No Thanksgiving dessert spread is complete without a pie, whether it be apple, pumpkin or another seasonal variety. While you can purchase pre-made pies from bakeries and grocery stores, you might be interested in baking your own this year. But where do you begin, and what tools do you need to successfully bake a golden-brown masterpiece?
Beyond gathering ingredients — which experts recommend you do early this year, as supply chain shortages are causing food prices to rise and inventory to dwindle — Lauren Ko, founder of and pie designer at Lokokitchen, said bakers should take inventory of what tools they have on hand, like measuring cups and mixing bowls. This will help you narrow down what other items you need to purchase, if any.
“While there are tools that can increase your efficiency, I always encourage bakers to look around their kitchens first and make what they already have work for them,” said Ko, author of “Pieometry.”
We talked to experts about which baking tools to consider using for each step in the pie baking process, from making the dough and filling to decorating the crust.
Tools to make pie dough
“I like to get my hands in the dough so I can feel what's going on, but people should do what's most comfortable,” said Zoë François, pastry chef and host of Zoë Bakes on the Magnolia Network.
In addition to accurately measuring out your ingredients, Lisa Ludwinski, owner and head baker at Sister Pie in Detroit, Michigan, said it’s also important that you don’t rush.
“Following the recipe according to the rest times will make the process easier,” she said. “It’s really important that the dough is able to rest in the fridge so it’s easier to roll out.”
Not rushing may mean baking your pie a few days in advance. Luckily, pies keep well if made in advance, Ludwinski said — you can leave them out covered at room temperature for a few days, unless they contain cream, custard or similar egg and dairy products, in which case they should be refrigerated.
Below are some of the tools experts recommend to make pie dough. Using their guidance, we rounded up top-rated products from brands like Great Jones, Cuisinart and Le Creuset and included tips for using each item.
Stainless steel mixing bowls are durable, sturdy and can withstand a lot of action, so you don’t have to worry about damaging them while baking, said Ludwinski. Stainless steel also helps ingredients stay cold — if it’s warm in her workspace, Ludwinski puts the bowl with her dry ingredients in the refrigerator or freezer before she’s ready to use them. And she can also flip the mixing bowl over, place it on top of rolled dough and cut around it to create a perfect circle, depending on what size pie crust she needs.
Cuisinart’s set of three stainless steel mixing bowls — available in Stainless Steel and White Stainless Steel — allows you to use different bowls for each part of the pie making process. The set includes a 1 1/2-quart, 3-quart and 5-quart bowl, all of which are dishwasher-, freezer- and refrigerator-safe, according to the brand. The bowls also come with lids — you can make the filling or dough in advance using the bowls, cover them and pop them in the refrigerator.
When she’s making pie dough or filling, Ko keeps a silicone spatula on hand. It’s flexible so she can scrape off the sides of her mixing bowl and make sure ingredients don’t get stuck at the bottom, she explained.
GIR’s Flexible Silicone Spatula comes in four sizes, which you can purchase individually or as a set. They’re dishwasher-safe and heat-resistant up to 550 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the brand. The spatulas come in a variety of colors and patterns, including Sprinkles, Magenta, Dark Green and more.
Ludwinski said she uses a bench scraper during multiple steps in the pie making process, like when she’s portioning dough rounds, cleaning off her workstation or cutting butter into the dough, which involves breaking down large chunks of butter and working them into dry ingredients. François noted that since your hands can get warm and melt the butter, using a bench scraper can help you move the dough around without potentially compromising its texture or consistency.
OXO’s dishwasher-safe bench scraper boasts one-quarter-inch markings on its stainless steel blade, acting as a ruler when you need to make precise cuts, according to the brand. Its large, nonslip handle gives you a place to grip, and its blade is tall to keep your hand away from food.
A pastry blender can also help you cut butter into the dough, and Ludwinski said it’s especially helpful after you first use a bench scraper to do so — you can use the bench scraper to chop up a large portion of butter into smaller pieces, and then use the pastry blender to work the butter into the dry ingredients.
“Using a pastry blender makes the process a lot easier, and it's more efficient to use,” Ludwinski said.
Spring Chef’s dishwasher-safe pastry blender is available in Medium and Large. It sports five stainless steel blades and a soft-grip rubber handle.
After you make the dough, you need to roll out a portion of it to form the crust using a rolling pin. Rolling pins come in several different styles, but the experts we spoke to generally prefer the tapered type.
“What I like about the tapered style is that it’s lighter and you can maneuver it more easily than the kind with the handle,” Ludwinski said.
She also noted that the tapered portion of the rolling pin can help you roll out the edges of dough precisely. François said she uses the French tapered rolling pin for softer dough, but prefers a rolling pin with handles for chilled pie dough, which is stiffer and may require you to press harder into it.
J.K. Adams Co’s French Rolling Pin is constructed from hardwood and is crack- and warp-resistant, the brand says. The dishwasher-safe pin is 22 inches long and has a diameter of 1 3/4 inches.
“I love my scale and think all baking should be done with one,” said François, author of multiple cookbooks including “Zoe Bakes Cakes.” “It makes the process more consistent and, once you are used to using it, I find it much easier than dealing with measuring cups.”
Ko said you may want to consider using a scale to make pie dough but noted that, depending on the ingredients, fillings are usually more forgiving if you're less exact in your measurements.
Greater Goods’ Digital Scale sports a LCD screen to show grams, pounds, ounces, fluid ounces or milliliters. It supports up to 11 pounds and has a zeroing feature, according to the brand. You can purchase the scale in multiple colors including Ash Grey, Stainless Steel, Matte Black, Cherry Red and more.
Tools to shape and decorate pie
“Decorating the pie can be a signature move for each baker,” François said. “Sometimes it is a special way of crimping the edge or a cutout design in the top crust. There are no rules, and it's a great place to get creative.”
However you choose to style your pie, these tools may help you roll out the pie’s base and form the top layer of crust.
According to François, a marble counter is an ideal surface to roll dough out on because it stays cool, even during the warmer months. She also said wood butcher-block counters work well, as they provide a smooth, cool surface to work on. But if you don’t have either at home, you can purchase a pastry board in the material you prefer.
This marble pastry board is 24 inches wide and 16 inches long. It weighs 24 pounds and features nonskid feet. After you use it, the board has to be hand-washed.
If you have a counter that has texture or is made of tile, François said you can roll your dough out on a silicone mat. It provides a smooth surface to work on, rather than a textured countertop that may leave imprints in your dough.
Silpat’s Premium Non-Stick Baking Mat is available in multiple sizes, including one that fits a half sheet pan and a petite version. It’s constructed with fiberglass mesh and silicone, and is freezer-, microwave- and oven-safe, according to the brand.
Ko, who’s known for her artistic pie designs, said “a basic ruler and a pastry roller can be very helpful — not so much for measuring, but more so for cutting straight lines in your dough.” However, when she first started dabbling in pie art, Ko relied on a knife and the edge of a cookie sheet to cut straight lines in dough, which is another approach you can take.
If you’re interested in creating an intricate pattern like Ko’s or even just a simple lattice to top your pie, reach for a pastry roller like this one from Chicago Metallic. It features two wheels: One cuts a straight edge while the other has a ruffled edge. The stainless steel pastry wheel is dishwasher-safe, according to the brand.
Pie pans 101
The material your pie dish is made from affects how the dessert bakes. We asked experts about glass, aluminum and ceramic dishes’ strengths and weaknesses so you can decide which is best for your pie.
Ko said the main benefit of glass pie pans is that they make it easy to see whether or not the bottom of your dessert is fully baked. However, glass is a thicker material than aluminum, so it might take longer for the bottom of the pie crust to get crispy, François said.
Pyrex’s Easy Grab Pie Pan is 9.5 inches in diameter. The brand says it’s stain-resistant, as well as dishwasher-, freezer- and microwave-safe. The pan also sports a wide, fluted rim that you can grab to move it around in the oven or turn while adding your crust and filling.
At Sister Pie, Ludwinski bakes pies in aluminum pans. She said the material can withstand temperature changes well, like if you take a frozen pie crust from the freezer and put it directly into the oven. Aluminum is also a “great conductor of heat,” Ludwinski said, which helps ensure that the bottom of the pie crust gets crispy while baking.
William Sonoma’s aluminum pie dish can be purchased individually or in a set of two. It measures 10 inches in diameter and has a nonstick finish to help you remove the pie from the dish after it bakes. The bottom of the pan features a chevron pattern that the brand says increases airflow while baking. The pan is oven safe up to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and must be hand-washed. It’s also broiler- and freezer-safe.
François said ceramic pie dishes bake similarly to glass options. If you’re willing to wait a little longer so the bottom of the pie gets crispy, a ceramic dish may be worth using if you plan on serving the dessert in it — ceramic pie dishes are available in a variety of colors, styles and patterns, and make a great centerpiece during the holidays.
Great Jones’ Sweetie Pie dish is 10 inches in diameter and constructed from ceramic stoneware. The brand says it designed the dish with a wide, wavy rim to help guide you as you crimp the crust, and it’s available in four colors: Blueberry, Broccoli, Mustard and Marinara. The dish is dishwasher- and microwave-safe, according to the brand.
Tools to bake pie
Before you put your pie in the oven, you need to prepare it to bake and take steps to ensure you can monitor it in the oven. Here are some tools experts recommend.
Some pie recipes require you to blind bake the crust, which means baking it without the filling so it doesn't get soggy and cooks all the way through. Pie weights prevent the crust from slumping down during this process, François said. While you can use pie weights, she recommended lining the crust with tinfoil and using dried beans instead: “They are cheaper and more readily available,” she explained.
If you prefer pie weights, these ones are made from ceramic stoneware and are heat-resistant up to 480 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the brand. The individual beads can be arranged however you’d like in the pan, and they come in a storage container. After you use them, you can hand-wash them.
No matter what material her pie dish is made from, François preheats a baking stone and bakes the pie on top. This helps ensure the bottom crust gets crispy and cooks all the way through.
This round baking stone comes in multiple sizes, from about 10 inches to 16 inches in diameter. It’s heat-resistant up to 1,450 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the brand.
Placing your pie dish on top of a sheet pan while it’s baking will allow the sheet pan to catch anything that may bubble over, like juice from fruit, Ludwinski said. It also helps you rotate the pie in the oven, or remove it when it’s done baking.
Made In’s aluminum sheet pan is available in half-sheet and one-fourth-sheet sizes, and it comes in standard or nonstick options. The pan sports an encapsulated rim and is oven-safe up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the brand.
François said a pie bird allows steam to escape from a double-crusted pie while the dessert is baking. According to Ko, it also serves as an alert and lets you know when the pie is about cooked through, although you can also rely on visual cues, like the filling bubbling through the center.
Le Creuset’s pie bird is constructed from ceramic stoneware and is hollow to vent stream from the filling as it cooks. It has arches on the bottom to help reduce excess moisture from gathering and making the crust soggy. The pie bird is dishwasher-, freezer-, microwave-, oven- and broiler-safe, ,according to Le Creuset.