A little known fact of the Holiday Season is that it's also Pastry Season. That includes Cookie Season, by the way. I can't think of a better excuse than the holidays to bake pies, cakes and cookies.
Making good pastries is an art of precision. A few special pasty tools can go a long way in helping you find success.
Marble Pastry Board
Pastry doughs can be easily worked on a floured work surface of almost any kind. A marble board is ideal, though, because it helps keep the dough cool, making it easer to work with.
Used for sealing and glazing, the flat, paint brush, kind are much easier to use than the rounded varieties. Specialized ones are nice, but to be honest, I bought soft, 2 inch wide paint brush at my local hardware store, and it works great for me.
These can be fun, but aren't necessary. They sit in the middle of a pie, holding up the top crust and letting steam vent. If you want to spend the money on one, great, but you really don't need one. Cutting vent holes in the center of the crust, and perhaps a few others around the top, with a sharp knife will work just fine.
There are so many varieties and shapes of cookie cutters, it would be hard to list them all, here. They range from simple round cutters, to pretty fluted ones, to hearts, alphabet letters, cartoon characters ... you get the idea.
A heavy wooden rolling pin, without handles, is the easiest to use, and will give good results if you know how to use it. The best way to roll pastry is to roll the whole pin under your palms, sliding your hands from the center to the edges to distribute the weight evenly. I have a large, marble rolling pin with handles, but it is a little heavy, and the handles aren't really necessary. Some people prefer a French rolling pin because the tapered ends allow you to turn the pin as you roll out the dough.
Whenever you prebake a pie shell, it's best to weigh down the bottom to keep it from rising too much. Dried beans are a good alternative, but ceramic weights are heavier and will give you more consistent results.
I love my pastry scraper. It really helps manipulate delicate pie doughs. It's an incredible tool that's uses go way beyond just pastry dough. I use mine to scoop up chopped herbs, vegetables, and just about everything else. It's also great to help me scrape up food residues on my counter and cutting boards, helping me keep everything clean.
Photo by Karen Barefoot