Published April 1, 2009. From Cook's Country.
The tried and true versus the newfangled: Have manufacturers improved on your grandma’s pie plate?
When we rated pie plates a decade ago, we picked our winner because it browned and crisped crusts better than the other contenders. We also liked its wide rim for easy fluting, see-through bottom that allowed pie-makers to monitor bottom crusts, and low price. But while it produced the best-baked crusts, they could have been a tad crisper. Since that time, manufacturers have designed pie plates with fancy new features (mesh bottoms, scalloped edges, crust protectors) purported to produce perfect pies. We tested seven new models against our old favorite.
In search of a versatile, all-around pie plate, we tested each by baking an unfilled pie shell (known as a parbaked or blind-baked crust), a quiche, an apple pie, and a pat in-the-pan graham cracker crust. Except for the graham cracker crust, we used premade crusts to ensure consistency. The best pans produced blind-baked shells that were golden brown on both sides and bottoms, apple pies with evenly cooked fillings, and graham cracker crusts that didn’t slump, crack, or crumble. But the real litmus test turned out to be quiche. Our winning pie plates conducted enough heat to set the egg custard to a creamy texture without overbaking the crust.
Several plates touted special features, but in the end they proved unhelpful, even inhibiting. The decorative ruffles on one plate (designed to flute the crust) created wide edges that browned too quickly. Ridges inside the rim of another plate are meant for easy, press-in fluting, but instead made for messy-looking pies. Cosmetic damage was also wrought by plates with crust protectors designed to shield the edge of the crust from overbrowning; the same went for shields, which look like smaller pie plates with holes and are intended to replace pie weights. Two plates were designed to let steam escape so that the bottom would crisp better. But these plates produced the soggiest crusts of all because the evaporating moisture prevented the bottom surface from ever getting hotter than the boiling point of 212 degrees, a process called “evaporative cooling.” The escaping steam further cooled the dead spot by pushing hot oven air away, exacerbating the problem.
One dark metal model absorbed heat too quickly and overbrowned the outside bottom and sides of pies before the filling was cooked or the center of the bottom browned. It yielded quiche custard that was overcooked near the edges, yet runny in the middle. We had somewhat better results with another pale metal plate whose shiny, reflective surface heated up more slowly: pies needed to be baked longer, but the filling cooked more evenly than in dark metal.
Because glass and ceramic conduct heat slowly, heat gradually builds and spreads throughout the plate, thus custard cooks evenly, and the center of the bottom has time to brown. Two glass plates and a ceramic one produced perfectly cooked apple and quiche fillings, golden top crusts, and satisfactory bottoms. This is because glass and ceramic heat more slowly than metal, which results in even baking. The glass laminate plate produced the crispest bottom crust of all but was downgraded because its steep, slippery walls caused the graham cracker crust to slump.
Our favorite all-purpose pie plate remains our previous all-glass winner, which provides slow, steady, insulating heat for even baking. Its shallow, angled sides prevent crusts from slumping, and it’s just 1 1/8 inches deep, which neatly fits a store-bought crust when we don’t feel like making our own. Its basic, functional design and low price made it the clear winner.