Mom It Down: Pie Crust!

A few years ago, Toby Joe bought me The Pie and Pastry Bible. I’ve picked it up every now and again but I never really dug in. Rose Levy Beranbaum is outstanding, and her book is unbelievably informative, but as a SAHM I simply can’t come close to the level of perfection she recommends. I was always scared off by the amount of work involved.

I dug it out again recently determined to give something a try. I stuck with the most basic of pie crusts and I was very pleased with the result. However, I’m still very new at this so it’s best to keep that in mind for the duration of this post. Ultimately, I really just want a fresh and flakey pie crust that I can use for sweet or savory pies. I don’t even care with it looks like, to be perfectly honest.

Two Crusts Diverged in Motherhood

It didn’t take me long to realize that there are two roads one can follow when it comes to pie crust: there’s the sightseeing version, the “Sunday Drive” of pie crusts (zen in the art of); and there’s the food processor version, or the direct route, the route that takes advantage of all the shortcuts.

Basically, if you have a food processor, making homemade pie crust is the simplest thing ever.

Another thing to keep in mind is that this particular task isn’t about instant gratification. This is something I do over the course of a day or two. I have taken almost 48 hours to complete one pie crust. (It can be done in as little as 3 or 4 hours.) That doesn’t mean I spent 48 hours working, hell no! I chopped my time up—five minutes here, two minutes there. 

Today I’m going to take a single 9-inch flakey pie crust and “Mom It Down” a bit.

What you will need

  • Pie pan
  • Saran wrap
  • Freezer-sized storage bag
  • Food processor
  • Rolling pin

Ingredients (Taken directly from The Pie and Pastry Bible)

  • 8 Tablespoons of unsalted butter (Usually, one stick)
  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 tablespoons cold water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar


Step 1

At some point during the day (I usually do it in the morning while Em is eating breakfast or running in between my legs) take out your unsalted butter, cut it up and wrap it in Saran wrap. Put that in the freezer. (Total time: 2 minutes)

At the same time (or whenever you have time!) place the flour, baking soda and salt into a freezer bag and put that in the freezer. (Total time: 2 minutes)

Walk away. You’re done for the time being. You’re free to change a poopy diaper or play smashup with some toy cars. You can leave those things in there for as long as you want. No joke! 

Step 2

Begin step two at least 30 minutes after you put the butter and flour in the freezer, but it doesn’t have to be that soon. I’ve left mine in there for over a day.

When you’re ready, take the flour mixture out of the freezer, put it in the food processor and pulse it a few times. 

Take the butter out of the freezer, add it to the mixture. Pulse that until it starts to resemble cornmeal.

Add the cold water and the vinegar. Mix that until a curdled looking dough forms. 

Spoon the mixture into the same freezer bag you used to store the flour. Seal it. Roll it around in your palms against a hard surface. (I cut a lot of corners here, which would probably make a pastry chef wanna punch me in the face. I barely knead the dough. This could be why my crust always ends up failing when it comes to appearance. But it tastes great and my only two judges don’t care what it looks like.)

Remove the dough from the baggie and form it into a flat disc between two pieces of Saran wrap. Put that in the refrigerator. 

That can stay in for a few hours or you can leave it in there overnight—whatever you want.

When you’re ready, take the disc out and put it on a lightly floured surface. Roll it out using a rolling pin. I was surprised to find out how durable this crust is. You can really manhandle it! Place that in a 9-inch pie pan and make her look pretty. (I cut a lot of corners here, too which is why my crusts aren’t winning any beauty pageants.)

Overcoming Obstacles

Depending on the type of pie you’re making, you may need to pre-bake the crust before adding the filling. At first, I found this concept a little daunting, especially when she started talking about tin foil rings and beans and rice and crap like that. It seemed like way too much work and way too much of my active participation and therefore attention. 

The good news is, if you decide to make a tin foil ring, you never have to do it again. And once you have the rice and parchment paper set aside, you can reuse them. I store mine in an empty tupperware container and take it out whenever I need it. 

Granted, you don’t have to get wrapped up in all that. I have (and continue to) cut corners. Some pies don’t need all the extra work. You can also use this crust to make small hot pockets filled with meat (or a meat substitute), potatoes, onions, etc.

Certain berry pies don’t need all the extra baking and pre baking and tin foil hats, I mean rings. And I think that if your pie has a crust top, it will stew on its own without the need for pre-baking, tin foil and the like. (And who doesn’t love the smell of apple pies?)

I do hope that this proves useful and I welcome any suggestions on ways to make things even easier. (Also, if you have any pie recipes that may go nicely with this crust, let me know!)

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  1. I’m wondering…

    would the food-processor time be even faster if you dusted the butter chunks with flour /before/ you put them in the freezer? I want to think that it would make them fall apart quicker.


  2. I have Mark Bittman’s _How to Cook Everything_ and I’m sure there’s a good, direct pie crust recipe in there. Maybe I should try either one and stop making quiches out of store-bought Pillsbury crusts… but that’s MY Mom-it-down way to do it.


  3. You are my hero! I’m not even a mom, just a busy girl.. so I appreciate the mom-it-down short cuts.

    (PS – Everyone thinks the bread is delicious. Thanks for that recipe!)


  4. Kneading a pie crust or over handling it will make it non-flaky. So, your not kneading is a GREAT thing! The key is to ‘work it’ (roll it out) in as few rolls and flipping as possible. You should see the butter in the dough when you’ve put in the pie pan – it’s the butter melting while baking causing the good flakiness.

    I love the idea of the food processor and freezing the flour and other ingredients first..and also the first comment about flour coating the butter makes sense too. Great ideas – thanks!!


  5. As an avid cook and baker who was afraid of making pie dough until this past year, I am glad you’re de-mystifying the process for people! (Also, even though I am not a mom, I love the phrase “mom it down”! And I think these shortcuts apply to any busy person who thinks they don’t have time to cook!)

    I second Cindy’s point that you want to “work” the dough as little as possible. I learned this from a Smitten Kitchen pie tutorial that I used last Thanksgiving. You really just kind of want to smear it into shape, so that you can still see little pieces of butter. That’s also why you freeze everything, so that the butter holds its shape–working it more than you do would melt the butter, and you don’t want to do that because every little piece of butter you can see equals flaky deliciousness! It turns out pie crusts reward laziness–who knew?

    For those who asked about making the food processor time even quicker, I think Michele will attest to the act that, without pre-mixing/dusting, it gets to the coarse crumb phase pretty darn quick!

    Finally, I have serious refrigerator envy. My tiny, decades-old apartment fridge pales in comparison.


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