Homemade Pie Crust Tips and Tricks

Pie Crust

When you fancy flavorful homemade pies as much as we do at #FoodieScore, you spend a lot of time thinking about how to make your favorite recipes better in your own kitchen. And any great pie, no matter the rest of the ingredients, starts with a firm foundation—a great crust.

So, naturally, much of my musing about pie pertains to the pastry process and the question: How can I improve this essential building block on which the entire enterprise deliciously rests?

I’m still very much in the infancy phase of my pie-making life, but I have already learned a couple of must-succeed steps and a couple more optional tricks that help lead to a better crust. But as my mother and wife, two extraordinary and seasoned bakers, have told me, so much of the process and its positive result depends on a wide array of factors, such as climate, oven quality and specific ingredients.

Despite those wildcard variables, I believe you’ll find something useful and encouraging in the following lessons I’ve learned through my first batch of crusts. As with your pastry dough, please be gentle when working with these tips!

BE COLD: My favorite simple crust recipe so far uses unsalted butter, all-purpose flour, white sugar, salt and ice water. In short, you want these ingredients to be as cold as possible without being frozen, especially the butter and the ice water. The dough will form best and be far less sticky if they’re ice cold. I’ve even tested placing the mixed dough in the freezer for about five minutes before rolling it out flat to help keep it from sticking to my pin and paper.

PROCESS IT: Once you mix your dry ingredients, there are many ways to incorporate your butter. You can use your fingers or forks, or you can let a machine do the work. In several test runs, I’ve found that our food processor best turns the butter-flour mixture into the “gravel” consistency I’m looking for in this step of the process. Just a few solid pulses will do the trick. As you’ve probably read elsewhere, you don’t want to overwork your crust dough.

CONSERVE WATER: Your recipe likely calls for several tablespoons of water. Don’t pour all of that liquid into your mixture at one time. Add a couple tablespoons and start to work the dough. You’ll literally get a feel for how much more water you need. Once you’ve added too much, it becomes a pendulum game of add dry ingredients, add more liquid, and that becomes blatant guesswork. While there’s some guessing and intuition to forming your crust, as with baking and cooking in general, you don’t want to take a complete shot in the dark. Just drizzle a little water at a time, and remember that you might not need all of it.

Do you have tried-and-true tips for making pie crust? We’d love to hear all about your experiences! Comment below, share on our Facebook, Twitter or Instagram pages, or email us here. Thanks for reading, and enjoy that pie!

Rich and Simple Pumpkin Pie

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Along with turkey and stuffing, any official Thanksgiving meal I eat must include a Pumpkin Pie. But I enjoy Pumpkin Pie so much I’d joyously eat it any time of the year, especially throughout the fall.

This is a simplified take on a pie recipe Molly found in a Food Network magazine. The original recipe also incorporates bourbon into the filling, as well as bourbon and vanilla into the crust. Neither of those steps are necessary, and without them the following ingredients are even more affordable and the directions are even easier.

We’ve made this Pumpkin Pie a couple times, and we’ve been very happy with the results each time. It produces a delicious pumpkin-spiced filling that’s both rich and creamy. If you need an easy pumpkin pie in a pinch, here’s our recommendation.

Ingredients

1 15-ounce can of canned pumpkin

1 ½ cups heavy cream

½ t ground cinnamon (You can also use 1 cinnamon stick.)

3 large eggs

½ cup granulated sugar

½ cup packed light brown sugar

1 ½ t pumpkin pie spice

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Directions

1. Mix the heavy cream and cinnamon in a small saucepan over medium-low heat on a stove burner. Bring to a simmer and then set aside to cool.

2. Transfer the cream-cinnamon mixture to a large bowl. Whisk in the pumpkin, eggs, granulated sugar, brown sugar and pumpkin pie spice.

3. Warm your oven to 375 degrees.

4. Pour your pumpkin pie mixture into your favorite pie crust. Place the pie on top of a cookie sheet or pan for any possible spillover and slide it in the oven.

5. Bake your pie for 1 hour or 1 hour and 10 minutes, until the crust is done and the filling is set. (We like to use a pie crust shield to keep the crust from browning too much.)

Bonus Pro Tip: Mix a half cup of heavy whipping cream with your desired amount of pumpkin pie spice in an electric stand mixer (or with a hand mixer) and top your pie with a dollop of special pumpkin spice whipped cream!

Sweet Vanilla Cream Pie

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Matthew’s mom (Chris Tessnear) loves vanilla pie. For years, her mom (Matthew’s grandma, Vember Quinn) made it for her on special occasions. She said she had never quite gotten vanilla pie like her mom’s anywhere else.

Until now.

While searching through vanilla-inspired recipes on Pinterest, we came across a semi-complicated recipe for vanilla bean cream pie. It looked delicious and I thought it could be simplified by cutting out the process of scraping the seeds from the vanilla bean to use during cooking, especially since vanilla extract was also in the recipe. So I removed the vanilla bean (which also made the recipe cheaper and easier to make with common pantry items) and substituted entirely with vanilla extract. The resulting recipe was just as vanilla-sweet and creamy as I’m sure the original was. I also simplified some of the recipe instructions, to where now, this is another of my easiest pies to make, only requiring a small bowl and a pot worth of cookware, a few simple ingredients, and a little time.

Matthew’s mom says this pie is the best she’s had since her mom’s pie, and is in fact, just as good. That’s high praise from a lady who can cook as well as my mother-in-law can! We hope you give this pie a try. We know you’ll love it just as much as we do!

P.S. You could also make the pie’s filling and enjoy it as pudding, without a shell or any additional baking. It would be delicious as a homemade, cooked vanilla pudding! And there are no eggs in the recipe, which I love, because you don’t have to worry about any undercooking. Easy peasy! Enjoy!

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Ingredients:

9 inch pie crust (baked and cooled)

1/4 cup cornstarch

3/4 cup sugar

4 tbsp. butter

1 1/4 cups heavy cream

1 cup milk

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Topping: 2 tbsp. melted butter; 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Directions:

1. Pre-bake the pie shell on 350 for about 10 minutes, until golden brown and no longer doughy in appearance.

2. Mix the sugar and cornstarch in a bowl and put to the side.

3. In a nonstick pan, melt the 4 tbsp. of butter on medium heat. Add the heavy cream, milk and vanilla.

4. Add the dry ingredients (cornstarch/sugar mixture) to the pot slowly and stir with a whisk constantly until the pudding thickens (about 10 minutes).

5. Remove from heat and pour the pudding into the prepared pie crust.

6. Drizzle with the 2 tbsp. of melted butter (I usually melt it in the microwave in a Pyrex measuring cup) and sprinkle the cinnamon on top evenly.

7. Put the pie in the oven on broil just until the butter starts to bubble. Keep a check on it; this will only take a few minutes.

8. Refrigerate for four hours or overnight.

Slice and delight!

Serves: about 8

Miss Ina’s Fudge Pie

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One of my favorite things in the world is baking pies, especially pies with a rich history behind them. Miss Ina’s Fudge Pie is a recipe shared with me years ago by a precious, sweet lady named Ina Doster. I attended church with Miss Ina for many years growing up and she was always happy to share the recipe with anyone who asked. As my pie baking skills have grown, I have still not found an easier, simpler, or more consistently delicious pie recipe in all my baking forays.

Miss Ina told us that the recipe was passed down from her grandmother, Lula Carrol, from the late 1800s. Originally, Miss Ina says, the flour was pure and you had to add baking soda to the recipe. Today, you don’t need the baking soda, which brings the ingredient total down to a mere 6 ingredients, not including the pie shell.

You truly can’t go wrong with this sweet delight. I wholeheartedly encourage any first-time pie baker to try it, as it’s the easiest pie I know how to make. At the same time, experienced bakers will love its simplicity and comfort. Miss Ina, thank you for all the beautiful things I have learned from you. And thank you, for your trademark fudge pie.

 

Ingredients
1 stick melted margarine
1/4 cup cocoa
1/4 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
unbaked pie shell

Directions
1. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl.
2. Prick holes in the pie shell using a fork.
3. Pour mixture into pie shell.
4. Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes, or until no longer jiggly in the middle.

Banny’s Famous Chocolate Pie

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What’s in a name? The name of this post might have drawn you to this recipe, wondering who someone named “Banny” was. Or maybe it was the pictures, worth a thousand words. Either way, you’re going to get the story, as every good recipe should have a story behind it. Banny was my great-grandmother, a tough, outspoken, petite woman of the South. You know, the type to fuss at the preacher man for not getting by to see her more often. Banny was also a dedicated woman, loyal to her faith and her family, even when it wasn’t easy. I have few things of hers today, a few jewelry pieces my mother gave me, a pair of fancy red gloves. I will probably inherit some of her old clothes my mom keeps in a cedar chest. And I still have her smell. Smells are easy memories. But perhaps the thing I have the most is her recipe for chocolate pie.

It was one of the first pies I made, and it is, at the same time, both one of the best and one of the most difficult. Perhaps that’s what family gives us: delight and joy in the midst of serious effort. Her chocolate pie takes time to cook – the pudding filling is real, not some jello-based faux pas. The pie shell must be baked ahead. The meringue must be whipped, perfectly, and remember, Banny would have made meringue with a true hand mixer, an old-timey metal contraption with a crank and two mix-hands that whirred into each other, slowly. And then it must be baked again to seal the meringue on top and finish the perfect, beautiful topping that is a chocolate meringue pie. I am proud of this pie, each time I make it, because it is a piece of my past, a piece of a strong woman who knew what it took to create something beautiful. I hope you do, too. Enjoy.

 

Ingredients

Pie filling:

2 1/2 tbsp. flour (all purpose)

2 egg yolks

3 tbsp. cocoa

2 cups milk

1 cup sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

1 deep dish pie shell

Topping:

2 egg whites

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

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Directions:

1. Pre-cook pie shell at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes, or until golden.

2. Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites, putting the whites into a small bowl, and the yolks into a nonstick pot (or the top of a double boiler; I find either works).

3. Add the rest of the pie ingredients to the pot (the flour, cocoa, milk, sugar and vanilla). Cook on medium heat until pudding “consists.” (These are the original directions; this word mainly means until the pudding starts to thicken.)

4. Pour the chocolate pudding into the cooked pie shell.

5. Prepare the topping by beating the egg whites until stiff, then adding the sugar and vanilla. Pour the meringue topping over the chocolate pudding layer and spread evenly.

6. Cook on 350 for about 10 minutes or until the meringue is golden brown.

7. Allow to cool, then refrigerate to make sure it solidifies well. Keep refrigerated. Best enjoyed either slightly warmed or cold.

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Matthew’s Take: The chocolate pudding portion of Banny’s pie is the best I’ve ever eaten. What makes it even better: This pie is part of our family history. When you combine the chocolate pudding with a golden crust and the creamy, slightly crunchy meringue, you get one of the best desserts you’ll put in your mouth. This recipe gets my highest marks for taste. I will warn you that it’s not the simplest of pies to make, but just take that as an opportunity to bake and enjoy something uniquely special.

Molly’s Take: Clearly, this pie is one of my favorites. The strategy of baking the pie shell first, as well as the limited amount of time the pie actually spends in the oven, ensures that the shell itself doesn’t burn as easily as it tends to do in many pies. So you end up with a perfectly done pie shell, a creamy, chocolate pudding center, and a toasted, sweet meringue topping. I like this pie warmed or cold. It’s truly a treat.