Between apples, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, and all other manner of autumnal produce, fall is truly the ideal time of year to get into pie-baking. It’s admittedly not the easiest of baking projects, but it just might be the most satisfying. (And as someone who baked a pie every single week last fall, I can confirm that it only gets easier with practice.) With that in mind, I spoke with eight pie-making experts, including pastry chefs, bakery owners, and “London’s King of Pies,” about their favorite essential pie-making tools — from digital scales and rolling pins to pastry brushes and pie plates — and exactly how to put them to use. Ahead, everything you need to start making your own pie from scratch just in time for Thanksgiving (or just because).
Our experts say a food scale is a must-have in any kitchen, but it’s especially crucial when it comes to baking. “Weighing ingredients is the gold standard in a professional kitchen,” says Lani Halliday of Brutus Bake Shop, and it’s particularly useful “for something like pie dough that’s notoriously finicky,” she says. Petra Paredez, owner of Petee’s Pie Company in New York and author of the new cookbook Pie for Everyone, agrees. “Since volume measurements can have drastically different weights, it’s important to weigh certain ingredients for optimal results,” she says, namely “the flour in your crust and the fruit in your filling.” Paredez notes that while “a kitchen scale is one item that not many people use frequently, I think it’s an essential tool for making pies like a pro.”
A good rolling pin is another tool that our experts agree on. Baking expert Erin Jeanne McDowell, author of The Book on Pie (due November 2020), calls it “the ultimate essential tool.” And though she prefers a “French-style, handleless pins with slightly tapered edges,” she says she believes “that hand tools are a personal preference — whatever makes you feel most comfortable is what you should use when it comes to rolling!” Both Paradez and British pastry chef Calum Franklin, who has earned the reputation as London’s “King of Pies” and is the author of The Pie Room (due October 27), agree that it should be on the heavier side. “A heavy pin will help you roll more evenly, as it does a lot of the work for you,” says Franklin.
If you’re just starting out in the pie-baking game, you don’t necessarily want to start baking with a ceramic pie dish, the go-to of experienced bakers. “While glass is my least favorite material, I do like to recommend it for beginners,” says McDowell. “Pies typically need to bake longer than home bakers think, so being able to see through the pan is a good way to start to get that bottom-crust muscle memory.” If you’re more advanced, a ceramic or metal pie plate is the way to go. “I love ceramic for its ability to get the bottom crust nice and crisp,” she says. “And I love metal for its nonstick ability.”
As we learned in our guide to the most ingenious kitchen tools, bench scrapers are one of the best multiuse tools you can have in a kitchen. That goes doubly so for pie-making. “It’s one of my most used baking tools, and I use it constantly when making pie,” says McDowell. “I use its blade to cut butter into cubes or portion pie dough after mixing, and I especially love it for scraping my work surface clean when I’m all done.”
If the bench scraper is the flour, then a solid pastry blender is the butter (to speak in pie-baking terms). As Emily and Melissa Elsen of Four & Twenty Blackbirds told us a few years ago, they’re necessary for creating a consistent, smooth pie dough. Just be sure yours is dependable. “There are a lot of styles and makes of handheld pastry blenders out there, but most of them are subpar and fall apart,” they say. “OXO got it right. Comfortable, easy to clean, and lasts forever, so you can make a lifetime of pie crust by hand.”
Halliday says another great tool is a high-quality pastry brush that won’t stick to your pie. “To get a beautiful shiny finish or to slick on an egg wash that helps demerara sugar stick, a fluffy pastry brush is a nice-to-have,” she says. Paredez agrees, saying, “Silicone brushes tend to be extra gentle and the egg doesn’t get caught in the base of the bristles, as is the case with a natural-bristle brush.”
Though pie dough can be made in a stand mixer, most homemade pies begin in a big mixing bowl. “A big sturdy mixing bowl over a stand mixer is best,” says Haliday, explaining that “you’ll get the best texture by staying close with it.” She recommends a stainless-steel option.
That said, working with pie dough can be challenging for those just starting out. Paola Velez, pastry chef La Bodega and Maydan and a co-founder of Bakers Against Racism, says a food processor can help. “I use it to make sure that the crust stays nice and cold,” she says. Paradez agrees. “Using a food processor can help you make a delicate, flaky crust every time — and super quickly, too,” she says.
If you consistently find that the edge of your pie crust browns (or even burns) faster than the rest of the top, there’s a fix for that. “How evenly your pie cooks may depend on your oven,” says Paradez. “If you find that the outer edge of the crust is consistently overbaked by the time the center of the pie is done, get a pie crust shield. The aluminum ones are light so they can protect the crust without weighing it down and crushing it.”