Best Overall: Trader Joe's
Honorable Mention: Pillsbury
We're not big fans of frozen pie crusts. In fact, many of them taste like Play-doh. But if you're really in a pinch during the holidays, and the thought of making a crust from scratch is too discouraging and intimidating, we want you to somehow find pie. We are always pro-pie! So we tried the following nationally available brands, both baked plain and with a cherry filling: Trader Joe's, Pillsbury, Oronoque Orchard's, Wholly Wholesome, and Mrs. Smith. The winner, well, it wasn't even close.
- Texture: The ideal crust should be both tender and flaky, not brittle, tough, leathery, crackery, or too short.
- Flavor: It should have the rich, slightly sweet aroma of real butter with a hint of salt, not artificial-tasting.
- Ability to hold up to filling: We baked them all with the same cherry filling. Why cherry? Because it's pretty wet as far as fillings go, so it was a good indicator of moisture retention qualities.
Why the Losers Lost
The pre-formed, crust-in-a-pan type of piecrust were universally sub-par. Some of them were dry, dense, and cardboardy—very sad. Some tasted too chemicaly or just had no flavor at all. Flakiness was also very important. No flakiness = no happiness. Some turned soggy, gummy, and wet where the filling and crust meet.
Winner: Trader Joe's
We preferred the roll-out crusts to the already-in-a-pan kind. They had some degree of flakiness (though nowhere near a homemade crust), and were much closer to the "homemade experience." Plus, you can crimp the edges yourself (and who doesn't love crimping?), and you have the option of doing a true double-crusted top-and-bottom pie.
The Trader Joe's crust was by far the best of what we tried. It was strong enough to hold up to the cherry filling but not in the least tough, heavy, or leathery. Rich and buttery, it tasted "real," pointed out tasters. You might even be able to fool people into thinking it was homemade. Our only complaint: it was the flakiest of the lot, but was still too crumbly, like shortbread.
Pillsbury also sells a roll-out crust, usually stocked near the refrigerated tubes of biscuits and croissants, which was fine, but had some issues. It could have been flakier, and had an interesting savory favor (cheesy even?). It was also by far the saltiest of the lot (though Ed didn't mind this). At least it didn't turn soggy with filling. If you don't have the time for homemade and don't live near a Trader Joe's, it's your next best option.
Or, Want to Make it From Scratch, and Just Freeze It Yourself?
Cook's Illustrated Foolproof Pie Dough »