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!

Baked Pie Company, Asheville, N.C.

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What if I told you there’s a place where you can get three hearty slices of delicious homemade pie alongside a creamy scoop of sweet ice cream, all on a plate just for you or to share with friends and family, for $13?

Your reaction will immediately reveal how alike or different we are.

Well, there is such a place, and it’s a South Asheville shop called Baked Pie Company. The slice trio a la mode is known as a “Pie Flight,” a takeoff on the multiple-option beer flights made popular by breweries.

Baked Pie counter

This is where we determine our degree of similarity. Beer just isn’t a thing for Molly and me. Pie, however, well, it’s the only thing sometimes. Outside of a great restaurant that serves both top-notch cheeseburgers and tacos, there’s nothing that excites us more than visiting a stellar pie shop with an array of sweet slices.

Baked Pie Company has no doubt instantly joined our list of favorite pie shops with its seemingly endless display case of fruit, cream, nut and other pies. There are sugar and gluten free options. There are cheesecakes. You can order a whole pie. You can enjoy just a slice. You can indulge in a flight, which we highly recommend.

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On our first-ever visit, Molly and I each sampled our own flight. To be transparent, she took home almost half of her slices to enjoy later, but I finished the whole flight in one sitting. Hey, it was my birthday, and it was my lunch that day!

Each pie itself was incredible, and the crusts were perfectly flaky and light, not overdone in the slightest.

The honey pecan, available most every day on a rotating menu, was perfectly sweet without going over the top, and the caramelized nuts on top were so fresh and perfectly placed it’s like Baked added them after the pie cooked. The blueberry crumb offered a fresh berry taste with a sweet, slight crunch. The sweet potato was rich with real sweet potato flavor and texture, while offering the balance of a fine streusel. The lemon chess was wonderfully tart. The cranberry cheesecake a creamy delight. And the fudge brownie so rich and chocolately with the taste of real cocoa!

We enjoyed our pies in the dining area of Baked, which offers wooden tables and chairs, both in a family-style table setup and along a counter-style seating option. The rustic accents around the room add another nice touch that makes the place feel just like home. That and the aroma and sight of all that pie!

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When it comes to dessert, we understand that many folks enjoy a slice of cake, a fancy cupcake or another favorite option. We’re not those people. No, we’re pie people, and Baked Pie Company is a kindred spirit in our foodie world. If you’re a pie person, too, it’s an urgent addition on your must-visit list!

Baked Pie Company: 4 Long Shoals Road, Arden, N.C. and 50 North Merrimon, Woodfin, N.C.

Pro Tip: Check the Baked Pie Company Facebook page each morning for the day’s pie list!

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!

Midnight Cherry Pie

Cherry Pie Insta

Matthew has been begging lately for a fruit pie, and while I love baking pie, to be honest, fruit pies kind of intimidate me. This makes no sense, I admit, because fruit pies are usually some kind of stir, throw in a shell, and bake routine. The old fashioned pies I love best are often more complicated beasts. Still, something about fruit pies worries me. Is it the added second crust on the top, worked into a lattice or perfectly-slotted top crust? Is it the question of whether the fruit needs to be cooked before entering the crust? Is it the worry of too much juice or water? Or is it the ever-confusing problem of whether to use canned, fresh, or frozen fruit? Maybe the real reason fruit pies are so daunting is that there are so many questions and so many ways to make them! Nevertheless, I accepted the challenge to make a new fruit pie. And now that I have, it was totally worth it. This marks the third type of fruit pie I’ve made, after blueberry and apple. For this one, we used fresh dark cherries (with pits), and we amended a recipe we found online to suit our purposes. It resulted in a deliciously sweet, luscious cherry pie with full, round cherries; a flavorful, juicy filling; and a sugary, golden crust. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

 

A few tips to make your baking easier:

-To pit cherries, we took a tip from a recipe we found on Inspired Taste. If you don’t have a pitter, you can use a chopstick. Matthew was quite adept at this! And it kept our cherries mostly intact.

-Use the two-crust roll-out pie crusts you can buy in any well-stocked grocery store. It should be a 9-inch crust, and my suggestion is to keep it refrigerated before use, not frozen, as it can be tough to defrost these.

-I left out a few ingredients, including 1/4 tsp. of almond extract. Almond extract just isn’t something I use in a lot of recipes, so it’s an added expense to buy for such a small amount in one recipe. I also left out 1 tbsp. of unsalted butter, because the pie didn’t need the extra fat, and also because unsalted butter is more expensive than the kind I buy. Totally up to you if you’d like to add both!

 

Ingredients:

1 box of 2 roll-out pie crusts (keep refrigerated)

4 cups of fresh cherries (with pits removed, if applicable)

1/4 cup cornstarch

3/4 cup sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

1 tbsp. lemon juice

1/8 tsp. salt

For crust topping: 1 egg yolk; 1 tbsp. heavy whipping cream; 1 tbsp. sugar

Cherry Pie Prebaked

Directions:

  1. Pit the cherries. This is best done at a table where you can sit down and work easily. Use your cherry pitter or a chopstick to push the pit out. You will need 4 cups of fresh cherries, which for us equated to about 1 pound. Put them in a bowl and set aside for now.
  2. In another bowl, stir together the cornstarch, sugar, vanilla, lemon juice, and salt. Add the cherries and toss carefully. (I used a soft plastic spatula for this.) Be careful not to pour all the extra cherry juice in when you add the cherries.
  3. Remove your 2 pie crusts from the box and unwrap one, then carefully roll it out onto a glass or metal pie pan. Press it gently into the pan.
  4. Pour the cherry filling into the crust.
  5. Roll out the second pie crust on top of the first. Use your kitchen scissors or a knife to trim excess pie shell off the sides. Fold the top crust’s edges under the bottom crust and press together, then use your fingers to create a fluted crust edge. (The original recipe suggested using your index finger to press the dough in between the first two knuckles of your other hand, all the way around the edges. This worked alright for me, but was a little tough to master.)
  6. Pop in the freezer for 5 minutes. Go ahead and preheat your oven at this time to 400.
  7. Prepare a quick egg wash for the topping: Mix the egg yolk with the heavy whipping cream, then use a pastry brush to spread it over the top crust of the pie. (If you don’t have a pastry brush, which many people don’t, you can use a spoon to carefully sprinkle it all over the pie, then spread it a little with the back of the spoon.) One important note: you will NOT need all the egg wash. If you use too much of it, it will start to pool in certain spots on your pie which will make it less attractive. This wasn’t mentioned in the original recipe, so I was concerned I was supposed to use it all, but I learned the pie didn’t need it.
  8. Sprinkle the top of the pie with the 1 tbsp. of sugar, then cut four slits in the top as shown. Place the pie on a baking sheet so that any juices won’t boil over into your oven.
  9. Bake at 400 for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 350, and bake for another 40 minutes. The crust should be a beautiful gold color and the filling should be bubbling out of the top a bit. I recommend baking for an extra 5-10 minutes if you’re willing to try, because my bottom crust could have used a little more time to cook, but that’s my personal preference.
  10. Cool for 2-3 hours, or preferably overnight, before cutting. Enjoy!

Serves: 7-8

Cherry Pie Fini

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