As a professional baker and devoted pie-lover, every season is the season for pie. Whether you’re whipping up a cool lemon meringue in the summer or endlessly chopping apples for a Thanksgiving deep-dish apple pie, it all starts with the crust. In theory, crusts are simple—all you need is flour, fat, water, and a pinch of salt. However, homemade pie crusts can often be finicky, and one wrong move can turn a flaky crust into edible cardboard. During my years as a baker and pie shop owner, I’ve experienced the highs and lows of crust-making, and I am happy to share my secrets to perfecting the vegan pie crust. Follow these five essential rules, and you’ll never be in need of store-bought crust again.
1. Bring on the butter
This tip is number one for a reason—if you want a high-quality crust, you need to work with high-quality vegan butter. To state the obvious, a good amount of vegan butter ensures a tender, buttery crust. At my bakery, Pop Pie Co., we use Earth Balance’s buttery sticks for both sweet and savory applications.
Perfect pie recipe: Caramel Apple Crumb Pie
2. Keep it cold
|The enemy of a good pie crust is heat. Once that butter starts getting soft, you’re done for. To avoid pie catastrophe, chill your mixing bowl before tossing your crust ingredients together. Once you’re ready to go, work quickly. If you receive a text or see a VegNews article that you can’t ignore, put the bowl and the ingredients in the freezer while you do what you need to do. Once the dough comes together and you’re ready to roll it out, make sure you’re working with a cold surface. To ensure this, pop your cutting board into the freezer as your dough chills. When rolling out your dough, a cool temperature is what helps the dough roll out smoothly and reduces the possibility of any stretches or tears.
Perfect pie recipe: Chai-Spiced Cranberry Apple Pie
3. Freeze your butter
Yes, another tip about butter and cold temperatures—they are that important for a perfect pie. Vegan butter melts much faster than dairy-based butter, so if you use it straight from the refrigerator, you’re severely cutting down your time to work with it until it starts to go soft. Before you even pull up that recipe for vegan bourbon pecan pie, unwrap your vegan butter sticks, chop the butter into half-inch cubes, and store them in the freezer until you’re ready to prepare your dough. This will also make it easier to incorporate the butter into the flour—reducing the chances of you overworking the mixture and creating a tough crust.
Perfect pie recipe: Maple Pecan Pie
4. Use ice water
All pie dough recipes call for water, but don’t just take a few tablespoons from the tap. Measure out your water into a bowl and throw in a few ice cubes. Another example of the importance of temperature, using ice water helps you achieve a smoother (rather than bubbly) dough, which leads to a flakier crust.
Perfect pie recipe: Vegan Sweet Potato Hand Pies
5. Hands off the dough
Don’t overwork your dough. Be sure to use as little hand contact as possible when kneading and rolling, as your hands will not only warm the ingredients but also damage the gluten molecules which leads to a cardboard-like crust. While it might seem extreme, you may want to submerge your hands in a bowl of ice water before hand-mixing the dough (grin and bear it, the pie is worth the bitter cold!). A telltale sign that your dough is overworked—the dough will begin to feel ‘tight,’ becoming difficult to flatten and fold. The end result is a pie crust that is hard, dense, and dry.
Perfect pie recipe: Easy Vegan Pumpkin Pie.
Gan Suebsarakham is the Executive Chef and Co-Owner of Pop Pie Co. in San Diego whose inspiration for cooking and creating stem from his love and admiration of cultures from around the world.
Photo credit: Pop Pie Co.