Is It Worth It? Pie CrustJump to Recipe
This is a guest post by Anna Rider! Anna is a food writer who documents kitchen experiments on GarlicDelight.com with the help of her physicist and taste-testing husband Alex.
In case you’re new to the homemade trial series, we pick a food and make it from scratch to compare it to a few popular store-bought versions in the categories of TIME, COST, NUTRITION, and TASTE. Let’s do this!
The fall season heralds the beginning of pumpkin spice, harvest festivals, and a string of holidays. As the leaves turn gold on our street, we’re looking forward to baking our favorite fall comfort foods. For me, this is pumpkin pie and apple pie.
You might be thinking with all the breaking news going on that you’re too overwhelmed to make pies from scratch. Ready-made pie crust paired with canned pumpkin pie filling sounds much easier.
But, is it really easier to buy store-bought pie crust? Are you sacrificing taste for convenience?
Only one way to find out! Let’s do a homemade trial to test whether a homemade pie crust can beat the store-bought versions.
Anna’s Pie Crust
In this homemade trial, we’re sticking to the basics for our homemade pie crust. This keeps the comparison fair and gives you a versatile recipe that you can use for sweet or savory pies.
I use a food processor to mix the dough. Don’t worry, I’ll point you to instructions for cutting the butter if you don’t have one at home.
This is a classic buttery pie dough based on Nick’s apple pie recipe that makes two crusts. You can use it for 2 pie shells or a double-crusted pie. Bake it following your favorite pie recipe’s instructions.
- Cube the butter into roughly half-inch pieces.
- Add the flour, sugar, and salt into your food processor work bowl. Pulses 3 times to combine.
- Add half of the cubed butter into the food processor. Pulse about 8 times until the butter has broken into smaller chunks.
- Add the remaining half of the cubed butter. Pulse about 8-10 more times until the butter is the size of peas.
- Add 4 tablespoons of iced water to the mixture. Pulse 3 times. Check the dough. It should still be dry and crumbly.
- Add 1 tablespoon of iced water at a time. Pulse 2 times after adding each tablespoon of water. Only add enough water to bring the dough together. You will know the dough is ready when it still looks crumbly but if you push the crumbs together, it forms a clump that stays together.
- Once the dough is ready, carefully turn out the mixture onto a floured kneading surface. Collect the dough into a mound. Split the dough in half (divide unevenly if making a bottom and top crust). Shape each half into a flat disc.
- Cover each disc tightly with plastic wrap. Place the dough in the freezer for at least 30 minutes to allow the butter to resolidify before rolling it out. If freezing, place the wrapped dough in a sealable plastic bag and store it in the freezer.
- When you are ready to make the pie, follow the directions on your pie recipe for how to bake the crust.
Tips for Making Pie Dough
If you don’t have a food processor, try one of these options for cutting the butter into the flour (use refrigerated, not frozen, butter).
- Use a pastry cutter to cut the butter into pea-sized pieces following Nick’s advice in this Lavender Honey Pie recipe.
- Grate the butter like in the Thanksgiving Tri-Pie.
- Cut the butter using butter knives and forks.
- Use your hands to rub the butter into the flour as in this Jamie’s Birthday Pie recipe.
Just like with homemade pizza dough, adding a tablespoon of water at a time is my reliable way to avoid too much water. Too much water makes the dough sticky and hard to roll out. If this happens, add a tablespoon of flour at a time until the dough feels crumbly again.
Having a cooler environment is better because it keeps the butter cold, which is the key to a flaky crust. Pastry chefs often use marble rolling pins and slabs because marble stays cool.
If you’re working in a warm kitchen, use refrigerated (or even frozen) flour and butter. It makes the butter harder to chop into cubes but it keeps things chilled. I avoid touching the pie dough with my warm hands as much as possible until the final moment when I shape the dough into 2 balls.
Now you’ve got your homemade pie crust, we’re ready to jump into this homemade trial.
The Crust Competition
There are 2 common store-bought options for pie crusts: a refrigerated pie dough and a frozen pie crust. The refrigerated dough is already rolled out. All you need to do is bring it to room temperature (about 20 minutes) and gently unravel it to place it in your pie pan.
The frozen pie crust is even more convenient because it comes crimped in a metal pie pan. You leave it to sit on your kitchen counter for 10 minutes, and it’s ready to bake.
Homemade pie crusts don’t require much time to prepare, especially if you use a food processor to cut the butter. Similar to the homemade trial on chocolate cake, the refrigerated dough doesn’t save you much time because you still have to bring it to room temperature and shape it in the pie pan. The frozen pie crust saves you the most time.
So, I’m going to consider it a WIN for the FROZEN pie crust in the category of TIME, but not by much.
You pay almost double for the ready-made frozen crust compared to the refrigerated and homemade versions. That’s a huge markup for convenience, considering it’s not much work to make a homemade pie crust or buy the refrigerated version.
In my cost comparison, the homemade pie crust came out to be slightly pricier than the refrigerated version. That’s because I use grass-fed butter, and my recipe results in more dough than the store-bought versions. Homemade crust would be the cheapest option if you’re not using gourmet butter.
I’m going to call it a TIE between the HOMEMADE and REFRIGERATED pie crusts in the COST category.
It’s probably no surprise to you that the pie crusts are comparable in nutrition. The homemade crust is marginally higher in calories, carbs, and salt because there’s more crust. (The beauty of homemade is that you can reduce the amount of salt if you’re watching your sodium intake.)
There are 2 noteworthy points about the ingredients list in the store-bought pie crusts. While the frozen crust is organic and vegan, it contains palm oil. Granted, the label says it’s sourced responsibly but I was still surprised to see this.
The refrigerated pie crust contains lard as its source of fat.
Maybe most people don’t consider these 2 ingredients deal breakers, but it’s a reminder to double check the ingredients list if you adhere to special dietary requirements.
I’m going to call the NUTRITION category a TIE.
Based on the scoring so far, we’re all tied up!
When tasting the pie crusts without any filling, I’d say they all taste very good. This means you could be happy with any of these options.
After par-baking the crusts, I made sweet potato pies so we could taste the pie crusts in their complete form. You can detect subtle differences in the texture when you have a smooth filling to contrast with.
Alex’s favorite was the store-bought refrigerated pie crust because he thought it had the best texture followed closely by the homemade version. He thought the frozen crust tasted “wimpy.”
I liked the homemade crust best because it had a buttery flavor. I didn’t like the frozen crust because it disintegrated quickly in my mouth and left a gritty texture.
I recruited our neighbors to help us break the tie. We ended with another vote for homemade and a vote for the frozen crust. My neighbor told me the homemade version was her favorite because it tastes like what you’d make at home whereas the other ones tasted artificial.
So, by the finest of margins, the HOMEMADE pie crust triumphed as the WINNER of the TASTE TEST.
After this analysis (TIME => frozen crust, COST => refrigerated and homemade crust, NUTRITION => tie, TASTE => homemade), I’m going to consider HOMEMADE pie crust as the winner.
But refrigerated could have easily won. This means there’s no need to feel guilty about picking up the refrigerated pie crust if you‘re in a rush.