Easy is the name of the game here. We want pie, after all, not tears of frustration. Cream cheese is our secret weapon. It helps make a crust that holds together and stays tender no matter the amount of manhandling we put it through.
The ingredients and proportions of a cream cheese crust are pretty standard. It's equal parts cream cheese and unsalted butter, mixed with flour and bound together with a little vinegar and cold water. (You won't taste the vinegar in the finished pie. It's there to help keep the crust tender.)
I make this crust in a food processor because it's easy and reliable. If you don't have a food processor, you can certainly still make this crust by hand. Cut your cream cheese and butter into smaller pebble-sized pieces and pinch them into the flour with the tips of your fingers, a long dinner fork, or a pastry cutter. When you add the vinegar and water, fluff the dough to incorporate the liquid and then knead it against the counter two or three times to bring the dough together.
This rich crust is tender rather than flaky. The cream cheese flavor is there if you look for it, but it doesn't give the crust an overwhelming cheesy flavor. I love it for both sweet and savory pies, full-sized pies and little hand pies, tarts and quiches, you name it. Even homemade pop tarts!
Easy Cream Cheese Pie Crust
Makes two 9-inch pie crusts; recipe can be halved
What You Need
2 1/2 cups (12.5 oz) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar (optional, leave out if making a savory pie)
8 ounces cold cream cheese
8 ounces (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
2-4 teaspoons cold water
1. Prepare Your Ingredients - Pour the flour, salt, and sugar (if using) into the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Cut the cold cream cheese and cold butter into large pieces and sprinkle them over the flour. Toss a bit with your fingers to coat the pieces with flour.
2. Cut the Cream Cheese and Butter into the Flour - Give the flour, butter, and cream cheese 10-12 one-second pulses. The result should look like large shaggy crumbs.
3. Add the Vinegar and Water - Remove the lid and sprinkle the vinegar and two teaspoons of the cold water over the dough. Replace the lid and process continuously for 3-5 seconds until you see the dough just starting to come together. It should still look a bit crumbly with visible flour and visible streaks of fat. When you pinch some in your fist, it should easily hold together. If it doesn't, sprinkle another two teaspoons of water over the top and process again.
4. Press into Disks and Chill - Turn the dough out onto your work surface and divide it into two equal parts. Gather each mound of dough and press it into a flat 1-inch thick disk or square, depending on the shape of the pan you will be using. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes or overnight.
5. Roll Out the Pie Crust - Tear off two large pieces of wax paper. Unwrap one of the pieces of dough and set it in the center of a piece of wax paper. Lay the other piece on top. Working from the middle of the dough out, begin rolling the dough into a thin crust. The dough will be tough to roll at first but then then will gradually become more malleable as it becomes thinner. Rotate the dough and flip it to the other side a few times as you roll. Peel back the wax paper occasionally and sprinkle the dough with a little flour to make sure it doesn't start to stick.
6. Transfer the Pie Crust to the Pan - When the crust is 1/8-1/4 inch thick, it is ready. Peel back the top layer of wax paper and gently invert the crust over your pan. Peel off the second piece of wax paper. If the crust cracks, overlap the two pieces slightly and pinch them together.
7. Chill the Pie Crust - It's fine to bake the pie right away, but if you have time, chill it in the refrigerator for 30-60 minutes before putting it in the oven. This chilling time helps the dough keep its shape better in the oven and tends to make a flakier crust.
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(Images: Emma Christensen)