Pie Expert Erin McDowell on the Essential Tools for Making the Very Best Pies

updated Mar 12, 2021
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orange cream pie with forks
Erin's Orange Cream Pie recipe!

I had the privilege of being Erin McDowell‘s editor for a short time. I learned so much by reading her stories: how to make easy puff pastry, build the best ice cream sandwiches, and perfect pie dough, just to name a few. (I went to pastry school and there was still plenty for me to learn from her!)

Since then, Erin’s written not one but two incredible cookbooks: The Fearless Baker and, most recently, The Book on Pie. They include recipes like Caramel Corn Layer Cake and turnovers filled with ricotta and lemon curd. And pies, pies, and more pies: Birthday-Cake Pie, Caramel-Earl Grey Custard Pie, Butterscotch Apple Pie. There are pie crusts of all sorts, too: Ones made with cereal, coconut, saffron, brown butter, and grated cheese. Like I said, incredible.

Credit: Jennifer May
Erin, pie, and her pup Brimley!

With Pi Day right around the corner, I knew I had to talk to Erin about what she uses to make pie. I wanted to find out what her most essential, pie expert-approved tools are so that we can all bake pies a little bit better — and a lot more like Erin. Here’s what she had to say.

1. Rolling Pin

“I prefer a wooden French style pin, which is a tapered pin without handles. But I strongly believe hand tools are a personal preference — and I know many amazing pie bakers who wouldn’t dream of going without handles,” Erin says. “In the end, it comes down to what feels good to you.”

2. Pie Plates

“I like metal and ceramic best. Metal is the most reliably nonstick, but a good ceramic pan is also one of my favorites,” she says. Erin’s favorite ceramic pan is also a favorite among many Kitchn editors! Its fluted edge makes it easy on novice bakers who might be intimidated by working with pie crust.

3. Pie Weights

“I use ceramic pie weights, but dried beans also work great,” she says. “You’ll need at least four packs of ceramic weights to properly fill the pie plate — it must be filled all the way to the top edge. (This would take about 3 to 4 pounds of beans.)”

4. Pastry Cutter

A pastry cutter (or blender) is used to “cut” cold butter into flour until it’s about the size of peas, which creates steam (since butter contains water!) as the pie bakes and creates a nice, flaky pie crust. “I mix my pie dough by hand and don’t use a pastry cutter, but for folks who have naturally warm hands, this can be a lifesaver!” Erin says. “It’s great for biscuits and scones, too.” (Kitchn editors also suggest grating cold butter for biscuits.)

5. Parchment Paper

“I use parchment to contain the pie weights, and I also like to bake the pie on a parchment lined baking sheet to catch any rogue drips,” Erin says. I particularly love these parchment sheets, which solve the problem of having to awkwardly and haphazardly tear parchment off its roll.

6. Electric Hand Mixer

“I use an electric mixer to make quick work of meringues and whipped cream toppings,” Erin says. “My preferred meringue style for pies is Swiss, and with an electric hand mixer you can whip the whites as they heat over a double boiler, saving on overall prep time!”

7. Handheld Tools

“I like good-quality silicone spatulas, whisks, and offset spatulas for use throughout the pie-making process,” she says. “Easy-to-clean is high on my priority list.” Of course, these tools are useful WAY beyond baking pie!

8. Pastry Wheel

“I like a pastry wheel with straight-sided and fluted options for making lattice strips, mini pies, and other decorative effects,” Erin says. Even if you’re not that crafty with pie dough, a pastry wheel will help you churn out pro-level crusts.

9. Scissors

“I use scissors to trim my excess pie dough — it’s quick and easier to do evenly than with a paring knife,” she explains. I agree! A good pair of kitchen shears are a must-have, and can be used for things like chopping canned tomatoes and snipping fresh herbs, too.

10. Baking Steel

“I bake my pies on a Baking Steel in the oven to help ensure even browning on the base of the pie and prevent soggy bottoms,” Erin says.

11. Piping Tips

“I like to do decorative effects with toppings like whipped cream and meringue,” she explains. “Cakes shouldn’t get to have all the fun!” If you need a piping bag primer, head here!

12. Pie Stamps and Pie Cutters

“Coming in all shapes and sizes, these are great for making decorative edges and top crust effects,” Erin says. Little star cut-outs made from the pie crust scraps? Adorable.

Do you have a favorite pie plate? What about a rolling pin? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Credit: Kitchn