Dear The Practical Kitchen,
Every time I make a pie or a tart, the dough seems to bubble up in the oven. The bubbles often go away, but sometimes they crack the dough and cause leaks, and other times they push the filling out of the way causing spillage. How do I stop my pie crust bubbling???
Bubble, Bubble, Toil, and Trouble
Oh, I wish I knew what kind of pie you’re making so I could tailor this better. Some pies you bake with the filling inside from the start, and others require pre-baking before you add the filling and finish baking (or let set in the fridge, depending on your filling).
Bubbling pie dough is caused by steam getting trapped under the dough during baking and having nowhere to go. The steam comes from the butter in the dough, which turns to liquid and then to steam in the oven. This steam is a good thing, and is the reason why you want to keep your pie dough well chilled and avoid handling it too much before baking — in the oven, those chilled pieces of butter turn to liquid which turns to steam and creates your nice flaky layers. When that steam has nowhere to go, however, it pushes the crust up creating bubbles and cracks. Steam is good. Bubbles are bad.
how to dock your pie dough
Regardless of if you’re pre-baking or not, it’s crucial that you dock your pie crust. Docking essentially means using a fork to poke holes all over the dough, making sure to get the sides/walls of the pie dough, too. This allows steam to escape during baking, so it doesn’t get trapped under the dough and bubble up. If you’re already docking and still having issues with bubbling, you may not be docking enough. Really make sure you’re pressing the fork to the bottom of the pan, and when you think you have enough holes, add a few more. Especially get them in corners of the crust, where the dough is likely thicker and will be more prone to bubbling and breaking.
how to use pie weights
If you’re pre-baking your crust, you can also use pie weights in addition to docking your crust to keep the dough down.
To use pie weights, spray a sheet of aluminum foil on one side with PAM spray or lightly grease it with a stick of butter, and press it, greased-side down into the tart crust (which should already be well-docked).
Then, scatter the pie weights, or, if you don’t have them, dry rice or beans work great, across the surface of the foil. Serious Eats even recommends using sugar, which takes on a toasty caramelized flavor in the oven and can be used just like regular sugar in future baking.
Pie weights come as loose ceramic beads or as a long, stainless-steel chain. I prefer the chain, because you have to remove the foil and pie weights from the pie part-way through the pre-bake, and it’s a lot easier to pick up a long strand of weights than it is a bunch of loose beads, if you accidentally drop them all over the bottom of your oven.
Between the docking and the pie weights, your crust will be sure to stay down. And if, despite your best efforts, it bubbles up anyway, that’s okay — keep an eye on your pie while it bakes and if you see a bubble forming, crack the oven open and gently poke it with a knife or fork to release the steam.
A final tip, if all else fails: Always place your pie or tart pan on a sheet tray while you bake. That way, even if your pie dough bubbles up, or the filling leaks out or spills over the top, you won’t find yourself scraping it off the bottom of your oven later.
Recipes that use this technique: Pear and Gruyere Tart