My Mom’s Best Pie Crust

Everyone who knows my mother knows that the hallmark of her character is grace. Pure grace. This is reflected in her face, her home, her kitchen, her conversations.

And her pie.

I love watching people taste my mom’s pie for the first time. Always, always (while chewing): what is this crust? Always, always: Mom glows.

The fillings for my mom’s pies are excellent, traditional, and sturdy. What puts them and any good pie in a class by themselves, though, is the crust, her crust: golden, shattering flakes and absolute readiness to crumble when eaten (and not before). Hint of salt, so necessary against the sweet fillings. Above all, of course, is the flavor of this crust. Here is supreme taste where there is no butter, and a flavor of toastiness that defines the very notion of deep golden brown. I find that unless it’s my mom’s crust, I tend to leave on the plate whatever crust wasn’t touched by filling. Hers I will eat every crumb off my plate and yours too if you look away for more than a second.

My mom’s pie crust is the gold standard, a legacy that began in the kitchen of her own mother of all grace, Alice. Alice famously, and regularly, pushed a piece of pie across the breakfast table to my father, with her irresistible enticement that a little piece won’t hurt you. It wouldn’t be pie on any of our plates at home without someone saying those same words as they pass thick slices around.

So you want to know about the details already?! OK.

Here we have an old fashioned, Betty Crocker-inspired oil crust. My mother’s Betty book has been a workhorse in her kitchen, primarily for a singular recipe—the crust—which mom has always known deep in her hands. But the pleasure of opening that book, a book she made her own by covering it with a scrap of her cheerful kitchen wallpaper, to make a pie is ritual.

The finer points:

  1. There is no butter, lard, or Crisco here. Welcome all vegans. No butter means no chill-and-keep-it-cold factor. Just flour + salt + water + oil. Use any neutral oil you like. My mom uses vegetable oil. I use canola.
  2. The texture of the dough depends on many factors like humidity and how the flour was measured (it’s best to scoop the flour into the measuring cup lightly, then level the top of the cup). The dough should be fairly soft and pliable, not cracking and dry. If you’ve added all of the water and the dough still needs some elasticity, slowly add more oil, 1 teaspoon at a time.
  3. The dough must be rolled out between sheets of waxed paper; without the paper, the dough will not come up off the counter. That makes for a bad pie baking day.
  4. To make my mother’s truly beautiful rope-style crimp on your pie, be sure the edges are fairly even and plenty doughy. When trimming and then tucking top rim under lower rim, steal dough from a side that has more than enough and patch an area around the rim in need, to come up with an even edge of dough.
  5. When making the rope crimp, squeeze the dough edge between thumb and bent first finger, on an angle. Repeat all the way around the pie, squeezing quite firmly so the pattern holds during baking.
  6. Our favorite flour is King Arthur’s Unbleached All Purpose.

The pies we’re baking right now are the ones we wait for all year: strawberry rhubarb. This pie is my mom’s favorite, for the sweet-tart flavor, yes, but also because this is always the first fruit pie of the year. Slip a drop of rose water in the pie, and there is yet another layer of fragrant beauty, graceful as the mother who made it.

(A recipe for the whole pie is coming tomorrow, under separate cover. A crust this good is worthy of its own post.)

My Mom’s Best Pie Crust
This oil-based crust is tender, flaky, and flavorful—everything you want in a pie crust. The texture of the dough depends on many factors like humidity and how the flour and oil are measured. It’s best to scoop the flour into the measuring cup lightly, then level the top of the cup. Use a liquid measuring cup to measure the oil (like a glass Pyrex measuring cup with pour spout) to ensure the oil is measured properly. The dough should be fairly soft and pliable, not cracking and dry. If you’ve added all of the water and the dough still needs some elasticity, slowly add more oil, 1 teaspoon at a time. Use a pie plate with a flat rim. Recipe is based on Betty Crocker’s, and makes one double crust pie.

For 9” double crust pie:
1 ¾ cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup plus 1 teaspoon vegetable, canola, or other neutral oil
4 tablespoons ice water
¼ cup milk (of any sort)

For 10” double crust pie:
2 2/3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons salt
¾ cup plus 1-2 teaspoons vegetable, canola or other neutral oil
5 tablespoons ice water
¼ cup milk (of any sort)

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Add the oil, all but the extra teaspoon, and lightly stir with a metal spoon until most of the flour is incorporated and pea-sized meal forms. There will be some larger clumps of dough too.

Add the water 1 tablespoon at a time, incorporating after each addition. The dough should be soft and pliable, not cracking and dry. Add another teaspoon of oil to get there if needed, but do not add extra water. Divide the dough in half.

Tear off two 15” sheets of waxed paper. Wipe the work surface with a sponge dampened with cold water to keep the paper from slipping. Place one sheet of waxed paper on the damp surface lengthwise in front of you, and place half of the dough in the center of the paper. Shape the dough into a flat disk and cover with the other sheet of paper lengthwise.

Roll the dough, starting from the center of the disk and working your way out in every direction (think of working around the clock). The dough and paper do not turn; they stay fixed. As the rolling pin moves to the outer edges of the dough, be careful not to press to hard or else the dough will get too thin at the edges. Press more in the center, less at the edges, as you roll.

Roll the dough 2 inches larger than the pie pan, making room for the dough to slide down into the pan and still cover the rim. The crosswise edges of the waxed paper can serve as a guide at 12 inches. Roll to that edge for a 10” crust, and just inside at 11 inches for a 9” crust. If the dough is rolled beyond the waxed paper, just scrape under it with a thin, sharp knife or spatula to loosen it before picking the crust up off the counter.

Peel off the top piece of waxed paper and discard. Place the pie plate right next to the crust. Pick up the crust with its paper and invert it over the pie plate. Move the crust to arrange it evenly over the rim of the plate. Remove the waxed paper and discard. Gently lift the edges of the crust and ease the crust into the pan. Trim the crust all the way around the rim right up against the rim. If an area is short of the rim, patch it with trimmings.

Fill the pie with filling, then roll the second half of the dough for the top crust just as you did the bottom crust, but roll this circle slightly smaller than the bottom crust (about an inch smaller). After the top crust has been arranged over the pie, trim the crust so that there is ½-1 inch overhang of the top crust beyond the rim. Tuck that overhang under the bottom crust all around the rim. This seals the pie and prevents drips.

Crimp the edges of the pie in a rope design: place your thumb on the pastry rim at an angle and firmly pinch the dough between thumb and bent index finger. Push down into the rim as you pinch. Make the next pinch with thumb resting against the last pinched edge.

Coat the top of the crust entirely with milk, using your fingers or a pastry brush. Cut vents in the top of the crust. Cover the edges of the pie with pieces of foil or a pie guard. Bake at various temperatures and times depending on your pie. A strawberry rhubarb pie bakes at 425 degrees for 40-50 minutes (foil removed for the last 15 minutes of baking).

Print this recipe here.

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28 Responses to My Mom’s Best Pie Crust

  1. Oh, this sounds and looks so good Maureen! Complimenti!

  2. This is splendid. I love this on multiple levels — the topics of piecrust, home baking, and dependable recipes; the personal stories that bring it home, the photographs especially of the book, and the instructive ones on What Exactly To Do all the way through; the information on the general topic and this specific one…It has layers, just like the marvelous piecrust which I am going to make today. I love your posts and should say so way more often….

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Nancie, I’m touched. Those generous words mean so much coming from you! Thank you thank you.

  3. Bill B. says:

    I can’t wait for the fruit to come into season and put them into this pie crust.

  4. Sofia Perez says:

    The food you make and the blog posts you write are wonderful because they are like you, Maureen. Complex, beautiful, and full of heart. You come through in every image and word.

  5. Tom says:

    MMMMMMM! I’ve just resolved to use your mother’s recipe to make pie this summer when I will have the time to do it right. Thanks for the irresistible inspiration in words and images.

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Well sir, I never took you for a pie baker. You never cease to surprise. Let me know about that pie this summer!

  6. Jerry Wakeen says:

    When I was a teenager there appeared in my dad’s grocery store a box that contained what you needed to make an apple pie. Flour, dehydrated apples, a cinnamon tablet and I forget what else. You had to soak the apples and add the cinnamon tablet, etc. The crust of course was more difficult, I recall a bit of patching here and there. I tried it once, twice, three times, it got better but was never a “real” apple pie. It made good small talk though at lunch time with the girls in the high school home-ec class, they couldn’t believe I made an apple pie. I don’t recall if I told them about the kit that came in a box or not! A genuine, true, Lebanese story. :)

  7. Maureen, you and your mother live in such a state of Grace. As always, what a beautiful column: thank you for your words, sentiments, photographs and recipes which evoke abundant memories for me.

  8. Bernadette Seliski says:

    Hi Maureen, I stumbled across your site while looking for a tool to use to clean cousa or zucchini . My mother was not of Lebanese decent , she was Italian, although she learned to cook Lebanese food from my situ, and my mother was such a wonderful cook. your site brings back wonderful memories for me, My mother made her pie crust like your mother . I will make the pie crust and think of my mother and send good thoughts to your mother. I really enjoy your site and wish you continued success. Bernadette

  9. what a beautiful tribute to your Mum. Lovely recipe

  10. robert reynolds says:

    Your website is amazing, the food looks just like my late mother use to make. I came across your website from my cousins facebook post.He owns Adele’s restaurant in Carson City, NV. My mother maiden name
    was Charlotte Abowd, which in Lebanon was spelled Abood also. Keep up the good work and recipes.

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Hello to you! We are cousins; my mother is an Abowd! Thanks so much for your kind words–so good to see you here!

  11. Linda Hesrick says:

    Can u make this pie crust (the one containing oil) and freeze whole pie. I’m not sure how oil will react to being frozen. Would appreciate a response. Thanks

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Hello Linda–yes, you sure can freeze this crust–we do it often and the pie comes out great!

  12. Becky Hooper says:

    I need to make a “dairy” free pie crust – but I see this recipe has milk…do you know if I can substitute water for the milk?

    Thanks!

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Hi Becky–the milk is just used to give the crust a shiny golden look; you can leave it out entirely and then just sprinkle the crust with granulated sugar when it comes out of the oven, or use an egg wash (egg yolk whisked with a touch of water) in place of the milk, rubbed on the crust before baking.

  13. Hira says:

    Hi! Would you use this crust with your Lemon Meringue Tart? I am just wondering if i could bake it in a tart shell.

  14. Rosemary says:

    I’ve used a similar recipe for years. I treat the mixing similar to a biscuit- to keep the crust very tender I mix it very gently, stirring as little as possible. Also I roll out the top crust before adding the filling to reduce moisture in the bottom crust. My old Joy of Cooking instructs cooking the pie at 450 for 10 minutes to set the dough then reducing the oven to 350.

  15. Heidi Kertel says:

    While researching oil based pie crust, I came across your wonderful website. Your crust is so much like the one I use, also from my mother. The 1st photo of the crust with the wax paper next to it looks identical to my crust! I don’t use water and use a little more milk. I really appreciate how in dept you explain the process and it has inspired me to do the same when I post my recipe because with out these tips the crust could fail.
    Thanks Maureen! I’m looking forward to following you site.

    Cheers!
    Heidi

  16. Deanna says:

    Just made this crust (was out of butter) with a blueberry filling :) It was amazing! Thanks for the recipe :)

  17. Becky Beach says:

    Hi Maureen I was looking for a crust with oil and came across your page. I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed reading this recipe and the story of love that accompanied it. I lost my dear mother back in 2002 and just reading about your mother reminded me of my own so much! Thank you for invoking such sweet memories! And also thank you for this recipe. I have a almost 2 year old grandson who has many food allergies. He has a life threatening peanut allergy and is also allergic to soy, wheat, and egg whites. Luckily the wheat and egg white are slight enough that he can tolerate it. But the soy which is in everything causes his to get bad skin rashes. And the peanut one scares me to death! He is HIGHLY allergic to peanuts! So now I am finding myself searching for recipes I can make for him. Sorry for rambling on, have a blessed day!

    • Maureen Abood says:

      This is so nice to hear Becky. Enjoy this wonderful crust–your family is blessed to have such a thoughtful and caring cook among them!

 

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