Make me the pie crust queen
September 29, 2014 4:11 PM   Subscribe

I want to make the best pie crust ever. ever. ever. Help me.

I've always wanted to make my own pie crust. Now the perfect opportunity has arisen and I want to knock people's socks off with the perfect traditional pumpkin pie (though I'm only looking for advice on the crust).

Do you know of a perfect recipe or have any tips in general? I'm very experienced with dough but not with homemade crusts at all. I want everyone to praise me for a wonderful crust. Any special touches to really make people notice this extraordinary crust?
posted by Aranquis to Food & Drink (41 answers total) 83 users marked this as a favorite
J. Kenji López-Alt is the one who developed the famous vodka pie crust recipe for America's Test Kitchen. But, due to legal stuff, he's no longer able to write about it since he's not employed by them anymore. But, his general write-up of pie crust science is quite illuminating.
posted by quince at 4:17 PM on September 29, 2014 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Keep everything cold - cold butter, cold flour, cold water. If you're rubbing the butter/fat into the flour by hand, dip your hands in ice water (and dry them) to keep them cold too.

Don't skimp on resting the pastry - it should rest once for 30 minutes (in the fridge) in a lump, and then again when you've rolled it out.

Don't work the pastry too much or it'll be tough.
posted by girlgenius at 4:22 PM on September 29, 2014 [6 favorites]

I have made the vodka pie was nothing special.

Make sure everything you use is cold -- butter, and ice water. I've found using a food processor is fast and easy for combining ingredients and isn't as messy. Don't over process though, that'll make it tough. Refrigerate for an hour before rolling out and then let it rest in the pie dish for 30 minutes before trimming or adding ingredients.

My DIL uses milk in her crust and it's nice and tender. My recipe is just standard Betty Crocker cookbook with a few variations like extra butter.
posted by OkTwigs at 4:23 PM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oooh yes! You can do a galette type crust, which is very forgiving:

1 cup flour
1 tsp sugar
Pinch of salt
Almost 1 stick of butter (less 1inch)
3-6 TBS cold water

Pulse in a food processor until it becomes a ball, then add the cold water, a little bit at a time, pulsing. If you get too much water, don't worry.

Put it onto a board and flatten into a disk, like a big hockey puck. If it's too wet, sprinkle a little flour on top and fold it over and make another hockey puck. Wrap it all in plastic and put it in the fridge for a while.

Then, take it out a little while before you make your pie, okay? Let it sit for 15 minutes, and then roll it out and put into your pie plate.

You can also do this with lard (some people swear by it, but it should be cold, in my opinion), or a mix of lard and butter. I personally like butter.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:26 PM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Add sour cream to the dough. Add sour cream to literally everything, really, everything at all times.
posted by poffin boffin at 4:27 PM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

This may not be readily accessible for you, but when I was living in Alaska, one of my roommates told me the secret of her mother's world-famous pie crust. Her secret? Bear lard.
posted by blazingunicorn at 4:32 PM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

I like to use half cream cheese and half butter. Cream cheese crusts are more fail-proof than all-butter, which can melt and make your crust tough. I usually just use the Joy of Cooking recipe for cream cheese crust, but you could also try Rose Levy Birnbaum's recipe from the Pie and Pastry Bible.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:33 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I make amazing, flaky pastry. I use the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook recipe and I use a fork to get it together. As soon as it looks like a ball of rags, I stop. Then I refrigerate it.

Basically, you don't overwork the dough.

I will tell you though, people don't really care all that much about pastry. Sure, it's great, but for all the work and hassle of it...homemade is only 2% better than Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crust.

If you want to tart it up, (see what I did there?) Bake it in the pie plate for about 10 minutes before filling it, and brush the edges with butter. But really, I don't even do that.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:33 PM on September 29, 2014 [5 favorites]

I've had great luck with 50/50 lard and butter. Also, a shot of vodka makes for a flakier crust, due to vaporizing alcohol.
posted by The Gaffer at 4:35 PM on September 29, 2014 [6 favorites]

1 stick cold butter (1/2 c)
1 1/3 c flour
a pinch of salt
(a pinch of sugar if you feel like it)
Whirl around in a food processor until you only have little lumps ("coarse cornmeal" or a little lumpier). Then while the processor is on, slowly drizzle in about 1/4 c cold water. The stuff should come together in a ball that whirls around the food processor. If it doesn't, add a tiny bit more water.

Press into a disk and fold in saran wrap and put in the fridge for 15 minutes or more. Let it warm up a bit before you try to roll it out.

Always satisfactory, and easy to remember.
posted by leahwrenn at 4:36 PM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

A friend makes the best pie crust ever. It's good enough to make me love apple pie, which ordinarily I can take or leave alone. I went to her house to learn her secrets. Turns out she uses the straight-up Joy of Cooking basic pie crust recipe. The secret is in her touch. She is incredibly cavalier in her handling of the dough. She just kind of slaps it around in a brisk yet offhand way. No fussing, no dithering. That's what "don't overwork it" means. Her crusts aren't perfect-looking--they're shaggy and bumpy and cracked in places--but the texture is sublime.
posted by ottereroticist at 4:42 PM on September 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

I meant until it becomes like crumbs and then like a ball with the water, my bad.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:43 PM on September 29, 2014

If Google books will let you preview it or you can access it another way, this book has recipes and general advice on a variety of different sorts of pie crust.
posted by XMLicious at 4:45 PM on September 29, 2014

I like the Cooks Illustrated crust.

And yes, don't overwork the crust! Also, chilling it before you roll it out definitely helps.

I can't imagine using a food processor: I've made my crusts by hand for nearly 40 years, using a pastry blender. Very few have failed completely, although many have been less than classically beautiful.
posted by suelac at 4:46 PM on September 29, 2014

I prefer half lard, half butter. I use milk for the liquid. I totally work the fat into the flour with my hands, just like you're not supposed to. Chill before rolling, don't over work it.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 4:46 PM on September 29, 2014

I find lard crusts to be far, far more forgiving than butter crusts. Biggest thing is to not care too much about how it looks initially. Just roll it out and get on with it. Once you have mastered that, then worry about pretty.

I also like to put a milk wash on the top of double crust pies. I think it gives a better look than egg washes which are too shiny.
posted by nolnacs at 4:49 PM on September 29, 2014

Best answer: I'm in the all-butter camp personally, and have gotten heaps of compliments on my often not-pretty but very tasty pie crusts. A trick I have been using to avoid overworking and also save my hands is to freeze the butter and then grate it into the flour on a cheese grater. Mix it with your fingers and the ice water. Much easier and I think allows for more control than the food processor. But I do things by feel.
posted by Athanassiel at 4:58 PM on September 29, 2014 [6 favorites]

This butter/shortening recipe has been perfect for me. I have to emphasize not overworking the dough and adding as little water as needed to get to all come together.

For a single crust:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1/4 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into pieces
1/4 cup cold water
posted by exois at 5:10 PM on September 29, 2014

Best answer: Seconding ottereroticist, it's all in the attitude. People fuss too much with their pie dough trying for perfect ratios and textures and whathaveyou. I use Joy of Cooking's recipe as well, the one that is part butter and part shortening, but use whatever appeals to you. Just get everything cold, get it combined (I use my hands, horror of horrors, but that's what my grandma did), get it cold again, roll it out, and get it in a pan. Don't think about it too much. Once the crust is rolled out right, roll it up on your pin and unroll in the pie pan. Don't think about what you're doing. Patch it with the edges that are too long if it tears. People rave about the pie crust I make, and the only consistent thing I do is don't worry about it.
posted by donnagirl at 5:13 PM on September 29, 2014

I get compliments all the time on my pie crust. It's almost always the Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crust that Ruthless Bunny mentioned with a sugary milk or cream wash on top.

But, yes, as many are saying, keep everything cold if you are making the crust from scratch.
posted by plastic_animals at 5:16 PM on September 29, 2014

Best answer: I don't know his recipe, but my significant other (a baker) puts his butter in the freezer for a while then grates the butter (with a cheese grater!) into the mix. Then barely touches it with his hands.
posted by missriss89 at 5:17 PM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Frozen butter on a cheese grater!

Where has this genius suggestion been all of my life?!

There are people in this world who do amazing things with flour, butter, and an oven when it comes to pie crust. If you turn out to be one of those blessed few, you will soon know.

Otherwise, I concur that simple crust is easy to make in the cuisinart (my best made that way), a pastry blender is pretty handy, and using a fork or your fingers is labor intensive but fun.

There's no shame in buying a quality crust frozen. Please do read the ingredients list if you go that way in the future.

Good luck.

(I think you can't go wrong with the cheese grater technique and I can't believe I have never heard of this before. No matter what recipe you choose I heartily recommend you employ that technique. And use grass fed unsalted butter, like Kerry Gold. Good luck!!)
posted by jbenben at 5:20 PM on September 29, 2014

And for keeping consistently cold elements, Williams Sonoma will sell you a marble pastry board and a marble rolling pin, which you keep in the freezer till needed.
posted by mmiddle at 5:25 PM on September 29, 2014

YMMV, but the pie crust that's truly knocked people's socks off is the saltine version. Paired with a pumpkin chiffon filling (instead of the traditional custard), it's really something.
posted by evoque at 5:27 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I make a LOT of pie. Best practices:

- All-butter, all-shortening, and combination crusts are all good for different things. All-butter is flaky and crisp and buttery; all-shortening is "shorter", that is, more tender and crumbly rather than flaky. It tends to be easier to work and more forgiving of environment and temperature; it also freezes much better. Combinations are a good compromise. For custard pies like pumpkin, I generally think the crumblier texture of shortening or shortening/butter is a better match for the filling. Lard makes an insanely delicious, flaky crust but is hard to find.

- Process is important; your goal is tiny-to-small disparate balls of fat coated in flour which melt as they bake, leavening the crust with steam (this is why butter crusts and puff pastry are so flaky - all the water in the butter). You need to work fast enough to keep the fat from softening and thoroughly enough to have no unincorporated flour.

The easiest way is in a food processor with chilled fat (I usually cut cold shortening and butter into coins and put in the freezer for ten minutes before working); as long as you don't overprocess, it takes just a few no-brainer pulses to get it perfect. The most controllable way is by hand, rubbing the butter in with (cool) fingers and putting the entire bowl in the fridge from time to time if the kitchen is warm. Pastry blenders do a less good job than either option in my opinion.

- Your second goal with pie crust, unlike other wheat doughs, is to develop as little gluten as possible. Tough pie crust is the WORST. I hardly work the dough at all—I tend to fold it a couple of times after adding the liquid and then wrap it (shaggy unevenly moistened bits and all) in plastic wrap and let the dough rest for fifteen to twenty minutes in the fridge to help the moisture even out rather than working it any more.

- Use plenty of flour to roll out and brush excess off as needed. Even an all-butter dough should feel smooth and pliable, not prone to cracking (it may be too cold if it is) or smearing (definitely too warm). It should be flexible enough to fold without cracks when you quarter it to transfer to the pan. Get a French-style rolling pin with tapered ends and roll from the center out, not side to side.

- Never stretch dough as you fit it into the pan, even slightly as you pat it down. This is what creates the dreaded shrunken crust. Instead, bottom it out in the pan first, work out to the side wall, and then drape up and over, easing excess in rather than stretching to fit. Build a healthy double lip on the rim (not around it, omg I see people doing this all the time and it's tragic). Basically, be generous with size when forming to ensure the right size after baking.

- Speaking of pans, plain steel pie plates are my favorite; they offer good heat transfer and browning, are light and easy to clean, and are easy to transport. It poses no problem to put a chilled steel pan straight in the oven (as it does with glass or ceramic).

- In the oven, you are trying to cook the crust fast enough to set the shape before the fat melts but slowly enough to let the fat do its job and create air pockets. For double crust and filled pies, you're also dealing with cooking the filling at the same time and trying to get the bottom crust to cook before it gets too soggy. When blind baking as for your pumpkin pie, use parchment paper (not foil) to line the crust; use dried beans as weights. They will become lighter after you've been using them for a while so add more or replace regularly. When baking double crust pies with wet fillings, preheat a baking sheet in the oven and set the pie plate on it to get more heat to the bottom crust. I usually bake hot (475F) for 15 minutes and then turn down to 325 or 350 to finish.

- Cover your edges with foil to prevent overbrowning—after your hard fluting or twisting or whatever has set. Hang half-pipe arcs of tinfoil over the edges halfway through the bake; uncover with five minutes to go if you want to brown them more. But I usually don't bother.

- All of this is stuff I have found to be true, but it is possible to overthink pie crust, too. In general, keep everything cold and use a light hand with everything, and your pie will be super.

- But one final suggestion: always make a double crust. Freeze the other half in a thick disk if you're only making a single crust pie that night. Then, at a moment's notice, you can have PIE.
posted by peachfuzz at 5:27 PM on September 29, 2014 [15 favorites]

A pastry chef dating a friend of mine says skip the vodka, it's overrated. But a bit of vinegar in with the water helps prevent gluten from forming in the dough.

The food processor can be tricky to use - don't over-process the dough, stop when the butter gets to mostly pea-sized. Which is really quick.

I made some pie dough today, all butter, and I broke up the butter by hand. Everything was well-chilled and I chopped up the butter into 1/2 inch pieces before tossing into the flour, then tore the little pieces up further.
posted by lizbunny at 5:36 PM on September 29, 2014

I've been getting a lot of joy out of rough puff pastry for pie crusts. Don't worry, it's not a real laminated dough and doesn't take appreciably longer than regular old shortcrust pastry, but the result is the flakiest pie crust to ever fall apart into layers when you prod it with a fork.
posted by bewilderbeast at 5:44 PM on September 29, 2014

Best answer: I am a pie crust snob. I make a fine pie crust and I take it seriously and I judge harshly the pie crusts of others. Here's how I roll:

1/2 cup lard
1 and 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teasp. salt
Ice cold water (like, run a glass, put some ice cubes in it, and let it sit a while before using), enough to make the first three ingredients hold together in a lump. Start with 3 Tbsp, you may need to add 5 or 6 if you have a woodstove or something.

1. Put dry ingredients in bowl. Mash fat into flour/salt using a pastry blender or fork. I use a fork. Keep mashing until there are no large bits of fat left. (This will generate a crust style termed "mealy" and it is what my people prefer. If you want larger "flakes" of crust, you need to leave bigger pieces of fat whole, like grains-of-rice-sized. The fat lumps left whole make the "flakes' happen. A mealy crust is fine-grained and will shed little flakes of pastry crust when you brush it with your finger BUT ALSO will hold together so that you can balance a piece of pie on your thumb -- fluted edge under your four fingers -- and eat it like that without crust failure.)

2. Add water, three Tbsp first and then one by each after that... Stir round-n-round with your fork after the first three and after each additional Tbsp to see if ingredients hold together. You will have *some* crumblies, but the bulk of the thing should hold together.

3. When you have a big lump of mostly-coherent dough, tip it out on a well-floured surface, shape it gently into a hamburger patty shape with your hands, and then roll it out to pie-dough size (work from the middle to the edges, light strokes, no more than necessary). Use lots of flour, stuff should not stick.

4. Using flipper-turner thing (I have a skinny metal one that I use for omelets and stuff), carefully roll up pie crust into a scroll. Do not roll tightly, you're going to be unrolling in a minute anyway, this is just for safe transport.

5. Get pie pan near scroll of pie dough. Like, put it down on the free counter you just exposed by rolling the dough up into a scroll. Pie dough will not airlift to the other counter or something. Grasp pie dough scroll in both hands, airlift quickly over pie pan, gently unroll so that pie dough crust is appropriately placed over pie pan.

6. Press into bottom/sides of pie pan, cut to length (over lip of pie pan).

Proceed to fill pie with filling. If a two-crust pie, repeat crust recipe for other crust and airlift it on top. Trim, flute edges, vent pie with knife slashes, bake.

This works. It works *well*. It has no tricks (vodka, ice-filled rolling pins, etc.) and will work in very cold wintertime kitchens and also in eighty degree kitchens in August. What it needs to work, more than anything, is *practice*. Pie crust is made from flour, fat, salt, water. These ingredients are cheap and uninteresting. What makes pie crust better or worse is the cook's skill and pie dough is not a forgiving dish. If you do it craptacularly, everyone will know. The ONLY way you get good at pie crust is practice and I am here to state for the record that the ingredient missing from MOST people's pie crusts is practice.
posted by which_chick at 6:03 PM on September 29, 2014 [7 favorites]

Pillsbury pie crust is pretty good. My pumpkin pie trick is to take some extra crust and cut out some shapes - maybe stars, or a moose, and lay it/ them on top. With stars, I sometimes use 1 star per piece. It looks pretty, so of course it tastes great, right?
posted by theora55 at 6:25 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Smitten Kitchen pie crust!!!

I'll say it again, SMITTEN KITCHEN PIE CRUST. She did a two part series on making your pie crust delicious. I've used it many times and get rave reviews.
posted by bluloo at 6:47 PM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

posted by Melismata at 7:22 PM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

Nthing LARD. I'm also a pie crust snob and I have little use for pie crust without lard. If you're near a farmer's market, you can sometimes find it at a pork vendor; the magic words you need to utter are "rendered leaf lard." (Don't buy it unreserved.)

My friend is a chef and taught me everything I know about pie crust. He has a good blog post on it here. His secrets: lard and fraisage.
posted by holborne at 8:19 PM on September 29, 2014

I'm fond of this recipe from the long-ago internet times.
posted by Makwa at 9:19 PM on September 29, 2014

Yikes, in my previous post, it should say, "Don't buy it unrendered." Damn you, autocorrect.
posted by holborne at 9:35 PM on September 29, 2014

I agree with the way Melismata put it: "LARD LARD LARD LARD"

Make it like your grandparents did. The best tasting, and BY FAR the flakiest, crusts come from lard. There is no substitute. If butter or something else was better, they would have used it - they didn't and you shouldn't. It is lard, period.
posted by Leenie at 10:38 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Practice! Despite all the tips in the world, you need to get a feel for what works better and not. How does your oven heat? Will you need to use pie beads? What are the idiosyncrasies of your chosen flour... There are so many pie variables, that sometimes you just need practice.
Oh, and agreeing with those who said that there is no shame in buying store made pie dough. If, after practice, you want the reliability of store bought, then don't feel bad about it.
posted by troytroy at 5:30 AM on September 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just to offer a different perspective, I grew up with this pie crust:

4 T vegetable oil
3 T ice water
Pinch salt
Flour to make it come together

It makes a thin, crispy and flaky crust which if not overworked will melt in your mouth. My mom makes this crust all the time and gets compliments on it everywhere since it's so different from the pudgier, doughier crusts one usually sees.
posted by Cygnet at 5:59 AM on September 30, 2014

Freeze the butter and then use a grater to grate it up. This will allow you to work it through the flour quickly and easily without it getting too warm or over handled, since the butter will be in small shreds.
posted by thegoldfish at 7:02 AM on September 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seconding Smitten Kitchen -- specifically the All Butter Really Flaky Pie Dough.
posted by nonane at 8:06 AM on September 30, 2014

The biggest factor is practice. You'll get better and better as you go. Bake a lot of pies.

Lard is great. Shortening is good. Butter provides flavor, but use somewhat sparingly: it's not great for texture. Combining fats is fun; you can experiment.

There's no one Holy Grail recipe. You have to find what you like, and what you like to taste. I use part White Whole Wheat flour. To some people that would be sacrilege.

To me, keeping everything cold is not so important. Working the dough as little as possible is important.

Find the perfect bowl, and the perfect spoon or spatula. Comfortable tools make a difference.

Bake a lot of pies. Give them away. You'll make friends, and your pies will get better and better.

This world needs more homemade pies.
posted by rikschell at 12:46 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Pie crust theory can wander into the territory of religious arguments, so while there are a lot of things that I will die on a hill for if you are talking to me in person (all butter! do all your mixing by hand! only four ingredients!), I'll tell you a few of the subtler things I have picked up over my years of making a pretty decent pie crust.
  1. If you're doing your crust mixing by hand (which you bloody well should, because a food processor makes it way too easy to under- or over-mix), what will matter most to you is speed. You want your hands in contact with the chilled fat for as little time as possible. To prep for Thanksgiving, I try to make sure the tendons and muscles in both thumbs are as loose and strengthened as possible, because if you do more than two crusts, your thumbs will feel like they're going to fall off and you'll slow down enough that it will affect your final product. My suggestion: back massages! It's the exact same set of muscles, and I have never heard any complaints from my wife when it comes time to start strength and conditioning.
  2. Your fat needs to be cold. COLD. As in, it should be so close to frozen that it is difficult to break it into smaller pieces. You do this by measuring out your flour and salt, then slicing thin wedges of butter into the mix, tossing to coat, and throwing the whole bowl into the freezer for ten minutes. Fifteen minutes will freeze it solid, but ten seems to work just right
  3. When you're adding water, be mindful of how humid the air in the kitchen is. It sounds crazy, but you'll decrease your liquid amount by as much as a third on a really humid day, because your flour will absorb so much moisture from the air. You always want to use the bare minimal amount of water to bind your crust.
  4. You should treat anyone telling you to put anything other than flour, salt, solid-at-room-temperature-fat, and water into your pie crust the same way you would treat someone telling you that a martini is made with vodka. This person has a vague idea of the substance s/he wants to create, but has so completely divorced him/herself from reality that you should treat all further culinary proclamations with extreme suspicion. I'll provisionally withhold judgment on vodka (even though J. Kenji López-Alt himself has recanted from his earlier madness), but sugar or vinegar or egg in pastry means you're making something that is not pie crust.

posted by Mayor West at 11:52 AM on October 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older Transfer of social work qualifications between...   |   What is the song in the new Jeep Commercial... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.