Will Pie Weights Solve My Shrinkage Problem?

6 years ago


Do you see this?

How the edges -- which when I crimped them practically had hospital corners -- sag like the wattle of an aged and melancholy rooster?

How the sides have crawled down and away from the pie plate as if the crust were a teenager and the plate its embarrassing mom?

How a panicky and ill-conceived last-ditch effort to sandbag the foundations with dough trimmings halfway through blind baking created a sinister snake of gluten coiled around the plate?

This is what happens when you rely on beans as pie weights.

I have never been a kitchen-gadgety type, and never considered pie weights investments. Why buy weights, I asked myself, when I can hold my crust in place with dried beans? Multitaskers! Energy-efficient! DIY!

And then I asked myself something else.

The question was, "What's for dinner?"

And the answer was, "Beans."

And here's what I now know: Pie crust requires a heaping mound of dried beans to weigh it down properly..

A scant handful of dried beans -- however delicious the rest of those beans may have been, pressure-cooked with a sprig of epazote -- scattered a top a single sheet of foil atop your dough during parbaking, and you're talking shrinkage problem.

If you're reading this and going, "Gluten snakes? Bean pie? Blind whatting the what now?" -- here's the science: Most single-crust pie crusts need to be parbaked (also known as prebaking or blind baking). You whip up your crust, roll it out, press it into the pie pan, crimp the edges, press a sheet or two of foil or parchment on top to keep the crust clean, and pile weights in there. This keeps the crust in place while it firms up enough in the oven to stand up by itself. Forgetting to weigh the crust down, or weighing it insufficiently, and your dough puffs up quickly then shrivels into something that looks like it was made out of Play-Doh by your three-year-old niece.

Lots of people use beans, or beans and rice. Good Eats and Sweet Treats uses "old socks filled with rice." Others opt for chains.

Weights that conduct heat evenly are best for crust, say the science geniuses at Cooks Illustrated, so metal or ceramic should work well. The geniuses recommend using pennies, but even with double layers of foil, I found I just couldn't put pennies on my pie. So I trotted off to the store and bought some ceramic pie weights, and then I made this:

Not perfect, but not pathetic, and that's what I'm looking for in a pie: "Not pathetic."

Other crust shrinkage preventers

  • Freeze before blind baking -- I did this. It does help, but it's definitely not a shrinkage cure-all.
  • Dock (baker's term for "poke holes in it") crust several times with a fork after blind baking -- I didn't do this (at that point it was clearly too late, though it might have served well to kill the gluten snake and/or put the entire crust out of its misery).
  • In Perfecting Pie Crust Katie of Pinch says to just spray the shiny side of a piece of foil with nonstick spray, press it firmly into the dough and bake. Sounds too good to be true, but I'm going to try it.

What techniques do you use to avoid crust shrinkage? And what does the Crust of Fail remind you of? (I have a feeling it's as good as a Rorschach.)

Note: Yes, I did bake today -- I made a buttermilk pie, and I'll tell you all about it tomorrow here on A Month of Pies (aka NaBloPieMo).

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