Making the Perfect Pie Crust

Once you get the hang of it, it's as easy as, uh, pie!
by Jean Sutherland
with Lynn Siprelle
photos by John A. Ark III

The finished pie crust
We're going to walk you through it step-by-step, Jean providing the instructions, Lynn doing the demonstration in the TNH Test Labs (aka her kitchen).

All of the anal-retentive suggestions you have ever heard about pie crust are true, because pie dough is a very special kind of dough. It isn't hard to achieve, once you know what you're going for and why, but pie crust can still intimidate a lot of people.

When I first got back into pie making I bought the Pillsbury crusts in the refrigerator section at the store. They aren't bad, it fooled some people and gave me a chance to ease into it without having to pull off the whole thing at once (sometimes I'm such a baby). But once I learned how easy crustmaking is, I never bought the premade kind again.

What Makes Pie Crust Different

What makes a pie crust good and flaky is making sure you only coat the fat with flour, not blend them, as you would with a cookie dough. This is much easier to do if the fat is very cold. When adding liquid (and it could be water, egg, even a little vinegar) you don't want it to mix in, so much as collect all the flour-coated fat particles together and make them stick to one another.

That's why less is better than more, and cold is better than warm. Colder and quicker are the watchwords with pie crust.

The Equipment
Cutting in the fat

Cutting in the fat--click to see a close-up

I don't own a food processor, but if I did, I would use it to make pie dough. Why? Because the faster you mix the cold ingredients and the less you work it the better. Before electric appliances, butter was cut in using fingers, knives or a lovely little device called a pastry cutter, my previous tool of choice.

A food processor is ideal for mixing fast, as long as you don't work it too much--then it gets warm. Try pulsing, not just letting it run. I use my KitchenAid blender because Julia Child gave me the idea in a cookbook that was published in the '70's, before food processors were everywhere. It is a little faster than by hand, which has helped make my dough much more consistent.

[Because the TNH Test Labs aren't fortunate enough to own a food processor, and because Your Demonstrator is a bit of a purist, the demonstration pictures feature a pastry cutter. If anyone from KitchenAid or Cuisinart would care to donate one, we wouldn't object.--Ed.]

The Recipe
Consistency after cutting

What it should look like after you're through cutting in the fat--click to see a close-up

My recipe is Martha Stewart's. It uses butter, not shortening. I'm very lazy and getting two sticks of butter out of the refrigerator is easier for me than fussing with measuring shortening. I use it for tarts and quiches, as well. But you could use any recipe. My mother used one that had an egg and a teaspoon of vinegar which also made a very tasty crust. It also used only shortening, but we've pretty much moved away from hydrogenated oils.

This recipe is from The Joy of Cooking and is nearly identical to Martha's but for the extra 1/4 cup of shortening (added after you've cut the butter in). Butter makes a tasty dough. Shortening makes an especially flaky dough. A combination is always good. [Technically, in foo-foo kitchen terms, this kind of butter pie dough is called pâté brisée, which means "broken dough" in French--broken because of the way you cut the butter in, and the way it flakes. So now you have a new term to impress people with.--Ed.]

Deluxe Butter Double Pie Crust
2 1/2 cups flour 1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar 1 cup cold butter, cut in small pieces
1/4 cup shortening 6 to 8 tablespoons ice cold water


The Technique
Making a ball of the pie dough

Making a ball--click to see a close-up

Chill your fat and water! This is essential.

Cut your fat into small pieces and add to your measured flour and salt (and sugar, if you use it). There is usually a little over twice as much flour as fat (by volume). Cut the fat in quickly, either with two knives, a pastry cutter or by pulsing in a food processor or blender. Your mixture should resemble coarse meal. Bigger lumps of fat are just fine; aim for pea-sized at biggest. (If you're using the The Joy of Cooking recipe above, cut in the butter first, then cut in the shortening.)

Slowly add the water--just drizzle it in--and watch closely as you work it in with the edge of a spatula or continue pulsing. It should still look dry. Grab some with your hand and squeeze. Did it hold together? Than you have enough water. If it didn't, or you're not sure, add a little more and mix quickly. Test again.

Divide the dough in half to make single crust amounts. Wrap the dough up by placing a portion of it on a piece of plastic wrap. Using the wrap, instead of your hands, push the dough into a flat disk. Refrigerate this for an hour or more.

By making a flat disk at this point you make it a little easier to roll out. A round ball would be harder to get into a nice flat piece of rolled out pastry.

Even this amount of activity has activated the gluten in the wheat (great if you're making bread, not so great when you're making pie crust). And you want it to relax before you roll it out. It is even recommended that you let rolled-out dough relax before you bake it. I do this when I have time, or am prebaking a pie shell.

Sometimes dough gets too hard in the refrigerator. If this happens to you, let it warm up a little (15 or 20 minutes) on the counter before you roll it out.

Roll Out!
Rolling out the dough

Rolling out the dough between two sheets of wax paper

This is the part that just plain takes practice. I use a lightly floured board. I add little bits of flour as I go and turn the dough frequently and I work fast. Over time you learn how much pressure to apply and when to apply it. I have also heard that putting the dough between waxed paper or plastic wrap will help avoid the sticking problem but I think this requires a certain amount of practice, too, and haven't bothered to learn it since I was successful otherwise. [Note that Your Demonstrator uses the wax paper technique since she's just been flat-out unsuccessful otherwise.--Ed.]

Begin by rolling from the middle of the disk up. Turn the dough one quarter and repeat. Always roll in one direction and turn the dough often. This also helps you avoid overworking the dough, you know, the old gluten thing again. That would create a tough pastry.

If the dough splits, just push it back together. It doesn't need to be perfectly round, just large enough to fit your pan. The recipe I have makes a generous amount and you don't need to worry about the edges, they just get cut off. In fact, the double crust recipe will make an additional single crust if I save all the scraps, which I have done on occasion.

Into the Pan
Patting the dough into the pie pan

Fitting the dough into the pan

Now that you have your crust rolled out, bring your pie plate near your work surface, carefully fold the dough in half, pick it up and lay across the plate. [If you're using the wax paper method, carefully remove the top layer of paper, lie the dough on the pie plate and carefully remove the bottom layer of paper.--Ed.]

Open the dough up and gently work it into the plate. If it tears or splits, just pinch it together again, or use scraps to repair any holes. I probably still roll my dough out a little on the thick side because I want to prevent too much leakage with the fruit pies (it makes such a mess) and it is easier to crimp the edge if I have something to hold onto. Fortunately this crust is so tasty that even thick edges are delicious. Also, because it really is just my husband and I, the pie is apt to be around for a few days and I don't want the crust to get too soggy, something a very thin crust would do pretty quickly.

Crimping the dough edges with a fork

Crimping the edges



Crimp the edges either with a fork or by pinching around the edge with your fingers; your recipe may tell you to wait until you add the top crust for this step. If you're making a two-crust pie, roll out the second disk of dough in the same way and follow the recipe for your particular pie.

If I know I have some special pie baking experience ahead of me, I might make the dough the day before; then all I have to deal with is rolling out and filling the pie. This can reduce the panic, but I think I'm past that phase now. Happy pie baking!


The finished pie At this point, follow your specific pie recipe for filling and baking directions. The pie Lynn made for this demonstration was a double-crust fresh peach pie--and the first pie she's ever made that actually turned out! Boy, was it good! Since these photos were taken she's made several using Jean's instructions and several different recipes from The Joy of Cooking, and the results have been no less than spectacular every time--it's literally just a matter of practice, practice, practice.

Related Links:

  • PieRecipe.com--Yeah! A whole website filled with nothing but pie recipes! [REMOTE]
  • The Pie Page--And another one, amateur-produced and not as stuffed, but still well worth checking out. [REMOTE]





Jean Sutherland stays at home with her four-year-old daughter and forces her family to endure an endless regimen of home-made bread, pies, cookies and cakes. In addition she has begun cultivating a garden this year and requires her husband, daughter and teen-age step-son to cope with freshly grown vegetables in her vegetarian cooking. She hopes that the day will come when she can return to an interest in knitting and sewing but isn't holding her breath.


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Comments

Cherie's picture

I've been making pies for years, but recently all of my pie crusts have been very crispy once they're cooked. It's almost like your eating a cracker instead of a pie crust! Do you have any suggestions? Is it because I'm cooking them at temperature that's too high? Thanks!!

GenericSpace's picture

I'm a 28 year old guy who has grown up in the kitchen =) My parents and my Mother's parents have all had restaurants so cooking is always something I've enjoyed and looked forward to.
Like most guys, though, I spend more time on the grill and the BBQ than I do baking.
That changed a bit though at the last restaurant I worked at before I finished school and began designing/building custom PC's. I was a line-cook and part of my job was to make the daily focaccia, hoagie rolls and regular "tied in a knot" dinner rolls.
If I learned nothing else, I learned that the only way to really know exactly how much flour you're using, isn't to use "level scoops" as measurement alone, but to in fact sift the flour before-hand. As flour sits, it becomes compact and dense. While it may "feel" soft and such, you might very well be getting far more than you really require or want. This could have a lot to do with pie crusts always cracking as you would have an improper water/flour ratio.
I am going to make my first attempt at a pie and I'm going to go straight for a double crust peach with an egg & sugar glaze over the top.

MPGreer's picture

Year after year I have made my own pie crusts for pecan pies at Thanksgiving. I have a problem with my crusts rising to the top and my filling going to the bottom. It is still a tasty pie- if you don't mind digging it out. What am I doing wrong?

Andrea_is_making_a_pie's picture

Hi-
How come you put the mixed dough into the refrigerator before rolling out? I mean, if the fat is melted isnt it too late at this point?
Ive been rolling it out and directly putting it into the pie pan and baking it.
Also what is a good recommended baking temperature and time for a 9 inch flaky pie crust?
Ive been doing 300F for 30 min. I was just told by someone else to do it at 375 for 10 minutes.
Is the secret to do it hot and fast so as to crisp it, or slower and longer?
Thanks!!

Gwen Werner's picture

When baking my crust in a glass pie plate, the sides of the crust fall. Why?

langdonslady's picture

I never found making pie crust a challenge, but possibly because I used the old (pre-70's) Joy of Cooking recipe for Flour Paste Pie Crust, from the start, and unless I could get my hands on European Butter instead of the comparatively watery, melty, poor-quality butter standard to the USA, I don't bother at all with butter. Perhaps I will try it with your recipe though, because it sounds good and not so tricky.

Nevertheless, with good quality leaf lard (for real tradition, and to avoid transfats from shortening), one doesn't need to worry about chilling anything beforehand, and "easy as pie" holds true. I tend to think the trouble people run into nowadays with piecrust is either not being shown by someone how to handle it without over-handling, or using modern recipes that try to cut down on the fat and add more liquid, which makes the crust much more likely to be tough and tricky to work with.
I cut down on the fat by rolling my crust very thin, and if I really want to cut down on it, by omitting a top crust where appropriate.

Keith's picture

I have alway used the egg and vingar pie crust receipe as the family raves about it. My problem is transferring the rolled out dough to the pie plate. I roll it out on a pie cloth, than flip it over onto waxed paper, fold it in the middle and when I try to position it on the pie plate it wants to fall apart. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
P.S. I have a great peanut butter pie receipe that was a county fair winner if anyone would like it.

Tacarma's picture

After many failed pie crusts I finally had success. Your article was the key and told me two very important things 1- less is the objective (less water, less handling, less time), and 2- get the food processor out!

Martha told me another important thing: "it's only dough"

The pie was great and can't wait to do it again.

anonymous's picture

well andrea,

Question #1: the fat is not necessarily melted, just soft, so technically it is still not too late

#2 normally, doughs and pastries dont taste good if it takes too long. i would do the higher temp, shorter time. but make sure it is not too high that your pie would burn <__>

#3 if u want it crispy..i suggest the high temp.

kmpelley's picture

I have baked for about 50 years and I learn something new all of the time. Thank you for such a great article on pie crust. I too love Joy of Cooking and Martha Stewart. I have used both for great recipes.

Margo Weston's picture

I have searched and cannot find the correct temperature nor the appropriate amount of time for a single piecrust. I made one yesterday and baked it at 350. It took too long. Should I cook it at 450 or 475 for 15 minutes, cover the edges with foil and turn down to 350 or 300?. How long should a pie crust cook? 18 minutes? ? Would like the magic number. I use my mother's recipe with the egg and vinegar. It is so good, but she is not here to tell me her tricks.
Thanks for any help.

Maureen's picture

Pie is quite possibly the best food on the face of the planet. Our family recipe for pie crust has been passed down since my great grandmother came here from Ireland. It's won me many blue ribbons at our county fair. Pie is my favorite thing to make because it's so versitile. I can't wait until winter when I can have homemade pot pie with brown gravy. Making myself hungry just thinking about it.

But this is beside the point. Williams-Sonoma used to carry these amazing rolling-pin covers and a pastry cloth to roll out your dough. The dough didn't stick to it and the crust always came out flaky and tender. Does anybody know if someone else carries these things? Williams-Sonoma doesn't seem to carry them anymore.

cjsmom44's picture

Yum I will have to try that butter pie crust recipe. I have always had good luck with the old Crisco recipe. (They now have Trans fat free Crisco) The recipe is below. I roll it right on the counter with flour. I have a granite pastry counter space so it is nice and cool to roll crust on.....I do hate to waste, but I always seem to have to double it because I always seem to have the crust break or split on me, and I found if I just make more to work with I eliminate the problem. When I had little ones in the house, I would just have them make a small pie of their own with the extra crust that I had left over. My daughter still remembers those fun pie making times...

Single Crust

* 1 1/3 level cups All-Purpose Flour
* 1/2 level teaspoon salt
* 1/2 level cup Crisco All-Vegetable Shortening
* 3 tablespoons cold water

Double Crust

* 2 level cups All-Purpose Flour
* 1 level teaspoon salt
* 3/4 level cup Crisco All-Vegetable Shortening
* 5 tablespoons cold water

9-inch Deep Dish Double Crust or Two 10-inch Double Crust

* 2 2/3 cups All-Purpose Flour
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 1 cup Crisco All-Vegetable Shortening
* 7 to 8 tablespoons cold water

jennye's picture

The crust recipe I use is from my Longaberger cookbook (you know, the fancy basket people? I used to sell them to support my own basket habit. You know I'm a basket-case anyway! LOL!).

anyway, the recipe has a small egg and vinager in it, and I think it makes it taste outstanding! I also use butter-flavored Crisco baking sticks rather than shortening out of a tub.

cjsmom44's picture

Hmmm egg and vinegar...I have heard of using those ingredients in pie crust before, but I forget where..but I do remember it had something to do with making the crust lighter or something.... I will have to give it a try! Thanks

Sonya's picture

I'm fairly new to baking pies and pie crusts but one secret I have come across that's been valuable is to always bake my pie on a shiny, light silver colored cookie sheet as opposed to a grey or darker colored cookie sheet. This always prevents my pie crust edges from burning. I did a test and baked a 70 minute pie on a medium grey colored cookie sheet and after 20 minutes it became dark brown and I had to cover it with aluminum foil every time. Since then I've changed to the shiney light silver and cook it for 70 minutes with no covering of aluminum foil. Comes out perfectly every time!

Lynn's picture

Let us know how it turns out.

Lynn Siprelle, Editor

Guest's picture

I just saw your question and am not sure anyone replied. Poking holes in the crust and then pouring in your ingredients could explain your problem or incurring other kinds of breaks when rolling out the crust. A bottom crust should only have holes of any kind in it if you are baking it before adding the filling, as for pies like lemon meringue or chocolate cream. If neither of the above is the problem, you might try partially baking the crust and then adding the filling. Be sure to cover the edges of the crust with foil so that they don't overbake. Hope this helps!

Lynn's picture

This one is top-rated, in fact. I'll add it to the product list at the bottom.

Lynn Siprelle, Editor

Bridgette's picture

I would love to have your peanut butter pie recipe if you are still offering it.

Guest's picture

this is just a guess, but i believe a spot on guess. that you are not American and have never lived in America. (cuz if you were American and had to try and work with English foods you wouldn't complain) now im guessing you have never used American ingredients.. so do us all a favor and before you open your big mouth and complain about things you don't know about at least learn some manners and how to make a sentence sound correct.

S Vaughn's picture

I just made 4 pecan pies with homemade crusts using lard and all 4 had the crusts rise into the center of the filling. I have never had this happen before & can't imagine what I have done. Any answers out there!

William Carpenter's picture

I just wanted to say that there is a compairable butter in america that you can use it's called "Plugra"... It is available in a lot of grovery stores in the US. Publix, Super Target both carry it here in Orlando.

As a chef I strive all the time for the best in quality. and you are very right to say that the majority of American butters are flavorless and without any character at all. I think though that you will find that this one is far superior to the majority over here... I lived in Germany for 5 years and the one thing I miss is the dairy product... all of them, but Plugra is one butter that actually takes me back to Gevergney having baguettes and coffee for the morning.

I hope this helps you

Grammahook's picture

I don't see your recipe for trans-free Crisco shortening pie crust, do you have time to find it for me?

Lynn's picture

Use one of the new palm-oil-based shortenings--yes, palm oil is now recognized as good for you--like Spectrum Naturals Organic Shortening.

John Chandler's picture

Try using a egg white wash on the crust and let is set for about 10 min. before
putting in the filling.
Have a wonderful holliday

Deniseh's picture

I saw this great hint ...when the pie dough is all rolled out and ready to go in pie tin ...place the rolling pin right in the center of the dough bring the one side up and over the rolling pin ..then lift the rolling pin to pan. This is time saving and works great.Also rub a little water along the rim of the first crust then place the top crust on before sealing ..keeps filling from coming out while baking.

Norma's picture

You can find the pie pin covers at a store called Sur L'Table, and at most cake decorating stores. you can order from Sur L'Table on line. I have been using mine for years and I love it, you use less flour and the pie crust comes out flakey. Good luck!

Gary's picture

Pie dough is refrigerated so that the starch granules will hydrate making the dough easier to handle and the consistency will be where it needs to be.

Jo Dee's picture

I have had the same problem and have asked as many elderly bakers as I can with hopes someone has seen this problem before. Everyone I have asked has never heard of this problem. My crust recipe has not changed yet this has began happening and only with my pecan pies. I have tried all I know to do. I have used glass pie pans, metal pie pans, I have frozen the crust and not frozen the crust. I have changed oven temperatures and finally without any success in all that I tried ended up changing my crust recipe to a crust that is not near as flaky. (But only when baking pecan pies) I do not like the crust at all and yet it stays in the bottom of the pan.

Guest's picture

Wow I have the same problem BUT My pecan pie always came out fine until I moved to Colorado. Exact same recipe worked fine in Washington and Montana So I just thought it was an elevation problem. Those having this issue do you live at a high elevation? I just made 4 pies and again no bottom crust. At least they always still taste great just are strange and not very pretty. My mother suggested add another egg or try heating the filling on the stove first just till it starts to thicken...I think I will try that next go around.

Elisha's picture

I would LOVE your winning peanut butter pie recipe, if you would still like to share!
Thanks!
Elisha

suek's picture

>> * PieRecipe.com--Yeah! A whole website filled with nothing but pie recipes! [REMOTE]

* The Pie Page--And another one, amateur-produced and not as stuffed, but still well worth checking out.>>

I was really looking forward to checking these out - both of them! - but the PieRecipe page is now an "Allrecipes" page that has nothing to do with pies, and "The Pie Page" is no longer a valid site. I was disappointed!
I know you have no input in this, but you might want to either correct the links if that info is available to you, or just eliminate them.

Lynn's picture

This article is REALLY old. I'll try to find some new ones in the next day or so.

Lynn Siprelle, Editor

Guest's picture

Followed directions implicitly. Pecan pie turned out like pecan brownie : (

Guest's picture

I couldn't find baking temperature and time for butter pie crusts anywhere.
Suggestions

Guest's picture

:grin: What is the recommended baking temperature and time for your double crust pie?

SherriSRC's picture

To avoid a soft, leaking, or soggy bottom pie crust, always bake your pies on the bottom rack of the oven. It not only bakes the bottom, it keeps the top edges from getting too brown. Happy Baking!

Guest's picture

To the person that wondered why her crust fell in the glass pie pan, you need "pie weights". These are sold in any kitchen store. If you cant afford them rice or glass beads work just as well as long as you put them over foil. Agree with everything in the contributors recipe except that the paper of any kind while rolling the dough is an unneccesary complication. Just use flour and dust off excess with pastry brush before placing in pan.

Also, love the pics, but if anyone else has burnt crust edge problems, like the contributor obviously does, just buy a " pie saver" . It's a metal ring that u place on pie during the last 20 minutes of cooking. If you can' t get one just cover only the edges with foil.

Guest's picture

I spend an awful lot of time in the kitchen, and I must say this article was spledid!!! I do however have a few suggestions that will surely be a big help to alot of you pastry perfectionists. What i do after rolling out the dough is remove my clothing and rub the chilled dough all around my butt cheeks. The natural oils from your skin help the dough to not rise and leave the filling at the bottom. Another wonderful hint I learned from emeril himself is to carefully dip your balls (assuming you are a man) into each filled pie. Just a slight dunking motion in and out will get the job done and leave you with a perfect pie every time!!! you are welcome in advance.

kathleen montgomery's picture

my pies both single and double crust never to seem to bake in the middle of the bottom crust. how can I fix that?

Jaime Leister's picture

I have come up with one of the best, possibly the most fattening apple pie crusts ever. It rolls a little thick, but everyone loves this pie crust! It is only about 1/4-1/3 cup of wheat flour to 1 and 1/4 cup white flour, and I have found that for pie crusts, if using vegetable oil. The generic does not work anyhwere near Crisco name brand for some reason. Feel free to email if you would like the pie crust. You need to make it twice for a two crust apple pie, but it is well worth it! I even got a "better than moms", from my husbands work buddy, whom loves when I make my apple pies :-)

Pie lover's picture

Hi there, my pies taste wonderful, but I have a common problem that they literally melt off the outside edges of the pan. Not every time, just some times. My idea on what I am doing wrong?

Lia's picture

Pie Lover, I've had the same problem with the sides of a blind-baked crust kind of slumping down the sides of the plate during baking. I've been told that it's because the gluten was too developed, and to let the crust rest 20-30 minutes before baking. I've done this, but I keep having the same problem. I'd love some input, too! :)

silvialloy d712's picture

Hi there, my pies taste wonderful, but I have a common problem that they literally melt off the outside edges of the pan.
Just navigate to buy twitter followers for up to date ideas.

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