Pie Birds, Slicers, Gates, Shields, and Other Pie Accessories
I did not get into this project for the pie bling, but the more you make pie, the more you encounter interesting solutions to problems unique to pie -- no surprise, because pie can be so very problematic. I've run down a few of them for your edification:
Problem: Puffy Crust. Possible Solution: Pie Weights
Pie weights these are ceramic or metal marbles or chains that you place on a layer of foil on unbaked pie crust to keep it from poofing, bulging and sinking. They're definitely worthwhile, in my opinion. Many people use dried beans but I don't, simply because I like to eat my dried beans. Others think that if you press the dough firmly against the pan and dock it with a fork, you don't need weights. I beg to differ.
Problem: Messy Leftover Pie. Possible Solution: Pie Gates
A pie gate is a hinged piece of plastic you stick in your pie plate to keep the uneaten portion all together and looking like pie. It really does look like a gate. Baking Bites says they're great for runnier pies; I remember them earning a rave on America's Test Kitchen as well. I'm probably going to pass, since a) pie usually gets eaten too fast to matter and b) I frankly don't care in the least how pie looks once I've cut into it.
Problem: Pie Is Not Whimsical Enough. Possible Solution: Pie Birds
OK, technically pie birds get poked into double-crust pies with filling that is likely to release a lot of steam. The bird vents the vapor -- and has done this job for centuries! -- but so does slicing vents or cutouts in the crust, I'd think. I can't find anyone who's gone on record for the greater venting efficacy of the bird. On the other hand, it is also known as the "pie chicken." Why deny yourself whimsy?
Such a pretty bird.
Problem: Pie Crust Gets Too Brown Around Edges. Potential Solution: Pie Shield
Pie crust shields are meant to be settled over the outer crimped crust. I had one of these once and all it did was make my pretty crimping fall apart. Making your own foil ring is cheaper and easier, but you know I almost never need to do this, myself.
Problem: You Suck at Slicing Pie. Potential Solution: Oh, So Many!
Did you know there are spatulas you can bake right in the pie? Supposedly they help you get the first slice out neatly. There are also pie slicers and pie markers that look like they ought to be furnishing a Tinkertoy torture chamber. This is where you have to shake your head and marvel at good old capitalist ingenuity. The only really handy tool for slicing pie, in my opinion, is a pie server -- an offset triangular spatula, ideally with a knife edge. If you're worried about precision, there's another tool I recommend: A ruler.
There are other really handy tools for pie making -- a bench scraper and a Rollpat both help you handle dough with much more ease, and of course you will need either a pastry blender or food processor -- but I didn't include them here because they're not unique to pie.
Which tools do you find useful when making pie? Which would you, like Alton Brown, dismiss as "unitaskers?"
I'm blogging pie every day in November -- It's NaBloPieMo! Check out the Month of Pies archive.