Ready-Made Pie Crusts | Cook's Illustrated
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Ready-Made Pie Crusts

Published December 2012

How we tested

Hands down, homemade pie crust is worth the effort, but we don’t always have the time. Enter premade crust—it may not be Grandma’s, but it’s fast and easy. When we last tasted commercially made crusts, we could recommend only one product, and with reservations at that. Since then, more have entered the market. Could we find one that is convenient and delicious?

We put eight products to the test, choosing a mix of frozen and refrigerated doughs, including three sold in sheets and five ready in aluminum pie plates (we discounted box mixes; if we have to bring out the mixing bowl, we’ll just make it ourselves). All the packages make two single-crust pies or one double-crust pie. We ate the shells baked plain, in single-crust pumpkin pies, and in double-crust apple pies, evaluating them on flavor, texture, capacity, and handling. Our benchmark was homemade crust: buttery, tender, and flaky.

A premade crust should be easy to use—after all, convenience is the point. That’s the appeal of crusts sold in throwaway pie plates: Just fill and bake. Unfortunately, they were too small for our pumpkin pie recipe; one-third of the filling didn’t fit. A standard pie plate is 9 inches in diameter. These pans claim to be the same, but when we measured them, they were 8½ to 8¾ inches—a significant disadvantage.

Another drawback? How could we make double-crust pies from crusts already shaped to fit pie plates? The instructions recommend flipping a second preshaped shell on top of a filled bottom crust. For every brand but one, sealing the already-molded edges was awkward. Worse, the top crusts were too small to stretch over the filling and seal with bottom crusts. In addition, because heat penetrates faster through flimsy aluminum pans, the crusts burned in spots; standard recipe baking times were inaccurate. To solve some of these problems, we attempted to transfer the dough from the aluminum pie plates they came in to our favorite Pyrex pie plate. They were too small to fit. We tried to roll them out more, but the dough was finicky and difficult to enlarge. For all of these reasons, we don’t recommend pan-style crusts for double-crust pies, and even for single-crust pies we can recommend them only with reservations.

How did the other styles of premade crust handle? Two of the roll (or tinless) crusts were refrigerated; one was frozen. The refrigerated versions unrolled effortlessly, without tearing, and were easy to shape, forming perfect flutes and producing windowsill-worthy pies. The frozen roll must be defrosted for 3 hours (it can then be refrigerated for up to three days), and it sometimes took a little coaxing to unroll without tearing.

Convenience, of course, isn’t the only factor. Taste and texture are also decisive. Manufacturers use different types of fat in premade crusts: shortening, margarine, lard, palm or canola oil, or a combination. Each fat has a different melting point and crystalline structure, which affect the taste and texture of the crust. A product using all shortening had a “delightfully light and flaky” crust but also, no surprise, the bland, fatty taste of shortening. Two products blended shortening and margarine to glean the flaky benefits of the former with the wannabe butter flavor of the latter; unfortunately, these were dense and tasted “processed.” Two used lard, which has a neutral taste and makes for very flaky crust; alas, one added too much sugar, the other too much salt. The two crusts we preferred used palm oil for a tender, flaky texture; they were neither too savory nor too sweet, and they didn’t taste artificial.

In the end, we concluded that options have definitely improved. We found one product we could recommend and six we could recommend with reservations. Our two top picks were from the same company. We preferred the taste and texture of our runner-up, but the product suffered from all the pan-style disadvantages described earlier. We can recommend it for single crust pies only and with a major reservation: You will likely throw away some filling.

Our winner costs more than the pan version because the production process is less mechanized—our winning dough is “tender” and “subtly sweet,” and it holds an entire batch of filling. Plus, we could use our own pie plate and depend on recipe baking times.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Skippy Peanut Butter

In a contest that hinged on texture, tasters thought this "smooth, "creamy" sample was "swell" and gave it top honors, both plain and baked into cookies. Its rave reviews even compensated for a slightly "weak" nut flavor that didn't come through as well as that of other brands in the pungent satay sauce.

$2.39 for 16.3-oz. jar (15 cents per oz.)*
Recommended

Jif Natural Peanut Butter Spread

The big favorite in satay sauce, this peanut butter's "dark, roasted flavor"—helped by the addition of molasses—stood out particularly well against the other heady ingredients, and it made cookies with "nice sweet-salty balance." Plus, as the top-rated palm oil-based sample, it was "creamy," "thick," and better emulsified than other "natural" contenders.

$2.29 for 18-oz. jar (13 cents per oz.)*

Reese's Peanut Butter

This is what peanut butter should be like, " declared one happy taster, noting specifically this product's "good," "thick" texture and "powerful peanut flavor." In satay sauce, however, some tasters felt that heavier body made for a "pasty" end result.

$2.59 for 18-oz. jar (14 cents per oz.)*

Skippy Natural Peanut Butter Spread

The only other palm oil-based peanut butter to make the "recommended" cut, this contender had a "looser" texture than its winning sibling but still won fans for being "super-smooth." Tasters thought it made an especially "well-balanced," "complex" peanut sauce.

$2.39 for 15-oz. jar (16 cents per oz.)*
Recommended with Reservations

Peanut Butter & Co. No-Stir Natural Smooth Operator

Though it says "no-stir" on the label, this "stiff" palm-oil enriched peanut butter was "weeping oil" and came across as "greasy" to some tasters. However, it turned out a respectable batch of cookies—"chewy in the center, crisp and short at the edge"—and made "perfectly good" satay sauce.

$4.49 for 18-oz. jar (25 cents per oz.)*

Maranatha Organic No Stir Peanut Butter

On the one hand, this organic peanut butter produced cookies that were "soft and sturdy" yet "moist," with "knockout peanut flavor." On the other hand, eating it straight from the jar was nearly impossible; its "loose," "liquid-y," and "dribbly" consistency had one taster wonder if it was "peanut soup."

$5.69 for 16-oz. jar (36 cents per oz.)*
Not Recommended

Smart Balance All Natural Rich Roast Peanut Butter

Besides being unpalatably "tacky" and "sludgy," this "natural" peanut butter suffered from an awful "fishy" flavor with a "weird acidic aftertaste" that tasters noted in all three applications. Our best guess as to the culprit? The inclusion of flax seed oil, an unsaturated fat that's highly susceptible to rancidity.

$3.59 for 16-oz. jar (22 cents per oz.)*

Smucker's Natural Peanut Butter

With its only additive a negligible amount of salt, the only truly natural peanut butter in the lineup elicited comments ranging from mild dissatisfaction ("needs enhancement with salt and sugar") to outright disgust ("slithery," "chalky," "inedible"). Cookies were "dry and crumbly" with a "hockey puck" texture, and the satay sauce was "stiff," "gritty," and "gloopy."

$2.69 for 16-oz. jar (17 cents per oz.)*