Are you a homemade crust user or a store-bought crust user? I put some store-bought crusts through their paces, and updated the prices for 2014.
I never buy frozen pie crusts in the pan, because the crimps are too perfect and pie is just not really pie if it looks like it was made by machine. And I never buy dry mix, because if I'm going to dirty the mixer anyway, I might as well go full cherpumple. (I really want to bring that phrase into the lexicon; it's too good not to try.)
Image: Pie crust, Shutterstock.
But I have been known to buy refrigerated or frozen pie dough. Rather often. It's not that pie crust from scratch is hard (though it's picky), but it does require advance planning, refrigeration time and the dirtying of several bowls and such. And if you're like me, it also makes your workspace look like a giant snow globe. I'm not so tidy with the flour.
Of course, store-bought crusts must withstand the trip from factory to store to fridge to pie pan—they're not going to have that delicate balance of flakiness and tenderness and workability that makes for crust nirvana. On the other hand, no snow globe. It's a personal choice.
So for science, I test-drove the three refrigerated pie crust doughs I found in the three grocery stores closest to my house.
FIRST: Pillsbury ==>
Contender #1: Pillsbury
Bought at: Safeway
Price:Around $3.40 (down from $4.99 in 2013!)
Crust-building notes: Easy to work with. Comes rolled up in a cylinder instead of folded in quarters—which smart; you have less chance of breakage. You can roll it pretty thin on a floured board and it holds its shape without tearing.
Tasting notes: Not too sweet, but there's a little sugar in there. Really bland. The flakiness is good. I saw a couple people over at Chowhound saying it has plasticky notes, but I found it a perfectably serviceable mediocre pie dough. Lydia at The Perfect Pantry agrees. Note the comment by Alanna, who recommends rolling the dough out thinner and sprinkling a little sugar on it; I bet that works perfectly for the sweet pies.
Ingredients: Here's where we uh-oh: Bleached enriched flour, partially hydrogenated lard with BHA and BHT added to protect flavor, wheat starch, water. Contains less than 2% of salt, rice flour, xanthan gum, potassium sorbate and sodium propionate, citric acid, Yellow 5 and Red 40.
NEXT: Trader Joe's ==>
Contender #2: Trader Joe's Frozen Pie Crust
Bought at: Trader Joe's (shocker)
Price: $3.99 (no price change)
Crust-building notes: This came out of the box in pieces, and went downhill from there. Whereas you could mend any tears in the Pillsbury dough easily, this dough did not want to reunify. It was a dough divided. Though it was much thicker than the Pillsbury, it was hard to roll thin, cracking around the edges and generally refusing to cooperate. Diva crust.
Tasting notes: Sweet. Too sweet for something like quiche. But the flavor was the least of TJ's problems—this crust baked up into a dry, structureless mess that crumbled into sugary dust—both the moment I touched it and then again when I tried to eat it. A scirocco in my mouth. I can handle hard-to-handle dough, if it bakes into something tender and buttery. This was the opposite of that.
I may just not be a fan. Faith at The Kitchn really loves her TJ's crust, and Baking Bites gives it a generally favorable review as well, but I honestly don't feel like trying it again, even for science.
Ingredients: Enriched flour, butter, palm oil, salt.
NEXT: French Picnic ==>
Contender #3: French Picnic Pastry Circles
Bought at: Whole Foods
Price: Ridiculous. $10.99 for 2 10-inch crusts! (However, that's down from last year at $13.49, so ...)
Crust-building notes: They engineered these crusts for larger tart pan, so once you defrost them, you can just press them into a 9-inch pie pan and go. They're easy to handle, and don't readily tear.
Tasting notes: Aw, yeah. Technically I think this is pate brisee, a French tart dough, rather than pie crust. I'm not standing on a technicality. It was buttery, rich, and delicious, and I would definitely make this my shortcut/backup pie crust for a special occasion.
Ingredients: Organic flour, 100% pure butter. Yep, that's it.
NEXT: And the Pie Dough Taste Test Winner Is ... ==>
Which Store-Bought Pie Crust Won?
Well, there's no clear winner. It kind of depends on what you're looking for. If you're vegan or gluten free, none of these is for you. If you want buttery flavor and purity of ingredients combined with ease of use—French Picnic, hands down. If you want flakiness and easiness to find and use, and the phrase "hydrogenated lard" doesn't scare you off—Pillsbury.
If you are very lazy and Trader Joe's is by far the closest grocery to your house and you have a pie to make right now and you're out of flour and so you can't just whip up your own crust and whose idea was this anyway? Pick up another Trader Joe's crust, and remember: It's still pie, and people will love it.
Do you have a favorite store-bought crust or tips to make them better? Am I totally off my rocker about Trader Joe's? Any new crust brands you like? Tell me!
I blogged a Month of Pies—aka NaBloPieMo—every day one November. Check out all my pies!
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