Perfect pie crust no pie in the sky

Story by Valerie Phillips
(Standard-Examiner correspondent)
Mon, Dec 23, 2013
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If you think pies are only for Thanksgiving, you might want to reconsider. A few weeks ago our church youth group learned to make pies. As leaders, we planned to do it before Thanksgiving, but had to postpone it until December. I thought maybe the girls wouldn’t be interested since Thanksgiving was over. But judging by their enthusiasm during the class, it was a hit.

When you cram one kitchen with nine exuberant teen-age girls and four adult leaders, all busy crimping dough, simmering fillings and pulling pie tins in and out of a hot the oven, it’s pretty chaotic. It was amazing that we didn’t have any burned hands or cut fingers. The only collateral damage turned out to be a batch of scorched coconut cream, and a berry filling that didn’t set up.

My main task was to demonstrate how to make pie crust. I’ve not always had great luck with pie dough. Over the years I’ve done a lot of stories with tips from experts, and I have a more than a dozen recipes all titled “No-Fail Pie Crust.” Some use an egg, some use baking soda, some use vinegar, some use lard or butter. But through experience, I’ve found that they can all be messed up!

I tend to do best with the basic recipe I got back in high school Home Ec class — shortening, flour, salt and water. I use butter-flavor shortening not just for the flavor, but it’s also easier to tell when the flour is well-mixed. There shouldn’t be any big white lumps or streaks of flour in the dough.

One key, as I explained to the girls, is to keep the fat and the liquid really, really cold. I also like to roll the dough out between two pieces of parchment paper so that it doesn’t stick.

In the interest of time, space, and clean-up, we gave each of the girls a store-bought crust that they could work with. They got creative with the edge-crimping. Some made braids, others went for a ruffly look. Despite their diligence in pricking the dough to allow steam to escape, a couple of the crusts developed big bubbles during baking. But, that just gave their pies more character.

We had a request for a Reese’s Peanut Butter Pie, modeled after a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. Some advantages for the pie-impaired: it calls for a graham cracker crust, so you don’t have to make pie dough; it takes less than a half hour to prepare (not counting cooling time) and you don’t have to bake it. You could put it together pretty quickly for a Chistmas Day dessert.

Some friends, Sandy Bentley and Cindy Ball, have a Pie Night tradition the night before Thanksgiving, where they served 22 homemade pies to their friends and neighbors this year. The Reese’s Peanut Butter Pie was one of their Pie Night hits. Since it’s so fabulously rich, a tiny slice is all you need.

On a side note, Village Inn is recognizing first responders who serve the community and cannot be home for the holidays. You can go online at, and nominate a doctor or nurse on call, a firefighter working on Christmas Eve, a police officer on duty Thanksgiving night, or an EMT out on New Years Eve.

Selected heroes receive a dozen free whole pies to enjoy and share with colleagues, from Village Inn.

Here are recipes for my pie crust and the Reese’s Peanut Butter Pie.

 Basic pie crust

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup butter-flavored Crisco shortening

1/3 cup ice water

Mix flour and salt. Cut the shortening in slices or chunks, and lightly work it in to the flour with a pastry cutter or with your fingertips. The dough should be a little clumpy, but with no white streaks of flour. Stir in the ice water a few tablespoons at a time. You may not need to add all the water; you just want the dough to stick together to form a ball. If possible, cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a half hour before rolling out.

Place the dough on a large sheet of parchment paper that has been dusted with flour. Dust the dough lightly with flour and top it with another sheet of parchment paper, so you can roll out the dough without it sticking. With a rolling pin, roll the dough, always starting from the middle and lifting up slightly at the edges. Place in a 9- or 10-inch pie tin and crimp the edges as desired. Bake at 475 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Fill with your favorite filling.

Reese’s Peanut Butter ‘n’ Chocolate Pie

1 1/3 cups Hershey’s Chocolate Kisses (divided)

2 tablespoons milk

1 8-ounce package Neufchatel cream cheese (cream cheese that is 1/3 less fat; found next to regular cream cheese)

¾ cup sugar

1 cup creamy peanut butter

1 8-ounce container of Cool Whip

1 chocolate, Oreo, or graham cracker pie crust

Place 2/3 cup of the chocolate kisses with the milk in a small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high 30-45 seconds or just until melted and smooth when stirred; spread evenly on bottom of pie crust. Cover, refrigerate.

Beat cream cheese in medium bowl until smooth; gradually beat in sugar. Stir in peanut butter and whipped topping until blended; spoon evenly into crust over chocolate mixture. Cover; refrigerate 4-6 hours until set. Just before serving, place remaining 2/3 cup chocolate kisses around edge of filling.

— Sandy Bentley

You can contact Valerie Phillips at

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