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What's going on with my pie crusts?

I don't really have the counter space to roll out pie crusts, so I usually buy the ones from Trader Joe's. TJs used to use pure butter in their crusts and have now switched to a mix of butter and palm oil, but frankly I have this problem even with the rare homemade crust and the change in TJs ingredients hasn't made any difference on this end.

Every. Single. Time. I try to make the pie crust look pretty, as soon as I put it in the oven, it melts. I did a beautiful stand-up fluting for my deep dish pecan pie this Thanksgiving, and the whole thing fell - the crust turned into a flat circle around the plate and the tall parts hung straight down off the edges like a dough awning and snapped off when I took it out of the oven. Pathetic. For the pumpkin pie, I decided to forgo the pretty fluting for that reason, trimmed off the excess, and just pressed a fork into the flat dough. Even the tine marks melted away into a flat blob of boring crust. What is going on? The beautiful pecan pie crust was frozen first to try to preserve the edging, but that didn't work; the pumpkin was put into a hotter oven first to try to flash-cook it (400 or 425 for 10 mins instead of the pecan's 350) and that didn't work either. Is it just the Trader Joe's recipe? I haven't made my own crust since we moved to the smaller kitchen a few years ago, but I do seem to remember my own all-butter crusts having similar issues. What's the secret to keeping a pretty edge?

And while we're on the topic - is anyone else having a serious issue with TJ's crusts leaking major oil? I'm assuming it's the palm oil in the new formulation, but that pecan pie, since there was so much crust hanging off, was literally sitting in a massive puddle of oil in its cookie sheet - I couldn't even hold the pie plate on my lap in the car, but had to wrap it in paper towels and put it in a plastic bag because it was covered in so much grease.

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  1. Can't help with TJ's( they are not available here) but the 'problem' with your crust keeping its shape is in the all-butter or butter/palm oil combo approach. Switch to a shortening based crust and the problem goes away. Lard holds its' shape better than butter, too.

    Now, about that all butter taste thing...well, you can't have it all.

    1. Use a combination of lard & shortening...put it in the freezer 15 minutes before making the crust and it should come out flaky with no "melting"

      1. I am a fairly indifferent baker so I cannot comment on the problems with your homemade crusts. I typically cheat and used the refrigerated Pillsbury crusts for my pies. I've never had the problem you report with the TJ crusts. You may want to switch to a different brand of prepared crusts, like Pillsbury.

        1. I can only commiserate, not advise. I no longer buy TJ's crusts. When they were all butter, I had a few in which the butter was positively rancid. I'm guessing the quality control issue was one reason they switched formulas. If I am pressed and don't have time to make a crust, I buy the frozen ones from Whole Foods, then thaw them and put into whatever dish I'm using.

          But if you have room for a cookie sheet on your counters, you probably have room to roll out a crust for an 8 or 9 inch pie. You may just have to put some appliances or whatever is taking up room on the floor temporarily, but I'll bet it can be done if you don't find a ready-made crust you like.

          1. I use all butter but make sure it's very cold, from the ingredients to make the dough to refrigerating the dough at least half an hour before rolling out and then refrigerating well before using. I've only used TJ's crust once, all butter, and didn't have that problem with it. Is your kitchen warm? Are you keeping the dough cold?

            1. Chowser's questions have made me think of one of my own: Do you have an oven thermometer? If the temp is too low, that may be causing your trouble. It's a good idea to own one just to check to make sure your oven is calibrated properly.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Isolda

                If your pies baked in the time you expected, I think the problem is not the temp of your oven. I've never used butter in a piecrust, but I think I would chill the crust before rolling, and possibly chill the pie before baking if I was having this problem. Use ice water when mixing the crust, gather into a ball, roll in waxed paper, and chill. Use a light hand when handling the crust, and consider chilling the unbaked pie before baking.

                Good luck!

                1. re: sueatmo

                  She said she baked a pecan pie from frozen and had the same issue, so it's not the fact that the pies are too warm. It must be either the crust recipe or the oven itself!

              2. Are you blind baking your pie crusts? Is this happening with the filling in them or without filling?

                2 Replies
                1. re: roxlet

                  Both of these were with filling, but I had to stop blind baking because it was absolutely disastrous with this issue - the entire crust would sink into the middle, puff up like a popover (even with pie weights), and then ooze grease.

                  My kitchen does tend on the warm side, and my homemade crusts are never cold enough I'm sure, but I thought freezing the crust would take care of that possibility...

                  Could it be a too hot oven? I think my oven runs hot based on other disasters at Thanksgiving, so I'm buying an oven thermometer and will see how that goes. I really don't like the taste of shortening at all, so I'd like to avoid it if I can...next step is going to have to be playing with homemade mixes of butter and cream cheese or something I guess, but that's an entirely different flavor than just a nice simple dough...

                  1. re: thursday

                    I doubt that oven temperature is the issue. My take? The fat for a home-made crust needs to be cold when the crust is made. That allows some fat chunks to stay a bit larger than others, which, when the fat melts, creates the spaces that we call flakiness.

                    Therefore, it won't help much to use a warmer or room temp fat and then freeze the crust, because you'll already have made a crust in which the fat has dispersed too fully and uniformly into the flour.

                    As for why your TJ crusts would melt on you, that remains a puzzle to me.

                2. The only way you'll get that sculpted look on your pie crust is from shortening. I agree with you in not liking shortening in pie crust (I've started adding some coconut oil, which is supposed to have the same baking properties, without the flavor and health issues). What I do is take the dough trimmings (usually I have plenty), roll them into cylinders, and make a big, fat crust along the rim, with a simple, scallopped decoration. It definitely will melt some, but should roughly hold it's shape, and mine at least doesn't collapse into the pie pan. Another thought is to make sure to give your dough sufficient rests. An overworked dough may have a greater tendency to seize up. Also, try moving the pie around in the oven. I start mine on the highest rack, so the crust will set before melting all over the place, and then move it the lowest rack (or preferably onto a pizza stone for browning the bottom) so the crust doesn't overbrown.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: MarkC

                    That is totally untrue. All butter pie crusts produce beautiful sculpted crusts. It it merely a matter of temperature control.

                  2. I, too, don't use butter in my pie crusts so I can't offer advice about your melting crusts, but cold is the key. I make 2 types of pie crusts - one, using oil, and the other using Earth Balance buttery spread from the tub and Spectrum Naturals Organic shortening. I refrigerate the dry ingredients and shortening and put my EB into the freezer, at least for an hour before making then chilling the dough.. With the oil crust, chilling before and after isn't a necessity, but I do it anyway and have had great results. I know you don't like shortening, but perhaps you could try the organic shortening and see what you think. I have to say - my oil crusts are so easy to make and everyone I serve pie to loves them. So flakey. I happen to like the flavor (may be a little bland for you) but worth a try. I blind bake my crusts with no problems. Filled pies, no blind baking, also come out great. I'd switch bought pie crust brands, as someone else suggested, for those times when you need the convenience.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: addicted2cake

                      Just read that the higher the fat content in the butter, the less shrinkage in the crust. European butter has 90% fat, compared to 80% in American butter. For what it's worth.

                    2. thursday. this OP is 3 yrs old; have your crusts improved since then? i used a TJ crust last night for a quiche. i went straight from room temp (late Sept.-reminder) to oven. Put in pyrex pie plate , and lined dough w/ foil and dry beans etc. No melted crust. No oozing oil. In spite of the other CH's warnings here, it came out just fine. I had not used one of the 'new' crusts before and was sceptical, but was really pleased with the bits of hard butter visible in the dough, and the dough's excellent flexibility. Wish they'd do a whole wheat(part or all) version and am thinking i'll try pressing wheat germ lnto the formed crust before baking next time.....

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: opinionatedchef

                        Did you have problems w/ unrolling? I just tried this on a whim again recently. When I unrolled the dough, it fell apart where the folds were and had to put it back together. For that amount of work, I could have made my own. It did taste good, though.

                        Instead of pressing wheat germ into pie crust and changing the texture, I think I'd rather just eat a big teaspoonful on the side!

                      2. Your dough is too warm. Just chill the empty shell for 15 minutes after you finish it. butter is too wonderful to sacrifice for 15 minutes. Palm oil and shortening are nasty.

                        You don't need a lot of space to make pie. Simply roll out on a cutting board stabelized by a kitchen towel.

                        1. Sounds like your fat to flour ratio is off. I swear by the vodka pastry recipe (http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/20...) which uses more butter than shortening, and rolls out like a dream. It will shrink down if you try to bake it without any filling, but adding pie weights (I use beans) definitely helps.