Pie Making Tools
Baking a pie didn't used to be so difficult. When Europeans first came to America, they made pies with crusts strong enough to act as a cooking pot.
Nowadays, we wouldn't dream of mixing a crust into its filling. Many of us don't make pies much, either, until holiday time.
But if we remember that a pie is more than its flaky exterior, and allow ourselves a veritable disaster now and again, we can make pies from scratch. If the quality of our tools matches the sincerity of our efforts, we will succeed much more often than not.
Gently sloping bowl: Those who cut butter into flour by hand will appreciate the large bottom.
Graters: Use either a four-sided box grater or a small flat grater. Both should be of stainless steel.
Pastry blenders: A practiced hand and six wires rapidly reduce flour and cubed butter into small flour-coated pieces. The wires are pliant for proper press/bounce action, and the four inch distance between handle and dough separates warm hands from cold ingredients. Look for chromed steel tines of medium thickness fastened securely to the handle.
Rolling Pins: There are as many pins as there are pie bakers. A straight French pin is most popular with professional pastry chefs. It is of medium weight, barrel- shaped, well-balanced, and inexpensive. With experience, it gives the most even, controlled roll. An American ball bearing pin is a multipurpose, heavyweight pin made from hardwood. Two handles are set on ball bearings for longer, smoother rolling strokes. It is more expensive but easier to use.
Pastry brushes made from natural boar bristles retain their softness and pliability. Look for bristles sealed in an acrylic or metal band and anchored to a wooden handle. A 1 1/2 inch brush is standard.
Pie plates: Ovenproof glass is an excellent heat conductor, browns the bottom crust, and is not easily scratched by the blade of a knife. Glass is also easy to clean and inexpensive. The best metal pans are made from Aluminite, a standard-gauge metal with a dull satin finish that resists stains and retains heat better than shinier surfaces.
Called "baking beans" in deference to their predecessor, the legume, they are made in metal or ceramic.
The New (or old) and Nifty
Flour wand: Squeeze the handle of this old-fashioned coiled wand to release as much or as little flour as you like on your work surface.
Pastry frame: This washable cotton frame hooks over the lip of a counter.
The pastry docker is a five inch cylinder studded with sharp spikes at 1/2 inch intervals. Use it solely to pierce puff pastry or pie pastry.
Pastry wheels: called "jaggers," resemble a pizza cutter with a zigzag edge. Choose a 4 inch stainless steel wheel for cutting lattice.
Giant spatula: Forget your pride and use this 10 x 10 inch aluminum spatula to move a rolled crust from the work surface to the pie pan.
Pie shield: A ring of strong but lightweight aluminum sits atop the crust's lip to keep the edges from burning.