In this world, there exists such a thing as perfect bakers. You know, people whose desserts always look like they were sent to hair and makeup on their way to the table. People who never, ever panic when their Swiss Buttercream seems to turn into a curdled mess. People who just "whip up" some cinnamon rolls on a weekend morning.
I covet the ease and confidence that these people possess. Though I am an experienced baker, I still get a wee bit intimidated when making certain things: scones, sourdough bread, anything that moms specialize in.
And pie—especially pie crust.
I have become semi-comfortable making pie crust by following the two golden rules: use cold ingredients and don't overwork the dough. If I'm extra worried about impressing people, I'll blend the butter and flour in the food processor. Otherwise I just snap the butter in with my fingers because I like the feel of it, working quickly, hardly breathing until the ice water is added and the disk of dough is chilling in the fridge. Then I roll it out just as quickly, sending a little prayer up to the butter and flour gods while I work.
My pies usually turns out perfectly okay. Sometimes they turn out excellent. Sometimes not. I make pie an awful lot (birthdays, holidays, Sundays, thank-you-for-fixing-my-oven-days), and there have been many struggles and failures, typically regarding the crust. Maybe it was too crumbly, too sticky, or too dry. Maybe this has happened to you, too. And through trial (many trials) and error (many errors), as well as a healthy dose of internet research, I have found some tricks to help fix pie crust woes, both before and after they're in the oven. And I transfer my wisdom to you.
Here's how to fix your pie crust problems if...
If your pie dough breaks and crumbles when you try to roll it out, it's probably too dry. This is a relatively easy fix. Just sprinkle some cold water over the dough with your fingers and work it in—gently!—until the dough comes together. If your dough gets too warm, send it back into the fridge to chill out. When you take it back out, it should roll more easily.
First of all, did you transfer the pie crust to the pan using the rolling pin method? To do this, put your rolling pin slightly to one side rolled-out dough circle, then fold the dough over onto it. Lift the pin and carefully move the hanging dough over to the pie pan. Lay the rolling pin in the middle of the pan and unfold the dough, then press it in. It's so much easier than attempting to pick it up with your hands, which will only result in pain and disappointment.
Whether you used the rolling pin method or not, a broken dough needs fixin'. The good news is you can camouflage tears relatively easily. After you've molded your crust into the pie pan, use the scraps you pinched off of the edges to patch up any cracks, smoothing the seams with your fingers. If the tears are on the top crust or the edges, sprinkle on a little bit of sugar to camouflage any imperfections. Press it lightly onto the crust and bake.
If you pull a pie out of the oven and the crust has shrunk and hunched onto itself, it's a sign that you didn't let it rest before baking. Letting the dough rest is key because it allows the gluten to relax so that it doesn't seize up and retract on you later. This is why most pie experts will advise you to not only let your pie dough chill before rolling it out but to let it chill in the fridge for 15 minutes or so before baking, too.
You can't fix a shrunken crust after the fact, but you can definitely camouflage it with some whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon or chocolate shavings. Or just serve the pie already sliced and plated, so your guests can't see how much it shrunk in the pan. No big.
Easy! Just bake it some more. To ensure a bronzed, shiny crust, I like to give the pie a quick brush with eggwash before sending it back into the oven. Make sure your oven is hot enough: 425° F or 450° F is ideal. Just set a timer first so that you don't end up with a burnt pie.
If your pie crust is tough instead of tender and flaky, you probably either overworked the dough or added too much water to it. There's not much to do in this situation but plate up a slice and throw on a scoop of ice cream. Don't sweat it: You'll do better next time.
There are a couple reasons you might have been a victim of S.B.S. (Soggy Bottom Syndrome). Maybe you needed to par-bake your crust. Maybe your filling was too liquidy. Maybe you were watching "Oh Brother Where Art Thou?" while baking.
This is a tricky problem to fix, but hope is not lost. If it's a fruit pie, try putting it back in the oven for a few minutes on the very bottom rack, thus putting the underbaked bottom closer to the heat source. If it's a custard pie, don't try to re-bake it; you risk compromising your lovely filling. Instead, scoop the insides into a glass serving dish and top with cookies or whipped cream. Looks, it's a trifle! That's totally what you intended all along, right?
In the future, there are a few ways to avoid S.B.S.:
If you're extra worried about soggy crusts (maybe you've had some bad experiences in the past), you can sprinkle flour on the crust before adding the filling, or even brush the dough with a beaten egg.
Whole pecans can cost an arm and a leg (unless you have a pecan tree in your yard!), so it's a real bummer when they turn mushy and soft in your pie. To avoid this, toast your pecans before adding them to the syrupy, sticky filling. Not only will it fortify them against sogginess, it will also bring out their lovely, nutty flavor.
More: Vegan pecan pies deserve toasted nuts, too.
Oops! You baked it too long. It's best to take pumpkin pie (and sweet potato pie, and cheesecake pie) out of the oven when just shy of completely set. About five minutes before the prescribed baking time is up, gently jiggle your pie. When the only part that moves is a 1-inch circle in the middle, it's ready. The residual heat of the pie will carry it through.
Now you know better for next time. If you're worried about being judged for your cracked pie facade, you can camouflage it easily. Top your pie with crumbled ginger cookies, cover it with a facemask of whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon, or layer on some softened apples. You just made your pie even better.
First question: Did you let your pie set at least thirty minutes before cutting into it? You need to give the filling a little bit of time to settle in before slicing, or all of the fruit's juices will runneth free. If you did wait and your filling is still too liquidy, then, unfortunately, there's not much to do to fix it. Pie shake time!
In the future, if you fear your fruit filling will end up a little wet (this is especially common with juicier fruits, like berries, especially if they are frozen), add a tablespoon of cornstarch before baking to thicken things up. Heads up: Adding cornstarch will make the filling a little bit cloudy. If this concerns you, invest in some tapioca starch instead, which dissolves clear.
If your pie is fruit-filled, you can always scrape the filling into a baking dish, top it with a quick buttery crumble made with whatever's in your fridge, and bake it until it's bubbly. Or make a speedy press-in olive oil crust, which never fails you. Or just cover the whole thing with so much whipped cream and ice cream that no one notices. Or just pour more wine.
After all, it's just pie.
Do you have more pie problems? Shout 'em out in the comments -- we'll put our heads together and see if we can come up with a solution!