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!

Advertisements

Baked Pie Company, Asheville, N.C.

IMG_4651 (1)

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.

IMG_4727

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!

IMG_4657

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.

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

Rich and Simple Pumpkin Pie

IMG_4581

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

IMG_4585

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

IMG_2308

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!

IMG_2311

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

IMG_2530

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

IMG_2072 (1)

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

IMG_2073

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.

IMG_2075

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.

Foodie Travels: Scratch Bakery, Durham, N.C.

img_0470
Molly and I are always excited to find a fresh local bakery. When that bakery serves up several kinds of homemade pie, it’s even better.
During a quick stop in Durham, N.C., we visited Scratch, one of those local places that feels almost like it’s set in a different location than it actually is. Scratch offers outdoor seating that has the cafe-style feeling of a European city plaza. But it also provides the desserts and brunch items recognizable in American dining venues.
We went to Scratch for pie, and on the day we visited, the offerings included chocolate, lemon chess, buttermilk sugar, sweet potato, rhubarb and more.
img_0472
While all of the options we sampled were delicious, and we sampled about everything but my least favorite flavor of rhubarb, the buttermilk sugar was the most unique. It had a creamy yet light, sweet, buttermilk-flavored filling, with a crunchy layer of sugar right on the crust.
The crust. It was the most flaky, pastry-like crust I’ve had in recent memory on any pie. And pie is our typical dessert of choice anywhere we can eat it, at home or on the road.
Scratch also serves up brunch items like the popular avocado toast and traditional breakfast sandwiches, as well as other pastries, coffees and drinks, and lunch menu choices.
If you visit, don’t expect to park right outside. The section of Orange Street is set up to be a pedestrian walkway. But you can find a variety of half-hour, hour and two-hour parking throughout downtown.
Scratch Bakery
111 W. Orange St., Durham, N.C.
img_0474

Foodie Travels: Pike’s Soda Shop, Charlotte, N.C.

fullsizerender-2

When we occasionally visit Uptown Charlotte, we like to eliminate the stress of navigating parking and one-way streets by using the high-speed rail service to travel into the city. And sitting right off one of the rail line’s stops, in the South End district of Charlotte, is Pike’s Soda Shop.

Pike’s is the fusion of an old-school soda shop and a new-age American diner, offering everything from burgers and fries to delicious home poked meat-and-side plates. You can also get a variety of milk shakes and delicious desserts. This place is actually responsible for Molly and I developing an affinity for Toll House Pie.

Nostalgia covers the walls, and the first thing you see when you walk inside is an old-fashioned soda counter. It’s the kind of atmosphere that immediately tells you that you’re in for a treat.

For us, that treat usually involves a good cheeseburger. I know what you’re thinking: “Matthew, you always try the burger.” Yes I do, but this is one of those places where you can build your own juicy, unique burger with a variety of toppings.

If the burger’s not your item of choice, try one of the home style plates. Whatever you get will fill you up. But if you have room for dessert afterward, opt for a milkshake or the pie. Your meal will be made.

fullsizerender

Molly and I enjoy a mint chocolate chip ice cream milk shake at Pike’s.

Pike’s gets a $ on my $ (very affordable), $$ (middle of the road), $$$ expensive dining cost scale. That’s especially true if you plan to eat a simple sandwich and side. It’s up to you, of course, whether you want to add more to your meal. Two people can easily have a simple meal here for $20 with just the basics, and that’s often my benchmark for a reasonable place to get a good meal.

A #FoodieScore tip: The light rail method is a great way to eliminate the hassle out of driving around and parking in Charlotte altogether. We like to park at the Woodlawn station and then ride the train to South End to eat, then get back on the train to go into uptown for a Hornets game, a cultural event or to just explore. HOWEVER, a friendly stranger tipped us off once that parking around Pike’s is free during a certain time period on weekdays and on weekends. If you drive, be sure you have to pay before you drop coins in those parking meters.

Pike’s Soda Shop

1930 Camden Road, Charlotte

Pikessodashop.net

Creamy Peanut Butter Custard Pie

After receiving some extra peanut butter from a relative, I decided the obvious thing to do was find a new recipe to use it! In a First United Methodist of Stanley (N.C.) cookbook, I found the perfect one: Peanut Butter Custard. Even better, the recipe had been submitted by Matthew’s mom, Chris Tessnear! It is by far one of the easiest pies I’ve ever had the pleasure of baking, and it is unique and delicious in taste.

Ingredients

4 eggs

1/2 cup peanut butter

1/2 cup sugar

1 1/2 tsp vanilla

2 cups milk (lukewarm)

Deep dish pie shell

Whipped cream

Directions

1. Mix all ingredients in a blender (or use a hand mixer) and pour into the pie shell. Be careful to mix thoroughly, because the peanut butter will try to stick to the bottom of the bowl.

2. Bake at 400 for 40 minutes or until set. (I also suggest putting a pie crust shield on about halfway through to prevent crust burning. It worked fantastically for me!)


Molly’s take: Add a dollop of whipped cream to a warm slice of this peanut buttery pie and you have arrived in heaven. The pie is not too sweet and perfect with just a little garnishing. It baked easily and I had no trouble telling if it was done. The timing was perfect. The recipe is easy, requires only one bowl, and once you’ve mixed it together, it’s ready to bake. I do recommend pie crust shields, as my oven often burns pie crusts (on the edges) if I’m not careful. Try this pie if you like peanut butter, custard pies, or just want a different sweet treat for dessert. 🙂

Matthew’s take: Perhaps the most unique and pleasing part of this pie for me was its level of sweetness. It wasn’t rich like the chocolatey pies of the world, but it also wasn’t a sweetless, savory pie option. No, it baked perfectly right in between. The mixture of ingredients combine to keep you from being too heavy on the peanut butter taste, too. With this pie, you get less of the inside of a Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup and more of a smooth, slightly nutty custard. This is definitely one I would recommend to someone who likes desserts but isn’t a big fan of chocolate or heavy sweet treats.