Make-ahead pie crust: an old secret rediscovered

‘Tis the season — to start thinking about holiday baking. Unfortunately, way too many of us stress over what should be a joyful process leading to happy results. So many recipes, so little time… This time of year, we’re all searching for ways to get ahead of the curve. Enter: make-ahead pie crust.

I recently had lunch with a 90-something friend, a former home ec. teacher with whom I love to talk baking. As we enjoyed our dessert, something she said about pie captured my attention.

“Did you ever hear of pie crumbs?” she asked. I admitted I hadn’t — aside from the obvious: the scraps of pie crust left on the plate after the slice is gone. “My mother used to mix flour and salt and lard together to make this crumbly mixture that she’d store in a crock in the cellar. She called them her pie crumbs. When she wanted to make a pie, she’d just scoop out a few handfuls, add water, and roll out her crust.”

Hmmm… sounds like a good make-ahead solution for 100 years ago. But now that we have easy access to freezers, why not just make pie dough and freeze it in ready-to-roll disks? Two reasons:

Make-Ahead Pie Crust via @kingarthurflour

1. Pie crumbs allow you to make any amount of crust

…from something good for a couple of little tarts to a crust for a deep-dish 10″ pie. With frozen disks, you’re looking at a standard single crust — not always exactly what you want.

2. Pie crumbs save time

Remove however much of the crumbly mixture you need from the freezer, and within 30 minutes the fat is soft enough that you can add water and roll out your crust. Compare that to the time it takes to thaw and roll a frozen disk of prepared crust.

From a quality standpoint, it’s my opinion that pie crumbs might be more stable in the freezer than pie crust disks. Why? Because without the added water, no ice crystals form. Ice crystals can damage the flour/water matrix, leading to changes in its structure (which can then potentially lead to changes in your pie crust).

Oh, and one other reason I like pie crumbs: if my friend’s mother used them, they were probably a 19th-century kitchen time-saver. And I love the feeling of preserving and carrying forward our American baking traditions — even something as simple as a shortcut for pie crust.

Looking for a neat new technique for make-ahead pie crust? Try pie crumbs. Click To Tweet

Let’s see how these pie crumbs work:

I’ve decided to make a triple batch of our Classic Double Pie Crust recipe, which will yield enough crumbs to make the equivalent of six single crusts.

Make-Ahead Pie Crust via @kingarthurflour

Mix flour, salt, and shortening

Mix thoroughly, so that the shortening is pretty much fully blended into the flour.

I’m deliberately not giving you specific amounts of ingredients here; you can apply this method to any pie crust recipe you choose.

Make-Ahead Pie Crust via @kingarthurflourMake-Ahead Pie Crust via @kingarthurflour

Add cold, diced butter

A bench knife is useful here.

Make-Ahead Pie Crust via @kingarthurflour

Work in the butter

Mix until some of the butter has broken down, and some has remained in larger chunks. A stand mixer works well here, as does a pastry blender.

Make-Ahead Pie Crust via @kingarthurflour

Weigh the pie crumbs

I’m weighing in grams here, since it’s so much easier to do the division. Remember, this is enough for six crusts, so I’m going to note how many grams of pie crumbs I’ll need to make a single crust: 1459g divided by six is 243g.

If you don’t have a scale, measure the crumbs’ volume, and divide by six to figure out how many cups it takes to make a single crust. For either method, weight or volume, a single crust will be your reference point.

Make-Ahead Pie Crust via @kingarthurflour

Bag, label, and freeze the crumbs

Because you think you’ll remember what they are, but hey…

Stick the bag in the freezer, preferably in the back where it won’t be subject to warm air wafting over it each time you open the freezer door.

When you’re ready to make pie —

Make-Ahead Pie Crust via @kingarthurflour

Scoop some crumbs out of the bag into a bowl

Whether one crust, two crusts, or one and a half, do the math and measure the crumbs.

Let the crumbs thaw for 30 minutes or so, until the butter chunks feel barely pliable in your fingers.

Make-Ahead Pie Crust via @kingarthurflour

Add water

Mix to make a chunky mass.

Make-Ahead Pie Crust via @kingarthurflour

Squeeze and knead briefly

All you’re doing here is bringing the chunks together into one solid piece of dough.

Make-Ahead Pie Crust via @kingarthurflour

Roll the dough

Notice those flattened chunks of cold butter? They’re a good thing. The butter will emit steam as it melts in the oven, which helps “fluff” your crust’s flaky layers.

Make-Ahead Pie Crust via @kingarthurflour

Place the crust in the pan

Make a nice crimp, if you’re so inclined.

Make Ahead Pie Crust via @kingarthurflourMake-Ahead Pie Crust via @kingarthurflour

Bake your favorite pie

My current favorite is Lemon Chess.

Make-Ahead Pie Crust via @kingarthurflour

Enjoy!

Notice those flakes. I’d say this shortcut technique yields excellent results without any downgrade in texture (or flavor).

Now, how long can you store pie crumbs in the freezer? Fairly indefinitely, though the longer they’re frozen, the more chance they have both to absorb freezer odors, and for the fats to start to go off. I’ve also found that, starting about two weeks out, I need to add a touch more water than usual to bring the dough together — due to the drying effects inherent in freezing.

With pie season hard upon us, now’s the time to try pie crumbs for make-ahead pie crust. Or maybe you have another old-fashioned pie trick up your sleeve? Share your favorite tips in the comments, below.

And oh, of course: If you have a favorite pie crust recipe and method you like, stick with it! I’m not out to convert you here; simply to offer yet another alternative if you’re looking to try something new.

Or something old.

For detailed ingredient amounts for the crust demonstrated above, see our recipe for Classic Double Pie Crust.

And if you’re looking for additional time-saving ways to use your freezer in the run-up to the holidays, check out our posts on freeze and bake dinner rolls, fruit pies, cookies, and more.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. sue

    Nothing ruins the taste of butter faster than a turn in the freezer while wrapped in plastic. Fats readily absorb other flavors and odors, so storing in a cold basement in a covered glazed crock makes the most sense. Glass jar would be OK.

    Storing/freezing ‘crumbs’ in plastic, a semi-permeable membrane through which odors and flavors will transfer, not such a great idea. NOR is using a chemical-ink pen like a sharpie. take a sniff of that label.

    Reply
  2. Anita L Van Brocklin

    I have always done this making my pie crust ahead time and put into the freezer and when I’m ready to make my pies whether at 1 or more I’m ready. The only thing I use lard and instead of using water I put just a little bit of milk in a teaspoon of vinegar as my mother and grandmother did..this makes the crust light and flaky ..I have done it this way for 40 plus years.

    Reply
  3. Kathy

    I use a large quantity – 8 cups flour to 1 lb lard and 4 tsp salt. I store it in a plastic (re-usable animal cracker) container. Never called them pie crumbs, just pie crust mix. Have been baking for…let’s just say many years. My mother-in-law taught me that trick.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Sissy, we’re not familiar with this app but it sounds like some of the other bakers here are familiar with it and might be able to help you out. They might be referring to this app, which is developed by Michael Ruhlman, cookbook co-author. We hope that helps! Kye@KAF

  4. Bernard Farrell

    I really love this tip, next time I take out my Cuisinart for flaky pie dough I’ll make some extra ‘crumbs’ and freeze them.

    Reply
  5. Mari

    I’ve always had this problem when I bake apple pie. The bottom crust seems raw, it doesn’t darken enough. What should I do to avoid this?
    Oh, this is such a great tip that I will do your suggestion this year!

    Thank you so much.

    Reply
    1. Mari

      I just saw the article today, November 18! Thanks it has answered my question. I’m so happy that I am not the only one having this problem. I thought I had to buy a new pie pan…I will sure come back to let you know!

  6. Erin

    This is a great time saver that I have used for pie crust and scones for….more decades than I like to count! It makes baking for an unexpected crowd or a couple of friends so easy.

    Reply
  7. BRP

    I have done this before, and always use cheap sandwich bags individually inside of a gallon freezer bag. The double layer helps freshness and keeps my bags together for easier locating. Ha!

    Also, it really helps when giving gifts of food to a new mother, a shut-in, someone scheduled for surgery or a trip, moving, or just a birthday. I have done this with pancakes, biscuits, pie crusts, and cornbread!

    It’s a real boon for fast cooking.

    Reply
  8. JoAyne

    Hello BH,

    Such a great tip! Any reason I can’t do this with an all butter crust? I have an old pate brisee recipe ( that I’m sure is just a fancy name for pie crust) that is all butter. I’ve used it for years and it’s pretty tasty and flaky.
    Thanks So Much!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Like we’ve mentioned to some other bakers here, you’re welcome to use this approach with an all-butter crust. You still may want to add the butter in two additions so that some of the butter gets broken down into very small crumbs while the second half stays in larger chunks. This way you’ll get a sturdy crust that’s also flaky. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  9. Britt

    I didn’t see anyone ask about using this technique with an all-butter crust. Any reason why it wouldn’t work? Thank you for the great article!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You’re welcome to try using this technique with an all-butter crust, but you might want to consider working the butter in in two additions. The first batch will turn crumbly, which helps make the crust sturdy and buttery, and the second batch stays in larger, pea-sized chunks, which contributes flakiness. This way, you get the best of both worlds. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

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