How to use a Rolling Pin to Produce a Proper Pie Shell

Rolling out a crumbly, well-flaked, scrumptious pie-crust-to-be begins with a specially-prepared, clay-textured ball of dough that can be flattened by a rolling pin of choice to and cut into ribbons for upper crust latticed effect.

Many a cook indulges in the baking of pies at times. The process is not difficult to learn, although the methods in widespread use for making and rolling pie crust dough differ considerably. The finished crust can turn out tough, crumbly, soggy, or crispy. And when it comes to rolling, it’s a delicate and often lengthy process that involves some degree of chilling. 

Refer to a favorited recipe for recommended proportions of ingredients. These are available online from a host of cooking sites, from cookbooks that offer selections of pie recipes, from many a cooking magazine, and sometimes featured in newspapers of every sort.

To begin with, you’ll need to be sure that the pats of fat used have been chilled so that they will be physically distinguishable in the mixed dough ball. This consideration goes hand in glove with the idea behind mixing biscuits, that much being not to encourage the gluten content of plain flour to ply into globules and toughen in sheets. Pastry flour may be used as a low gluten substitute for plain flour.

• Undisturbed gluten must be treated with attention to its nature. 

— Of course, when making bread, getting gluten to fan out becomes desirable for the patina that results from its protein texture. 

But in the making of pie crust, the only layers of value consist of buttery, delicate, and crisp.

— In the case of yeast bread, the aim is for a soft, spongy loaf full of carbon dioxide induced holes that do not even come close to resembling crispy layers. The outside of a loaf of the bread will be hard, crispy, and chewy. Chewy describes the toughness of the exterior loaf that comes directly from the gluten. Conventional bread crust is anything but delicate!

These layers come from pockets determined by the unblended fat solids. Although some cooks differ in their strategy of how pie crust consistency shall be produced, a representative sample would agree that pats of fat are essential for producing a pocketed effect in the crust, and they would also that chilled water is also essential.

Another stage of preventing taxing of the gluten requires chilling the ball of dough for about 20 minutes. This renders the dough to become as cool as practical to press. This cooling effect helps prevent the gluten from oozing around and blending. The fat will also be inclined to induce layers in the dough by being in two areas of concentration: one, blended with the flour; and two, pocketed in the rolled-out pie shell. 

While cooking, the fat will be bubbling out against its other pockets with the flour trapped in-between.

• When mixing the dough, whether by fork or by food processor blade, avoid homogenization. There should be pea gravel sized chunks of cold shortening or butter in the dough in each stage. The first stage of blending, commonly performed with a dough blender or pastry blade, essentially prepares the fat to melt around lesser pieces. The second stage of the mixing incorporates cold fats. And the third stage incorporates chill ice water to achieve the necessary rolling consistency. It’s important to use the least amount of ice water that achieves a malleable, clay-like ball.

King Arthur Flour recommend that the ice water stage consist of fork mixing that results in something of a mix of loose clods and butter peas. Specifically, the mix should be transferred to a plat of parchment paper and pressed together until it sticks, ice watered if necessary. At that point the dough should be folded on top of itself, gently, no more than four times to establish layers. That means not forcing it together but rather working with loose but sticking dough. Stretching is free.

Here’s what Pillsbury Baking has to say on the importance of mixing dough: “The ingredients are mixed just enough to hold together, but not so much as to break down the pieces of shortening (or other fat) entirely. In the oven, the water in the bits of shortening turns to steam, pushing up the floury dough and creating tender, flaky layers.”

Once in balled form, the delicately amalgamated proportions will be capable of promoting flakiness in the baked crust or pie. As such, it should be rolled so that you won’t have to ball it up and roll it again. The more you work with it, the tougher its crust may be expected to bake up.

Now press dough reserved for each pie layer, bottom and/or top, into discs of four inch diameter, situate on a plate with wax paper in-between, cover with reusable elastic food cover(s), and chill from one hour to two days. Some cooks will use food grade plastic wrap. Once thoroughly chilled, it’s soon time for rolling.

Choose your rolling pin according to the degree of precision control that it affords in terms of shaping. Some chefs recommend using a tapered rolling pin for this reason. 

Chilling the dough does not make it any easier to roll fresh out of the fridge. But having sit out a few minutes, the moistened gluten shall have relaxed and will roll out without resisting once it warms enough to work with. It is ready to roll once a finger leaves a print without sinking into the dough. Some cooks avoid using flour in the rolling process by using a greased surface, such as an oiled pastry cloth. Other cooks recommend using only a light amount of flour, and still other cooks say to use as much flour as facilitates the job. Who to believe?

Advice to minimize the use of flour means, in effect, to avoid rolling any excess of flour into the dough mass. Otherwise, use a practical amount and brush off any excess with a basting brush.

To roll the dough, a flat surface provides the essential consideration, while a marble slab is preferred because “the stone does not retain heat,” according to pastry chef Nicole Weston at Baking Bites, a most highly-regarded, famed top food site on the Web. She recommends a pie crust bag for rolling a sure 14-inch pie shell, a handy kitchen accessory that zips closed and lets the dough be formed to fit.

But going the traditional way, the proper way is to roll out gently from the center of the disc of dough in thirds and then to continue rolling out as if at odd quarters of an analog clock’s hour hand. Better yet, rotate the dough disc by hand and flatten away. A dough scraper on standby can be helpful for flipping the disc occasionally throughout the process. At this point, it will be clear that texture of the dough disc so much matters and that the chilling process has made the dough more elastic and less “crumbly.” Some cooks will add a tablespoon or two of vinegar or lemon juice prior to combining to improve the elasticity, while others sprinkle on vodka. This is not necessary once comfortable with the regimen.

The traditional alternative consists of putting the dough disc between two sheets of wax paper, or parchment paper, that won’t stick to the dough and that also preclude use of flouring its surface. More modern cooks will also employ silicone to roll out the disc, although some are not fond of silicone residues and won’t use the stuff unless it has been thoroughly neutralized. 

Once rolled, transfer the dough to its reserved pie dish by folding into quarters and unwrapping at the plate or pan. Now it’s up to you how to present and form the outer edge. Remember, only pie shells slated to be pre-cooked before filling need to be pricked.

A pie is a wonderful thing to bake. Rolling out the pie shell is not difficult with a presentably malleable disc of dough and should consist of solid pieces of butterfat or other, satisfying fat. The structure of the dough disc, unblended but rather concocted into a layered mass of potential scrumptious layers of crust, presents positive feedback on the dough rolling process by revealing textured layers along the way. The dough is rolled back and forth, turned, and flipped with a minimum of handling. Any excess of flour used is brushed off to discourage a tough crust. Then the final rolled disc goes into the pastry dish, to be gilded as it please the cook. Preparing a  pie shell probably isn’t easy without these pointers. But you can have a tasty and well-textured pie once attention to the proper details meshes with the aim for the flaky, crisp crust that you wanted right from the start.

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