Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Perfect Pie Crust: Revisited

I wrote two years ago about my search for a really good pie crust recipe.  I hate to say it, but the search goes on...

About once a year, I settle on a new recipe for my pie crusts.  I've just started using yet another recipe.  But I'm still not satisfied.  I still don't feel like I've found the perfect one. 

The key factor in pie crusts seems to be what sort of fat you use: butter, shortening, or lard.  I've also heard good things about recipes that incorporate vodka (which, as it evaporates during cooking, produces a nice flaky texture). 

I've had success with shortening recipes.  They're typically easy to work with and reliable.  Most just don't seem to have a really memorable flavor. 

Some people swear by all-butter crusts.  The difficult thing with them, though, is that you have to keep the butter and all the implements you are using very very cold.  Many of the pies I bake are during the summertime (when fruits are ripe), and since we don't have air conditioning, keeping things cold is impossible.

Here's what our usually-solid coconut oil looked like today, when the temperature was in the high 80's: total liquid.

[note that it's still unopened.  I've never used actually coconut oil before, but I know a lot of people love it, and it was a great price.  So what should I do with it?]

My cousin shared her secret for great butter crusts: she keeps her butter in the freezer.  Sounds like a smart idea. If anyone has a great all-butter crust recipe, please share it!  I'll try it out when the weather cools off.


The last couple times I baked a pie, I tried out a new lard-based recipe (lard is totally not as gross as it sounds.  I cook with it often, and it's very versatile) from my ever-reliable 1969 Betty Crocker's Cookbook. 

8- or 9-inch Two-crust Pie
2 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
2/3 c. lard
4-5 T. cold water

Mix flour and salt in bowl.  Cut in lard.  Sprinkle in water, and mix until dough almost cleans sides of bowl.  Shape into two balls and roll out on floured surface.

Tom loves this crust, and my Dad thought highly of it as well.  I will say, the texture is pleasantly crispy and flaky.  But I still think it could be better!


Not matter what recipe I use, there are a few tools I've found indispensable for making a good crust: a cloth to roll the dough on, a stockinet cover for the rolling pin, and a pie crust shield for baking.

Allow me to step you through my process....

I use a clean linen dish towel as my rolling surface, floured generously.  The dough does not stick at all.  Try it sometime!  And the rolling pin covers are really cheap.  You can usually find them at gourmet-type stores (or online, of course).

Always pat the dough into a flat circle with your hands before rolling.  This gives you a much more evenly-shaped crust.

As you pick up the crust, roll it over the rolling pin to transfer it to your pie pan.

And then fill the bottom crust with whatever.  Today I made a beef stew pie with my leftovers from last week. 

Have you ever done this?  I purposely make a lot of beef stew so that we will have leftovers and I can make this pie.  Beef stew always tastes better a few days later, because the flavors have had time to mingle.

A rough recipe for beef stew pie:  
Scoop just the "chunks" (the beef and veggies) into the pie crust.  
Reserve the sauce to heat and pour on at the table as gravy (you may have to stir in some cold water+ flour while it heats, if it's too thin).  
Put the top crust on, and bake at 450° for 35-40 minutes (cover the crusts until the last 15 minutes).

After you roll out and crimp the top crust, use the leftover dough to create fun decorations (or allow an eager child to help).

 I just use a fork to crimp the edge, cut a few vent-holes in the top, and let Sly place the decorations.

Then comes the ever-important pie crust shield (which I remove 15 minutes before cooking time is over) to keep the edges from burning.

 And it's ready to serve!  (al fresco tonight, since having the oven at 450° really warmed up the house).


Do you have any pie crust tips or secrets to share?


  1. I prefer the filling to the crust, but then maybe I've just never had a perfect crust. I certainly don't put much (any) thought into the recipe, since I view it as merely the vehicle to get the inner goodness to my mouth! Which is probably why I've never had a great one!
    My friend recently made popcorn with coconut oil, topped with melted butter and a bit of salt. I could not get enough of it! I haven't tried making it myself yet, so maybe the deliciousness was more my friend's magic touch than the coconut oil, but I'm going to try!

  2. Hmm, never heard of using a cloth to roll it out on! I'll have to try it.

    You know I love my all-butter crust :-) I never make any effort to keep it super cold, and I think it turns out plenty flaky/crispy. Although, if it were super hot in here I might slice it up and pop it in the freezer for a bit first.

    lol on the coconut oil--I also have an unopened jar that's been sitting on my shelf for quite a while as I haven't figured out what I should do with it!

  3. My mom says they don't make shortening like they used to and that's why pie crusts just aren't as tasty any more. So don't feel bad that you just can't get them to taste as good. I'll let you know if I figure out a good way to improve the flavor of shortening crusts.
    Also, I almost bought that same jar of coconut oil at Aldi, but I knew my mom had a gigantic Costco jar that I could swipe some from. She said she used it to oil the pan for chicken fingers and it gave them a little coconutty flavor and she uses it for moisturizer. I haven't done anything past use it for moisturizer. - This comment brought to you by my mom - haha.

  4. Mmm, great idea with the beef stew!

    I usually make shortening crusts. I have a pie cookbook that uses half shortening and half butter ... shortening for flakiness, butter for flavor. It was pretty tasty.

    Once I made hand pies using all-butter crust. The recipe had the dough "rest" in the refrigerator (or freezer? can't remember) several times and while it was a lot of work it was VERY good.

  5. I have switched my pie crust recipes a ton as well. I've used shortening, lard, butter, tried it with and without egg and with and without vinegar. Lately I'm partial to just unsalted butter (cold) flour, salt and ice water. I bought a food processor with my Christmas money and I love it for pie crusts, it makes it so easy. I used to use the cloths too but I don't feel like I need them anymore, maybe it's the recipe? maybe it's the granite counter top?

    I watch America's test kitchen and they recommend heating a cookie sheet in the oven at 500 while you prepare the pie. Then you put the pie in on the sheet and turn the oven down to 425 for 25 min, and then down to 375 until the pie is done. I love this method for all my double crust pies because it makes the bottom crust so flaky, as well as the top. I also think that I used to under bake my pies and with this method I seem less likely to do that.

    Coconut oil- I use this instead of EVOO for any recipe that I tend to take past the smoking point of EVOO. I don't know how else to explain that? It's also tastes instead of butter great for popping popcorn. And I've heard that it makes a good diaper cream if you're CDing but I have not been brave enough to try it. Do your own research there b/c I would hate to be the cause of ruined diapers.

  6. My kitchen motto is, "All butter, all the time." I don't actually use an all-butter recipe, but I've substituted butter for shortening in a Southern Living recipe with good results. I researched the issue thoroughly at one point -- I recall one author who tried every possible fat decided that rendered duck fat produced the very best results!

  7. coconut oil makes wonderful pancakes