This post originally appeared in the November 7, 2022 edition of Movinga place where Eater’s editors and writers reveal their professional dining recommendations and tips – sometimes thoughtful, sometimes bizarre, but always someone to do. Subscribe now.
A few years ago, on a random boring Sunday, I walked into my kitchen and decided to learn how to bake a pie once and for all. I was already a dedicated baker at other things, but pies had always terrified me. Might as well be scared! How cold should the butter be? When did I overwork the dough? How much water is too much water? Why can’t I unroll a perfect circle? And why, when this thing goes in the oven, could I ever get the perfect crispy, flaky base? I was determined to get to the bottom of my fear and overcome it.
I would be lying if I said that everything went well and that years later I am a top notch pie expert with no notes. But I will say that after I decided to get better at pies, I started to absorb little tips and tricks. I learned that Sister Pie uses apple cider vinegar in its batter; Claire Saffitz laminates hers like pastry; Petee’s first dissolves the sugar and salt in boiling water. Most importantly, I learned from baker and cookbook author Erin Jeanne McDowell (whose latest book, Salty cooking, came out in October) that her pies hit that coveted crispy bottom because she bakes them on a preheated baking steel. “I love using something on my oven rack to help conduct the heat and make sure I get a crispy bottom crust,” she told the strategist. Dozens of pies and three years later, I can tell you, this is the most important pie tip I’ve learned on my journey. Blind baking on a baking steel means, as a hobby baker, you can say goodbye to soggy bottoms.
First, some definitions: blind baking or partial baking is the act of pre-baking a pie crust before filling it; blind baking generally refers to baking a pie crust completely before loading a crust with a pre-baked filling (such as custard or ice cream); partial baking usually means that you only partially bake the pie crust before filling it with something that needs to be baked (like in a fruit pie). And a baking steel is a thick piece of steel that conducts heat from your oven, transferring that heat to whatever you put in it (like a pizza or a pie plate). Blind baking on a baking steel means that the bottom of your pie crust will receive more direct heat than the air circulating room temperature of your oven. Any baking steel will do (I have this one) – just make sure it’s on the middle shelf of your oven and you preheat it for at least 20 minutes, but preferably longer, before loading your pie dough.
Different recipes recommend different temperatures and times for partial or blind cooking, so follow the recipe you’re working from. Then, once you’re ready to pre-bake or blind-bake your crust, spread it into your pie pan as you normally would, line it with pie weights, then place this pan either directly on steel or on an aluminum cooking plate. sheet on steel. (As McDowell points out, don’t place a ceramic or glass pie plate directly from the freezer onto the steel, to avoid the risk of cracking. You can avoid this by baking in an aluminum pie plate.) Bake until until your pie crust is golden brown – just keep an eye on it and adjust as needed. For example: do a shorter pre-bake if you’re making something like an apple pie, because you don’t want it to be overcooked before you start that extra hour in the oven while the fruit cooks.
The brilliance of the technique is that if you’re going to bake your pie crust (at least partially) ahead of time anyway, the addition of the baking steel pushes your crust to a crispier, firmer texture, which is impervious to more liquid fillings. Adding a baking steel is like an insurance policy against a wet, gummy pie base. You will find that once your crust is baked on a steel rack, it will come out perfectly flaky and golden. Your pie will be ready for whatever you want to garnish, easy to cut and serve, and no one will be able to see your inexperience (or your nerves). Once you conquer that fear, the world is your pie dish.