Why do the gods of pastry hate me?

I fancy myself a competent, unflappable cook who can easily substitute ingredients in a pinch or whip up a passable last minute meal, but I am left in tears by pie crust. My thanksgiving pie crust made me have a complete kitchen meltdown because it would not hold together until I added almost a cup of water, then it shrank down into a gooey mess in the prebaking. I threw away the first batch and the second was just fine, though I swear I used the exact same recipe! can you give me any tips to appease the gods? sacrifice included...

  • Posted by: lloreen
  • November 30, 2011


pierino December 1, 2011
This is beginning to sound like a Cole Porter song.
Greenstuff December 1, 2011
Super advice here! Wish we could bookmark answers. My few words of encouragement--pie crust is one of those things that seems impossible until you "get" it. Then, it seems like you can do all the same things you did before, and it still turns out. Go figure!
TheWimpyVegetarian December 1, 2011
I believe that about my computer. It works just fine for other people, but when I get on it, it senses my fear (I swear) and does all kinds of things it doesn't do to anyone else. So I totally understand. But good for you for persevering!! All butter versions are definitely more finicky in my experience.
lloreen December 1, 2011
Thanks for all your words of wisdom! I think I didn't have a precise measure of flour and I didn't get everything cold enough. In the second batch, I stuck the flour mixture and all the food processer parts in the freezer for 10 minutes.n
I will look for that vodka crust recipe for next time! I think the all butter version may be too finicky.
However, I still contend that pastry can sense your fear like a wild animal...
Niknud December 1, 2011
You're a strong woman...don't show fear! I still quiver like a scared little bunny when confronted by pie crust. Good for you for going for it - I always WANT to make a pie crust but crawl back to the freezer for the store bought versions like a wounded animal. :)
TheWimpyVegetarian December 1, 2011
This can be very frustrating, and most of us have been there! Some tips that work for me: to echo the other responses here, weighing the flour is probably the single more important thing to do. If my kitchen is warm, I'll put the flour, the butter, and if I'm using a food processor - the bowl and blade of the food processor in the freezer for 15 minutes before making the dough. I find that pie crust recipes that incorporate some kind of cheese (especially cream cheese) have made the dough very forgiving for me. And I frequently roll my pastry out between 2 pieces of wax paper. My guess is that your pie crust wasn't holding together initially because you just needed to work the butter in more, but it's hard to know from this distance. Sometimes when making crust, I don't think it's holding together, but keep working it a bit (without adding any more water) and suddenly it starts to hold together perfectly.
vvvanessa November 30, 2011
i'll echo everyone else and say that it sounds like in your first batch of dough, based on the amount of water, you might have just overmeasured the flour, which even those of us not on the pastry gods' hitlist manage to do every now and again, even with the assistance of scales and skills and experience. it just happens sometimes.

when hardlikearmour says that ingredients need to be cold, that, for me, includes the flour, which i pop into the freezer for a good 15-20 minutes before i start making the dough. i find it works wonders!
Sam1148 November 30, 2011
I second hardlikearmour's response.
The Vodka crust is fantastic and very easy. You keep the vodka in the freezer so it's supercold which is a key to making a pie crust.
hardlikearmour November 30, 2011
Thanks for providing a link to the recipe. IMO it is a truly genius recipe!
Sam1148 November 30, 2011
One thing for that recipe..is to omit the sugar if you're making a savory pie. I made a onion tart..well, it was more quiche like, but the crust worked great. Just remember to blind bake the crust before filling. I always blind bake (pre-bake) a crust...docking it with a fork and lining with foil and some coins to weigh it down.
it did need a bit more bench flour to roll out than normal..but that was a minor thing.

One other hint/tip: Weigh the flour. Some southern flours like Gold Medal AP weigh in a 130 g/cup.
So weigh your flour. Gram weight scales are cheep now and there's no reason not to use them, as flour varies by regions--with southern AP flours being softer and lighter.
hardlikearmour November 30, 2011
Precision is key with baking. If you don't already use a scale you need to start. The easiest pie crust recipe I know is the Cook's Illustrated Foolproof pie dough that uses vodka. It's wetter than a traditional crust recipe, so it's easier to handle. It bakes up gorgeously flaky, too. To minimize shrinkage make sure to refrigerate the crust for 40-45 minutes before you bake it to help the gluten relax. To make the crust flakier after it's refrigerated pop it in the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes. Cold ingredients are also key when making pie dough. Kevin's Cornish Pasty recipe uses the CI recipe for a double crust pie with 3 differences, he adds rubbed sage, subtracts 2 T sugar, and gives you the option of using lard rather than just vegetable shortening. http://www.food52.com/recipes/12687_cornish_pasties
SKK November 30, 2011
I agree wholeheartedly with B. Hardlikearmour is a wonderful baker! If she does not respond to this post, send her a message and she will have some great tips.
boulangere November 30, 2011
Oh, my! Deep breath, back awaaaaaay from the ledge. I've known many people who describe themselves just as you do: good, competent cooks who would rather move the next state with a new name than be asked to repeat one more baking disaster. There are any number of books that can be recommended, but I have a couple of other suggestions first. One, do you live someplace where cooking classes are offered, such as a good cookware store? Second, search this site for some of the things you have trouble making. Recipes here tend to be very well written in terms of instructions and descriptions, and besides there's always the reliable Hotline if you have a question. Persevere! You can do this!
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