Pie Dough 101 + Simple Apple Pie

October 31, 2009

Apple Tart
I think an apple pie is one of the first things I baked when I got an oven. I used a pie dough recipe from a nondescript local book and didn’t pay much attention to baking blind (we will get to this shortly). Back then, this was an unnecessary step that the naïve me thought I could do without. I didn’t know the technique behind it, nor the importance as I had only begun exploring the hows and whys of baking.
Apple Tart with Mascarpone Cheese
After poring over my favourite books and reading up quite a bit on the subject of pie dough over the years, I have come to understand them a little better. I love how Alice Water has been so descriptive through every step – you should probably buy The Art of Simple Food just for this chapter, if nothing else.
I don’t believe that there is THE pie crust recipe and that just that one recipe is absolutely foolproof, because with pie, it’s more about the technique and timing – at the end of it, it’s flour, butter and liquid put together.

Butter, Apples and a Tart ready for the oven

Making a pie crust isn’t such a nightmare for me as prepping seafood but here are some pointers I have grown to live by:
  • The refrigerator is your best friend. Start with chilled or frozen butter and keep putting the dough into the fridge in between steps. In fact, refrigerate everything – the ingredients and the pie dish. Especially when you’re living in a warm place.
  • Work with the ingredients quickly. They must, must, must remain cold at all times. A pastry cutter works beautifully, but a food processor or a KitchenAid will do things much faster. Or at least I’d like to think so because I just love my KitchenAid.
  • Use ice water. Not water with ice in it, but ice with water. I fill the measuring cup with ice cubes and then add water until it reaches the rim of the cup.
  • Don’t add in all the liquid at one time. The amount you need will vary depending on the humidity. It will also be a lot lesser if you’re adding an egg yolk to the pie crust.
  • A wet dough it better than a dry one that will crack while baking – add water a tablespoon at a time. If it falls apart like sand, it is too dry. Remember, it will get drier in the oven.
  • I like to add an egg yolk for its golden hue; it also prevents gluten development resulting in a tender crust.
  • I’ve read good things about vinegar additions in the pie dough. I have yet to try it from the recipe in Molly’s book – A Homemade Life, but vinegar is supposed to prevent gluten development (awesome for bread, but not for the said pie we are about to bake) and help achieve the much coveted texture.If you have, let me know!
  • Butter or shortening? They say using shortening yields a more flaky crust. I use all butter because I’m just biased. I’d like to try lard to, but I don’t have access to any.
  • Can you see the butter in the dough? That’s your answer to a flaky crust. It’s as simple as that. When you see the butter, you are assured of flakiness. Why? Because the dough will envelope the butter and form tiny pockets, and with heat, the butter in these pockets will melt and pie crust will puff up with the steam (same principles as puff pastry). Flaky crust!
  • I prefer using metal pans as opposed to ceramic ones to achieve a crispier crust and for an even crispier base, place the pie pan on a pizza stone or a thick baking sheet.
  • If I want a crumbly crust, I simply press the dough into the pie dish. And for a flaky one, I roll out the dough.
  • After watching how easy is to roll out the dough (thank you Rachel Allen), sandwiched in a clingfilm, I’m a fan of the method. You won’t even need flour for dusting. Also, when you’re rolling out the dough, it should feel a little tough to roll out. This way you know that the butter is absolutely cold. 
  • Once rolled out, peel off the upper sheet of cling film and gently invert the rolled dough into the pie dish. Again, be gentle.
  • After transferring the dough into the pie dish, first press the dough into the dish and then trim off the edges. Otherwise you will end up with shorter edge. Yes, I’m talking from experience. Also, correctly fitted dough stays put when it is baked and doesn’t shrink. Crimp the edges if you want it to look a little fancy.
  • Baking blind is important. It will dry the surface of the crust and help maintain the texture when baked again with the filling. Another nifty trick I picked up when watching Rachel Allen Bake was that she’d brush the inside of the pie after its partially baked with a beaten egg and pop it into an oven for another few minutes. This seals the pie and gets you another step closer to a non-soggy base.
  • To blind-bake, after fitting the rolled out dough into the pie, place a piece of parchment in it and fill it with beans or pie weights. More than that I love this tip from Dorie Greenspan – you should butter the inside of the pie crust, before placing a piece of foil and beans for blind baking. Yay for extra butter!
  • While baking blind, if you think the edges are browning quicker than you think, wrap some aluminium foil around it.
  • When to bake blind? Rule of thumb: for fruit and liquidy fillings bake blind.
  • Add your own tips in the comments and share what you think is absolutely necessary to achieve that perfect crust!

Now go on and bake your favourite pie!

Apple Tart
Pie Dough
Minimally adapted from: Dorie Greenspan
Yield: 9 inch single crust
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
2 tbsp caster sugar
1 ½ stick butter
1/4th cup ice water
1 egg, beaten
  1. In a bowl, stir the dry ingredients together.
  2. Add the pieces of cut butter into this and either cut with a pastry cutter or food processor until the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs with a lot of larger pea sized chunks of butter as well.
  3. Add the water a spoonful at a time until the dough holds itself together without being too dry.
  4. Transfer this to a Ziploc bag and put it into the refrigerator for an hour or the freezer for a little lesser time.
  5. Butter a 9 inch pie dish and pop it into the freezer as well.
  6. Now roll out the dough between two sheets of cling film. Transfer to the pie dish, press into the dish and refrigerate it for another 30 minutes or until it has firmed up. Poke some holes into the crust with a fork.
  7. While the pie crust is chilling in the freezer, preheat the oven to 400F/200C.
  8. Butter the shiny side of the foil and stick it tightly to the crust. Fill with dried beans and bake for 25 minutes.
  9. If the crust has puffed up then push it back down with the back of the spoon. Now brush this with some beaten egg and pop it back into the oven for another 5-7 minute minutes.
  10. Let this cool before filling it in with anything. Remember, this is partially bakes. for a fully baked pie crust, pop it back into the oven for another 10 minutes or until golden in colour.
Cinnamon Apple Filling:
4 granny smith apples – peeled, cored and sliced
4-5 tbsp sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp butter
  1. Sprinkle 2 tbsp sugar and ½ tsp cinnamon on the base of the pre-baked pie crust.
  2. Arrange the apples in a concentric fashion starting out on the edge and moving inwards.
  3. Sprinkle the top with the remaining cinnamon and sugar. Dot with a little butter.
  4. Bake the pie for 15-20 minutes until the apples look like they’re done.
  5. Glaze with some jelly + water mixture for a shiny look.
  6. Serve with whipped cream or mascarpone cheese. YUM!

{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

1 mona October 31, 2009 at 1:28 AM

Oh my, that looks so good!

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2 Wicked Good Dinner October 31, 2009 at 7:34 AM

I'm a big believer in adding an acid – lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, or even vodka. The acid helps the fat interrupt the form of gluten. One teaspoon for a single crust seems to do the trick.

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3 Shwetha October 31, 2009 at 8:09 AM

Amazing looking pie! Love how you've captured all the flakiness and the caramel-ly apple slices. So rustic and delicious. The dough looks so neat and well cut out.
The 101 was fantastic. Oh by the way! my oven's here – so I'm going to be churning out all the recipes that I've bookmarked!:)

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4 Heidi October 31, 2009 at 8:13 AM

I must admit, pie dough scares me, but my daughter and I love to bake pies, and my husband loves to eat them. In the past we've succumbed to pre-made crusts, but I'm going to give yours a try. Thanks for the tips!

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5 Danielle October 31, 2009 at 6:50 AM

Great tips!! As an avid pie-crust baker, I totally agree with each one of them, and would add that a stainless steel rolling pin will be your best friend too. Some friends got a Bodum version for us recently and its now my go-to kitchen tool for pie dough. You can keep it in the refrigerator and take it out whenever you need it. Helps keep the temperature down, especially if you live in a hot climate :)

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6 Nags October 31, 2009 at 6:54 AM

awesome tips! i am yet to get a pie dish, the kind that has a removable bottom (don't know if it has any other name!). once i do, i am going to try quiche and pumpkin pie :)

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7 Marie M. October 31, 2009 at 1:28 PM

How wonderful! I've just been checking blogs for apple tarts. First, The Pioneer Woman Cooks, then Smitten Kitchen. I was checking out your Roasted Garlic and Onion Jam earlier and came back to read more. Found exactly what I'm looking for. Kismet.

One question. It's not quite clear to me — you first bake the crust — or rather, pre-bake — then add the apples and stick it back in the oven?

Thanks,
Marie M.
San Francisco, CA

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8 Lebouffe October 31, 2009 at 8:08 PM

Wow.. I dont know if I can manage this in this lifetime! -Naina

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9 Angie October 31, 2009 at 7:17 PM

What a great tutorial! The last time I made a pie I was thinking, I should put an egg in here, or at least the yolk. I am definitely doing it next time. Great recipe. I started using different alcohols instead of water for flavor and supposedly less gluten. Like applejack for apple pie.

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10 The Purple Foodie November 1, 2009 at 12:11 AM

Thanks, Mona!

oh Danielle, that's a nice tip! stainless steel will keep everything so nice and cold! But something that's been on my wishlist for a bit is a marble rolling pin!

Nags: Pumpkin pie is something I've neen curious about but haven't come around to doing so…

Wicked Good Dinner: thanks for your feedback. Will surely try his recipe.

Shwetha: Thank youuuu! great news that your oven's on its way! :d

Heidi: I'm won't deny i being intimidating, but you will love homemade so much more

Marie: like said in the post, for fruit and liquidy fillings, you need to partially bake the crust. so yes, you're right – bake the crust, let it cool, add the fruits, before popping it back into the oven. Hope this helps! Let me know.

Angie: Thanks! I think I must try vodka or something the next time around.

Le-Bouffe: hha! give it a shot, you will wonder why you didn't make them when you do

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11 Tina November 1, 2009 at 7:40 AM

What a perfect fotos yaar…Pie looks perfect in shape and presentation…Never tried any pie…Yummy.

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12 Anushruti November 1, 2009 at 8:47 PM

That's a great post Shaheen and with useful tips too.

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13 Bergamot November 2, 2009 at 6:48 AM

Looks just perfect and simply delicious. The pie crust is neat so is the way you layered the apples… All even sized, neat and in a swirl…Amazing!!

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14 Madame Sucre November 2, 2009 at 2:10 PM

very helpful tips Shaheen!!.. I never tried to blind bake the pie before.. maybe this time I should..

my tip of rolling out the dough is to place it sandwiched between two sheets of parchment paper.. makes life easier…

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15 The Cooking Ninja November 2, 2009 at 1:33 PM

Great looking pie. My MIL make this all the time n it's simply delicious with a scoop of ice cream.

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16 bethany (Dirty Kitchen Secrets) November 2, 2009 at 4:48 PM

Such a great post with so many wonderful tips! Thanks for breaking it down for us! I will definitely refer back here next time I make a pie. (soon i'm hoping xx!)

And FAB PHOTOS!

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17 Ingrid November 3, 2009 at 12:13 AM

Thanks for all the great tips! Some of which I knew many not at all! With that said can I just have a slice of your pie?
~ingrid

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18 Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction November 3, 2009 at 7:04 AM

Beautiful apple pie… and great tips on pie dough. My pies usually don't end up looking real great, so I will definitely keep your tips in mind next time around!

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19 nandini November 4, 2009 at 7:09 PM

what a lovely looking pie!. Great tips too!. I completely agree that there is no 'the recipe' for a pie crust. I got mine after several failed attempts… but yours is going to be a great resource for first timers!… The carmalised apple looks so tempting. wish i could take a bite!.

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20 Amanda November 4, 2009 at 7:33 PM

What a fabulous post and such gorgeous pictures!!

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21 The Purple Foodie November 6, 2009 at 2:27 AM

Thank you, all! :))

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22 Kitchen Butterfly November 16, 2009 at 2:25 AM

Looks great…though I'm more of an Apple cake woman than pie. Yoghurt batter in buttered and almond meal sprinkled tart tin, spread of thinnly sliced apples and sprinkling of chopped pecans, finished off with some large sugar crystals…baked and served warm or cold. With custard, creme-fraiche or justa cuppa. Perfect for sundays and every other day

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23 Maitreyi August 8, 2010 at 7:10 PM

loved the steps you’ve listed shaheen ! and the cling film trick is my new mantra while baking pies. The apple pie was so quite simple to make and just scrumptious !! awesome recipe! though I was wondering if possible, could you write a post on quiche ? I absolutely love quiche but just can’t find the perfect recipe to make them..

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24 Lael Hazan September 14, 2010 at 4:44 PM

What a fabulous tutorial! The pictures are great and the steps are clear! Pie making is daunting and you’ve created a method that is doable. Thank you, I will be making this with my kids!

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25 Lori @ RecipeGirl September 23, 2010 at 8:32 PM

This is one beautiful pie, and so easy to do. I’ve got a pie contest coming up… Hmmmmm!

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26 Sara September 23, 2010 at 8:49 PM

Your Apple Pie looks absolutely Divine!!! I want some right now!!! :) thank you for the recipe!

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27 debi November 1, 2010 at 4:14 PM

hey shaheen,

i was this close (imagine my two finger sticking together:)) to calling you for i am about to make pie tart today.. scared as hell as not sure how it will turn out!! My heads overhauling with all the tips and now i feel i have to step the brakes of imagination adn start on the dough, i have been procrastinating this for long as am utterly scared of disappointed tart crusts (if any) hehe!!

just one question- once i fill the pie crust with dried bean, should the whole thing (along with the beans) go into the oven?? or do i keep standing outside for some time and then dispose the bean and then push it into the oven. or dispose the bean when removing it to brush it with the egg?

thanks in advance,
Debi, Bangalore! :)

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28 The Purple Foodie November 6, 2010 at 2:54 PM

Hi Debi!

You should have called! I’m so sorry I didn’t reply sooner. Things had been pretty hectic then.

Yep yep, the whole thing goes into the oven (With the beans) since the dough rises when being baked because of the inherent fluffing up property of wheat flour and because tiny chunks of butter make steam pockets in the pie dough, and it rises.

You can reuse these beans for pies/tarts in the future so don’t throw them away. Once they are almost baked, remove the beans, brush with egg wash and pop it back into the oven.

Shaheen

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29 Hima November 19, 2010 at 2:56 PM

Thanks those tips are helpful.

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30 mama drama November 23, 2010 at 4:24 PM

Hi!

I tried your chocolate tart recipe, but after chilling in the freezer the crust hardened up, even 5 hours after taking it out of the fridge it was still hard.
Everyone still chomped (literally) every slice down, though, it was really rich and yummy.

Any ideas what I did wrong?

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31 Kajal November 25, 2010 at 1:29 PM

love the details! awesome job with the tips too! :)… i am an ardent fan of tarts and i dunno if this will help, but i use cream when mixing the ingredients instead of water. and it comes out nice!

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32 Rosemary January 21, 2011 at 4:57 PM

My apple pies the past few years have not been good……the apples turn to mush and that to me is just not right ?? What am i doing wrong….Thanx so much

Rosemary

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33 The Purple Foodie January 27, 2011 at 9:10 PM

I’m guessing it has got to be with the apple you are using – granny smiths stay firm after cooking.

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34 new baker March 7, 2011 at 1:39 AM

hey! question- are granny smiths the same as the golden apples you get in the fruit shops in mumbai?

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35 The Purple Foodie March 8, 2011 at 1:47 PM

Hey new baker, no, granny smiths aren’t the same as the golden apples.. they are green and are labelled granny smiths.

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36 Angela Harden May 3, 2011 at 5:06 AM

God Bless You!!! Thank you for the tips!! That pie is absolutely gorgeous!!! Will def try the Blind Bake thing :)

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37 Pamela Gordon June 28, 2011 at 10:59 AM

I would like to try out this recipe…could you tell me how much in gms/tbsp/cup measurement is 1 1/2 stick of butter…in s.India you can’t gauge a stick of butter as its differently packed…are there any videos on your website where you demonstrate your recipes…would like to try out a low sugar chocolate cake…all the best with your recipes….they seem so simple and easy…..

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