Nothing instills fear in novice home bakers more than the prospect of making a pie crust from scratch. Will it roll out neatly? What if tears while transferring from work surface to pie plate? Can anything be done if it starts to bubble or burn in the oven?
While there are no-fail crust recipes out there, it's true that even the simplest ones can be difficult to master, and finicky on occasion. And few kitchen experiences are more frustrating than investing a whole lot of time, energy, and love into a pie only to have it fall apart.
Fortunately, there are plenty of alternatives to agonizing over the perfect ratio of flour, butter, shortening, and ice water. My preferred way to avoid making a pie crust is simply to bake a crumble, crisp, or cobbler instead. But there are times when only a show-stopping deep-dish pie will do. On those occasions a quick trip to the supermarket turns up a number of options, from refrigerated Pillsbury to frozen Mrs. Smith's to Jiffy's Pie Crust Mix.
At 79 cents a box, Jiffy is by far the most economical option. To make the crust, the instructions direct you to simply dump the mix into a bowl, add 4 to 5 tablespoons of ice water (one at a time), and stir with a fork until the dough comes together. I tried this method at first, but quickly abandoned it in favor of pulsing the mix and water together in the food processor—it was far too difficult to blend smoothly with a only a fork.
After forming my dough I determined that the ball was much too small to divide in half for a double crust pie, but it looked just about right for a single crust. It was a bit soft, so instead of rolling it out immediately (as the Jiffy box suggests) I wrapped it in plastic and chilled it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Rolling out the crust proved to be extremely problematic. It was sticky and crumbly at the same time. The dough desperately needed to be floured in order to prevent it from cleaving like superglue to the rolling pin, but it was simultaneously dry and cracking at the edges. After doing serious battle for several minutes, I gave up. There was no way I was going to be able to roll the dough into a circle large enough for a 9-inch pie plate.
It was time for a backup plan. Rummaging through my cabinets produced two long-forgotten miniature (4-inch) pie plates I had left over from a recipe testing job. By rolling the Jiffy dough out and then re-rolling the scraps, I had enough to make two single mini-crusts, plus a little extra. I pricked the bottom with a fork; crimped the edges; and filled them with a mixture of chopped peaches, sugar, tapioca flour, and cinnamon. After throwing together an impromptu crumb topping (flour, oats, light brown sugar, and butter), I slid my mini-pies into a 425°F degree oven.
Once they were baking, the crust seemingly improved. The edges puffed up ever-so-slightly and took on an even, golden hue. When the pies were done, I had to admit the crusts looked perfect—crisp and brown. But how would they taste?
Unfortunately, not as good as they appeared. The Jiffy pie crust proved to be, in a word, salty. It tasted like it was made from crushed soda crackers: dry, pasty, and entirely lacking in butter flavor. In the end, I just scooped the filling and crumb topping out of the crust into a bowl, and ate it like fruit crisp—which is what I should have baked in the first place.