Pie Crust Showdown – Bon Appetit vs America’s Test Kitchen vs Milk Street

This is pie crust 3 ways!  I test recipes from Bon Appetit, America’s Test Kitchen/Cooks Illustrated, and Milk Street putting them head-to-head to find out which crust is the best for your application.

Pie Crust Showdown

Bon Appetit vs America’s Test Kitchen vs Milk Street

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No-shrink pie crust - Milk Street

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Each of these uses very different techniques and produces slightly different results.  They all have a place in your toolbox, so join us in looking at each one!  You’ll have a buttery, flaky pie crust that your friends and family will love.

The birth of a pie series

This whole pie series is inspired by my friend Fausto who lives in Panama and asked me to teach him how to make pumpkin pie.  So, I recorded videos for him, but thought that it would be great to share with YouTube as well as part of my Explorers Kitchen project.  

When I got started, I thought that the crust was the best place to start.  I had recently seen the Bon Appetit recipe as well as the Milk Street recipe and I got curious.  Both looked very interesting for different ways.  Bon Appetit because of its utter simplicity and limited equipment requirements  The America’s Test Kitchen foolproof vodka pie crust recipe has been in my arsenal for 10 years, so I wanted to see how these other crusts compare to that “gold standard” that had been set.  Let’s go on this journey together.

Our comparison videos

Here is part one of the two-part series.  I go through each recipe up to the point of rolling out and baking:

In part two, I roll out each recipe and give commentary on how easy each recipe is to work with.  Finally, I bake and taste each crust and share my feedback.

 

All 3 recipes are posted here on Explorers Kitchen.

  1. Bon Appetit’s Flakiest Pie Crust
  2. America’s Test Kitchen/Cooks Illustrated Foolproof vodka pie crust (via SeriousEats.com)
  3. Milk Street’s No-shrink Pie Crust

My take on these crusts

In my opinion, each of these recipes has a place and no single one is the “best.”  I love the America’s Test Kitchen recipe for how easy it rolls out and handles after refrigerating, but a food processor can be a pain to haul out and clean-up sometimes.  The Bon Appetit recipe was great for its simplicity of tools and methods, but it relies much more on human power and it doesn’t save any time.  Finally, Milk Street one is the most interesting one because of its novel use of cornstarch microwaved with water to trap the liquid as a gel.

Each crust tastes delicious, though slightly different from each other.  I experimented with schmaltz in the America’s Test Kitchen recipe and it lent a slightly savory note, which paired great with the sweet potato pie I later baked. Use of sour cream in the Milk Street recipe lends an interesting tang to the crust undoubtedly improves flavor complexity.  On Bon Appetit’s website version of their pie crust, they include some vinegar, that likely adds a similar tang that the sour cream added to the other recipe, but it wasn’t included in their YouTube video and I didn’t test it.

How they all fit together

In subsequent videos, I bake each of these crusts later into actual pies.  I make James Beard’s pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie, and a brown sugar tart respectively.  Delicious!  Check them out as well!

 

 

Transcripts
Video 1

Today, we’re making three different pie crusts to find out which one’s the best

Today, we’re gonna compare three different pie crusts. One from Bon Appetit

One from America’s Test Kitchen and one from Milk Street. All are very different from each other, so let’s look at the three together and find out which one’s the best for the pie that you want to make.

We’re going to start with a simple one from Bon Appetit.

It’s four ingredients all manual no hardware needed that’s the simplest.

Then we’re going to follow it up with a pie crust from America’s Test Kitchen which uses a food processor and a special ingredient, vodka actually.

And then third we’re gonna try one from Milk Street and this one’s a new publication out of Boston Christopher Kimball moved from America’s Test Kitchen and started his own project. One of their new pie crusts is kind of interesting it uses some special techniques and special ingredients that you don’t normally see in pie crust making. So, let’s start with a simple one from Bon Appetit.

Take one cup of flour plus two tablespoons

A half a teaspoon of salt

And a teaspoon of sugar.

To that, we’re gonna add one stick of butter very cold so frozen is actually what they recommend.
And according to them, it’s not important how big the chunks are, so we’re gonna do it just like they did in their video.

Cut it with the pastry scraper and add the butter. Then they tossed it to coat the butter to start with. And then they dumped the whole thing on their surface and started rolling it. Let’s see how this goes.

According to Bon Appetit, they say you’ll know that the butter is the right temperature because it’s gonna be really hard to do anything with. It wants to stay in those chunks. They say you want to just keep working it. it looks like a big mess. According to them, that’s okay.

So as butter sticks to your rolling pin,  just scrape it off with your bench scraper.

Kinda reincorporate it back in. They say t’s gonna look like a hot mess and this  does look like a hot mess, so we’ll see this comes together

Now we got something going on.

Just be patient with it keep rolling. You can see these chunks. It’s the butter getting flattened out that’s gonna add those flaky layers

This is one of those recipes you kinda just do on faith, huh?

Looking at thinking that it’s not gonna work, that it’ll be no good, but you know, I bet it turns out in the end.

They said that if you feel the need to flour the rolling pin, do it over the

whole mixture. That way, some of it gets on top of the dough well. Starting to hold on to itself.
Now we had three tablespoons of chilled ice water.

One more roll out ought to do it. So now, I think we have our pie dough

Bon Appetit! Now, this is going to go in the fridge.

Now we’re gonna do the America’s Test Kitchen or Cook’s Illustrated recipe taken off of SeriousEats.com. This one’s not too much harder, but it’s got a special ingredient of vodka that helps to prevent the formation of gluten.

I like to do my measurements with a scale, so we’re gonna start with that

It calls for 12.5 ounces of flour, which is about two and a half cups

To start with, you put about half of it in your mixer [food processor] and combine it with the sugar and the salt. To this, this we’re gonna add 1 teaspoon of salt

And 2 teaspoons of sugar. Now that the flour sugar and salt are in here, we can pulse it a couple of times to mix.

To the flour mixture, we want to add a stick and a half of unsalted butter

Cut into quarter-inch pieces

Drop them in evenly around the food processor so that they combine evenly as well

So I got the butter and shortening. I’m gonna use lard. I like lard better than shortening, so I’m gonna use lard.

We need 1/2 a cup of lard

I thought I had lard. I thought I had shortening, but it I guess I’m out, so I’m gonna go with some schmaltz that I made. This is chicken fat.

I’m okay with that because this is gonna be put into a savory pie: sweet potato pie. Alright. We added our butter now we’re gonna add our lard or shortening or schmaltz in this case. This was chilled had it in the fridge. We’re gonna process this for about 15 seconds to get a combined.

See how it’s starting to hold together there at the end? That’s how you know when to stop

Then we scrape the sides with a spatula

We’re going to add the rest of our flour.  Cover goes back on we’re going to redistribute it about four or five pulses.

A quarter cup of chilled vodka straight from the freezer, and a quarter cup of water.

Now we’re just fold this all together. Now that’s starting to hold together.

The water in the vodka. We’re gonna divide it into two portions, wrap it up and get it in the fridge to chill

Now, we’re gonna mark them. “A” for America’s Test Kitchen.  They’re going right in the fridge.

While these crusts are resting in the fridge, I want to take a minute just to talk about why the  America’s Test Kitchen and recipe has you put in the vodka instead of just water.  The rationale is that by splitting the mixture 50/50 with water and vodka they’ll prevent some of the gluten development that can lead to an overworked and overly tough crust. So this should help keep this crust light flaky and perfect. And you won’t taste the vodka in the finished product because it’s all gonna cook off. We’ll find out if this technique is any better than the other techniques that we’re gonna give a go.

And now for the Milk Street recipe. This one starts off a little different because it has you mix the water with cornstarch and microwave it. And this is  interesting – it’s a technique that they took from Japanese milk bread.

The cornstarch should trap the water in a gel and help prevent that gluten from forming. So let’s get this one started and see how it goes Theoretically, this pie crust should roll out nice and evenly.

Nice and easy as well… like Play-Doh is actually what they say. You should be able to roll it out very simply and actually handle it a lot easier than other pie doughs that get a lot stickier.

Also, this recipe shouldn’t shrink as much either so we’re gonna give this a try and see how we like it. We start with three tablespoons of water. To that, we’re going to add two teaspoons of cornstarch and mix it together breaking up all the lumps… making sure it’s all evenly dissolved here. Then we microwave this for 30 to 40 seconds stirring it and halfway through

You can see already – look at the texture this it’s all gooey. It’s gonna go in the freezer for 10 minutes to chill out.

Okay it’s been 10 minutes I want to show you what the cornstarch mixture is gonna
look like now. Basically a solid piece of this gel. All the liquid is trapped in the starch so it shouldn’t cause too much gluten development.
Now we’re gonna measure out our flour. The recipe calls for one cup plus two tablespoons of flour.

I like to use the scale so 159 grams.
A quarter teaspoon of salt

Two teaspoons of sugar.

Now we process it for about five seconds just to combine all of that.

All combined. We add our cornstarch

Now we want to pulse it in five times so it’s uniformly combined.

To that we add 10 tablespoons of butter, which is a stick and two tablespoons. They say to add that in half-inch pieces.

We want also add two tablespoons of sour cream

Now, just like with the America’s Test Kitchen one, we want to pulse it together till it all combines. (We’re not gonna pulse it).

Alright, see how just like with the other one, it start to combine around the blade. That’s how you know it’s done. We turn it out right onto the plastic wrap here to save some time.

“M” for Milk Street and it’s going in the fridge.

There you have it. That’s the end of part 1.

In part 2 we’re gonna be rolling out each of those crusts that we put in the fridge.

For now, which one looks the easiest to you? Which one would you make so far? Which one do you think is gonna be the winner? Let us know down in the comments and we’ll check back in part 2. Thanks for watching. Please hit subscribe so you can get that part

Have a great day!

Video 2

Welcome to the second part of my series on pie crusts, where I compare three different recipes from Bon Appetit, America’s Test Kitchen, and Milk Street. If you haven’t already, check out part one where I show you how to blend the dough and then pop it in the fridge to chill.

In this video we’ll be rolling out each dough, baking, and then tasting the three crusts to find out which is the best.

So our pie crusts are all done chilling. You can chill them anywhere from about an hour to four days or more. Especially if you put them in the freezer.

So we’ve got our Bon Appetit crust. Our America’s Test Kitchen. And our Milk Street.

Now my testing methodology here is I want to see how things work in the real world.  I’m not going to be rolling these out between parchment paper. I’m going to be rolling them right onto the countertop onto a floured surface. Which I think with granite like this can have a tendency to stick and sometimes be a little unwieldy to work with, so, I think this should be a good test to see which of these handles well in this environment.

And I’ll let you know how things turn out.

Let me get these back in the fridge and we’ll start rolling them up.

Now the key with getting the pie crust into the plate is not to push it down. That will stretch it and cause it to shrink.

You want to just carefully lift it and push. You can always trim it later. Take your time with it.

And now we’re gonna make a nice little edge.

All you do is…Take one finger on one hand, two fingers on the other hand press it together. There we have it.

See all these scraps? I’m going to be setting them aside.

These are what I’m going to use to judge, uh, the flavor of the different crusts.

So these are the Bon Appetit crusts.

Our scraps, they’re going to go outside and I’ll get back to them a little bit later.

The second crust we have is the America’s Test Kitchen Recipe.

This is going into the sweet potato pie.

And it smells a little… well, it’s yeasty. I mean… It’s a little sticky already.

Got a little water, little vodka. Let’s see how this one comes out.

It’s rolling out much easier than the Bon Appetit.

I remember with the Bon Appetit one I was seeing some cracking. Now it didn’t really make a big difference or nothing.  In how it ended up fitting in the pan, but, this one’s got no cracking at all. Rolls out super smooth, super easy.

This dough is really easy to work with. So far I’ve got a good feeling about it.  Doesn’t seem to stick to my surface too bad. Even though it was felt tacky to me originally.

That looks about the right size that I need. So that was…easy.

We’re going to be using the Milk Street Kitchen Recipe of pie crust.

This one’s an interesting pie crust because it has corn starch in it.  We’ll make a slurry of that and  microwave it with some water.

So, it’s the first time I’ll be rolling it out. Let’s try it out together and see how it works.

Now this recipe promises to… be easy to work with… they advertise it as like working with Play-Doh. So, let’s see if it rolls out as easily as they say it will.

Like with just about any pie crust, you can work ahead. And make the crust in advance. And then leave it in that disk or puck in your fridge till later.  I actually made this about four days ago.  And I’m just going through to finish my pie now.

So far it seems like a fairly sturdy crust.  It’s not quite as easy to roll out as the America’s Test Kitchen one was, with the vodka and the schmaltz.  But then again, I’m no pro baker.

And I imagine if you’re watching this, you’re not a pro baker either.

So let’s just see if this one is going to be as easy.

Got our crust in there. Now we  just need to trim the edges.  Rolling pin does a decent job of that.

All right.

There we have it. Crust in the tart pan. I’ll bake up our scraps and we’ll do our test comparison of all the different pie crusts.

Now that we have all three crusts made, We’re gonna try our taste test comparisons.

And of course, I made pies out of each crust. But these are the scraps that are left over from each. Bon AAppetit the America’s Test Kitchen, and the Milk Street pie crust.

To make it a fair test I wanted to just taste  just the crust by itself. So what I have them as laid out here. Gonna pour some sugar over each of ’em. Normally I would add cinnamon as well as sugar here.  Just because it makes a nice little tasty treat.  But I thought for the taste-test it’d be best to keep it even and not confound things with additional flavors. Only sugar and the crusts themselves. So I’m going to pop these into the oven and just keep them in there just to brown them. We’ll find out together, see which ones taste the best.

While those crusts are in the oven, let’s talk about ease of rolling out.

So I’d say the Bon Appetit one was the least easy to roll out.

Just because of it’s lower moisture content probably. And…It was just stiffer, kind of prone to cracking, and really dense to roll out.

The America’s Test Kitchen one with the vodka was super easy to roll out. It rolled out like a dream. Super easy work with. I was actually worried about it, worried that it was going to be a sticky mess, but it was not. Rolled out simply, uh, held it’s shape and didn’t crack whatsoever.

Lastly was the Milk Street crust. It rolled out pretty well, it also had some cracking like, like the Bon Appetit. I did have to roll it out thinner just because of the tart pan that I was using.  So I don’t know that it was necessarily a fair test. I’d say, on all, Our winner for the ease of rolling out would be the America’s Test Kitchen.

Going back to the very beginning, let’s talk about ease of Bringing it together to start with.

The Bon Appetit one was fairly simple. It didn’t dirty a lot of plates, but it required a lot of manual muscle manipulation with the rolling
pin in order to get everything combined.

America’s Test Kitchen was fairly straightforward.  It all came together in the blender, er I’m sorry, in the food processor.

That was fine. Finally, the Milk Street one came together quite easily as well, in the food processor, so, I don’t know that I would come up with a clear winner, and maybe we’ll say a tie between the Milk Street and the America’s Test Kitchen on ease of bringing it together.

That said, I want to give the Bon Appetit one thumbs up just because it didn’t dirty a bunch of stuff. It’s always kind
of a drag to pull out your food processor. At least I think. So, the fact that you don’t have to dirty all those pieces and you can just do it with one piece of equipment, your rolling bin and a boll, kudos to that.

Now it’s time to take out our pie crusts and taste test each one.

Alright, our samples already. We’re gonna give them a minute to cool and then we’ll taste them. They all look pretty good, though. Smell good, too.

I love these things.

Now that I’ve given it a few minutes to cool, looking at each of these, they all look about evenly browned, so that’s a good start.

Start with the Bon Appetit. Remember the Bon Appetit recipe was the one where we only mashed in with the butter. No special ingredients. No vodka, no cornstarch, no sour cream. So this is, it’s traditional a recipe as you can get.

A really good buttery crust. Got lots of layers. Not sure if you can see that. Very good, classic crust. I like it a lot.

Move on to the America’s Test Kitchen.

Remember this one had some vodka in it. SO let’s see if it tastes any different.  This one also had the schmaltz in it, but I’m not picking up an overwhelming Chicken flavoring. It does taste slightly savory, but it still tastes buttery. If I think about it really hard, Might say it has a ever so slightly savory taste, but very, very, very mild.

It’s a fantastic crust. Also has great layers. This is just as good.

Lastly we have the Milk Street crust.

This one had the corn starch in it and it also had the sour cream in there.

Another very tasty crust. I think I can detect that sour cream in there. It also has great layering. Not tough. None of these crusts are tough.

So really all three crusts are great. Bon Appetit one, most basic recipe, it actually tastes the butteriest to me.

America’s Test Kitchen one with the vodka and it called for shortening, where I used to schmaltz, tastes ever so slightly savory. But also just as good.

Then finally The Milk Street Kitchen. This one had the sour cream and the cornstarch. Also very good. Ever so slight taste of tang from that sour cream. But it’s got really nice browning, and I wonder if the sour cream helped to aid that.

I don’t have a clear winner here. They’re all excellent, and I think they all have their own place.

Should we have a dogie taste test?

So there you have it.

Three very different crusts that work in very different ways, but all have their own place. I think you can find the one that works best for you.

In fact, why don’t you leave a comment and let us know which one you’re going to make next for your pie.

Thank you for watching today.

Give us a like and hit subscribe if you enjoy watching our videos. Our next one is going to be

James Beard’s pumpkin pie.

We’re going to put that practice into good use, so stick around.

Thanks for joining us. Have a great day.

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