How do you avoid a soggy bottom?

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1. What is a soggy bottom?

As any fan of the Great British Bake Off will know, the dreaded soggy bottom occurs when the base of a pie or tart fails to cook properly, resulting in saturated or undercooked pastry.

It has polluted many pies and caused much consternation from the judges. Even experienced bakers will occasionally suffer from this affliction, but with a few simple techniques you can be sure to achieve a crisp, even pastry base every time – no matter what dish you’re baking.

2. What causes soggy pastry?

It’s often said that cooking is an art and baking is a science. Pastry is no exception so, to avoid your delicious pies and tarts being spoiled by soggy bases, it helps to understand a little of what’s happening at a molecular level.

When you cook pastry, it’s the gluten that creates the texture and structure, but it’s mainly the fat that decides the flavour. The cooking process is a battle between these two elements. If the fat melts before a gluten network has formed the pastry will be soggy. This is why pastry is usually cooked at quite a high temperature and in tins that conduct heat well.

Excess moisture, either in the pastry dough or the filling, also causes problems as the liquid sinks to the bottom of the dish and soaks the pastry.

Of course, good-quality pastry is also essential, so we've put together a collection of recipes which include all the information you need to make pastry to be proud of.

3. Why bake blind?

In many cases the secret to a crisp pie base is to precook the pastry before adding the filling. This is called blind baking.

Blind baking 'sets' the pastry by cooking it at a high temperature before adding the filling. It is particularly important when using fillings that need to be cooked gently, either to prevent them burning or to allow them to set.

If you are using a particularly wet filling, or one which will release juices as it cooks, consider sealing the pastry base with a barrier after blind baking. Egg white, melted chocolate or jam work well.

Where blind baking is not possible, such as with Cornish pasties, other techniques can be used to ensure enough heat reaches the pastry quickly. Try placing the pasties on preheated baking trays or a pizza stone.

4. Why a good baker can blame their tools

The type of pie dish or tin you use is more important than you might expect. The main considerations are heat conductivity and retention.

Thick, heavy tins, dishes and baking trays absorb more heat and get hotter than thinner versions. This is very useful when baking pastry as the faster the pastry base cooks the less likely you are to suffer from soggy bottoms.

Surprisingly, simple things such as the colour of your tins can make a big difference. For instance, black tins will absorb more heat than light-coloured shiny tins, which reflect heat.

For traditional pie dishes, both glass and ceramic retain heat effectively, but glass conducts heat better, so it will heat up faster and has the added benefit of allowing you to actually see the pastry base to check it’s cooked.

However, you can still achieve good results by placing your pie tin on a preheated pizza stone, heavy baking tray or the bottom of your oven. Extra heat will quickly reach your pastry. As your pastry will take a little longer to cook, consider creating a barrier between the filling and the pastry, and cut generous slits in pie lids to allow steam to escape easily.

5. Tips from a Bake Off winner

The 2013 Bake Off champion, Frances Quinn, managed to navigate the whole series with no soggy bottoms in sight. She shares her top tips and techniques for beautiful pastry with added flavour.

6. Pastry posers

Pick your pie problem and find out how to prevent the dreaded soggy bottom.

Meat pie

A double crust and a wet filling pose problems as meat pies are rarely blind baked.

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Meat pie

Top tip: cool the filling first

Use a pie dish that conducts heat well, such as black metal or glass. Cook the pie on a preheated oven tray or pizza stone.

Fruit pie

Juicy fruit fillings are one of the most difficult to perfect as the fruits release more moisture as they cook.

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Fruit pie

Top tip: slits in the lid let steam escape

Use a dish that conducts heat well. Cover the pastry base with a little beaten egg, chocolate or a dry layer of filling to soak-up excess liquid.

Flans, tarts and quiches

These are typically served out of the tin so your pastry needs to be cooked well to hold the pie together.

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Flans, tarts and quiches

Top tip: blind bake

Use a pie dish that conducts heat well. With particularly wet fillings, consider adding a layer of dry filling. If serving cold, cool out of the tin on a rack.

Wellington, en croute or pasty

A lack of a tin means blind baking isn't a possibility and juices from the filling can run out during cooking.

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Wellington, en croute or pasty

Top tip: use a preheated tray or baking stone

Ensure the filling is no warmer than room temperature before covering in pastry, precook any vegetable fillings and cool pasties on a rack.