About six weeks ago, a friend of mine convinced me to enter a local pie contest. I cannonballed into the challenge and discovered that my years acquiring better kitchen tools have really paid off. By the time the contest rolled round, I had made 12 of my salted cashew caramel apple pies, each time tweaking a few variables — ingredients, temperature, time — to perfect my recipe.
The one constant were the tools I used. Making a great pie doesn’t take a lot of fancy equipment, but it does take some practice. The more comfortable you can get with the tools you own, the more you can spend time perfecting flavor rather than worrying about technique.
If you’re a pie noob, Melissa Clark’s guide to making pie crust is a great place to start. She offers some genius tips, like her suggestion of using uncooked rice or dried beans (laid on a sheet of protective parchment paper or foil) as pie weights while blind-baking a bottom crust. I’ve added that to my piemaking tool kit alongside five other cheap (ish) things for upping my pie prowess. This collection was made in collaboration with Wirecutter, a New York Times Company that reviews and recommends products.
I own five pie pans for different kinds of pies. I use glass for shallow pies at low heat, and metal for blind-baked crusts that need to get extra brown. But my ceramic plate splits the difference: These tend to be deep dish and versatile enough for both high-heat fruit pies and slow-bake custard pies. Wirecutter recommends the Emile Henry 9-inch pie dish, which comes in classic oven-to-table colors, with a fluted lip for pretty edges.
If you don’t have a food processor, which I didn’t own for years, my favorite way to get butter into the right size chunks is by grating frozen sticks with a cheese grater, a method I first discovered through Cook’s Illustrated. This also works really well with vegan fats like Earth Balance and shortening, which can go soft faster than butter. Wirecutter recommends the Cuisipro Surface Glide, which has sharp, etched teeth for shredding rock solid butter well before it has a chance to melt.
The trick to a flaky pie crust is to keep the flattened butter intact so you get layers instead of a crumbly crackerlike crust. This cheap tool is a kitchen workhorse that can help you lift a pie crust that’s sticking to your counter without warming it with your hands. Wirecutter recommends the OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Multi-Purpose Scraper & Chopper, which is a generous six inches wide.
Using a wide, heavy pin with a long, flat middle and no handles is a revelation, because crust rolls out more evenly and more quickly — crucial when you’re trying to work the dough as little as possible. Wirecutter recommends a Whetstone Woodenware pin handmade from hard maple in Indiana. It’s a little unwieldy and tricky to store because it’s so big, but once you get used to it, other pins feel like toys by comparison.
A digital scale will absolutely change how consistently good your pie is, not to mention your coffee, cakes or anything you put in the oven. With pies, whether a heavy-handed cup of flour or a too-fluffy cup of flour is used makes all the difference between a tough crust and a greasy dough. (Though you’ll still want to use a measuring spoon for the smaller amounts for ingredients like salt and spices.) Wirecutter recommends the incredibly affordable Escali Primo Digital Scale, which reads quickly in increments of one gram or 0.05 ounces.
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