As home cooks, we rely on our instincts, our knowledge, and our curiosities -- but we also have to rely on our tools. Which is why we're asking the experts about the essential tools we need to make our favorite foods attainable in our own kitchens.
Today: Our test kitchen manager and resident pie wrangler Erin McDowell explains that when it comes to pie tools, it's about quality, not quantity.
The thing about pie is that it’s super simple to make, which means that there aren’t many tools required to pull off the perfect slice. The few tools you do need, however, make all the difference in the world.
Here are the essentials:
1. Mixing bowls
I like to use a medium mixing bowl with decent depth so that I don’t splash flour out of the sides as I mix. Glass bowls are great because they’re easy to clean and they’ll stay cool while you mix. If you have a set of nesting mixing bowls and you like mixing your dough by hand, like I do, you can place a medium bowl inside of a larger one filled with ice to keep the ingredients chilled as you mix.
More: Bye bye, pie phobia! With Erin's help, you can make the perfect crust for every filling.
2. A canning jar
Since the level of hydration in pie doughs varies based on all kinds of factors (room temperature, type of flour, temperature of ingredients), most recipes call for an estimate of the amount of cold water that will be necessary. I like to put a lot of ice and a little bit of water into a wide mouth canning jar. I then use a tablespoon to scoop the icy water onto my dough. While this is neither required nor conventional, it will save you from running back and forth to the sink. Smaller jars also come in handy for storing any extra pie filling.
3. A great rolling pin
You can use any kind of rolling pin that works for you (back in my college days it was usually an empty wine bottle), but a French pin does wonders for pie dough. It applies even pressure and offers the baker a lot of control. Another thing to look for is a nice, long pin: There’s nothing worse than having to roll out pieces of the dough in batches. Not only is it a pain, but it makes it difficult to achieve an even thickness.
More: Your foolproof rolling pin deserves a foolproof pie dough.
4. Pie plates
I like glass, ceramic, and metal pie plates, and I usually choose between the three materials based on the type of pie I’m making. I always recommend that people have at least 2 pie plates: You’ll be grateful when the holidays roll around and you’re taking fancy pies to parties. Having multiple plates also means that you can invest in different sizes, depths, and materials to ensure you have a choice when making your next masterpiece.
5. Pie weights
You can survive using beans, but if you’re a serious pie baker, you’ll love having a pie chain or a set of ceramic weights. They’re reusable, simple to clean, and easy to use.
6. Help with fruit prep
I hate kitchen gadgets that only do one thing, but I can’t live without my cherry pitter and my apple slicer. When I’m making pies, I’m making a lot of them; the amount of time these tools save me is totally worth the space they take up in my kitchen drawers.
More: No cherry pitter? No sweat. Here's how to hack one.
7. Dough scraper
While I don’t actually use this in the actual preparation of the pie, it’s 100% essential in cleaning up. One quick scrape collects the excess flour and sticky pie scraps that are lingering on my counter after rolling my dough.
More: Alice Medrich gives 4 more reasons to keep a dough scraper in your kitchen.
And that’s it! For a simple dessert (crust plus filling), you only need simple tools. Then again, a nice pie server wouldn’t hurt either.
What items do you count on to make the perfect pie? Share your go-to tools with us in the comments below!
Photos by James Ransom