1. Graham crackers
Graham crackers are one of the most classic ingredients for pie crust, though the history doesn’t date back very far. The concept was cooked up by famed pie innovator Monroe Boston Strause around 1926 to go along with his newly invented chiffon pie. The traditional pastry base of most pies was too dense for the light, airy filling he had devised, and crushed cookies proved to be the answer.
Graham cracker crust doesn’t pair well with fruit pies because the excess moisture robs it of its crunchiness, but for creamy pies, whether it’s cheesecake or key lime pie, the butteriness and thin layer of crunch provided by graham crackers is the perfect foundation. All you need is graham crackers (purchased or homemade) and butter. A little salt and sugar will add flavor, but they’re optional. If the dessert is baked, make sure to pre-bake the crust to prevent the filling from leaking through. This also toasts the graham crackers and brings out the nuttiness of the butter. It’s one of the easiest crusts to make, and one that pastry chefs and home cooks have been turning to for nearly a century.
If you’re looking for a hassle-free alternative to graham cracker crust, head to your cereal cabinet. Thin, crunchy cornflakes provide the ideal texture for crust even without baking, and they’re just as easy to use as graham crackers. Although neither ingredient has a strong flavor, you will taste a difference. Cornflake crust is mild and nutty, while graham cracker crust has a sweeter, oaty flavor. Depending on the brand you’re using, you’ll need to add extra sugar to the cornflake crust to make sure it doesn’t taste savory. You’ll also need to add more butter than you would to cookie-based crusts as there is little to no fat in the cereal.
Cornflake crust, like graham cracker crust, pairs well with creamy fillings because it’s crunchy, light, and neutral. You can pre-bake it if you want to add a toasted flavor, but because it’s already crispy, this step is optional. This crust is an especially useful option for people following a gluten-free diet since many store-bought cornflakes do not contain gluten.
3. Rolled oats
Oats aren’t the obvious choice for making crust. They aren’t crunchy or easy to crumble. Even when you bake them they can be chewy. But when prepared correctly, they make a delicious base for a cheesecake or pie. Think of oat crust like a plate-sized oatmeal cookie or the streusel topping that makes apple crumbles so addictive.
To make pie crust out of oats, blend oats (quick-rolled are preferable as they are thinner) in a food processor with butter, sugar, and a pinch of salt. Depending on the filling, you can add spices such as cinnamon, cloves, and even lemon zest. Oat crust tastes best when pre-baked, especially when you’re using a rich filling. Fifteen minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit will turn the mild-tasting oats into a fragrant, nutty crust that goes well with just about any filling. It’s quick to pull together and requires only a handful of ingredients that you probably have at home already. No rushing out to the grocery store to buy cookies or baking your own graham crackers. In less than 30 minutes, your oat crust will be ready, and it might become your new go-to.
4. Biscoff cookies
Speculoos, better known by their brand name Biscoff, is a type of buttery cookie that tastes just as heavenly under a creamy pie feeling as they do dunked in coffee. These cookies are so beloved that they have their own Nutella-like spread, and have been incorporated into lattes, Krispy Kremes, and Carvel ice cream. Given their delicious caramelly flavor and shortbread butteriness, it makes sense that they would taste just as divine as a pie crust.
To turn Biscoff cookies into crust, you only need two ingredients: the cookies and butter (yes, more butter). Blend the cookies until they are the texture of cornmeal, then pour the melted butter on top and mix. Pre-baking this crust is optional since the cookies are already crunchy and taste like caramel. If you want a solid base, however, baking the crust will solidify the ingredients and create a barrier to prevent the filling from seeping through. Biscoff crust is so flavorful that it makes an excellent accompaniment to simple fillings, such as a plain cheesecake or chiffon pie. The only downside to this recipe is that the cookies are not as cheap as rolled oats or leftover cake, but the results are so delicious that it’s worth splurging on.
5. Ritz crackers
Have you ever noticed the slight sweetness in Ritz crackers? You might not dunk them in milk the way you would graham crackers, but with a little extra sugar and butter, they make just as delicious a pie crust. With white flour as their main ingredient, these buttery crackers are the perfect choice for anyone who loves flaky pastry crust, but doesn’t have the time to make it. If you want a more savory crust to offset the sweetness of the filling, you can add only a hint of sugar. If you want a base that tastes more like shortbread, simply add more sugar. You can crush them with the bottom of a heavy glass, or use a food processor if you have one. When combined with butter, Ritz crackers form a mixture that’s easy to press into a dish and pre-bake to bring out a toasted flavor.
The neutral flavor of these crackers makes them a versatile ingredient. You can use them as the foundation of boldly flavored pies such as citrus or peanut butter, or pair them with a more subtle-tasting filling since they will not overwhelm even the most delicate of flavors. You could even omit the sugar and use them in a savory pie.
Rich, buttery, and crumbly, shortbread is the perfect cross between a Biscoff cookie and a Ritz cracker. For pie crust, it’s as delicious as you’d expect, yet is often overlooked because it isn’t as glamorous as flavor-packed Oreos or as classic as graham crackers. Because shortbread is so crumbly, crushing or blending it to make pie crust can result in something akin to coarse flour. In fact, it will more closely resemble pastry dough than biscuit dough when you press the mixture into a pie dish, and you might need to add excess crumbs here and there to cover cracks. Although pre-baking isn’t mandatory, doing so will make the crust even nuttier and richer tasting.
To upgrade your shortbread crust, you can increase the nutty flavor by using browned butter instead of melted or room temperature butter, or simply make your own shortbread. But regardless of whether you use store-bought or homemade biscuits, this crust will elevate any pie you bake. For rich pies, its crunchiness will create a match made in heaven. For citrus pies, its butteriness will counterbalance the tanginess. However you choose to make it, shortbread crust is the secret ingredient to wow your dinner guests.
Oreos are a handy option when you want your crust to have equal weight as the filling, providing a distinct, bold flavor in every bite. Their intensity means that this option is not as versatile as graham crackers or shortbread, but when matched with the right filling, Oreos can turn an average recipe into a standout dessert that you’ll want to replicate again and again. Oreos are a great option for chocolate fillings if you want to go all-in on a single flavor, or as a powerful accent for an otherwise lightly-flavored dessert such as a classic cheesecake or a coconut cream pie.
Regardless of what kind of filling you’re using, the process for making Oreo crust is the same. Luckily, it does not involve pulling apart the chocolate layers and removing the creamy filling. All you have to do is blend a couple dozen whole Oreos in a blender with a half stick of butter, and blitz them until they resemble breadcrumbs. Because the star of the show is the chocolate flavor, you don’t need to pre-bake the crust to bring out a toasted flavor, but it will help the crust set and prevent sogginess.
8. Vanilla wafers
Vanilla is often used as a shorthand term to describe all that is bland and risk-averse, but in food, it’s a powerful ingredient that can enhance flavors and provide a trademark floral note that is bound to set your mouth watering. Although it isn’t used as frequently in pie crusts as it is in cakes and cookies, there is no reason why the base of your pies should be deprived of its magic. The most straightforward way to incorporate it into your crusts is to add a teaspoon of extract, but another way is to simply use vanilla wafers.
Whether you’re delving deep into childhood nostalgia with Nilla Wafers or striking out on your own to make a homemade version, vanilla wafers make a buttery, vanilla-infused crust that will elevate whatever filling you choose. The classic pairing is, of course, banana, and you can’t go wrong with a banana cream pie with vanilla wafer crust. However, you shouldn’t let your imagination stop there. Vanilla wafer crust is just as delicious with the tropical sweetness and floral taste of coconut and subtle tang of a creamy cheesecake filling. Even the simplest cream pie with a fruit garnish will be transformed by the vanilla, becoming a complex mixture of flavors instead of a bland, one-note dessert. To make the vanilla wafer crust, just blend the cookies with butter and a little sugar, and you have a crust that can do the heavy lifting in a broad range of recipes.
Nuts are used in many recipes to provide flavor, crunchiness, and richness, but they are often added merely as garnishes rather than used as the main ingredient. When left to their own devices, however, nuts are more than capable of carrying a recipe. Take pie crust. A nut-based pie crust is decadent and crispy, and imparts a distinctive nutty aroma and flavor when pre-baked. You can pick your favorite nut — be it pecan, walnut, or cashew — or use a mixture.
To make a nut crust, put nuts, butter, sugar, and a little salt into a food process and blend them into a coarse, sandy texture. Many recipes include a binding agent other than butter, such as tahini, egg whites, or even a little water. But if you’re fully committed to the primacy of nuts in your crust, you don’t need any of these ingredients. Most nuts have enough oil to bind the mixture together without outside help.
Nut crusts are at their best when pre-baked. When nuts are exposed to high heat, they caramelize and develop the rich, toasted smell and taste that is so addictive. Whether you’re using a recipe that requires the oven or a no-bake chilled dessert, this is a step you won’t want to skip.
It’s no secret that sweet and salty flavors have as much chemistry as the main couple in a rom-com. Whether it’s salted caramel, peanut butter cups, chocolate studded with sea salt, or Snickers bars, this combination is well-represented in the world of sweet treats and desserts, so it’s no wonder it can transform a pie recipe, too. Pretzels are the perfect ingredient to deliver this pairing because they offer a neutral vehicle for saltiness. Add a little sugar and you’ve got a classic, balanced flavor with little effort.
Pretzel pie crust is simple to produce. Simply blend the pretzels in a food processor with butter and sugar until they’re coarsely ground. Then, press the mixture into your pie dish and pre-bake it to bring out a toasted flavor and firm the crumbly texture. The sweet and salty pairing doesn’t work with every type of filling, but if you’re making a peanut butter, fudge, or banana cream pie, it’s tough to beat.
11. Leftover cake
In the unlikely event that you find yourself with leftover cake that you don’t want to eat, you can turn it into a pie crust. And don’t worry—there is nothing soft or bready about the result. It isn’t a cake topped with pie filling. It’s as crunchy and buttery as you could hope for.
The first step is to slice off frosting if there is any. Then, pulse the cake in the food processor with butter until it forms coarse crumbs. Press the mixture into a pie dish, and bake it at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until it is dry and a little crispy on the edges. This usually takes about 15 minutes. Between the added butter and the dry heat from the oven, the moisture in the cake will give way to a rich crunchiness that is a perfect base for pie or cheesecake.
Almost any cake will work as a crust, but it’s worth noting that a cake with pieces of fresh or dried fruit or chunks of chocolate may cause issues. Dried fruit will burn in the oven, and the excess liquid in fresh fruit and melted chocolate chunks will lead to a messy and uneven crust rather than a crispy, flavorful one.
Oreos will give your pie an intensely chocolatey base, but if you want a crust akin to fudge, look no further than a box of brownie mix. Even stale brownies will do the trick. Simply crumble them into a food processor, blitz them into crumbs with a few tablespoons of butter, and press them into a pie dish. If you’re using brownies that have chocolate chips in them, do not pre-bake the crust or make a recipe that requires a baked filling. When the chocolate melts, it will create gaps in the crust for the filling to seep into, creating a soggy base. However, if you’re making a chilled, no-bake dessert, the chocolate chips will provide delicious morsels of flavor that will only enhance the overall dessert.
Brownie pie crust is perfect for coffee or peanut butter fillings, rich creamy vanilla custard, and if you’re the kind of person who can never have too much chocolate, chocolate cream pie. To take it up a notch, reserve some of those brownie crumbs to sprinkle on top.
Of all the grains you see cropping up in pie crust recipes, rice is barely mentioned. Unlike oats, wheat, and rye, rice is more frequently associated with savory meals like stir-fries and curries than it is with baked goods. Despite this reputation, however, it can make a surprising and delicious pie crust that will mix up your baking habits and give your dinner companions something to marvel at.
To make the crust, boil the rice first. Then, mix it with salt, pepper, an egg, and cheese (if desired). Press the mixture into the dish you’re using and pre-bake it to ensure it sets and hardens to avoid absorbing the filling. Once it’s cool, add the filling and bake it again. Rice crust is often found in recipes for savory pies, such as chicken or quiche, but for anyone who is a fan of rice pudding, it can be incorporated into sweet recipes, too. Just swap the salt and cheese for sugar and vanilla, and you’ll have an unusual and tasty alternative to the classic crust options.
When buttery pastry just isn’t exciting enough and even Ritz crackers and pretzels seem a little boring, Cheez-Its are a daring alternative with a major pay-off. No, Cheez-It crust will not be for everyone. Those who like their quiche crust to be salty and flaky and not much else will find it far too bold, and anyone who isn’t crazy about the flavor of cheddar should run in the opposite direction. But if you love off-the-wall recipes, experimental flavor pairings, and, above all, cheese, this crust might be your new favorite.
Like other cracker and biscuit-based crusts, this one is easy to make. Just blend Cheez-Its with butter until you have a crumbly, coarsely ground mixture, and press it into a pie dish. Pre-bake it to bring out an even richer flavor, and let it cool before adding the filling.
If Cheez-It crust sounds good to you (how could it not?) you probably have a few recipes in mind to pair it with. Quiche is an obvious option, but if you’re daring enough to use Cheez-Its as a crust in the first place, why not go all the way and pair it with a sweet filling? Apple pie and cheese have been served together for centuries, and many states defend the pairing so passionately that it may as well be mandatory. Creating an apple pie crust with Cheez-Its is a natural progression of this classic combination.