No more soggy bottoms
There is no dessert that's as essential to a holiday spread as pie. Apple, pumpkin, pecan, cranberry-lime, sweet potato: whatever your filling preference, pie reigns supreme. Making pie, however, can be an intimidating process if you're doing the crust yourself. The classic pie dough is in the same league as biscuits in terms of intimidation factor. Everyone has a different method, but two things are crucial. You have to make sure your butter is cold, and you need to use the right pie pan.
My father bakes, on average, two pies a week and swears by two kinds of plates for the proper crust on his apple pie: a classic Pyrex and an enamel-coated metal tart dish sent over by Irish relatives who are also pie enthusiasts. Stella Parks, pastry guru of Serious Eats, swears by the thin foil pans you can buy at the grocery store for superior crust crispiness. The Wirecutter claims that ceramic is the way to go. Every single wedding registry I've perused in the last year and a half has included the handsome Le Creuset stoneware pie dish. Because I am never satisfied with the proclamations of the internet unless I've tried them out, I decided to figure it out for myself.
I collected three pie dishes: a metal Americraft pie dish beloved by our Senior Food and Drinks Editor Kat Kinsman; a Pyrex dish similar to the one my Dad loves; and a Le Creuset stoneware number (ooooh prettttty) and decided to test them side by side.
I decided that blind-baking a crust would be the most efficient way of comparing crust to crust. The variants of filling a double-crust or lattice number introduced too many variables. I made a batch of all-butter pie dough from a recipe in Sister Pie, a new, wonderful cookbook by Lisa Ludwinski. For each plate, I rolled out the dough, draped it on the bottom of the pan, crimped the edges, and filled up the center with black beans set on aluminum foil.
Ludwinski recommends blind-baking crusts at 450 degrees for about 25 minutes. So I did that with all three crusts, rotating them in my oven twice to try to approximate a similar cooking environment in my not-so-great Brooklyn-apartment oven. After about 25 minutes, I took all three out of the oven and let them cool before removing the beans and inspecting the crust.
I was looking for a crust that was consistently browned throughout. A pale center that looks a little oily is bad news, because it means that your crust isn't getting to that desired golden, flaky, crispy stage. And once you fill it that means the center can develop the Dreaded Soggy Bottom.
The winner of my contest, hands down, was the metal pie dish. The crust crisped and browned evenly, making for a really nice bite when I went on to fill it. (I used Sister Pie's recipe for salted maple pie, which basically tastes like a giant delicious waffle soaked in maple syrup). The runner-up was the Pyrex dish, which didn't develop color quite as evenly, but didn't have the greasy bottom that I feared.
The Le Creuset, depite being very beautiful, had the worst results. The bottom of the crust was pale and spotty. The stoneware didn't heat up as quickly as the other two plates, meaning that the butter seeped out. However, I did use the Le Creuset crust for another pie (who's going to let good pie crust go to waste?), this time a chocolate coconut recipe, and the crust did very well once it returned to the oven—the edges were browned and crispy, and the bottom ended up holding up just fine.
It's perfectly possible to make a decent pie in all three dishes, but it's nice to know that cheaper options work well. Though the Americraft plate is $89, a very similar Cuisinart model will run you $10 on Amazon. You can grab two Pyrex pie dishes for $11. The Pyrex is also nice because its nonreactive, which some recipes require. Go forth, grab a plate, and pie with confidence.