Ask Chef Emily: On Chilling Pie Crust

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OK, before we get to the question, a bit of its origin story. Technically this question was asked of celebrity chef Carla Hall, but when Carla tweeted her answer, I saw the question and asked if I could also weigh in. The delightful Ally obliged.

If I’m freezing my crust won’t the pie plate break if then placed in a hot oven? Or do I have to put crust in as the oven heats? —Ally @steelcityfan86, Twitter

The first conundrum I’m faced with is the origin recipe. Because I can’t see the instructions on offer, I can’t clarify or critique the step that says “freeze pie crust.” Does it come before or after rolling and shaping? Well, it doesn’t really matter.

When you are making a pie crust, at all points the butter should stay as cold as possible; butter is an emulsion, in which fat and water are evenly suspended. If it warms slowly, it is likely to weep moisture into the dry ingredients. In order to create a flaky, crisp crust, which is what we are all after (unless what you are after is the filling in which case high five to your honesty), we want that butter cold until it goes in the oven, at which point the water can evaporate as steam, pushing the layers of dough apart resulting in flake.

The freezing part might happen at a couple of points. If you aren’t going to use your dough within a day or two, shape it into a disc (for a head start on circular rolling) and freeze it because it will go rancid in the fridge fast than any of its parts. Elasticity will develop also and that too is bad for flake. So freezer reason #1? Long term storage.

Reason #2 may lie with working the dough. If it is hot in your kitchen or you are working on a counter set over a running dishwasher, or you’ve used a metal cutting blade in a food processor to cut your dough together and thus created friction, which creates heat. Boom: warm butter. Tossing the dough into the freezer for a while will re-solidify the fat assuming it hasn’t melted and broken.

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If the butter warmed during the rolling process but you’ve got it in your pie plate, you can freeze the crust, plate and all to re-solidify the butter. Because the dough is now thin, it will only take a half an hour or so. This won’t drop the temperature of the glass significantly enough to break in the heat of your oven. Of course, you could avoid the stress altogether and use a metal pie tin, which will get the butter cold fast and get the dough hot fast once in the oven, and is guaranteed not to break.

What I wouldn’t recommend is what one of the icons of food media did, via Twitter, which was to freeze the crust in its plate, then pop it out and wrap the now free crust until ready to blind bake and use. This will work if you have nothing else in your freezer and plenty of space for the dough to just be by itself on a shelf in there like the demo fridges set up at Best Buy.

If you are like me, your freezer is stuffed with pints of ice cream, boxed ravioli, bird stock and an assortment of unidentifiables. Shifting them around every night to find the mochi for dessert or the frozen peas for a bumped knee would render that perfect crust in shards within a day, at which point you are set up to make some nouveau deconstructed something.