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I have a few rolling pins in my kitchen. I have a tapered pin, made of maple, that my mother used to make her apple pies—when she made actual pies with crusts instead of apple crisps. She got two identical pins from her mother, who got them from hers. My younger brother has the twin—he makes more pies than I do. I also have a gorgeous and silky smooth straight pin made from a combination of walnut and ash, handcrafted by a woodworker friend. I have a very heavy, professional pin, with ball bearing in the handles, left over from my bakery. And I have a skinny little pin—only 13 inches long and less than an inch in diameter—a souvenir from a country I cannot remember, where it was used to make crackers or flatbreads. All but the heavy professional pin (in my basement now) live in the crock by my stove, where I enjoy looking at them.
Rolling dough is effortless and intuitive for someone used to doing it, but surprisingly hard for a new cook to learn, or an occasional baker to do confidently. "Professional” rolling pins are meant for heavy work, huge doughs, and big, strong bakers. Some of the pins sold for home use are heavier than they need to be as well. Does your piecrust really need to be run over by a truck? Tapered pins work perfectly for people who were brought up using them; otherwise, they are tricky to get started on.
I find myself reaching for the skinny cracker-making pin more often than any of the others (which is why I am embarrassed that I don’t remember its provenance). I’ve tried to think about why this is so. I don’t work in a professional kitchen anymore, so I don’t roll massive quantities of dough. My batches are small—mostly cookies and some pie crusts in home-cooking-sized batches. I like the way the skinny pin keeps my hands closer to the dough and more apt to detect and correct unevenness. It’s light enough so that I have to press, rather than letting the weight of the pin do the work—and, contrary to what you might have been taught or read, this can actually make it easier to roll evenly and avoid creating cracks at the edges of chilled pie pastry, or edges that are too thin. I think of the skinny pin as the racecar—rather than the Mack truck—of rolling pins. It’s light and fast and turns on a dime. You don’t need to take that literally, I’m just mean that it’s easy to control and fun to use.
I especially like the skinny pin for cookies, because I don’t follow the usual cookie dough order of things. Instead of chilling and resting dough before I roll and cut cookies, I roll out the freshly made soft dough first (between sheets of wax paper), and then stack and rest the rolled out sheets in the refrigerator before I cut and bake my cookies. This means I’m rolling extremely soft dough and a heavy pin would be very hard to control—the light one is perfect.
I’ll leave you with this. If you are already good at rolling dough and love your rolling pin, don’t change a thing. If you are new at baking or just have trouble rolling dough, cast an eye towards your rolling pin. Is it tapered? Try a straight pin. Is it heavy? Try a lighter one. If you want to test drive something like my skinny pin, go to the hardware store or lumberyard and get a 13-inch length of dowel 7/8-inch in diameter!