Blind baking means baking a pie crust or pastry case before adding the filling. Putting an empty pie crust in the oven to bake might seem like a strange idea, but there are actually several reasons for doing this. Firstly, not all pie fillings need to cook for as long as the pastry, so adding your filling halfway through can help prevent problems like mushy apple pie or cracked pumpkin pie. In fact, some pie fillings don’t require cooking at all, in which case you will need to fully cook the pastry by itself before adding the filling.
The main reason for blind baking, however, is to avoid the dreaded soggy bottom. Raw dough can soak up wet pie filling, making it weak and floppy, and the filling will give off steam as it cooks, weakening it even more. In some cases the dough may actually split, causing the filling to seep out and burn onto the outside of the crust. Blind baking dries out the dough before it comes into contact with any liquids, making it less prone to absorbing extra moisture.
What are pie weights and when should you use them?
Blind baking is a good idea for preventing soggy bottoms and overcooked filling, but it can bring its own set of challenges. An empty pastry case has nothing to hold it in place, so it’s more likely to shrink away from the edges, undoing all your neat crimping work.
There may also be a problem with bubbling, which can occur as the fat inside the dough melts, giving off steam. A little steam is a good thing, and helps to create those tender, flaky layers all good pastry should have, but without a filling to weigh it down, the steam can cause the dough to puff up and then deflate, resulting in wrinkled and unattractive pastry.
Pie weights offer a solution to both of these problems by acting as a dummy filling while the pastry bakes. Made from oven-safe materials, they can be placed inside the pastry case before blind baking, holding it in place and weighing it down during baking.
To use pie weights, prepare your pie crust or pastry shell and line with parchment paper, making sure there is plenty of overhang so you can easily gather everything up afterwards. Pour your weights onto the parchment paper so that they completely fill the case, then bake according to the recipe instructions. Remove the pie weights by gathering up the edges of the parchment paper, lifting everything out and leaving your weights in a heatproof bowl to cool. Once cooled, they can be stored and reused many times.
Different types of pie weights
There are several different types of pie weights, each with different advantages.
Ceramic pie weights
Also known as baking beans, ceramic pie weights are perhaps the most commonly-used type of pie weight. Ceramic stores heat, providing an even transfer of heat during baking, so your crust will be evenly baked. When buying ceramic pie weights, it’s important to think about how many you will need, as most pies will need more than one package. As a rule of thumb, a 9-inch pie will need around 2lb of weights.
Made from a long chain of connected stainless steel or silicone beads, pie chains are meant to be coiled around the pastry case. Their advantage is that they are easy to remove, so you don’t need to bother lining the pastry with paper. They can be a little lacking in weight, however, so you may need to buy two or three.
Metal pie weights
These tiny puck-shaped aluminium beads are perfect for fitting into all those hard-to-fill gaps, making them ideal for smaller pies or those with intricate crimping. Metal is a better conductor of heat than ceramic, so bear in mind that your pastry may cook more quickly if you use metal weights.
Single piece pie weight
The single piece pie weight is made from a disc of perforated metal, with silicone flaps for angling up against the side of the pie, and a handle at the top so you can easily lift it in and out. As with the pie chain, it is simple to use, and doesn’t require a parchment paper lining, but as it is made of two different materials, it can produce an uneven bake.
If you don’t want to pay out for expensive pie weights, there are several pantry staples you probably already have that can work just as well.
Dried beans are a similar size and weight to ceramic weights, and are probably the most popular alternative to shop-bought pie weights. You won’t be able to eat them once you’ve used them as weights, but you can keep them in a clearly labelled jar and reuse them as weights again.
Rice is a great option for getting inside every gap, so your pastry is weighed down and your crimping comes out crisp. Again, the rice will not cook well after you’ve used it as a pie weight, but you can keep it and use the same rice each time you bake a pie.
Like rice, sugar is great for filling all those nooks and crannies. Unlike our other options, however, sugar remains edible after it has been used as a pie weight, taking on a deliciously toasty, caramel flavour as it cooks in the oven.
Recipes using pie weights
Put your pie weights to the test with these tasty recipes.
How to blind bake pie crust: this easy to follow guide from Sally’s Baking Addiction shows you how to bake the perfect pie crust. All you need now is your favourite filing.
Mini quiche Lorraine: these deliciously savoury quiches from Kitchen Stories deserve a well-baked crust, so use your pie weights to keep them firm and crisp.