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Jan 4, 2012 07:27 AM

Pie Crust - Which One?

Whose would you recommend for someone who is otherwise a good baker, but more than a little pie crust challenged - Shirley Corriher, Rose Levy Beranbaum, or Baking with Julia?

I'd prefer to have the crust come out towards the flaky side, but I'll be happy with it just coming out well.

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  1. So, I guess I have to look up all those recipes? no link?

    3 Replies
    1. re: wyogal

      Not all of the links are easy to find. I also assumed that regular pie bakers would have their favorites and just recommend them by experience.

      1. re: rockycat

        sorry, I guess that the post is too exclusive for me, then.
        I use the one in my Better Homes and Gardens book, does great. Flaky.
        Yes, I am a pie baker.

        1. re: rockycat

          Well, if you insist...

          I like recommendations on the liquid ingredients from a Cooks Illustrated feature in 2007; the fat varieties and proportions suggested in a 2006 New York Times article; and a couple of my mother's secret ingredients. Hey, all of those are online (even my mother's recipe)--I even gave you years of publication. I assume that will be enough for you...

      2. I don't generally like flaky for pie pastry (and buy it when a recipe demands it) - normal shortcrust seems to work for almost all our baking - 2:1 ratio by weight, flour:fat.

        1. Maybe you should try the CI pie crust with vodka? I've seen this recipe get a lot of praise here.

          11 Replies
          1. re: JustinF

            I've definitely heard good things about it and will strongly consider it.

            1. re: rockycat

              The thing about pie crusts is two people can use the same recipe, and one ends up with an excellent result while the other winds up with a mediocre or bad result. Little factors like how dry your 'dry' flour really is, the size of your fat globules in the mix, and how long it takes you to roll out the dough can make a big difference in the end product with many of the recipes that have been listed.

              With most pie crust recipes, your own experience and feel is as much of a factor in the result as the recipe itself.

              The CI method (actually invented by Kenji Lopez-Alt of Serious Eats) probably takes into consideration and accounts for more of these little factors than any other pie crust recipe I've ever read. As such, it is probably the best I know of to give to someone who's having a hard time getting a good result.

              A few of my notes on it:
              1 The sugar is optional and doesn't seem to be very important to the overall texture. In other words, you can make a savory pie crust with this method.
              2 A lot of attention gets paid to the vodka trick (and it does work just the same in any other pie crust recipe), but the technique of mixing 2/3 of the flour with butter thoroughly and then quickly pulsing in the last 1/3 of the flour is more important to the texture of the finished crust.

              Here is another link where the recipe's author talks about the techniques [s]he uses:

              1. re: cowboyardee

                Thanks. I was reading the Serious Eats post closely and it's definitely interesting. This weekend I'm going to try Shirley Corriher's cream cheese-based crust because it seems to match my filling very well, but the vodka crust is the next one I will try.

                We each seem to have baking "handicaps" in our house. The Spouse can't fold for love or money, but can turn out a very nice pie crust. Give me time and ingredients and I can come up with a croquembouche, bouche de Noel, or other fancy pastry, but pie crust completely eludes me. I'm not giving up, though.

            2. re: JustinF

              This is the only crust I make -- it's unbelievably easy (delicious, too).

              1. re: pikawicca

                Pika, this is the recipe I use too, but I've been a little less than satisfied with it lately. My last few have turned out a bit TOO crisp, if that's even possible - they're plenty flaky, but the tenderness is missing. Have you encountered this issue, and if so, what do you do to remedy it?

                1. re: biondanonima

                  If you're using a glass pie plate, try switching to metal. I first made this glass, and the texture was unpleasant. I now use aluminum or ss, and it's perfect.

                2. re: JustinF

                  this is my go to pie crust. I can't imagine making any other one (I reserve the right to change my mind...or not!)

                  1. re: JustinF

                    Just be very careful about the liquid you put in it, including the Vodka, as It can end up as a very wet dough.

                    1. re: Mother of four

                      I note below that the amount of liquid in the vodka crust was freaky. Its essential to chill this dough thoroughly - theyn it will roll out and bake just fine.
                      I need to try both a few more times, but you might find the all water version posted on Serious Eats since the dough feels more familiar.

                      1. re: jen kalb

                        It was particularly bad because it was in the 80's here and the humidity was so high. I ended up just dumping it and going back to my old standby. I will attempt it another time when it is cooler here and I have time to fool around with it. I was sort of rushed at the time and was really mad at how soft it was and impossible to role out. Yes, I read your post after I had posted.

                  2. For many years I have been making a recipe, given to me by mother-in-law who is in my opinion the queen of all Yankee piebakers. It is a straightforward Crisco type crust with one HUGE difference... You combine a large quantity (enough to make several crusts) of the dry ingredients and shortening and refrigerate this until you are ready to use, then you measure out enough for your crusts and use ice water to make the dough. This way you can roll your crust immediately, no chilling necessary because it is already cold.

                    When I posted this recipe several years ago on e-gullet, it was met with absolute scorn and ridicule by so-called pastry chefs who said chilling the dry ingredients combined with the shortening would never work right...then a couple years ago Alton Brown came up with pretty much the same idea... and voila, this practice is now widely accepted.

                    I have also used the "No-Fail" crust that involves a bit of vinegar and egg. This is what my mother taught me when I was a kid. There were seven kids in our house and we each had our own rolling pins, and this crust stood up well to a lot of rolling and handling. As I grew older I preferred a flakier less dense crust, so I started using my mother in law's recipe more often. I still use the no-fail recipe with the Youth Group at our church to make dozens of pies for Thanksgiving. It works very well.

                    I have also made all butter and all lard crusts with mixed thoughts and results. I actually found those crusts a bit rich for an apple pie. Much preferred a base that was flaky and less obtrusive to the filling. Kind of how I like a crepe to be plain so it allows the filling to shine.

                    Still, I have had slices of butter/lard crusts that have been quite good.

                    Here is the pie crust recipe I use all the time:

                    Grandma's Pie Crust
                    (Makes enough for several pies):

                    6 cups all purpose flour
                    2 tsp. salt
                    2 and 1/3 cups shortening -grandma uses half regular Crisco, half butter flavored Crisco, with 0 trans fats. Use shortening sticks if you like for accurate measuring.

                    1. Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl.
                    2. Cut in half the shortening with a pastry blender, to make coarse crumbs. - They will NOT be uniform in size and shape.
                    3. Cut in the remaining shortening. Place in airtight container and store in the refrigerator until ready to use. (Will keep up to 3 months no problem). You will get enough crust mixture for several pies.

                    For a 9 inch double crusted pie:

                    1. Measure 2 cups of the cold crumb mixture.
                    2. Add 4 Tablespoons of ice cold water. Stir gently and quickly.
                    3. Dough should be soft and not dry. Add a little more flour if too wet, or a little more water if dry.
                    Take half the dough, form a circle and roll out immediately on a floured board. Place in pie pan.
                    4. Roll out the other half of the dough for the top crust.

                    12 Replies
                    1. re: TrishUntrapped

                      Best pie crust =

                      2. USE BUTTER ONLY FOR THE FAT

                      I taught a Singaporean friend how to make an apple pie, crust and apples, the whole deal.
                      The point about the butter, cold and pea size, is that it gets layered between the flour, and
                      this makes the pie crust flakey. I've never heard of keeping the flour cold, but it makes sense
                      and I'll do it next time.


                      1. re: sweetfern


                        For free form tarts, especially apple, I love an all butter crust.

                        1. re: TrishUntrapped

                          Trish Untrapped,

                          I never thought of this, thanks for the idea!
                          I love making pastry. :)


                        2. re: sweetfern

                          Have you had a crust made with lard?

                          1. re: wyogal

                            I use a lard/butter mix for pasties.

                          2. re: sweetfern

                            I have heard that leaf lard makes the best crust but I can't find it where I live. And also you have to fuss with it.

                          3. re: TrishUntrapped

                            I'm intrigued with your method. How hard is it to roll out?

                            Flaky has always meant hard to work with for me.

                            (Question for TrishUntrapped and anyone else with info on flaky crust handling.)

                            1. re: karykat

                              Hi Karykat. The pie crust should be soft and easy to roll out. A problem some have is making a crust that is too dry. If it's too dry it will break or be tough. It should be soft and pliant.

                              Here are some pictures I took of my mother-in-law making an apple pie. She makes the crumbs (flour, salt, shortening)... chills for several hours.... then mixes with ice water and rolls out the crust immediately.

                              For the filling, for a few moments she precooks the apples. It guarantees they won't be raw.

                              Also, you may notice the pie is baked on a pan. But what you can't see is that pan has a hole cut out in the middle. It was specifically designed for baking pies and catching any drips.


                              1. re: TrishUntrapped

                                Trish -- I looked at your pictures. Your dough does indeed look soft. I will have to give this a try.

                                (My mother thought she could not roll out pie dough. I think I "inherited" that view from her. Clearly I need a different approach and should give it another try.)

                            2. re: TrishUntrapped

                              "When I posted this recipe several years ago on e-gullet, it was met with absolute scorn and ridicule by so-called pastry chefs who said chilling the dry ingredients combined with the shortening would never work right...then a couple years ago Alton Brown came up with pretty much the same idea... and voila, this practice is now widely accepted."

                              I believe you, and this disturbs me greatly. I think it's sheer out and out sexism (regardless of whether the hurlers of scorn were women).

                              Guys, I am the last person to charge this baselessly - really, I get upset at casual charges of this-ism and that-ism. But let's be honest. Sometimes the shoe fits.

                              The best cooks and bakers aren't men. Only the most famous ones.

                              1. re: TrishUntrapped

                                As an addendum, pie crust dough should be soft, but NOT wet or sticky. Not like bread dough. You should flour your board and rolling pin well to roll it out. Rolling should go quickly, as few swipes as possible.

                                1. re: TrishUntrapped

                                  I use this same recipe as TrishUntrapped (actually, I never made it in bulk, but the flour/salt/ shortening/water ratio + chilling is the same). It always* works for me, but depending on the weather you may need the little extra water or flour--just like the recipe says. I find you need a little wiggle room in pie crusts. but not too much! A few sprinkles of either flour or water may be enough. If it falls apart you need more water.
                                  (*to be honest it did not work for me in Woodland Park, CO (elevation 8500 feet))
                                  Also, having cold hands helps. If you have good circulation, wash your hands in cold water and dry them well before you start.

                                2. For the three that you've picked, if your goal is to get a flaky crust, I'd go w/ Julia's, if it's the one w/ part shortening/part butter IF the mouthfeel of shortening doesn't bother you. Because it has a much higher melting point, it won't be as hard to work with and you don't have to worry about keeping it as cold as butter dough. Once you get the dough down, w/ shortening, then you can switch to all butter if you want. I've never used the Shirley Corriher recipe--when I looked online, it had sour cream in it? Or was it another you're looking at? I'd love to know if anyone has done it and what it's like.


                                  If I were starting to experiment w/ pie dough, I'd start w/ the vodka one mentioned above. Once you get the rolling out down, the feel, etc. then try another one. I don't like shortening in the dough, prefer all butter but lard would be the best, if you can get good lard.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: chowser

                                    the all water version on Serious Eats works very well. I used the vodka version from the Cooks Illustrated cookbook at Thanksgiving and while the dough was fine to roll after it was chilled, the amount of liquid felt a bit freaky.