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Standard Flaky Pie Crust - really not that hard?

Not sure if this belongs here or in general topics, but here goes.

Maybe I'm crazy, but can someone explain to me why everybody talks about pie crust as if it's difficult to make? I've been 'making pie' since I was about 3 years old and my dad let me 'help', and i've never had a complete pie crust failure (I make my own pie now btw). I've tweaked my recipie and technique over time (all butter and into the fridge at every opportunity) and of course it's gotten better, and more consistent from pie to pie, but I've never made a crust that didn't beat a pre-made store bought crust hands down.

Now of course I'm not claiming that I make AMAZING pie crust, but it's pretty darn good and mostly, it's EASY. So what gives? Why does pie crust get talked about like it some holy grail of baking? Am I missing something here? Does my crust have whole new levels of greatness it could achieve if only I was willing to work for them? Or does it have more to do with the pie lore handed down for generations, mistly memories of grandma's pie clouding your judgement? Anyone have an insight here?

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  1. Would you mind sharing a description of your current technique and recipe. It sounds like you've got it down pat.

    1 Reply
    1. re: China

      I don't have my flour and butter covered scribbly scrap of paper on me, so I can't give you exact proportions, but it's essentially a couple cups of flour and a dash of salt to A LOT of butter. The butter should be completely cold and cut up into 1/2" cubes (ish) or smaller. I throw the butter in the flour and then just squish it with my hands until most of the cubes are at least squished in half. I've found that really is easier than using a pastry cutter, or two knives or what-have-you, but you have to work quickly so you don't melt the butter with your hands. Then I start splashing in ice water a tablespoon or so at a time while mixing with my hand until I get it to just come together into something resembling dough. Keep folding and squishing by hand just until you can get it into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and pop in the fridge until it is thouroughly chilled again. Roll it out quickly with a minimum of flour and get it into your pie pan. (I like to roll it onto my rolling pin/wine bottle and then unroll into the pan.) Stick it back into the fridge until you are absolutely ready to put it in the oven. That's it. The only tweaks to technique that I've added over time is keeping it as cold as humanly possible and using all butter. The actual proportions I think originally came from Joy of Cooking I think...some classic like that anyway, but that part doesn't seem that important. More butter than you'd think, and probably less water.

    2. I totally agree with you. Trust me, I occasionally use refrigerated bought pie crust just because I don't want the floury mess or dealing with rolling it out (yeah, lazy)... but it's weird when I bring a pie into the office sometimes and have colleagues say, "You MAKE your own CRUST??" (maybe because I'm a guy????).

      Anyway, I just use the basic Joy of Cooking pastry recipe.

      To be fair, maybe it seems daunting for people to cut in the shortening, and a pastry blender tool is kind of 'specialty' equipment for a lot of kitchens. That makes a big part of it easier for me (who wants to deal with two butter knives?). The act of rolling it out may put some people off too, but you're right, it's not rocket science. I'd probably rather deal with that any day over boiling syrup to the hard-crack stage, or any number of more complicated tasks.

      One final note: I have a friend who still makes apple pie with "salad oil crust" because that's the recipe her mom always used, and while it tastes more or less fine, the whole idea of that is ridiculous to me.

      6 Replies
      1. re: allegro805

        No...I get the "you make your own crust!!??" reaction too. Most recently from my boyfriends family at my first Thanksgiving with them. Who knows. And I agree with the pastry blender being a PITA. That's why I've finally just switched to using my hands (see above).

        1. re: wawajb

          Even easier than using your hands (for me, at least) is to use my Cuisinart to cut the very cold cubed butter into the flour and salt. I use 1 1/2 cups flour (6.25 oz.) and a pinch of salt to 1 cube (8 oz.) butter. Process until mixed. With machine running, pour in up to (no more than) 1/4 cup of very cold water. Stop machine when mixture starts to form a ball. If it has formed a ball, you have processed too long. The dough can be rolled out immediately, if you want, or shaped into a patty and chilled or frozen for later use. As stated above, the secret, if there is one, is to keep the elements cold, and to roll out quickly with as few passes as possible.

          1. re: jmnewel

            I finally got a food processor for Christmas this year, so you can bet I'm going to give that a try on my next pie. Which may be sometime this weekend...the BF's been hinting about pumpkin pie a bit lately.

            1. re: jmnewel

              I do the same--use my Cuisinart to cut the butter in. Works like a charm every time.

          2. re: allegro805

            No..for me it's the fear of rolling, moving it to a pie plate, and crimping....

          3. One more thing: I love the bit of trivia in Joy of Cooking that said something like "the average Colonial housewife probably baked at least 8-10 pies per week."

            Compared to that, 2 or 3 per year doesn't seem that big a deal...

            1 Reply
            1. re: allegro805

              If we were cooking 8-10 pies or loaves of bread or anything else every week, in a little while we'd get pretty good at it, I bet.

            2. I'm also confused by the mystique surrounding pie crust and all pastry. I guess when I started fooling around with it, I was too young and foolish to be afraid. Now I make pie pastry in large quantities and keep it, frozen, ready for when the urge strikes. Pie-making season (summer, fall) I make pies every week for a couple of months until the freezer can't hold any more. Then we eat them through winter and spring.

              2 Replies
              1. re: cheryl_h

                My first solo pie crust making happened because I had gone berry picking in the woods out back and came home with about 2 gallons of mixed blackberries and rasberries. I was about 10 years old and when I told my mom I wanted to make pie she just let me give it a try. It came out pretty good if memory serves...although I had to learn the hard way that juicy fruit WILL boil over and you MUST put something under it to catch the drips. Mom let me give cleaning the oven a try too.

                1. re: wawajb

                  My mother encouraged me to cook and bake so she didn't have to do all of it. She never liked baking much so she was happy when I took over. I loved making the mess even if I had to clean it up (though not the oven, thank goodness). Pastry was just another recipe I worked through in my fearless youth. I'm sure the first efforts were awful but you get better, right?

              2. I've been frustrated making pie dough in the past. It's not the actual "making" of the dough, that is the simple part. It's the rolling of the dough without having it crack apart. I think if you've found a recipe that works for you, more power to ya! Many of them have yielded disastrous results, and I try to make a pie every so often to keep up my rolling skills. I've tried many over the years that have left me in tears. I now use the recipe from Stars Desserts cookbook and get nothing but huge raves. (With 3 sticks of butter per pie -how could it be anything but amazingly flakey?)

                2 Replies
                1. re: ThisNThat

                  I agree...more butter is always better. And as for the rolling out, that's the only thing that ever gave me any trouble, and I used to annoy my mom to no end getting flour everywhere, but I just kept going, patching with scraps, and made it work. Sometimes it didn't look terribly pretty, but it always tasted good.

                  1. re: ThisNThat

                    Here's the trick to successful rolling:

                    First, after you've mixed in your liquid let the dough rest for about 10 minutes before you try to roll it out. That allows it to relax and makes it easier to roll it thin.

                    The second tip, which I learned from my grandmother, is always roll out from the center. That may mean you're rolling in all directions, but it works the best.

                    Another thing that's pretty essential for making pie crust is a bench scraper. With that you can get under the sheet of dough and move it or fold it or add more flour under it if you need to, without tearing the dough up.

                    When you get ready to put it in your pan, fold it over, then over again, and you'll have a piece that's about the right size to pick up without sticking your fingers through it. Again, use the bench scraper.

                    My mom isn't a pie baker, so all I learned about pie is from my grandma. The recipe I have from her calls for shortening, but here not too long ago I made it with the same amount of butter instead and it was absolutely wonderful. A slight difference in texture and a huge difference in flavor.

                    If you're baking an empty crust, I find that poking it several times with a fork keeps it from bubbling up and eliminates the need to put anything in it to weight it down.