Creating a perfect pie crust is as much of a science as it is an art. With a little practice, getting it right really will become as easy as pie. But until you get to the point of perfection, you may encounter some bumps in the road, from a dry and crumbly dough to a soggy pie crust. Luckily, there are tips and tricks to help navigate you through the pastry learning process. Whatever condition you find your pastry dough in, there are ways to rectify the situation and avoid pitfalls going forward.
Tough or Gummy
A tough or gummy pastry is basically due to the fact that too much gluten has developed. This can be caused by a few factors, such as overmixing or over-kneading, there not being enough fat, the addition of too much flour, or too much liquid. Overmixing allows the gluten in the flour to develop into elastic strands, which creates a gummy texture, and since fat prevents the gluten from forming, too little will allow the elastic strands to form. Likewise, using too much flour changes the flour-to-fat ratio, leading to the same problem. And using too much liquid in the pie dough can allow the flour to gelatinize and become gummy. Thus, it is important not to overmix and to make sure your ingredient measurements are accurate.
Crumbly or Too Tender
A too delicate pastry dough or one that falls apart is a result of the exact opposite causes of a tough or gummy pastry. Under mixing, using too much fat, or too little liquid does not allow the ingredients to bind together and virtually no gluten is formed, providing no structure. That is when the pastry becomes crumbly or is too tender to bake properly. So, again, it is crucial to measure accurately and mix the ingredients the right amount.
Doughy or Wet Texture
If your pastry has a doughy or wet texture it can be a result of one of two things. The first is using more liquid than needed, which causes too much gelatinization of the flour and leads to a doughy texture. The second is underbaking—since liquid evaporates during the baking process, not leaving the pastry in the oven long enough will produce a wet texture.
Dry or Mealy Texture
Here, the reverse is also true: using too little liquid will not allow enough gelatinization of the flour and there won’t be enough “glue” to hold the dough together, resulting in a dry dough. A mealy texture can also be the result of the fat being “overcut” or broken down into pieces that are too small; having pea-size clumps or chunks of fat in a pastry dough creates a nice, flaky texture. If the fat pieces become too small, the texture will become sandy or mealy, rather than flaky.
Burned or Over-Browned
A pastry that is too dark is most likely due to too much time in the oven and over baking. However, if your pastry has baked for the recommended time and temperature and is much darker than expected, the dough may have been rolled too thin; thinner dough will cook much faster than thick dough. Follow the directions for rolling out the dough to the right thickness and keep an eye on your pastries as they bake, as every oven operates differently.
Pale or Dull Color
A pale pastry usually means that it is undercooked. Undercooking can be a result of rolling the dough too thick or setting the oven temperature too low. Also, not using enough fat in the dough will create a pale color as fat aids in the browning process.
Soggy Pie Crust
A soggy pie bottom can be caused by a number of factors such as too much moisture or trapped moisture. If the oven temperature is too low, the steam will not evaporate quickly enough and the moisture will build up and gelatinize the flour. Not pricking the bottom of the pie crust before baking will sometimes cause steam to become trapped between the pie plate and pie crust, which will then gelatinize the flour and create sogginess. If the pie filling is too moist, the crust will suffer the same effect. (There are some tricks to avoid this such as sprinkling cookie crumbs on the bottom of the crust before adding the filling.) Take care to bake at the temperature instructed in the recipe and prick the base of the crust before baking.