Pie Dough for Dummies — Top Tips for the Doughaphobic

Acrophobia, claustrophobia, doughaphobia. I have successfully faced the demons of the first two phobias but am embarrassed to admit that leading into my 47th Thanksgiving, I was still doughaphobic. I’ve alluded to this debilitating anxiety in previous posts (How Did Bubbe Bake It – Part 1) and now feel that if you are all to take me seriously as a food blogger, I must face this phobia head on. But not alone. No, Cheryl Sternman Rule of the beautiful, witty, and wonderful blog 5 second rule and my very own dormant chef (aka hubby) have been right by my side either literally or figuratively. I am happy to share with you today that while I am not cured, I have faced the pie crust and did not let it crumble me.

First crust texted to Cheryl for approval

So for all of you who dialed the emergency Marie Callender’s 911PIE number for Thanksgiving instead of creating your own pie at home, here are the top tips for pie dough novices and those suffering from an acute case of doughaphobia. If you have been asked to bake pies for Christmas and haven’t slept since the request came in, read this post. You can do it. For those of you reading this who are pie crust experts already, please just head straight to the comments section and leave us your favorite tip or words of encouragement. It’s part of our 10-step plan to beat this lingering fear.

Pie Dough for Dummies Recovery Plan:

Step One in the recovery process is to get advice from an expert so here are Cheryl Sternman Rule’s invaluable answers to my questions and top tips she shared with me:

1. Can I make the dough a day before and refrigerate it?

Cheryl says: Absolutely! You can even do what I’m going to do this year, which is make it the weekend before, roll it out, line the 9-inch glass pie plate with it (do not deviate here — make sure it’s 9-inches*, and shallow, and glass. The cheap Pyrex ones from the supermarket are fine!), then wrap it in a double layer of plastic/foil and freeze the whole crust/plate combo. I might put a piece of parchment on the dough so the foil doesn’t stick. Take it out of the freezer the night before and put the whole thing in the fridge to temper the glass so you’re not putting a rock-solid frozen pie crust and plate directly into a hot oven.

OR, just make the dough a day or two before, refrigerate it, and roll out and bake it the day you need the pies.

2. Is there a trick to getting the pie dough to cook appropriately for pumpkin pie or will it cook up fine as the filling cooks. i.e. is there any need to pre-cook the dough?

Cheryl says: Many pie crusts do have to be “blind-baked” – in other words, par-baked with nothing but heavy beans or pie weights before you add the filling. This pumpkin pie does not. To ensure a properly baked crust, bake it on the bottom rack of the oven. The lowest one! The glass pie plate ensures thorough baking, too. Do not deviate, or you will be punished. (I deviated – read on). Check the pie about 15 minutes before it’s scheduled to come out, and cover the edges with a little foil if they’re getting too dark.

3. If refrigerated overnight, how long should the dough sit out of the fridge before you roll out and how will you know if it’s too cold?

Cheryl says: If the dough is too hard to roll, it’s too hard to roll. That sounds stupid but it’s true. If I’m in a hurry, I whack it with my rolling pin to make it malleable enough to roll out, but the smarter thing to do is probably to leave it at room temp for just a few minutes. I’m guessing the whacking compresses the layers in a way that’s not optimal, but I figure, hey, I’m rolling it out anyway, how much additional harm could I really inflict?

4. Roll out your dough on a very well-floured countertop or board, then use a pastry brush to lightly brush off excess flour.

Bench scraper and pastry brush - two must-haves for combating dough anxiety

5. Invest in a bench scraper if you don’t have one. They’re cheap.

6. COURAGE! (repeat this to yourself as you make the dough)

I used the recipe that Cheryl recommended in her pie post: Emily Luchetti’s pie dough recipe from Classic Stars Desserts on page 290 (Pie dough with water)

To buy the book, click here .

Step Two in the recovery process is to give it a try yourself (repeating the word COURAGE the whole time). Here are some useful tips I learned when I made the first two batches of dough.

A doughaphobic’s top tips:

1. Cut up butter ahead of time and put in fridge so it’s ready to go. Using chopsticks to put the butter in the mixer works great if you know how to use them.

Butter cut into 1/2 inch cubes ready to go before turning on mixer

2. Have ice water ready before you start the mixer.

3. Do not take eyes off mixer once you put butter in – the transformation into pea-sized pieces happens all of a sudden – you can hear a change in the sound of the mixer as the transformation is about to happen. So stand by the mixer and watch and listen!

Butter cubes put in mixer and ready to go

Butter mixed in to pea-sized dough pieces - can hear sound of mixer change as this happens

Close-up of pea-sized dough pieces

4. The 10 seconds in the recipe to mix in the water is very precise.

Water being mixed in for 10 seconds

Water completely incorporated into dough mixture

Finished pie dough balled up on beater

5. When you form the dough into a 5-inch disk to refrigerate, don’t work dough, just roughly form it and get it in the fridge.

Pie Dough ready for refrigeration

I hope baring my baking sole and revealing my phobia will give more of you courage to try this yourself at home. And when you do, let me know of your success because really, if I can do it, you can too!

*Note about the the 9” cheap glass pie dish:

Turns out that it was not easy to buy the 9″ cheap Pyrex pie pans around Thanksgiving. I went to 5 stores – 2 Targets, Nob Hill, Safeway, and WalMart. All the individual glass pie plates were 9.5″. But what’s worse, is that they don’t give you the dimension for depth and there is, of course, a big difference between a 9.5 inch pie plate that is shallow or deep. So my first attempt at purchasing at Target when I was in a rush resulted in a 2-pack of 9.5″ pie dishes that are deeper than normal. So the first time we made the pumpkin pie filling to test one out, it only went halfway up the sides (and I guess we were lucky the dough fit up the sides!). Quickly, we made another half recipe of filling but obviously the cooking time totally changed.

Then I bought two more pie plates that were still 9.5 but shallower. I made another batch of dough and filled the shallower 9.5 inch pie plates – they work fine. Since Thanksgiving, I’ve seen Anchor Hocking 9” pie plates in the grocery store. So perhaps the supply is replenished but be careful what you pay for :-). Depth and diameter matter!

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18 Responses to Pie Dough for Dummies — Top Tips for the Doughaphobic

  1. Stephanie M at Together In Food December 22, 2010 at 8:58 am #

    Great post offering humor on a potentially fearful topic! I love the Tartine cookbook’s flaky tart dough recipe; it’s been foolproof for me. It uses more water than many recipes but is, indeed, flaky and tender every time. I also prefer a food processor to mixer.

    • omgyummy December 22, 2010 at 3:22 pm #

      Hmmm – food processor. Will give that a try, although I have taken a liking to my mixer of late. It’s located in a great spot in my kitchen on a pull-up shelf and I love pulling it out and putting it back (not a good reason to use it but if it gets me baking, it’s all good). This is the second time today someone has recommended the Tartine book – will have to add that to my list. Thanks for the tips!

  2. Jun Belen December 22, 2010 at 9:04 am #

    Two Thanksgivings ago, Dennis and I made our very first pie dough. OK, it was more like Dennis made his first pie dough while I watched. I’ve always felt intimidated by it. This year when I made my pumpkin pie from scratch I still asked Dennis to make the dough for me. I’m going to try to bite the bullet and make my own from scratch on Christmas Eve. Wish me luck!

    • omgyummy December 22, 2010 at 3:19 pm #

      Courage, Jun, Courage. In case you didn’t notice the man’s hands in the rugelach post, go take another look and you’ll see that dormant chef is doing all the dough work. I’m still in recovery, not fully recovered. But when we made the pumpkin pies, I really did it all by myself from the mixer to the rolling out. My rolling out was not fabulous but use a lot of flour and then the pastry brush to get the excess off and you’ll be fine. Good luck and report in on your success!

  3. Cheryl December 22, 2010 at 10:14 am #

    So glad the tips were helpful and that your foray into the terrifying underbelly of the pie world was a success. Let me know when you’re ready to conquer croquembouche.

    • omgyummy December 22, 2010 at 3:15 pm #

      How did you know I was planning on serving croquembouche for dessert at my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah in February? NOT! But if I ever hallucinate long enough to believe I can create one of those baking works of art, you’ll be the first one I’ll call. Thanks again for all the help.

  4. rebecca December 25, 2010 at 7:53 pm #

    wonderful post so helpful for folks bet your pies are amazing

    Merry Christmas Rebecca

  5. Sunflowerdiva December 29, 2010 at 9:23 am #

    Thanks a lot for the tips, and for the funny post. :) Happy New Year!

  6. Mommyof2Girlz/Steph January 3, 2011 at 11:24 am #

    Hey SITStah, thanks for popping by today…loving your blog! And yes I am a doughaphobic but have always wanted to give it a try, with your post maybe I will now..yay..lol.

  7. dramaqueensmum February 6, 2011 at 12:14 pm #

    I need to get 1 of those mixers. Someday. We don’t have the counterspace for it. I’ve never made homemade pie crust.

  8. Carlo/Carlo At Your Service Productions March 1, 2012 at 10:49 pm #

    Glad you could do it. I too doughaphobic!
    Ain’t that a shame? For me it;s like, why bake it when you can just buy it?
    Although, truth be told… We all know that there’s nothing like homemade.

  9. Kris Piatt November 10, 2012 at 4:18 am #

    I’m still working on overcoming my ‘fear of baking’. Watching an old Julia Child & Co. rerun this summer (on PBS for Julia’s 100th birthday) on making a French Apple Tart (not to be confused with a Tarte Tatin) I became inspired. I bought myself a hand-made maple French rolling pin and felt empowered. We grew and harvested our own apples for the applesauce base and sliced apple topping. I found a ‘butter-free’ pie crust recipe on Epicurious using beer, oil and baking powder that was workable (with the addition of small amounts of salt & sugar). I repeated, in French of course, “Courage” and… “Voila”, a tart I was proud to serve!

    kp in Boston

    • Beth November 11, 2012 at 5:20 am #

      Hi Kris – So glad you stopped by and what a great story! Pie dough w beer and oil and baking powder and you made it work. Though after taking the tour of the North End w you and hearing your endless food knowledge, I am not surprised.

      But there is just something about baking that is a bit daunting, even for those of us skilled in savory preparation. The more you try, the less scary it becomes. I just wish I had more time to practice.

      I just started reading “Dearie” – the biography of Julia – nice read so far and so fascinating. She is still such an inspiration to so many of us. I grew up watching her on PBS – a strong memory from my childhood.

      For more inspiration, consider downloading Dorie Greenspan’s cooking app – Baking w Dorie – it’s worth it just for the video of her making a Tarte Tatin (not French Apple Tart). The excitement in her face and voice when she succeeds in taking it out of the pan, is just delightful. She is, by the way, just as lovely in person, as she appears in the videos.

      Thanks for stopping by – look forward to staying in touch.

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