If only pie recipes asked you to roll the dough into an amoeba shape. I’m excellent at that one. But perfect circles or rectangles of dough? That takes a few reps.
Pies, cut-out cookies, cinnamon rolls, and danishes require a dough that is rolled out into a specific shape. If you decide to take the I’ll-fix-it-later approach (roll it out wonky, use a knife to cut the shape out later), you end up with a heap of unnecessary waste. So shape it before you roll.
It doesn’t seem like this would make a difference, but it does. I spent years getting miffed every time I rolled out a Pac-Man-shaped double crust. It wasn’t until I went to pastry school that I learned dough will always roll out into the same shape it starts in. (I just saved you a bundle on tuition, you’re welcome.) If you start with a circle, you’ll end up with a flat circle. If you start with a jagged clump, you’ll get a flat, jagged clump. The reason I kept ending up with half-moons when making a double crust recipe is because the wording in many recipes advise chilling your dough in that shape. The instructions tell us to work the dough into a ball and “split the dough,” “divide the dough,” or “cut the dough in half.” Seems straightforward–cut the sphere of dough in half. Many folks will wrap, chill, and then try to roll out this shape as is. It’s a bad start to making a circular pie crust. It’s great way to get a Pac-Man shape though.
To get the geometric shape you need, try to create a uniform mixture in the shape you want before you get rolling. For pie crust, divide the crumbly mixture before you compact it. Work the dough as separate crust portions, then wrap them as individual discs before they rest. For laminated or yeast dough, shape it before you set it aside to chill, or after the first proof just before you roll it. For any rectangular shapes that rest in the fridge, use the wrap to help encourage the formation of sharp corners. When making cut out cookies, shape the dough by kneading it briefly in your palms to discourage dry, crumbly edges. Then, press the dough on your work surface to create the perfect shape before you hit it with the pin.
Use this shaping technique to your advantage and experiment with baking new shapes. Pies are delicious as rounds, but what a limitation! Have you tried making a rectangular pie in your loaf tin? Or a chicken pot pie for 12 people in a 13×9-inch casserole dish? Maybe your Christmas cookie stamps are triangular trees. If so, you can roll out a giant triangle to optimise dough usage. Don’t worry, when it’s time to make a giant amoeba sugar cookie you can still fall back on old habits.