Okay, spill it - what's the secret to rolling out a pie crust?

I just put my second ever homemade pie crust in the oven (containing a lemon Shaker pie.) It looks better than my first pie crust, but not by very much! I suspect it will hold together better, but I ain’t counting on it. I’m working from both Baking with Julia and The Pie and Pastry Bible, but this specific crust comes from the second book.

I’ve tried rolling on a floured board. I’ve tried rolling in a plastic bag or between two sheets of wrap. It sucks! At least this time it wasn’t impossible to remove in a pie-sized sheet like last time, think I got the moisture right, but it cracks all over the place, it rolls out little pseudopodia, I couldn’t even get it to roll until a long time after 10 minutes sitting out as per directions, etc. My arms hurt like hell! And when I put the top crust on, it split in two thin places and my pie was already leaking before it even hit the oven.

Is there a secret besides practice?

I buy the ready-mades – all I have to do is let them get to room temperature and unroll them. :slight_smile:

Which goes against what my grandma told me about pie crust. She said it has to be rolled out on a cold surface, and if you don’t have a cold surface, you need to use a cold rolling pin. I’ve seen some glass ones that can be filled with cold water.

Grandma made hers with lard. She swore by lard for the best pie crust.

The secret is to get really good at patching tears.

Things that help:

[ul]
[li]Cold cold cold. Buy a marble table and set a block of ice on it for a while first. Although, if you can afford a marble table, just have a servant roll it out for you. (My mom inherited a marble table, so I’ve been spoilt.)[/li][li]Use a pastry cloth.[/li][li]If you use Saran-type wrap, cold cold cold.[/li][li]Practice: the more quickly you do it, the less it will tear.[/li]Get really good at patching tears.[/ul]

And to add to the cold tip, if you aren’t already, refrigerate the pastry while you assemble the filling. Pull out cold lump o’ dough, and continue with lissener’s instructions.

Butter, Crisco, or lard? If it’s cracking, might be too much flour. And what kind of flour are you using? What are your weather conditions, as in heat, humidity?

One trick that might help is to roll between sheets of parchment paper.

The first one I tried was mostly butter with some Crisco. This one was butter and cream cheese. And everything was coldcoldcoldcold - I followed the directions to a tee, froze the butter for half an hour, even froze the flour, mixed it last night and stuck it in the fridge to use today. Everything went fine with that part, it’s the “today” part that went only so-so. It’s been very hot and dry here, if that makes a difference. When come back tomorrow morning I’ll bring pie and see how it tastes. (The good part about making the ugliest pie crust on god’s green earth is that everybody knows Mrs. Smith didn’t make that bad boy.)

Cooking is an art, baking is a science.

I noticed that rolling out the crust tends to widen any cracks that were already there, so I try to make sure they never get started in the first place.

The recipe I use is from How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman. After mixing the ingredients, I separate the dough into two lumps (for the bottom and top crusts) and gather it into a ball with my hands. (Time is precious here, don’t want it to warm up to much.) I get it as round as I can, pressing and gently kneading any cracks until the surface is smooth and unbroken. Put it between two sheets of plastic wrap, press it down to a disk about 5 inches across, tuck the edges of the plastic under the disk, nice and snug, and then try to form it into the best circle I can (a perfect circle, even thickness, and no cracks around the edge). Put it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

When I roll it, I always put the pin down across the center of the disk and roll to the edge, changing direction every time. I’m even getting better at keeping it circular as I roll it out, so I don’t waste too much, but damned if I can explain it.

I’m gonna try a puff pastry one of these days.

If it’s got cracks all over it, then you don’t have the moisture right. Add more water, or less flour. You might have to add more water than the recipe calls for until you get your technique right.

My wife swears by these tips: http://www.hormel.com/templates/knowledge/knowledge.asp?catitemid=112&id=814

Third or fourth the flour problem. Pie crust should be a “short” dough that picks up needed flour in the rolling process. Takes practice and patience.

I roll my dough on a marble pastry board (much cheaper than a marble table) with a Silpat on top of it. Those two things help immensely.

People say I make great pie crusts. Here are some things I’ve figured out:
-I’m a skeptic about the cold cold cold thing. When I do it like that, it tends to be a pain pain pain to roll out. It may be that you can’t get truly spectacular crusts without the ingredients being freezing, but you can get pretty great ones that are crumbly and crisp at the same time. Wait on temperature until you have the basic technique down.
-Don’t follow the recipe’s advice for the amount of water to add. This’ll be your downfall every time, given what a difference the ambient moisture makes. Instead, add water a tablespoonful at a time until the dough just starts to come together.
-Moosh the dough together tightly before you try to roll it out. Don’t knead it or anything, but try to moosh it so that it’s really a coherent mass and not just a bunch of barely-acquainted crumblets. Also, get it into a roughly circular shape before rolling it out.
-Be moderately generous with the flour on your rolling surface. As others mentioned, the dough should be wet enough that it can pick up flour during the rolling.
-Frequently give it a LIGHT dusting of flour across the top to prevent the rolling pin from sticking to it.
-Roll with a light touch, switch directions frequently. You want to entice the dough to forming a crust, not bully it into crust shape.
-If everything works, my favorite way to get the crust into the pan is to use a spatula to roll the crust up into a scroll, pick up the scroll, and unroll it into the pan. I get better results and fewer tears this way than any other.

Daniel

About the only tips that I can give for pie crusts are to use crisco, use ice water, and fold the round in quarters when transporting to the pie dish and unfold it when in place. You will still get cracks or holes occasionally and have to do some sealing and mending, doesn’t seem to be a way around that.

I use a slight variation on my Mom’s recipe, by the addition of a tablespoon or so of sugar, which isn’t even really a recipe, because I don’t follow a recipe- it’s basically just about a “scoop” of crisco (around a half cup) “forked” into about 3-4 cups of flour or whatever amount looks right, one or two tablespoons of sugar, a dash of salt, and ice water drizzled in a little at a trime until the dough is the right consistency (the amount of water is always variable.) I try to knead the dough as little as possible and roll immediately with a generous dusting of flour (no refrigeration). It’s hard to work with sometimes, other times it’s easier depending on humidity and a hundred other variables… tastes great, however and is very flaky.

Actually that’s probably more like 2 1/2-3 cups of flour but how would I know, I don’t really measure it.

I haven’t tried this recipe in particular, but I’ve never had an Alton Brown recipe go awry.

Check out this episode of Good Eats.

For additional cold, cold, cold, you might try saving a wine bottle with fairly vertical/straight/parallel sides. Save the cork, too. Half fill the bottle with ice water, cork it, and refrigerate it while you assemble and chill the pastry dough. I roll pie crusts on a small marble table that I picked up cheap. Instead of just flouring the surface, I use a blend of flour and cornstarch. And, instead of a rolling pin, I use the ice water wine bottle.

As a professional baker I make a lot of piecrusts from scratch, and all I can say it it takes practise, practise, practise.

I roll on a well floured surface. I shape the crust into a thick disk, then start rolling it out. The rolling pin I use is not the ordinary small one, but the big heavy kind.

The recipe is very simple. I work by weighing the flour though, not measuring by volume.

5-1/3 ounces (2/3 cup) shortening 48 ounces
7-1/8 ounces (1-3/8 cups) flour 64 ounces
80 ml (1/3) cup) cold water 3 cups
1/3 teaspoon salt 3 teaspoons

The larger ingredient amounts are what I make at work. The smaller I pared down for home use. The shortening is cut into the flour, along with the salt. I pour the cold water over it, then mix it in as quickly and lightly as possible.

Verdict - awesome pie crust, terrible pie. I followed the recipe for the filling exactly but it came out way too tart. Maybe if you smothered it completely in ice cream it would be edible - I’m not going to bother, I just brought it in to work with a “take some!” sign.

Definately my best crust to date, but I think it did have a moisture issue.

Ever notice that grandmas always make the best pies? That’s because it takes that long to learn to do it right.

Ooh, I didn’t even notice that you were doing a Lemon Shaker pie. I made that one from the Pie and Pastry Bible once. I wouldn’t call it terrible, but it definitely wasn’t my favorite: it’s pretty damn sour, and the use of whole lemons is kinda weird (for those that haven’t seen it, the pie’s filling is mostly thin slices of unpeeled lemon).

Daniel