Baking Basics

Everything You Need to Know About Par Baking

By • July 18, 2014 • 12 Comments

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We should all have a solid command of the ABCs of baking. Thankfully, Food52's Test Kitchen Manager Erin McDowell -- alongside photographer Sarah Stone, who both blog at The Shutter Oven -- is here, with tips and tricks to help you master the most essential desserts and the simplest breads.

Today: How to bake perfectly crisp, golden crusts -- plus two new ways to fill them.

Par Baking Pies

Alright, you’ve mastered the how-tos of mixing your pie crust. Now comes the pie-related question I am asked more often than any other: How do you handle baking? And a lot of this comes down to par-baking.

Par-baking, also known as blind-baking, is the process of baking a crust before filling it. Sometimes it's quick -- around 15 minutes -- just to ensure a crisp bottom crust before adding a filling and baking some more. Other times, the crust is fully baked because the filling doesn’t require baking (think coconut cream pie). Par-baked pies are some of my favorites because they can take a lot less time to put together

How and when you decide to bake your pie can depend on a whole host of variables, but here are a few essential pie crust rules I like to live by:

  • Start with cold dough. Yes, I sound like a broken record, since I've already mentioned this at least 10 times, but that’s how important it is. Roll out your dough when it’s nice and chilled; once you transfer it to your pie plate, chill it again. 
  • Use a glass pie plate. I always recommend this for pie crust beginners or folks who still struggle with getting that crisp bottom crust. Glass conducts heat well and -- best of all -- you can see through it. Which means no more guessing if your crust is golden on the bottom.

More: Everything you need to make the perfect summer pie. 

Piercing Crust with a Fork

  • Once your dough has chilled in the pie plate, pierce the base of the dough with a fork. I usually make 5 to 8 piercings; no need to go crazy.
  • Use pie weights. First, cut out a square of parchment paper that is slightly larger than your pie plate. Place it, centered, over the dough, and fill the cavity with pie weights (ceramic reusable ones, a metal pie chain, or just plain ol’ dried beans will work). The weights should be strong enough to hold the parchment paper in place and prevent the crust from puffing up. When using beans or ceramic weights, I usually fill the cavity about 1/4 of the way. 

Pie Weights  

  • Bake at a high temperature. I start (and often finish) all of my pies at 425° F. This causes the water in the butter to evaporate, which creates steam, which creates a light and flaky crust. If the oven is too cold, the fat in the butter just melts, making your crust bake and brown unevenly. It also causes that dreaded shrinkage that can occur when the crust droops down from the lip of the pie plate.
  • And don’t be afraid of over-browning! Many pie beginners are so afraid of over-cooking or burning their pie that they under-bake it instead. But browning is good! A brown crust is a crispy, flaky crust. A pale crust is a soggy, chewy crust. 
    • If your crust is browning too quickly or too much, start it at a high temperature, then reduce the temperature to 375° F after 5 to 10 minutes. (This goes for all pies.) If just the top of the crust is getting too brown, you can tent it with foil. 
    • If you’re still struggling to get a crisp bottom crust, try using a baking stone. Preheat the oven with the baking stone in the center rack, then place your pie on the baking stone. The stone will help regulate your oven temperature and ensure the bottom of your pie is getting golden brown and crisp. If it’s browning too much, you can always move the pie to another rack to finish baking. 
  • When do you par-bake a pie crust? Well, that depends, and the power is really in your hands. I tend to par-bake a lot of my pie crusts -- even fruit pies with double crusts! I find that the first initial baking time really helps ensure a crisp bottom crust. Now, if you are making ten pies for Thanksgiving and you don’t have time for all that, that’s okay too -- this is about finding what works for you and how you like your crust to turn out. 

Par Baking Pie CrustPictured: Raw dough, partially par-baked crust, and fully par-baked crust.

  • To par-bake a crust that will be baked again later: Bake at 425° F until the crust just begins to brown (it will still be pale, but it should not look like raw dough. See the middle circle, above). This time may vary based on your oven and your pie plate, but should take around 15 to 20 minutes. Cool the crust completely before adding the filling and returning the pie to the oven.
  • To par-bake a crust that will not be baked again later: bake at 425° F until the crust begins to turn golden (17 to 20 minutes). Remove the parchment paper holding the pie weights, and continue to bake until the crust is evenly browned and looks crisp (above, right), about 5 to 10 minutes. 

Egg Wash

  • Use an egg wash. This will keep your crust from getting soggy after you fill it. Simply brush the base of the crust lightly with an egg wash when it comes out of the oven, then return the pie to the oven just to set the egg, about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Egg whites work best here because they don’t have the high fat content of yolks and therefore won’t brown, but I tend to have regular egg wash on hand, so I usually just use that.
  • For fruit pies that are made ahead of time, the crust can still get a little soggy as it sets (even if everything is followed perfectly). My best advice is to reheat the pie on a baking stone. Start it at 425° F, just to ensure the baking stone is hot, then lower the oven temperature to 375° F and bake until the pie is heated through. The baking stone will re-crisp the bottom crust just in time for you to slice that bad boy and top it with ice cream.

Once you’ve got a handle on par-baking, you can master the incredible ease of the cold-filling pie. My favorite examples are ganache, whipped cream, and some kind of seasonal fruit, or the ever-popular ice cream pie. Try my recipes, or go crazy and make your own -- the sky is the limit!  

Chocolate Cherry Pie

Chocolate Cherry Pie 

Makes one 9-inch pie

For the crust:

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold butter, cubed
3 tablespoons ice water, or more as needed

For the finished pie: 

2 cups dark chocolate, chopped
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 quart cherries, pitted and halved
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons superfine sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

See the full recipe (and save it and print it) here. 

Chocolate-Caramel Ice Cream Pie

Chocolate-Caramel Ice Cream Pie

Makes one 9-inch pie

For the crust:

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold butter, cubed
3 tablespoons ice water, or more as needed

For the finished pie: 

1 1/2 pints chocolate ice cream
2 cups caramel candies, unwrapped
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons superfine sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

See the full recipe (and save it and print it) here. 

Photos by Sarah Stone 

Jump to Comments (12)

Tags: how-to & DIY, pie, baking, summer, par baking, blind baking, pie weights, dessert, crust

Comments (12)

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4 months ago Horto

how do you deal with par baking for fruit pie that you want to add a top crust?
i would think the edge will burn…during the second bake

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5 days ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

I always cover the upper edge with foil or a silicone ring designed for this purpose, before putting it in the oven to blind bake. ;o)

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4 months ago Sara S

I have the same probem as Pastryology with shrinking crusts.
Is is safe to put a pyrex pie plate on a baking stone?

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4 months ago erinmcdowell

See my comment to Pastryology below - the main culprits here are butter content, temperature of dough, and temperature of oven. If your dough is based on a solid ratio, the dough is well chilled (firm to the touch), and the oven temperature is high (425), you should experience less shrinkage!

Stringio

4 months ago Zachary Conrad

I can't seem to par bake for quiche or custrads without having them leak out the bottom of the crust. Tips?

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4 months ago erinmcdowell

Perhaps you're rolling your dough too thin, causing rips or tears in the dough that the custard sneaks through during baking. Try rolling your dough a little thicker (1/4-1/2 inch). If you don't notice the holes until after you par-bake it, you can patch the holes with egg wash or egg whites - brush generously over the holes and bake until the egg is set.

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4 months ago Laura415

Love the tip about egg white on the crust. I was told to do the egg white wash on raw pie dough before filling and baking. I think it still helps. Any protein barrier will help the crust resist sogginess. A layer of almonds thinly sliced will also make a great barrier in a fruit pie. I don't often par-bake but maybe I will after this.

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4 months ago erinmcdowell

Great tip - I think you're right about the protein barrier!

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4 months ago Catherine

Thx for a great post. I have had pies where it tastes like there is a thin, crispy layer of sugar between the bottom pastry and the filling. It tasted great. Do you get this by sprinkling sugar on top of the egg wash and heating at high temp? Or mixing sugar with the egg wash?

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4 months ago erinmcdowell

Hi Catherine, I'm not entirely familiar with what you're describing but it definitely sounds like a great idea. I'd try a pie crust doing just what you described above: sprinkling a thin layer of sugar over the bottom crust before par-baking at 425. If you give this a try, please keep us posted!

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4 months ago Pastryology

I have a terrible time with shrinking crusts that creep away from the edges of the pie plate like receding glaciers. I chill the dough after forming it and before rolling it. I often freeze it for 20 minutes before blind baking. And they still shrink. Any tips you can offer?

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4 months ago erinmcdowell

The most likely culprit is that your dough has too much fat in it. No matter how well chilled the dough in the pie plate is, if the ratio of fat is too high, it can cause the butter to melt before it can properly produce steam in the oven, making your crusts shrink. I would try making sure to chill the dough at every step of the process for at least 30 minutes, then make sure it chills well inside the pie plate until it is entirely firm to the touch. Then make sure to bake it at a high temperature - a lower temperature will cause the butter to melt rather than produce steam as well!