Many of our pie recipes call for blind baking—baking the crust either partially or completely before adding the filling. But without a filling to hold the raw dough in place, the bottom can puff up or the sides can slump as it bakes, resulting in ugly, misshapen pies. To prevent this, the test kitchen uses pie weights. We do this not just for aesthetics: A slumped pie crust provides less room for filling.
While bakers can use dried beans, raw rice, and granulated sugar as pie weights, we wanted to find the best product designed specifically for the job. We tested four models of pie weights, priced from about $6 to about $60 per package, in a range of materials and styles, including a set of ceramic balls, a set of aluminum beans, a 6-foot-long stainless-steel chain, and a steel disk ringed with soft silicone flaps. As opposed to the balls and beans, the steel disk model consisted of just one piece, theoretically making it easier to use and store than traditional loose pie weights.
We used each model to partially bake 9-inch pie shells (Three-in-One All-Butter Pie Dough) and 9½-inch tart shells (Sweet Tart Pastry). For each test, we evaluated how easy the pie weights were to use, how evenly the crusts browned, and how successfully the weights prevented the doughs from puffing up or slumping down.
At the start of testing, we had high hopes for the chain and the disk models. It was a breeze to position both of them snugly in the dough-lined plate and extract them with one simple movement once the crust was baked, but those were the only things they excelled at. In every other evaluation, they flopped (more on that later).
To test the ceramic balls and aluminum beans, we followed our recommended test kitchen procedure. We placed two layers of aluminum foil on the chilled raw dough, loaded in the pie weights, and baked. To remove the weights in a tidy fashion, we pinched together the sides of the foil (holding two corners in our right hand and two corners in our left) and lifted. Placing the weights on top of layers of foil kept them from touching the raw dough, which meant that we didn’t have to wash them afterward. And while using the balls and beans was a little more time-consuming than using the chain and the disk, the balls and beans gave us much better results, so we didn’t mind the extra steps.
Next, we turned our attention to performance. Unfortunately, the chain didn’t live up to the promise on its packaging that said it “prevents crusts from bubbling.” We tried arranging it on the dough in a variety of ways, placing it freeform right on top of dough, placing it freeform on top of dough that we’d lined with foil, and coiling it tidily in a circle on top of dough. In each test, the dough puffed up to different degrees between gaps in the chain, leaving behind bumpy, bubbled crusts. In addition, the chain, even at 6 feet, was too short to cover the sides of the dough, resulting in slumped sides and less room for pie filling.
One package of Mrs. Anderson's ceramic beans contains 1 cup of pie weights. This amount was enough to keep the bottom of the crust from puffing up, but it wasn't enough to keep the sides of the crust from slumping slightly.
One package of Matfer Bourgeat aluminum beans contains 2¾ cups. While that's not enough to completely fill a pie shell (we recommend 4 cups), the weight of these beans kept the bottom of the crust from bubbling up.
Neither of these models weighed enough to keep the sides of the pie crust from slumping down and collapsing, rendering the pie crusts unusable.
The second innovative model, the disk-shaped pie weight, performed a bit better than the chain, but not by much. The disk fit snugly into the bottom of the dough-lined pie plate and gave us bottom crusts that were evenly browned and baked. But the silicone flaps encircling its perimeter barely covered the sides of the dough, leaving them unsupported and resulting in slumped and shrunken sides. We tried the model with a third type of dough, made from butter and shortening, which is less prone to slumping than an all-butter dough, and it worked much better. But overall, its results were too inconsistent for us, and we didn’t want our dough choices to be limited by the pie weights we’re using.
The traditional ceramic and aluminum beans were the best performers overall, but even they weren't perfect: Neither came with enough pieces in a single package to completely fill our pie shells, which is critical to ensure that both the bottom of the dough and its sides remain snugly pressed against the pie plate during baking. One package of ceramic balls contained just 1 cup of weights, while one package of aluminum beans contained 2¾ cups. This is where cost entered the equation. To adequately fill pie shells with these weights, we’d need multiple packages, and two packages of aluminum beans would cost more than $100. So we zeroed in on the less expensive option, Mrs. Anderson’s Baking Ceramic Pie Weights, purchasing four sets (for a total of 4 cups) for about $25. This amount weighed more than 2 pounds and filled the pie plate. With these ceramic balls piled high and pressing firmly against the dough’s bottom and sides, the bottom of the crust turned out crisp, flaky, and golden brown and its sides stood tall. We had a winner.