Pie Crust

14 Dec
pie with a decorative pie crust

Mmmmm... apple pie

Keeping with the holiday theme, this week I’ve turned my attention to pie. Holidays are the perfect time for pie – lots of people, celebrating, socializing, ready to consume dessert. Which is part of the reason I look forward to The Holidays. To say that I am fond of pie would be something of an understatement. I adore pie. I love pie. I think that pie is the Dessert Supreme, better than cake or cookies or all the myriad candies available. I once decided that I was going to build a business devoted entirely to baking pies. And what stopped me from starting this business, you might ask? The crust.

(Okay, the crust and the questionable financial viability of a business devoted entirely to pie. Not everyone loves pie the way I do, alas.)

Anyway, pie crust is challenging to make well. And while I may no longer dream of baking pies for a living, I’m still working toward mastering the crust.

However, I technically don’t have to master the crust on my own, because Pillsbury sells pre-made pie crusts. And thus brings me to the question of the week: Is it really worth the stress to master my own pie crust when I can just buy it?

Challenge: Pie Crust

Pillsbury Pie Crust contains enriched, bleached flour, partially hydrogenated lard with BHA and BHT to protect flavor, wheat starch, water, salt, rice flour, xanthan gum, potassium sorbate and sodium propionate, citric acid, yellow 5 and red 40.

My homemade pie crust followed a recipe from an old copy of The Joy of Cooking, with an addition that may or may not have been my grandmother’s secret pie crust ingredient:

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup shortening
2 tablespoons cold butter
3 to 4 tablespoons ice water
1 teaspoon white vinegar (this is the secret ingredient, meant to keep the crust from getting too tough)

Mix flour and salt, then cut in the shortening and cold butter (or, toss it all into a food processor and pulse). Sprinkle in 3 tablespoons water and a teaspoon of vinegar, and gently mix with a fork to moisten the dough. If you need a little more water to hold all the ingredients together, add up to 1 tablespoon more ice water. Divide the dough into halves; shape each half into a ball.

Now, you can roll out the pie crusts so they’re large enough to fit into a 9-in. pie pan. Or, wrap them in plastic wrap and let them cool in the fridge for a week or so.

For test purposes, I halved the above recipe and only made a single crust. I baked an apple pie with the homemade crust on the bottom, and the store-bought crust on the top.

Time and Cost Comparison

The store-bought crusts cost $3.19 for two crusts. It was easy to find, and it only took me about two minutes to unroll the crust and position it over the apples. (Although, I’ve heard these crusts at room-temperature can be sticky, so unroll when still cool for best results.)

The homemade crusts costs $0.64, again for two. (I did this math three times, just to be sure.) One crust took me about 35 minutes to put together, roll out and maneuver into the pie pan, but I imagine a double crust would take an extra 10 minutes to roll out and add to the pie.

Nutritional Comparison

A serving of pie crust is 1/8 of a single crust.

The store-bought crust has 100 calories, 6 grams of fat, 130 mg sodium, 12 grams carbs and less than 1 gram protein.

The homemade crust has 140 calories, 9 grams of fat, 140 mg sodium, 12 grams carbs and 1.6 grams protein.

Ingredient Comparison

The major differences between the store-bought and the homemade crusts are wheat starch, rice flour, xanthan gum (an additive derived from fermented sugar, used as a thickener and food stabilizer), potassium sorbate (a preservative), sodium propionate (a preservative), citric acid (a preservative and flavor enhancer), yellow 5 and red 40 (food colorings).

Taste Comparison

A three-person taste test (Hi, Parents!), which involved a lot of pulling apart and flipping over individual pieces of pie, determined that in use, it was near-impossible to tell which crust was the tastier/flakier/tender-er crust.

PITA Factor

Pie crusts starts at a 5.5 on the PITA scale, although that drops dramatically with experience and the use of the right tools (those being a food processor and a large, cold, well-floured surface). But for many people, pie crust is an exercise in frustration – getting a darned circle, repairing crust tears, unsticking the crust from the rolling-out surface, etc…

DIY or Buy?

Buy, with caveats. The first caveat being, if you’re on a budget, you’d do well to make your own. You can make 5 pairs of pie crusts for the price of one purchased pair. The second caveat being that, if you’re going to proclaim everlasting devotion to a dessert, you should be able to make it, and make it well. So I shall keep working on my pie crust. Unless I’m in need of a crust ASAP. Then, I shall have no qualms about using the store-bought.

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4 Responses to “Pie Crust”

  1. Cat 12/14/2010 at 10:48 am #

    Good post! I was just wondering about this when I made pie a few weeks ago – and went with store-bought.

  2. Hannah 12/20/2010 at 10:33 am #

    In the spirit of holiday debate, I’m gonna have to disagree on this one. I definitely appreciate the convenience factor and don’t think packaged crust tastes cheap or gross, but I do think that there is a flavor/texture difference–and homemade has a definite visual-appeal advantage. But you’re correct about practice making perfect. You kind of have to commit to doing it on a semi-regular basis. Which is okay, because pie on a semi-regular basis is not a bad thing.

  3. Tanya Swanson 12/23/2010 at 11:12 am #

    I was just about to make an apple pie for our annual Christmas Eve celebration when I remembered this post and wanted to present a 3rd option to your pie crust debate.
    The main problem for me is the ingredient list in both traditional lard-based crust and store bought, so I’ve been on the search for a healthy version….the oil-based pie crust.
    The ingredients are simple, and the process is even more simple…add 1 1/2 cups flour (I use 1/2 whole wheat), 1/2 cup veg oil, 1/4 cup ice water and 1/2 tsp salt in a bowl, mix, and pat into a pie plate.

    Super fast and easy, fool-proof, easy to experiment with, and takes great. Plus, no lard or nasty ingredients 🙂

  4. lyingsage 09/07/2011 at 12:57 am #

    Great post! I LOVE baking from scratch, and am definately on a budget. So homemade works best for me. The pillsbury Pie Shells where I live are about $5.00 for a pair, so it’s really not that affordable. Gotta learn to love cooking from scratch if you want to live on a budget.
    Anyways thanks again!

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