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Apr 22, 2002 06:53 PM

Prepared Pie Crusts - Where can I find the best?

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I'm new to Chowhound and have been reading through earlier messages. Mrs. Smith was having a chat about pies. I have neither the talent nor desire to make my own crust. However, summer's coming and with all the outstanding fruit available, I get the urge to bake.

Who carries a good pie crust? I like a buttery crust. Healdsburg Bakery in the Embarcadero farmers market has a good quality crust, but it's not buttery enough for me.

I'm not a snob, even frozen is fine, but nothing I've tried at Whole Foods or Andronico's is very good.

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  1. try andronico's again. this time instead of going for the chilled pillsbury pie crust (which actually isn't all that bad and will do in a pinch if you can't spend the 5 minutes making dough and the 10 minutes to roll it out and crimp it). look in the freezer section by the puff pastry and prepared desserts. they carry a brand in a large, pizza size box that's red and white and is called -i think- something like french picnic. it's an all butter crust and is really quite delicious for something purchased. you get 2 very large crusts for about $6 or $7 dollars. i've used these more than once when i've forgotten i needed to make dough ahead of time or was just too lazy, yes, even i rely on the premade at times, i know, i know, but it's a confession that must be made to be believed.

    at any rate you might want to give them a try.

    12 Replies
    1. re: Rochelle

      Now, now Rochelle -- some of us aren't too lazy to make pie crust, we're too incompetent and/or intimidated.

      I'm a pretty good cook, and pie crust terrifies me. I've never yet managed to roll out dough decently: it sticks, it tears, it lumps. And then there's the shortening controversy. Ice water. Don't overwork! Arrgghhh!

      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        Modern technology ie. food processors has transformed pie crust making from an art into a push of a button that any idiot can do in 5 minutes.

        Measure about 1 cup of flour for every crust you want to make. Add a pinch of salt (and some sugar for sweet pies; fresh herbs are nice for quiches and savory pies).

        Stick in food processor. Push play. Grab a stick of butter and start dropping pieces into the whirling flour. When little "peas" form, add a splash or two of ice water (just the water, but you want it ice cold) for a final pulse of the processor.

        Form ball(s) of dough. Stick into Fridge to rest for 20+ minutes.


        Much better and cheaper than any bought crust.

        1. re: RedRob
          Stephen Stanley

          Ah Ruth, the kindness of strangers. Thank you for trying to defend my honor. I have nothing but admiration for those talented folks who can whip up a pie crust in 5 minutes with or without a food processor.

          However, I would have to tell people you are preaching to the cooking impared. There is no cooking idiot savant lurking here.

          Every Easter I search 3 - 4 cookbooks on how to boil eggs. This includes Harold McGee's "On Food and Cooking" The eggs have been wisked to the Farmer's market straight from the hen that morning. But alas, there is still the overcooked yolk, the green circle around the yolk, the rubbery white...

          so pie crust...there is no help for me other than to wander from supermarket to supermarket, bakery to bakery.....

          Yet I hold my head high. I refuse to retreat in shame.

          My talent lies in shopping...I can uncover the best virgin products...cherries, berries, tomatoes, etc, etc. (What I have done with Zuckermann's aspargus would make a foodie weep. However there is no way to REALLY ruin Zuckermann's).

          I love to watch people cook. I love to read about cooking. I have an extensive library of cookbooks from my travels. I was very entertained about how to create the miracle of pie crust in my once-used, like a virgin, food processor. But to paraphrase another chowhound, la dee da, it did make my head spin.

          I am that person for whom good restaurants were invented. I support a whole industry of chefs, servers, etc..etc.

          I shop. I eat out. I am proud.

          I get inspired once a season to bake a pie. This was unnecessary when the bakery next to the old Berkely Bowl was open. However, I can't find pie I like in the Bay area. Upper Crust. Please no. Bepple's. Ugh. The list goes on. I originated in New England where pie is a religion.

          So I will read in admiration when the more talented folk try to get me up to speed. But your instructions will blow over my head like dandelion seeds in the wind.

          1. re: Stephen Stanley
            Stanley Stephen

            The memories of past pie crust fiascos caused me to reverse my nom de hound.

            1. re: Stanley Stephen

              Amen to the usage of the trusty old food processor to make pie dough! Occassionally I'll make it by hand, just to reconnect, etc.. :-) Pie dough isn't really so mysterious. Anyone up for a seminar? I'll lead it!

              Another alternative to using up all of the beautiful fruit we're going to have soon is galettes. It's a super easy dough to make and you they are free form- rustic. I like Flo Braker's recipe in Baking With Julia. But there are many around.

              Have fun.

            2. re: Stephen Stanley

              LOL! Sorry Ruth, I hadn't read this before I posted my 8-or-so steps to the mystery of pastry for you. I'm glad you can stand up and be proud about not cooking. Hurrah!

            3. re: RedRob

              Thank you, RedRob, another chance for the food processor to save my wrists! I'll try it as soon as the farmer's market starts here.

              1. re: galleygirl

                An addendum to RedRob's technique: cut the FROZEN stick of butter into 4 lengthwise, then cut irregularly into cubes 1/4-3/4". (This gives "cornmeal texture + some larger pieces.) Also, it helps to have keep the flour in the freezer, too.

                In addition, I find the crust benefits from being chilled after it is formed as well as before. Lastly, I like to bake it directly on a baking stone, beginning in an oven that has be preheated to a higher temperature, then turning it down to it's baking temperature. Sometimes when the bottom of the crust is nicely browned, I'll move the pie/tart higher in the oven if the top edge needs a bit more browning. And in most ovens, it's beneficial to turn the pie/tart from front to back to even the browning.

            4. re: Ruth Lafler

              ruth, sweetest,

              i certainly didn't mean to imply anyone would be too Lazy to make pie dough. as i said, i, myself, have used prepared crusts tho it's very quick for me to make dough.

              as for the intimidation factor, julia has much to say about the joys of making dough. she once said that if you are intimidated by it you should just begin making it. and make it. and make it. until you can't give a pie away. and someday you will master it. in "baking with julia" she has a 1/2 butter, 1/2 shortening recipe which i dearly love. it's both short and flavorful and can be made by hand, in a mixer or in a processor and is nearly foolproof if you chill all of your ingredients and reserve some of the water, adding it several teaspoons at a time. if you don't have the recipe email me and i'll jet it off to you. it pains me to think the queen of international can give in to a little flour!


              1. re: Rochelle

                Thanks for the encouragement, Rochelle.

                I long ago figured out that pie crust (like bread) is something you need to do over and over until you get a "feel" for it. Somehow making that concerted effort to master pie crust has never made it to the top of my priority list (although I've always fantasized that some day I would be able to spend my days at home and master bread, pie crust and gardening).

                However, with the help of Wendy's baking group I'm going to tackle bread -- maybe pie crust will be next.

                In the meantime, I have a killer fruit crisp recipe that I like better than fruit pie anyway!

              2. re: Ruth Lafler

                Ruth, I hear and note your fears about working with pie pastry. I had them too -- and I cook all the time. It took me a while to really understand pastry, and I was motivated to stick with it. If you (or others) are really interested in making pie crust/pate frisee/pate sucree/ etc, I can give you some of the benefits of my pastry disasters/learning sessions.

                1) There is something Erma Rombauer, the author of the original Joy of Cooking, said about a "light hand at pastry". She claims this is inborn. I've seen it. Some people seem to somehow know how to work with pie crust instinctively. I'm not one of them. It is possible to learn. Just remember, handle lightly.

                2)Do not be fooled by people who tell you to use hydrogenated vegetable shortening. Trans-fats are very bad for us, and any "flakiness" that is lost by using other fats can be made up in other ways.

                3) As Marian Cunningham says (Fanny Farmer Baking Book) lard makes the best pastry. I'm sure to vegtarians and the fat-conscious this is terrifying. It is, however true. It makes a pretty savory, but unbelievably flaky delicious crust. It's not good for fruit pies and you really can't make it very sweet, but for mincemeat pies, savory pies, etc it's supreme.
                Lard really isn't that much worse for you than butter I'm told.

                4) But if lard grosses you out, you can use all butter crusts that are spectacular. Martha Stewart (I know I am supposed to hate her, but she communicates some good things sometimes) -- "make it cold, bake it hot". Ice water is a must. Her pate brisee recipe I have never failed with, no matter how I tried to screw it up (leaving it uncovered while I yakked on the phone, dumping in too much water, rolling in a hot kitchen, etc). Bake it in as hot a preheated oven as the recipe can stand.

                5) A marble board can make all the difference. Or a pastry cloth.

                6) Cold cold cold cold cold cold shortening. This is there is of knowledge and all ye need to know :)

                7) Tried a food processor yet? When you're not making the piece de resistance it really makes great crust.

                8) Pie and Pastry Bible writer Rose Levy Berebaum has a somewhat fussy but really delicious butter and cream cheese crust, which is my current favorite.

                I wish you luck -- if you really like making pastry, a good homemade pie crust can be so rewarding. I've never had so many compliments on anything I've made when my piecrust came out right. It's really useful for other dishes too -- fruit dumplings, tarts, quiche, savory pies, etc etc. I'm always interested in talking about this kind of stuff so let me know if you want more recipes, cookbook references, etc. Pastry chefs out there-- weigh in!

              3. re: Rochelle

                I'll second that suggestion for the French Picnic pie crusts. All organic butter and flour, easy to handle, and tasty. They are large sized to fit a 10"(?) tart pan. Easy as pie. (sorry, couldn't resist)

              4. Have you tried the Nancy's crusts. They're pretty buttery and I think that they're good. I always have some in my freezer -- I get them at Tower Market but I've seen them at a lot of good markets.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Nancy Berry

                  I second Nancy's Pie Crust. I use it all the time and found it to be buttery and delicious. Not as good as a good homemade but one of the best store-bought.