Wednesday, January 25, 2017


Homemade pie crust is hands down the best option in terms of flavor, texture, capacity, and handling, but we don't always have the time. So, I did a little digging and gathered up the best of the best of ready-made pie crusts from sources like Cook's Country and Good Housekeeping. The benchmark is homemade crust: buttery, tender, and flaky. Ready-made pie crust may not be like the kind grandma made, but it is convenient and a time-saver. 

A frozen pre-made and pre-shaped pie crust sold in disposable aluminum pie plates should be easy to use - just fill and bake. But there are numerous drawbacks-- first, the standard pie plate is 9-inches in diameter, and most pans claiming to be the same measured at 8½ to 8¾ inches, which means about a third of your filling doesn't make it into the pie shell. Second, double-crust recipes. The instructions recommend flipping a second pre-shaped shell on top of the other filled bottom crust but tricky when most already have molded edges. Plus the top crust may not stretch over the pie filling even if you're able to flute the edges together. Third, heat will penetrate faster through flimsy aluminum pans causing burnt spots as standard recipe baking times no longer apply. You may think, aha! I'll transfer the crust to my favorite glass, ceramic, or metal pie plate, but as aforementioned, the crusts are too small for standard pie plates. Rolling out the crust larger isn't recommended either, as the dough can be finicky and difficult to work with. 

There's another style of pre-made crust, the ones that come rolled, two in a package, in the refrigerated section of the your grocery store. A few brands are frozen but these need to be thawed for 3 hours and need coaxing to unroll without tearing. The refrigerated brands roll out easily and can be used immediately. 

But convenience isn't the only factor when it comes to pre-made crusts; taste and texture matter as well. Manufacturers use different types of fat in pre-made crusts: shortening, margarine, lard, palm or canola oil, or a combination. Each fat has a different melting point and crystalline structure, which affect the taste and texture of the crust. Brands using all shortening yield a light and flaky crust, but also the bland, fatty taste of shortening. Some blend shortening and margarine, which gives a flaky texture and a wanna be butter flavor, but also tend to be dense with a processed after-taste. Lard has a neutral taste and makes for a very flaky crust but the seasoning is off - either too salty or too sweet. The best crusts used palm oil for a tender, flaky texture and didn't taste artificial. 

In the end, the two winning pre-made crusts were made by the same brand - Wholly Wholesome. For single-crust recipes, use pre-shaped Wholly Wholesome Organic Traditional 9" Pie Shells. And for double-crust recipes, or if you just prefer using your own pie plate, or want to avoid extra filling - Wholly Wholesome 9" Certified Organic Traditional Bake at Home Rolled Pie Dough. It's slightly less flaky than the pan version but is "subtly sweet, rich," and "tender." This is sold frozen and requires 3 hours of defrosting on the counter rather than the fridge; you may need to microwave it for up to 10 seconds for easier rolling if the center isn't fully thawed. 

Now, there is a third option when it comes to pre-made crusts-- the box mixes. If you have to bring out the mixing bowl, you may as well make a crust from scratch. However, this pie crust box mix won Good Housekeeping's honorable mention, and I happen to love the brand itself. Jiffy Pie Crust Mix! Surprised? This classic blue box of JIFFY yields two crusts for $0.75. It produces crisp, crumbly results with a good balance of salty and sweet - just add water. Viola! 

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