[Photograph: Lauren Weisenthal]

Of all the elements that are involved with making pies, it's the outer ring of crust that causes the most angst for bakers. As the saying goes, people eat with their eyes first, and many of us feel pressured to make crusts that look every bit as well-crafted as the delicious filling inside. When it comes to crust, practice will definitely help, but there are also some small steps to keep in mind for best results:

  • Cold dough is much easier to shape. If you're working on the outer crust of your pie and the fat begins to melt, return the pie to the fridge for a while, to avoid a melted, misshapen mess.
  • Dough that's been stretched or molded reacts like an elastic band—if it's put in the oven too soon it's liable to snap back. Resting a shaped crust in the fridge prior to baking will help it hold its shape. Most recipes tell you to wait 30 minutes, but if you have the ability to let it chill longer definitely do. For pie shells destined to be blind baked, I prefer to allow them to chill overnight.
  • The fat that you use in your dough makes a difference in the results. Crusts made with fats with high melting points (such as rendered lard, suet, or vegetable shortening) hold their shape best in the oven. Many bakers who strive to make intricately decorated crusts will use a combination of butter and another fat with a higher melting point.

Want to learn about braiding the edges, making a lattice topped pie, or adding cut-out patterns to the crust? Click through this slideshow for shaping ideas and techniques!

About the author: Lauren Weisenthal has logged many hours working in restaurant kitchens and bakeries of Brooklyn and Manhattan. She is a graduate of the Artisan Bread Baking and Pastry Arts programs at the French Culinary Institute and holds a CS certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers. You can follow her on Twitter at @evillagekitchen.

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