As Epi's Senior Food Editor, I get a lot of pie baking questions as Thanksgiving approaches. Everyone who never bakes during the rest of the year all of a sudden needs to make pie from scratch. And the idea of making pie crust can be overwhelming if you're not used to doing it. Now, I promise, it's really not hard—it just takes a bit of time and patience.
But whenever someone asks me about the absolute easiest way to make pie crust, I have one answer: skip it. Make a crumb pie crust instead. It's faster and easier, and it works in almost any pie (more on that below).
Crumb crusts are also the easiest way to make a gluten-free pie crust. Replicating the flaky, light texture of traditional pie crust is hard without the help of gluten. But there are some excellent gluten-free cookies and graham crackers in the store these days, so you don't have to worry about fussing with gluten-free flours for the first time as you prep for an important holiday. (If you do want to fuss, this is the gluten-free pastry dough I make as an alternative to traditional pie dough, just so you have it.)
Before we go any further, one note of warning. A crumb crust will not work well in any pie with a juicy, runny filling. That means it's not your move for fruit pies like apple, peach, blueberry, or cherry, when you need a sturdy leak-proof crust to hold all those juices in. But pumpkin pie, pecan pie, chocolate pudding pie, and any other sort of custard pie? They all work like a dream with a crumb crust in place.
Here's the basic method: Toss your favorite kind of crunchy cookies or crackers in a food processor with a bit of sugar and zap them until everything is in crumbs. Then add some melted butter and process until the mixture holds together when pinched. It’ll look like wet sand, but don’t be tempted to run off to the beach—your work is almost done here. Dump the mix into a pie plate, and use the flat bottom of a dry measuring cup (or even a drinking cup) to press the mixture firmly into the bottom of the pie plate and up the sides to create a crust that's evenly thick all the way around. Give it a quick 10-minute blast in the oven just to set the crust—no lining with paper or filling with pie weights required. Let it cool, then go ahead and fill it with your favorite filling and bake (or chill!) according to the recipe.
You can make a crumb pie crust up to a day before you fill it—cover it once it’s cool and store at room temperature. If you want to make it even further in advance, cover it tightly and freeze it for up to 2 months, then defrost before filling and baking. But since a crumb pie crust is so easy to whip up, there’s really no need to get too far ahead like that. Just make sure you always have a stash of your favorite crumb-crust-ready cookies in the cupboard, and you can make pie at a moment’s notice any day.
The best part about crumb crusts is you can make them out of any kind of cookie or cracker you like. You can also mix cookies and nuts, like in this gingersnap-pecan crumb crust, or cookies and seeds, like in this chocolate cookie and sesame seed crumb crust. Or go savory and try sesame sticks or pretzels or butter crackers instead of cookies. Or just stick with classic graham crackers. They play nice with everyone.
Originally Appeared on Epicurious