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Oh Pie, Why Must You Taunt Me So?

Pie really isn’t my thing. Eating pie? I’m great at that. But making pie? Not so much. The fillings are no problem, easy as (wait for it) pie. I’m talking crust here, folks. Pie crust is beyond my skill set, apparently. I think it’s the rolling: I can never seem to make it come out even; there are always patchy bits that tear on the way to the pan. And even if I do manage to get it assembled and into the oven, the end result is usually tough, not tender. Chewy, not flaky. Altogether not worth the effort. I had a boyfriend once who was really into pie. Seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally master a basic recipe that’s been deviling me for years. After my third attempt, complete with behind-the-scenes tears (both in the crust and in my eyes), after which he gently put down his fork and smiled at me the way I now smile at Harry when he draws a blob, I consigned my rolling pin to the back cabinet. We broke up soon after. I blame the pie.

So lord knows what possessed me to think I could bake a pie now. But I was browsing through last year’s Thanksgiving issue of Cooking Light and the picture was just so pretty, and the crust wasn’t a traditional pie crust (it’s made with oats! whole grain!), and it was pecan pie, something I find irresistible in general… You know where this is going, right? I’ll cut to the chase:
That, my friends, is a piece of pie right out of the pan. The pecan part was mighty tasty, mighty tasty indeed. But the crust? FAIL. Rock-hard on the outside, soggy in the center, and gritty to boot. Of course, had I bothered to check the reviews before I started, I would’ve skipped the whole darn thing.
My quest for a pie recipe I can actually make continues. Do you have one you consider foolproof? Please share! Cuz when it comes to pie crust, I am definitely a fool.

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart

    A good friend of mine is studying to be a pastry chef, and he thinks it's so funny that people like us cannot make pie crusts well. He says the trick is to use your hands to break up the butter. I'm trying to convince him to do a podcast or video demo or a live demo so I can see what the secret is. If I EVER figure it out, I'll let you know.

  2. Jody

    OK, that pie still looks pretty damn good to me, Debbie! 😉

    A baker friend of mine gave me the trick to pie crust years ago, and it changed my life. Grate the butter, using the standard size cheese grater holes. I grate it into a little depression in the flour, then kind of fluff the flour around the butter so all the grated bits are coated. The whole thing takes about 30 seconds. Then I spend another 30 seconds rubbing my fingertips together in the mix, kind of breaking up the pieces and getting the mixture to that "pea-sized crumb" consistency pie crust recipes are always going on about.

    Some other suggestions: Don't skimp too much on liquid, lest you end up with a pie crust that won't hold together. It shouldn't be falling apart when you're trying to roll it out or pick it up. One good trick is to use heavy cream in place of some of the water – you get more flaky-lovin' fat into the recipe while adding pliability at the same time. And finally, this sounds weird, but don't get too hung up on it. I swear my crusts have gotten so much better since I stopped stressing about too much water, too much handling, etc.

    I can't remember my proportions exactly, but I think it's 2 sticks butter to 2 cups flour, then enough liquid to make it stick (maybe 1/4 cup? added gradually)…

  3. Deborah

    I've made a chocolate-crust pear pie before that has always turned out delicious. Can't find it online anymore but if of interest I can type it up.

  4. marthaandme

    I've heard the butter grating trick before and want to try it. Martha Stewart has a no-roll pie crust in the Nov issue of Living. You press it into the pan and it's supposed to be sort of like a shortbread. I'll be trying that. I hate the rolling out part too – makes me nuts.

  5. Alexandra Grabbe

    I used to make a great crust for tarte in France. What makes the difference, in my opinion, is the type of flour you use. Soft wheat, hard wheat. You know? Pastry flour works for me, although it is years since I made a real pie. I use it for quiche.

    Your story about your old boyfriend reminded me of the song "Can she bake a cherry pie, Billy boy, Billy boy?" which my mom used to sing to me as a child. I came away understanding how important pie was when it came to a man's stomach.

  6. debbie koenig

    Christy, that recipe does look promising. Thanks!

    Roxanne, I would totally watch a demo. Although I've certainly seen enough pie crusts being made on tv & IRL, and it hasn't helped one bit. Sigh.

    Jody, next time I attempt a crust, I'm using a grater! That sounds like genius.

    Deborah, I'm always interested in chocolate! Yes, please.

    MarthaandMe, I saw that recipe. If Jody's grater suggestion doesn't work that'll be my next step.

    Alexandra, I've never heard that song! Must go find it.

  7. Gudrun

    Debbie, keep baking! I think you must continue to experiment and you will find something that works.

    I tried a pie crust recipe from Sunset Magazine from Thanksgiving 2008, and it worked out very well. Hope you can find something that works for you.

    P.S. Always happy to help you eat your pie experiments! 😉

  8. jeanneeatsworld

    Do you have a food processor? I know NY kitchens are not known for their abundant spaciousness… but if you do, the pastry dough recipe in "Staff Meals from Chanterelle" is incredibly easy and comes out great every time.

  9. NWB

    If you use the called for amount of liquid and the dough isn't a smooth cohesive mass, add a little of Vodka. It will serve to pull the dry ingredients together but will also cook off in the oven not leaving the dough soggy.

    My go-to recipe is the 1/2 veg. shortening 1/2 butter version (basic pastry, I think) in the joy of cooking–it does not call for the vodka, but the vodka definitely helps when the crust doesn't want to follow the directions.

    Good Luck!

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