Tips & Techniques

Don't Avoid Rolling Pins; Just Use the Right One

July 17, 2017

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.

Does your piecrust really need to be run over by a truck?

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!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Lorraine Nathanson
    Lorraine Nathanson
  • mela
  • Linda
  • healthierkitchen
  • Smaug
My career was sparked by a single bite of a chocolate truffle, made by my Paris landlady in 1972. I returned home to open this country’s first chocolate bakery and dessert shop, Cocolat, and I am often “blamed” for introducing chocolate truffles to America. Today I am the James Beard Foundation and IACP award-winning author of ten cookbooks, teach a chocolate dessert class on, and work with some of the world’s best chocolate companies. In 2018, I won the IACP Award for Best Food-Focused Column (this one!).


Lorraine N. August 7, 2017
Sorry that should be serrated knife. Spell check changed it and I didn't catch it.
Lorraine N. August 7, 2017
Why you should buy baking tools at the hardware store: which is one of the photo links in this article Alice mentions if you don’t have a straight rolling pin, purchasing a 20-inch wooden dowel rod. I am pretty sure this is the rolling pin she is referring to as her skinny pin. Also she mentions cutting thin dowels, 1/8, 3/16th, and 3/8th inches in diameter, all 48 inches long and cutting them in half using garden clipper and a seated knife or saw for the thicker dowels to use on either side of the dough in order to roll dough evenly. She recommended for 1/4 inch t hick, placing a 1/4 inch dowel on either side of the dough and using a straight, not tapered, rolling pin. This would prevent making the dough thinner. She also said you can buy a rolling pin with guides or just the plastic guides but the dowel hack is cheaper. Hope this helps answer your questions.
Smaug September 16, 2018
If you are, or know, a woodworker or carpenter with access to a table saw or a radial arm, or other woodworking equipment, it's much cheaper to simply cut some scraps of (flat) wood to use as guides; these are not only easier to use than dowels, they are more accurate (hardware store dowels are not very consistent as far as size) and more versatile- they can easily be made any length or thickness. The ones I use most tend to be less obvious thicknesses (like 5/16") determined by what works best for an individual recipe. Take no space to store.
mela August 4, 2017
Long narrow rolling pins are used to make large diameter flatbreads in Turkey. Could that be your source? They come in different lengths and are probably widely available; I saw a few for sale in a regular grocery store.

Linda August 4, 2017
Your skinny pin sounds exactly like the one my grandfather made for my grandmother to use on her ravioli dough.
healthierkitchen July 17, 2017
would love to see a photo of the recommended skinny pin! Is this like the ones at H Mart?
StevyD July 18, 2017
I believe Alice is referring to the long skinny type that is tapered at each end and is without handles on the end or any type of spinning mechanism. Just a plane and simple uncomplicated tapered hardwood stick. Not a recommendation, just for the image...
Renee K. July 18, 2017
But it seems Alice is implying her pin ISN'T tapered. I was picturing something smaller and straighter than a French rolling pin. Perhaps she will clarify for us?