Pie crusts

Joined Jul 18, 2002
One of my summer cooking goals is to work on pie crusts. For me it falls in the same category with biscuits - no matter how good a recipe you have, it's something that just takes a lot of practice to do well.

I have a good recipe, and as I am more concerned at this point with technique than I am with ingredients, I'm going to stick with it. In general I'm going to focus solely on just a few aspects at a time until I get them worked out.

So my questions for now are more focused on handling the dough:
- Is there anything to keep in mind while rolling the dough out? Mine tend to rip, and occasionally stick to the board (I've been using a large maple cutting board).
- I've heard a tapered rolling pin works best - any thoughts?
- How much overlap should there be over the rim of the pie pan? I'm using pyrex.
- Is there anything to keep in mind in joining top and bottom crusts?

Thanks for your thoughts.
Joined Jan 26, 2001
I deal with pie crusts every day, at work.

We use a combo of Crisco and lard. The lard is better for texture and taste, the Crisco helps the dough stand up to the humidity.
We use vinegar (among other things, it makes the dough last longer).

When rolling out the dough, make sure it is at the right temperature. Not too warm, not too cold. Don't play with it too much or too little, or it won't have the right texture.

We use cloths and metal rolling pins with flour.

When it tears, or to make tops and bottoms stay together, put water anywhere you need it to glue together. It works.

Sometimes crusts get soggy. You can "paint" the bottom of your crust with different things to stop that from happening (I can't remember what, but it is a technic that is used- it doesn't happen to me in general, so I don't find that I need to do that).

Do you put anything on top? Some people use egg wash, we use cream and granulated sugar for a nice shiny brown crunchy top.

I love baking pies. I was told when I was 10 by my Mom that I had inherited my Grandmother's pie-making abilities. I'm still not clear if that is true or if she didn't want to make the pies. Whichever, I've been making them a long time.

Davevon- what is your favorite kind of pie?

Joined Jul 18, 2002
I can't say that I have a favorite, although pecan pie is way on up there. I don't think there's any kind of pie I don't like. Reminds me of the one scene from Michael with John Travolta.

I haven't messed with anything on top yet - like I said, one step at a time.

I'm interested to find out what vinegar does. Perhaps it helps keep the bottom crust flakier? Extending duration is certainly not a problem with my pies.
Joined Feb 21, 2001
The acid in the vinegar helps to soften the gluten in the flour. I use half butter, half shortening, both cold, and ice water. Cut the butter in with my fingers, leaving big chunks, then the crisco and work everything down a little. then the ice water and I just toss the dough like a salad, then pack in onto a sheet pan and chill it. I cut a chunk off cold and roll it just using a small pin and flour. I push it into a 10" pyrex and cut it off, leaving about 1/2 " of dough around the edge, which I then pleat, if it''s a one crust pie. Then I freeze it before baking. If it's a two crust I fill it at this point, then egg wash the edge, put on the top, sometimes I just crimp with a fork and cut everything off, other times I roll the two edges together and pleat them. Egg wash and sugar, steam holes, and right onto the deck of the oven on a sheet pan.
I made the Lemon Pucker Pie from Rose Levy Beranbaum's pie book today, and it was wicked good.


Joined Apr 4, 2000
Have you read any pie book? :)

Kimmie will tell you to get the Martha Stewart book so I'll say check out The Pie & Pastry Bible. You might also want to have a look at The Perfect Recipe by the Cook's Illustrated team.
Joined Jul 18, 2002
As I mentioned in the Welcome Forum, the Cooks Illustrated recipe is exactly the one I've been using, and with good results. I haven't read a pie book per se, but have gone over lots of recipes and ideas both in my books at home and online.

I can see using vinegar if you don't or can't let the dough rest well, or if you have big concerns as to overhandling the dough. I don't mean to sound like a food snob, but for me that sounds like a training whell type approach. I'd rather dive right in and flounder a bit.

The CI recipe advocates using a processor to mix in the butter and shortening. It certainly helps to break up the fat into smaller pieces a lot more efficiently than I could by hand, and it keeps the whole thing colder. The chilled water gets mixed in by hand, but only by folding it lightly in as you would a souffle. In general, it seems you do all you can to keep your warm hands out of the mix as much as possible.

The America's Test kitchen web site has an article on what exactly butter does for the crust. The escaping steam from the water content in the butter is what makes the crust flaky.

I'm curious what substituting lard for the shortening will do. I imagine the flavor is a lot better.
Joined Mar 13, 2001
Vinegar or lemon juice as acid inhibits gluten development.

Most of the answers to your questions are in the website I suggested to you earlier.

As for Martha, her recipes are good and her pie dough works but there's not a lot of "technique" to read about in there.
Joined Feb 21, 2001
Food processor might be ok for making pie dough, but can it make ten lbs at once? I don't think the vinegar is a training wheels kind of thing. Lots of recipes will have an acid. todays's pie was pear and blackberry chiffon. I had some extraordinary pear puree from Sid Wainer I needed to use up.
Joined Mar 4, 2000
Lots of good advice here. I use all butter in my recipe, and AP flour. The butter makes the crust very short, and the amt. of protein in the flour gives it just enough strength to keep it from falling apart when putting it in the plate. The acid thing doesn't make a noticeable difference, from what I've seen, but others will argue the point.

People tend to get really nervous about pie dough, but it really is simple, as long as your ingredients stay cold. Don't worry about the warmth of your hands. As long as you work quickly, nothing in your dough will melt. And chill it as soon as you can after the dough is made.

PS- Most recipes suggest chilling the ball of dough, and then rolling it out. This technique makes the dough crack and fall apart. Instead, roll out the dough between parchment (with some flour), THEN chill it. Take it out, and let it soften slightly before turning it out onto the plate. After filling it, and crimping the edges, chill it some more, so that it holds its shape nicely in the oven.
Joined Apr 19, 2001
Since you raised the biscuit question, too, most of the techniques for pie crusts also apply to biscuit dough.

-Cold liquid (cream, buttermilk, etc.)
-Cold fat (butter, Crisco, or lard)
-Minimal handling - I don't roll my dough out, just flour the board, and pat it out with my hands, then cut.
-I usually pat out the dough a little thicker than the recipe says, to get a higher biscuit (Southern biscuits are not the high, fluffy,
'Hungry Jack' type biscuits - they're about 3/4 inch high when cooked).
-Pat the tops of the biscuits with a bit of buttermilk for a pretty, shiny surface.

Some of my favorite biscuits:

Grandmama Watson's Buttermilk Biscuits

1/2 cup butter
2 cups self-rising flour
3/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425; grease a pan or use parchment paper.

Cut in butter and flour coarsely. Add milk, and 'fluff' with a fork to just incorporate the ingredients. Turn out on a floured board, knead LIGHTLY 3-4 times. Pat out to a rectangle 1/2 inch thick, and cut with rounds; place on baking sheet 1 inch apart. Dip your knuckles into a small dish of buttermilk and lightly indent the biscuits. Bake 13-15 minutes til light brown.

Touch of Grace Biscuits (From Shirly Corriher)

1-1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1/8 tsp. baking soda
1T sugar
3T cold shortening
1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
1 cup AP flour
2T melted butter
1/4 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 475; grease a biscuit pan.

Combine self-rising and AP flours, soda, salt, and sugar. Work shortening into mixture til lumps are no larger than a pea. Stir in buttermillk and let stand 2-3 minutes.

This dough is too wet to knead and roll. Pour some AP flour into a plate; flour your hands well; scoop a biscuit size lump of dough into the flour and sprinkle some flour over the wet dough to coat the outside; pick up the biscuit, and shape it roughly into a soft round. Shake off exces flour. Place in pan, pushing biscuits up against each other so they will rise up and not out. Brush with melted butter and bake til lightly browner, 15-20 minuets. Cool 1-2 minutes in pan, then dump out and slice with a serrated knife.

These are scrumptious!!!

Red Lobster Cheese Biscuits (I know, I know!)

2 cups Bisquick (I know, already!)
1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup warm water

Mix and let sit 5 minutes. Spoon biscuits on greased pan, and bake at 400 degrees for 10-12 minutes.

I started cutting my biscuits out square with a bench knife, instead of with a round cutter; less waste, and no rerolling or patting the dough, which can make it tough.
Joined Feb 21, 2001
I almost always make time to chill the dough as it allegedly gives the dough time to absorb all the water. I briefly and rather roughly make a flat disc out of it and then roll it and I almost never have a problem with cracking.
Joined Dec 4, 2001
Commercial bakeries use a pastry flour with a protein content somewhere between APF and cake flour. I make my own "pastry flour" by mixing APF and cake flour at a ratio of about 4:1. It works pretty well.

Joined Jul 18, 2002
Yesterday's crust turned out quite nice. I used the same basic recipe from CI, with all purpose flour only, and both shortening and butter. A few observations:

The CI (Cooks Illustrated) recipe says to cut up your butter into small pieces, then freeze them for an hour. If the small pieces are not much bigger than pea size to start with, then there's not that much more work to be done when you incorporate them into the flour. The result is smaller pieces better incorporated without having to overwork the dough.

Also, two hours seems to be a lot better for freezing.

The big observation I found is with rolling the dough out. The general technique I've seen given is to work from the center out in each direction, turning the dough often. This has caused a lot of the tearing I mentioned.

In a separate review of rolling pins, CI's overall choice is a tapered dowel. I recall seeing a few cooking shows using this rolling pin, and the general technique with these is again to work from the center out, but to roll on one half of the dough only, still rotating the dough frequently. The tapered end lets you work around the center.

I have a straight wooden rolling pin. The half-rolling technique still works a lot better. Even without working in a circular pattern as a tapered pin might allow, I still end up with a finished dough that actually looks round with minimal ripping. And what tears may appear tend to repair themselves as you roll across them.

Joined Mar 13, 2001
Thanks Marmalady for Grandmama Watson's Buttermilk Biscuits.

I was looking for a recipe that uses butter instead of shortnening.

Joined Mar 13, 2001

To avoid tearing, make sure you have sufficient flour on your board; you can brush it off once you're done. Also, chances are your rolling pin either too heavy or you are "pushing" too hard on the dough.
Joined Apr 19, 2001
You're most welcome, Kimmie! Of course, Grandmama Watson made her biscuits with lard - since I live with two vegetarians (who do eat dairy), I converted it to butter! The most important part of the process, she told me, was the dipping your knuckles in the buttermilk, and 'blessing' the biscuits with it!
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