming the Edge 

Use kitchen shears to trim the edge of the dough. They'll make a cleaner cut than a knife. Once the edge is trimmed, turn it under. If the dough warms as you work and feels a little floppy, chill it in the refrigerator for 10 to 20 minutes before fluting the edge.

Fluting the Crust 

Work your way around the crust, pinching the dough between two knuckles to flute the edge. Too much handling could soften the pastry and damage the tender layers, so take care not to overwork the dough.

Advanced

Apple-Blackberry Pie with "Fall Leaves" Pate Brisee 

An all-butter pate brisee is the pinnacle of pie-making, rewarding bakers with a golden and delicately tender crust. Filled with sweet, jammy blackberries and tart apples, and then topped with a forest of pastry leaves, the piecrust is an impressive accomplishment worthy of the season's most important meal.

Pulsing the Dough 

A food processor offers a quick way to make the dough. Just be careful not to overprocess, which can result in a not-so-flaky crust. Pulse just until the bits of butter are evenly coated in flour, with pieces ranging in size from coarse crumbs to about 1/2 inch.

Adding the Water 

Strain the ice from the water. You may not need the entire 1/2 cup, so start by adding 1/4 cup water. (Too much water can lead to a gummy crust.) Pulse the dough, and then pinch it with your fingers to test. If the dough just holds together, it's ready. If not, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and pulse.

Rolling Out the Dough 

The keys to rolling out this buttery dough are to use as little flour as possible and to keep the pastry moving so it doesn't stick to the work surface. Always roll from the center out, lifting and rotating dough a quarter turn as you go.

Making the Leaves 

Cut out leaves using one leaf cookie cutter or an assortment of shapes. Working on parchment paper, use the dull edge of a small knife to score the leaves and create veins, taking care not to cut all the way through the dough.

Filling and Topping the Pie 

Arrange the filling so that the fruit lies in a snug, even layer; this way, the top crust won't buckle as the fruit cooks and shrinks. Dot with butter, and arrange the leaves on top, brushing on the egg wash to help them adhere to one another. Work from the outside in, leaving some open spaces among the leaves for filling to bubble through.

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