Reflections On Shitty Crusts

I’ve eaten a lot of terrible pie crust. The amount of terrible pie crust I’ve consumed far outstrips the good crust I’ve eaten. Hence, I get surprised with how much “crust-swagger” is thrown around in the pie-world.

This asshole is showing off their crust swag.

This jerk is showing off their crust swag.

Any serious piemaker I’ve met will say “oh yes, my pie is all about the crust.” I’ve met some casual piemakers that don’t crust-swag so hard, but the serious ones are determined to convince you that their crust could beat up your boyfriend, EVEN IF YOU DON’T HAVE A BOYFRIEND. I’m glad they care – and hell, I’ve put quite a few terrible crusts forth into the universe. But, with all this caring and bragging going around, you’d think the world of pie crust would be a little less depressing.

As I’ve seen it there are two kinds of bad crust in the world:

  1. Hell Happened Crust
  2. What the Hell Happened? Crust

I have made both.

“Hell Happened” is characterized by a good framework for the start of the crust, but then something causes it to fall apart at the end. Perhaps a general lack of finesse with the fingers, to a huge lack of finesse with the fingers. Perhaps a cooling issue. Perhaps just bad weather and a humid kitchen. Usually “Hell Happened” crusts will taste okay, but they look like they were assembled by a pirate.

Here are some examples of pirate pie-making.

These aren’t garbage can pies; these are “give to a hungry blind friend” pies. These are pies that get away with being sloppy because they are sentimental & American (you should read into that.)

“Get away with being sloppy??!!” You say. “But, Ol’ Riki Tiki, the point of pie is that it IS sloppy! It’s cake’s dirty, tricksy cousin!” You scream at me huffily.

Well, look, you’re sort of right. Pie is, indeed, cake’s dirty, tricksy cousin. However, people misunderstand the way in which pie should be sloppy. Here is the rule I go by:


Pie is a hot girl you didn’t realize was hot until she turns around in the grocery store, where she is buying condoms & Fiber One (NEAT!).

The ways in which pie should be sloppy should seem like an accident. It should seem like you’re the special one for noticing how good it looks. You’re the naughty one for wanting to eat that strawberry poking it’s head out of the crust. Sloppy little strawberry doesn’t want to stay in it’s cozy, little crust cave. What a naughty strawberry.

…and then there’s “What the Hell Happened” crusts. And these are super fun. They are truly inedible. Correction: they should be inedible, but often they get edibled just the same.

I’ve made one crust that was truly inedible (truly should have been inedible) – and I have a few darling friends who are kind enough to remind me of its existence. And I am kind enough to remind them that they won’t be getting free pie ever again.

It was before I really understood the importance of protein levels in flour, and figured that “bread flour” was just “all-purpose flour” for fancy types with a specificity fetish. I’m an exceptionally brave and stupid person. So I made a strawberry rhubarb pie with bread flour. I knew by the time the dough was hydrated that something was wrong. I knew that the dough shouldn’t be vigorously springing to the touch.  What I should have done was throw that dough in the garbage – but nay!

What I made was bread leather. Eating it looked a lot like this.


American pie is confusing and weird. Finding a delicious crust is a treasure. Crust lets you eat on the go. Crust is encasement. Crust is power.

Joe Rybarczyk made the gifs, btw.

A Reflection on My Family’s Butter Consumption

My family eats butter like they’re all stoned. Laughing and giggling to themselves about how much they’re eating, they take up their table knives and lash out at the butter again and again. They sigh and moan to themselves as they consume it tablespoon by tablespoon.

This morning at breakfast, my sister was eating a Gluten-free Chocolate Muffin Miracle my mom had baked. Correction: she was eating two tablespoons of butter with half of a Gluten-free Chocolate Muffin Miracle underneath it. She looked down at the concoction on her plate, and kind of hemmed and hawed to herself, then said: “hey, could I get some more butter? My butter to muffin ratio is not where I want it.”

Not only did she accidentally come up with a rather wild & wacky “That’s What She Said,” she also prompted this helpful reminder to pay attention to your ratios.

As Michael Ruhlman said, "Once you have the ratio, the variations are infinite." Have you experimented with butter:muffin?

As Michael Ruhlman said, “Once you have the ratio, the variations are infinite.” Have you experimented with butter:muffin? Perhaps try more butter to muffin?

I went over to my parent’s house for brunch recently (it was really a late lunch, but it was eggs & Gluten-free Muffin Miracles, so y’know…brunch) (to continue the sidebar: I’m going to go ahead and say that gluten-free people eat brunch more often than any other diet-group. Breakfast lends itself readily to gluten-free food I’d say. Then again, I’m basing this off my family and they’re batty)…

Let’s start that paragraph over.

I went over to my parent’s house for brunch recently. We ate a frittata and Gluten-free Muffin Miracles my mom had baked. I catch up with my folks about work, about pie, about Florida, about how Michigan has already been in the shitter forever, about drinking and driving laws, and then I started crying about Matty Moroun or something, and as I got up to grab a hankie I realized that my parents had probably consumed an entire stick of butter while we’d been chatting. In fact, I should have guessed that they were going to pull this sort of shenanigan from the start, because as my mother was serving the frittata she said, with a rather sneaky look on her face, “I’ll give myself less…for I shall put butter on mine.” She giggled and sat down and proceeded to butter her frittata. (Butter:Frittata )

When I was a kid, I was really cocky about how little butter I would put on things. I don’t know why I gave a shit to be honest. Their butter consumption wasn’t hurting me in anyway – I just immediately saw it as a real dork move and wanted to separate myself from the herd.

Everyone would pass around the butter, dunking their faces into the dish, and then I would get the dish and announce “EVERYONE. CHECK THIS OUT. I’M USING A SLIGHT SCRAPING OF BUTTER.” And then I would proceed to just barely scratch the surface of whatever starch we were allowed to eat at the time with only the slightest amount of butter. Absolutely no one paid attention, and I realized that I would just have to get through every meal keeping my criticisms to myself and every single one of my online friends I would chat with immediately after dinner. “Oh my gosh. My family EATS A LOT OF BUTTER AND ARE SUPER INTO IT,” says 12 year old me, via AIM.

I was being a real twat about butter. Obviously I was wrong. But I’m still not prepared to say that they’re right.

Margarine has always been right out. My grandma used margarine. It was always awkward eating at her house when it came time to butter our rolls. Obviously, we weren’t “buttering” anything. We were spreading vegetable ideas.  This would instigate a lot of eye-rolling and discontented roll-eating from my family, despite how much we loved our grandma.

My favorite margarine related memory (because I have those) was while on vacation with my family. My oldest sister was going through some  rebellious phase and had decided that margarine was better for her (she doesn’t think that anymore.) My mom found the margarine in the fridge and whipped it out.

“What is this??” She asked.

“It’s uh…it’s mine.” Said my sister.

“NO. NO. I would…” my mom stumbled for a second then recovered, “I would rather have a daughter who is a smoker than a daughter who eats margarine!”

Since I was a smoker at the time, I knew the comment was directed at me, so I went ahead and said, “yeah, hey! At least I don’t eat margarine!” and high-fived myself out of that scenario.

At this point, I feel like I’m a liberal butter user. It’s one of three pillars of my crust making (my crust is a strange looking building). Sometimes I won’t bother eating bread if I don’t have butter (Depends on the bread. Depends on the menstrual cycle. Depends on who’s in the room). Sometimes I’ll squirt a little extra clarified butter on my scrambled eggs, post-scramble, pre-consumption, and still butter my toast. But, truly, all that does for me is make me scared that I’ve completely ended my rebellion and am now slipping down the buttery slope my family went down first.

Butter Slope is not an evil place; Butter Slope is barely even a bad place. But Butter Slope is the place that is inhabited by people who send their waiters back to the kitchen at least 4 times during a meal to fetch them more butter, and then instruct them “Ok. Just keep it coming.” Butter Slope is the place where your family meets your boyfriend for the first time, and they greet him by saying “Hey! We’re having a butter tasting!” Fortunately, that boyfriend was kinda down with the idea, but I lucked out that time.

I shouldn’t make fun of them too much for the butter tasting, because I walked away from that realizing that I was pretty lucky to have a family who sat around discussing the flavor profiles of different butters & musing over the sort of grasses the cows ate, without any self-consciousness. I’d love to say that my family’s butter consumption is “not normal,” but that immediately implies some sort of cosmic order of normalcy, which I’ve yet to see any evidence of, except for my family’s butter consumption…but that sort of logic gets people locked up.


(all photo credit goes to Joe Rybarczyk)