Pie weights are sets of small weights that are designed to be placed into a pie crust for blind baking. Blind baking is a commonly used technique in which the bottom crust of a pie is partially baked before the filling is added, ensuring that it bakes all the way through and stays crisp. In addition to these weights, which are available at many kitchen supply stores, cooks can also use things like beans or rice to hold down their pie crusts during blind baking.
If a pie crust is not weighted for blind baking, it can bubble up and develop air pockets. Putting some kind of weight inside ensures that the crust stays smooth and even during the prebaking process, although some cooks choose not to weight their pie crusts, for various reasons. Typically, the crust is removed from the oven when it just starts to turn golden, although for an already cooked filling like custard, the crust would of course be cooked all the way during the blind baking step.
A number of different designs can be used for pie weights. One of the simplest is just a chain or set of beads strung together. The advantage of strung weights is that they are easy to handle and wash, and they will not be lost in a kitchen drawer somewhere. Ceramic balls, polished river stones, or metal balls can also be used, in which case they typically come with a container for storage so that they will not be lost.
To use pie weights, cooks prepare the crust as directed, press it into the pie pan, pierce it several times for ventilation, and then arrange the weights inside, being careful to distribute the weight evenly. Some cooks like to lay them on a coffee filter or piece of parchment paper so that they do not make impressions in the crust. Then, the pie is prebaked, the weights are removed, and the filling is poured or spooned in.
The weights are most easily cleaned by dropping them into a dish of hot soapy water, allowing them to soak briefly, and then rinsing them. Some can be run through the dishwasher, in which case they should be washed in a silverware cage to ensure that they do not come loose and damage the dishwasher or other objects being washed. After being rinsed, the weights can be laid out on a towel to dry before being put away.