There is of course the downside to the pie unit. Complaints of "The dough is too cold and hard to work with," "I can't roll it out evenly," "I can't make a circle." Then there's the MESS: the over-flouring, the flour all over the counters, all over the floors... the flour that's STILL all over the counter after it dries, because they didn't really wash the counters they just moved the flour around and it dried in hard, flat blotches all over the counters... you know what I'm talking about.
So about two years ago I found this handy little contraption, the Harold Pie Crust Maker, and I decided to try it out today (yes, it took two years for me to get around to it, but in all fairness I didn't teach pies this year!).
Essentially it is a zippered bag that you roll the pie crust out in.
It comes in two sizes - 14" and 11". I purchased the bigger one because I could adjust for smaller crusts if need be. Here's how it worked; stated directions are in standard type, my comments are in Italics.
The directions say to lightly flour both of the insides of the bag. I also added just a pinch to the dough itself. I used much less than a tablespoon altogether for the dough and both sides of the bag.
Zip the bag up all the way around, then roll. The dough was extremely easy to roll, and I think faster than standard methods. I didn't go all the way to the edges, because I didn't need a full 14 inches. I think it's probably best to try to avoid going all the way to the edge, because the dough can get caught in the zipper when you open the bag.
Unzip the bag, carefully peel the top side off of the crust. Then invert on the pie pan, and carefully peel back remaining side of bag. I couldn't believe how easy it was to cleanly peel both sides off, as well as invert it into the pan without disaster.
The crust turned out a great thickness, and there was almost no flour or sticky/crumby dough left over in the bag - and none on the counter!!!
Hand wash the bag with soap and warm water. The bag was extremely easy to clean. Drying was a little tricky just because of it's awkward shape, so I just hung it over the faucet to blot with a towel and then I let it air out there so that the zipper would fully dry. Julie, that's the Snoopy quilt you made for me years ago in the background on the couch! Kristine, that's the afghan that you made for us for our wedding years ago!
Kind of irrelevant, but here is the finished product I created with the crust - it is a "Sawdust Pie" from this pie cookbook. If you're into baking pies, I highly recommend the book!
My overall opinion: I am definitely going to try using these in class the next time we bake pies! They are not that expensive - the big one bounces between $6-$7 dollars on Amazon, the 11" is usually just under $5. They're also available at a lot of kitchenware stores for a similar if slightly higher price. You'd have to make sure the kids clean the bags well, but they are much more likely to do that successfully (and in a timely fashion) than clean up their flour messes. It also takes the stress out of trying to make a circle for a novice baker, as well as makes cold dough easier to work with. I imagine it would work well with pizza dough, another bonus - I'll have to try it out the next time I make pizza at home.
If you face any of the issues I mentioned at the beginning of this post, my suggestion is pick up one of these bad boys and try it at home for yourself - I think you'll be just as impressed as I was!
And seriously, check out the "Pie" cookbook!