A couple years ago in our Baking Club, Leslie Rogers shared a delicious looking batch of lemon bars with a brown butter shortbread base. But what really caught our eye wasn't the creamy lemon filling or the generous dusting of powdered sugar—it was her off-hand comment that she used sugar as a pie weight for the toasty shortbread crust. No surprise that this ingenious idea comes from Stella Parks, whose book BraveTart was a smash hit in the Club.
A post shared by Stella Parks (@bravetart) on
Parks' details her entire blind baking process over on Serious Eats, where she explains her reasoning for swapping in sugar in place of other types of pie weights:
My kitchen and budget are too tight to accommodate a bag of ceramic pie weights or marbles, and I'd rather save rice and beans for dinner. It's not that weights aren't essential, only that my go-to choice is far less traditional: plain white sugar. For one thing, it's something that any baker has in abundance, and, at seven ounces per cup, it's wonderfully heavy. As a pie weight, sugar completely eliminates the risk of slumping, shrinking, or puffing, and obviates the need for docking. The result? A laissez-faire method that gives me a crust deep and flat enough to hold every last drop of filling.
As you can see in Parks' Instagram photo above, the sugar gets faintly caramelized after a serving a round of pie duty. She suggests cooling the sugar to room temperature after use and transferring it to an airtight container. The sugar can be used as you would regular granulated sugar, but it can also be reserved for a few more rounds of work as a pie weight, until it turns pale tan. At that point, you've made roasted sugar!
It's sugar with a toasty flavor, and it can be used just like regular granulated sugar in any recipe that would benefit from a little more complexity and a little less sweetness. Of course, if you don't have imminent plans for blind baking any crusts, you can also just skip ahead to roasting sugar all by itself.
Once you’ve accumulated roasted sugar from your scrappy pie weights (go you!), put it toward your favorite baked goods and desserts. (Psst: Try stirring a spoonful into coffee or tea, too, for a roastier cup.) You can do a 1:1 swap wherever a recipe calls for granulated sugar, or do a custom mix of roasted and granulated. You’re in charge.
Salt-cured egg yolks add a glowy golden hue and subtle savoriness to this moist, fudgy pound cake. The only thing to make it even better? Roasted sugar, of course. And we wouldn’t turn away some sour cream, sweetened with roasted sugar, to plop on top either.
Using your pie weights to make even more pie is sort of meta, but let’s roll with it. Our Best Banana Cream Pie is already full of malty, caramely flavors, so the roasted sugar will fit right in. Swap in for the granulated sugar in both the vanilla pastry cream and Nilla wafer crust.
These granola bars are a hit among kids and adults alike. Picture: a gooey, jammy center, surrounded by the nuttiest granola in town. And yes, you can swap out the raspberry jam and pecans for your favorite kind or whatever is around.
If you have dried beans in your pantry, these can come in handy as pie weights, too. The type doesn’t matter, so use chickpeas, black beans, pinto beans, even lentils. After using them a couple times, retire them as pie weights and turn them into dinner. (This Instant Pot method is a great place to start.)
Like beans, rice is a cost-effective pantry staple that works wonders as pie weights. Also like beans, any variety is happy to help out there—short-grain, long-grain, whatever’s not for dinner tonight. Once you’ve used your rice pie weights a couple times, turn them into a toasty pilaf.
Unlike sugar, beans, and rice, this option obviously isn’t edible. But you might still have it around if you search through your wallet and under those couch cushions. Make sure you line the pie dish super well with foil, since you don’t want the coins to come in contact with your crust and impart a metallic taste.
Another Pie Pan
If you own two pie pans, you already have a perfectly shaped pie weight. As with other methods, just cover the dough-lined pie pan with parchment or foil, then place the second, empty pie pan on top. Just like sugar, this will weigh down the crust and prevent it from puffing.