how to avoid common mistakes while making pie

raspberry pie, gluten-free

Let’s talk about imperfections.

As a species, we seem to be not too comfortable with our not-perfect places. This is pretty amusing, if you think about it. We’re all inherently flawed — because we are alive — but we’re all working so damned hard to pretend we’re not. We imagine that everyone else has clean houses, children who never whine, shiny windows, clear hearts, full gas tanks, and organized days.

Raise your hand if you have all of those — plus a balanced checkbook, a computer with plenty of memory, and you weigh exactly what you have always hoped you would weigh. No one? I didn’t think so.

If we’re all imperfect, why is imperfection not the state we are hoping to attain? We’re already there! What would the world be like if we spent our time trying to glorify our carpets that need cleaning, our walks that need taking, our darling children who still don’t sleep through the night most of the time?

We’re all inherently flawed. Because we’re alive.

And so, in this spirit, I want to talk about the pies that don’t work. Not that lovely one up top, the one with the flaky crust and the splendid photographic ooze. Those are the pies we put on our blogs, the ones we put down on the table in front of guests with a flourish, the ones we dream of when we start to make a pie.

I want to talk about the other pies, the imperfect pies.

hand pies

Let’s talk about these hand pies, the ones that didn’t come out the way I had hoped.

I converted a recipe from one of my favorite new cookbooks, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making. I’ll tell you more about it next week and share a recipe for cheddar crackers we’ve been making in droves around here. Addictive. Don’t judge the book by the crackled, splitting-apart toaster pastries up there. My pie dough — you can make hand pies, of course — went askew.

They were utterly wonderful in the taste. I handed them to friends who came over that afternoon, apologizing for the look and the fact I thought they had too much butter. “Well,” said my friend Sue after she took a bite. “I don’t care. They’re delicious.”

In fact, they might have been more delicious for the imperfections. No one expected that much. The fact they had too much fat in the dough meant that crust was especially flaky. Lacy, almost. With a fig filling? Gone in moments.

Still, I thought about doing them over. Figuring out what went wrong and making them beautiful, finding just the right light, the right lens, the right moment of calm to make them look so stunning that you might gasp when you saw the photo and think, “I want that!”

Chasing perfection, once again.

Ah the hell with that. Here they are, imperfect.

I make imperfect pies sometimes. How about you?

I decided to not make them again. Lu’s preschool was closed unexpectedly, which left us without any childcare for the day. Instead of asking Danny to take her to the playground while I worked hard to make perfect pie dough, photograph it in a quiet house, and have hand pies waiting for them on their return? I took Lu out instead. She has been requesting Mama time, every day. We went to the library, where she sat in my lap and listened to me read one book after another after another. We ran and laughed, which was such a relief. She’s almost 4, understanding for the first time that she’s separate from us, and clinging. Clinging to my leg, no matter how much time we spend together. And the whining. Have I mentioned the whining? Laughing in the grocery store together as we walked down the pasta aisle was pretty much heaven.

So I gave up the perfect-looking hand pies to spend more time with my daughter. I’m glad I did.

Besides, this gives me the chance to talk about some things you might consider the next time you make a pie crust.

1. Work cold.

For pie crust to be flaky, to not fall apart as a dough, to fall apart wonderfully as a finished pie under the fork? Everything has to be cold.

My friend Debra, in this post on gluten-free fennel tart, has a great practice. She keeps some AP GF flour and butter in the freezer. That way, when she feels like making a pie, she pulls them both out. She also grates the butter in the food processor, because it’s impossible to cut frozen butter into cubes and do it well.

I forgot this the other day. I’ve been getting sloppy. I pulled a couple of cubes of butter from the refrigerator, cut them into cubes, answered a phone call, and went back to making the pie. I could see the melted butter on my fingerprints but I just kept going.

Work cold, Shauna.

(After you have the pie crust made and formed in the pan, put it in the freezer for 15 minutes before you fill it. Even better.)

2. Let it rest. 

When I first started making gluten-free pie dough, I dutifully wrapped the discs of dough in plastic wrap and let them rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before touching them. Then, I started thinking, “Hey! There’s no gluten! No need to let them rest. No gluten to be activated.” I started rolling as soon as I had a disc.

Nope. Not doing that any more. Even if we don’t have to worry about the gluten strands, the dough needs time to hydrate. Let the discs of dough rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Overnight is best. Trust me on this one. I forgot to do this the other day. Overnight. Take the dough out of the refrigerator and let it come close to room temperature. Let it rest for 15 to 30 minutes on the counter before you begin rolling it out.

3. Remember the ratios. 

Every baked good has a structure. The amount of flour you use in conjunction with fat with liquid? It matters.

Why did this pie crust feel like it had too much butter when I used the same recipe I always do?

Because I had almond flour in the AP mix. I’d tossed some in, just to see how it came out. Bread? Great. The pie crust? Not so much.

When a recipe has 4 ingredients — flour, fat, salt, and water — every single one counts.

4. Slow down.

I rushed this one. I went too fast, trying to make them in time to photograph them in time to pick up Lucy from school.

Making pie is meditation. Why did I interrupt that sacred mindful time to make these? Because I was trying to impress you with homemade gluten-free pop tarts.

Connect, Shauna. Connect.

 

So there you have it. There are more guidelines for pie — perhaps you’d like to contribute a few you have learned — but these will do.

In fact, these rules feel pretty good for living life more easily: keep chill, let it rest, remember the structure, and slow down. (And connect.)

Maybe imperfect pies are better in the end.

 

There are some beautiful pies — perfect and imperfect — on the Pie Party 2012 page. Go have a look.

47 comments on “how to avoid common mistakes while making pie

  1. Carol Penn-Romine

    Brilliantly explained, Shauna! May I add that when our baked goods look too uniform and too perfect, people assume they came from the store. We don’t want THAT, now do we?

    Cheers!
    Carol

  2. Rustygrace

    I’m glad you wrote this post. Most posts I truly don’t connect with as wholeheartedly because they are so perfect — perfect lighting (I understand, it’s a beautiful blog, after all), perfect seemingly etheral moments (and don’t get me wrong, I love the way you live life) of seemingly perfect joy, perfect love, perfect ingredients, perfect angles. But I love the posts the most are the ones that talk about how to connect and enjoy life and food in its imperfections. I often get caught up in the re-making to impress those at the table, even the ones who love me no matter what. I honor, of course, the truth in making good, quality food that looks appealing. But when IMPRESS overshadows CONNECT, well, there’s no real joy or in that, is there? At that point, perfection becomes a prison. Anyway, thanks for this post! Did me a lot of good.

  3. SMITH BITES

    mmmmm … ‘We’re all inherently flawed. Because we’re alive.’ amen to that one sister! and in fact, i need to tape that up in about a gazillion places in my house so that i see it oh, about a gazillion times a day. perfection. where on earth did we learn that somehow we even HAVE the ability to be perfect? oof. great tips for making the best pie one can bake — and notice i didn’t say ‘perfect’ pie — i said best pie. and some days that pie will be better than others, but the point is, when we take the time to connect the tips you’ve listed above? well then, i think everything is perfect. and thank you for the mention Shauna — so glad already you’ve blazed the trail!

  4. emily | nomnivorous

    Wow, our hand pies do look similar! And embracing perfections is where it’s at. Baking quite often teaches me life lessons, but pie especially seems to reflect like to the truest.

  5. Ginny

    Perfect is the enemy of good! If you’re doing brain surgery on me, I want you to strive for perfection. Otherwise, don’t sweat it.

  6. Ingrid @ Jammy Chicken

    Such a lesson — what makes baking successful, makes life successful, and vice versa. Feels like I”ll be practicing that for a long time, but a few hand pies now and again make it worthwhile.

  7. Gina

    I have the problem with the waiting and the chilling. I decided to overcome it this week because I was particularly impatient. Thus is born “Lightning Tartlets.” Is the pie crust the best I’ve ever made? No. It’s ridiculously fast, though, if you skip all the steps that make it a slow process. Sometimes you just need pie. So for the crust, I decided to use a tartlet pan — no forming a shape. I pressed the dough into the pan. Then I filled and baked. Amazingly, it all held together, enough so that my garden strawberries made the so-so crust amazing. Thanks for the reminder that the goal is pie, not perfection!

  8. Robin

    Shauna…I made pie. A real one. With peaches from our CSA last summer in the freezer. Pie. It is even pretty. And I can eat it. Now I sob.…

    Thank you …for all you do. And for the recipes that I can share in love with my family.

  9. Kate Lam Sam

    I love your imperfect hand pies! The picture is lovely, and I seriously want to eat one right now!
    I am the kind of girl however who likes imperfection, who sees a fancy symmetrical pie and thinks ‘how pretty’ and walks away. It’s also very cold in NZ right now, and reading your post is making me wish that I had something to fill my pie crusts with.
    Ah well, i’ll just think about something that I can do with my almost 4 year old tomorrow, because after reading about the fun you had today, i’m all inspired about finding ways to make him laugh.
    :D

  10. IdaBaker

    I love the photo you have at the top of the page and this statement, “Maybe imperfect pies are better in the end.”

    Striving for perfection is a wonderful quality, but in the way of pies, the imperfections often make the best one. An pie with a little juice sneaking out from the sides just makes it more mouthwatering, in my humble option. :)

  11. Vyntaje Mama

    Hi Shauna… okay so I seriously need some help… I bought the oxo food scale, have been working on weighing ingredients instead of scooping and swipe.… but I am totally confused when it comes to the “ratios” Do you have an article that I somehow missed?? I need help. Thanks Gluten Free Girl! I love your wisdom, thank you for being such a constant positive source of encouragement, for me and our family!
    Blessings

  12. Erica

    As I made pie this past weekend for fathers day, I was thinking the same thing, that with pie, perfection doesn’t matter. I wondered why people don’t get this. Is this what makes pie baking so scary? That your dough might fall apart as you’re putting it in the pan and you might have to squish it together a bit? That it will choose to misbehave and look disastrous after baking? I’ve never worried about this because in the presence of a home made pie, the senses of smell and taste so overwhelm the sense of sight that suddenly appearance loses its value. I’ve never had anyone feel less that cherished in the presence of a home mad pie, regardless of what my crust looks like. :)

  13. Natasha

    Great tips! I adore your pie crust recipe and find it never fails to impress — I love it when people say “*This* is gluten-free?!?!” :-) The one problem I run into repeatedly is that when I’m rolling out the crust onto either parchment paper or wax paper, the crust always gets so stuck to the paper that I end up trying to scrape off whatever I can with a butter knife and hand-form it into my pie plate. Any ideas why this is happening? Maybe it’s a case of the dough needing more time to chill before rolling out? Thanks!

      1. Natasha

        I’ll try plastic wrap, but for sure I am going to let my pie dough spend more time chilling in the fridge! Thanks!

  14. dana

    LOVE this post!!! Maybe because as hard as I might try, all my pies look like little failures LOL. But they taste brilliant.….and my husband loves those imperfect ones because he knows they have his name written all over them haha.

    I, too, keep flour & butter in the freezer especially for pies & pastries, but instead of the processor, I usually hand-grate my frozen butter into the flour — that’s one of the “perfect” parts of my pies :)

    And good for you for spending time with Lu instead of using that precious, fleeting time to make something that looks perfect! Those moments truly are “perfection.” Enjoy :)

  15. Marla

    What do you mean? My children don’t whine! And my pies are always perfect. Did I mention that my house is immaculate?
    (Remove rose colored glasses)
    Ohhhhh…
    (Quickly! Replace rose colored glasses!)
    Ahh, bliss.

    Beautiful beautiful post. In the often times isolated role as parent, it is so refreshing to find that I’m not the only one who lives like this. Looking around my cushion strewn room, I have come to bask in imperfection, but lately I have lost some perspective. Thank you, thank you

    Mamamakesfromscratch.blogspot.com

  16. Jena

    You are just so wonderful to read! It’s like getting lost in a romantic movie. Well done!

  17. Michael Natkin

    Working cold and then really chilling the dough before rolling out really is so crucial. My crusts are generally reasonably flaky, but every once in awhile I’ll get one that is tantalizingly better than average, and I think that it is mainly due to being really mindful of never letting it warm up too much at any point in the process.

  18. Angela

    You have been an inspiration. Your post in pie We’re Having A Party had me in stitches. It is just pie, you’re right! I made my first an second pies in the last two weeks. GF Blueberry Apple-I had so many compliments, some would even say ‘this is GF?!’ so thank you for saying the words to make a difference!

  19. Kristin

    ahhhh.…sacred, mindful pie-making meditation. I love it! I might just try it with a (non-cooking) class I lead next year.

  20. Rachel | Honey Pot Pie

    Thank you for this! I just got more blueberries than I know what to do with from my CSA and pie will be a great addition to the other goodies. The crust looks so delicious and flakey, great work once again.

  21. Patty

    Shauna, thanks for your post. I tried a new tart recipe courtesy of one of your links (againstallgrain.com) and filling from Gesine Bullock-Prado’s pie book. Both crust and filling taste divine. However, I freaked out a bit because I experimented with timing on the almond-coconut crust, and the it came out a bit darker (this just shade before burnt, but not burnt) than I liked. Then I remembered, Hey, it looks like a ;pie, tastes like a pie, and not a single person will notice that it’s not a perfect shade of toast while they wolf it down. Thanks for the reminder of the gifts that we already have.

    I want to post it on the Pie Day, but can’t seem to access the post. Any suggestions? Keep up the good work!

  22. joanne

    I think they are beautiful! They look yummy. Then you mentioned pop tarts. Did you love them occasionally. Me too. I think you are on to something big. Raspberry. Strawberry. Lemon. Iced. Or not. Gluten free pop tarts.
    By the way. Dance with your daughter. She will always remember this wonderful time. So will you.

  23. Maggie

    I have made many chewy pie crusts because I’ve been unable to keep it cold enough when using the food processor for the dough. I think I will go old school next time and use a bowl inside a larger bowl full of ice and a handheld pastry cutter to cut in the butter, just like my mama did when I was a kid!

  24. Bellingham Barb

    gud pi dont need to look purdy. it eats gud no matter wut. ‘specially rhubarb custard pi. my favorite. yum.

  25. The Healthy Apple

    Great post, Shauna. Loved seeing you at BlogHer Food in Seattle a few weeks ago. Hope you are having a fabulous summer. Thanks for posting these common mistakes– this is a definite bookmark!

  26. Janelle

    I love this post! Yes, yes, and yes. Part of being creative is making mistakes, and being willing to make mistakes. I can’t tell you how many vegan, gluten-free pancakes I tried that flopped before I found a recipe I truly loved. One of my favorite thoughts that I start my day with is, “I can do this imperfectly.” It’s an awesome mindset for gluten-free cooking and baking and life.

  27. Amy Akers

    I live in Omaha, Ne. I am also from the experience of not growing up eating more than meat and potatoes, fast food, and I think you get what I am saying. My son was diagnosed with Herpes Simplex Type I Virus, and he is allergic to soy, dairy,chocolate, tree nuts, red and yellow dye specifically which we don’t allow dyes. Everything is very specific with him, and for 2 years now we eat specifically to fit his nutritious needs, and our family is healthier and happier for it. The process to get where we are has been a nightmare honestly, but what our family gets our of making all these changes is a healthier child, and a child who is alive! I appreciate your blog so much, you have no idea. Having your blog as a tool for me is huge in having different options,recipes and food ideas I can trust. Where I am locating there is not enough people who choose to eat this way, thats okay with sites like yours its easier, so thank you!!!!!

  28. The Gluten Free Cocina

    Thank you for this post, it is so helpful! Gluten free baking can be so challenging and takes so much trial and error, but its worth it and helpful when members of the gluten free community can share their tips with each other.

  29. jeanElane

    There are lots of reasons this is a wonderful post.

    #1 — my selfish reason — It caused you to write a post with a bunch of wonderful tips! When I make pie, I want to make it quickly, like my mom did. She could have a pie ready to eat in a couple of hours. The crust was the flakiest I have ever eaten. The fruit filling not too tart, not too sweet. So after my last ‘failure’ I quit. Now maybe I’ll try again, using your tips. Pressing the dough into the pan does not work for me. It just sticks to the pan like crazy :(

    #2 — You spent quantity and quality time with your daughter, doing things she wanted to do. So important!

    #3 — You admitted you are not perfect! We all know we aren’t, but we all try to put our best face forward. The sooner and more often we can admit and embrace our imperfections, the happier we will be. And maybe have more friends, too!

  30. Kim

    Loved this post about being human. Brené Brown gave an amazing Ted.com talk on the power of vulnerability. (being imperfect) One of the things she says is that you can’t selectively shut off just one emotion, so they all are important and needed. They’re all tied together. It’s how humans are designed. She has a blog and this is a GREAT post about being not perfect: http://www.ordinarycourage.com/my-blog/2012/2/16/remember-when-we-did-this.html It’s sure to bring a smile.
    She’s taught me that mistakes are fine. Enjoy life as it is. It’s more fun that way.

  31. emmycooks

    I have a daughter your daughter’s age, and each time you write about your little girl it’s a sweet reminder of how good this time is, whining and all (it’s improved a bit for us now; hope the same is true at your house). :)

    1. shauna

      Thanks, Emmy. It has. It mostly stopped when she turned 4. Unless she’s hot. Or tired. Or hungry. Well, it’s mostly stopped!