Living Well: 6 Secrets To The Perfect Pie Crust

September 19, 2012


This post is sponsored by Nestlé® Toll House® Morsels, the perfect special ingredient for all of your family’s favorite treats!


By Lindsey Johnson.

The holidays are just around the corner, so it’s the perfect time to practice your pie crust skills (and enjoy eating any failures : ). Don’t be intimidated! Follow my secrets and you’re sure to find success.









To prepare this post, I made 7 double-crust pies, so I promise, you can trust me on these instructions. : ) And hey, if you’re my neighbor, I’d love to share a piece of pie with you!

Let’s start with pie plates. There are many types, but for practicing, I recommend ceramic (like this pretty blue one) or glass, because they cook more evenly than the metal pans.

Secret #1: If you’re nervous about overcooking, choose glass, so that you can clearly see when the pie is browned properly on the bottom.

Now we get to ingredients. Pie crust is made of five things. Here’s the recipe I work with for 1 Double Pie Crust:

- 2 1/2 cups flour
I like to use a basic, unbleached all-purpose flour.

- 1 cup fat
This could be butter, vegetable shortening, or lard. Use what you like, but skip the margarine — it has too much water in it and the flavor is terrible. I’m demonstrating butter crusts in the photos. Secret #2: Flour doesn’t taste like much, so, like shortbread cookies, pie crust gets its flavor from the fat you use. (I’ve seen recipes using a higher ratio of fat, but I’ve had the best luck with this recipe.)

- 1 teaspoon salt
Salt = flavor booster.

- 1 tablespoon sugar
You need a little sugar in the crust for flavor and because it helps the crust brown. Too much will make it brittle and tough, so just go for a touch of sweetness.

- 4-8 tablespoons (1/4 to 1/2 cup) liquid
I use ice water. But you can also use milk, buttermilk, vinegar,  even vodka. Whatever you use, make sure it’s icy cold.

That brings me to Secret #3: Everything that goes into the pie crust should be cold, cold, cold. That goes for fats, dry ingredients, and liquids. The reason pie crust is flaky is that as you work the fat into the flour, the flour coats the fat, then the fat melts leaving a little air pocket, hopefully in layers upon layers. Cold fat is easier to work with.

MAKING THE DOUGH
Combine your flour, sugar and salt, then cut the butter into the flour. You can do it by hand or use a food processor, but while you learn to master the crust, I recommend using a pastry cutter — it will help you have the most control.


As you cut the butter into the flour, leave some big and small pieces of butter .

Next, add the water to help hold it together. This is important: Do not add too much liquid. You want just enough so you can hold it together. But not too much that it’s sticky. It should feel about like play dough.


Secret #4: The amount of liquid you use will vary a little each time you make a crust. This is because weather varies, particularly humidity. So you want to go by feel, not by a precise amount.

Now that the dough is mixed, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. There will be some unincorporated dry bits — that’s totally okay.

You’ll want to gently press the dough together. Don’t knead it like you would bread dough or biscuit dough. A few presses is all that is needed. Repeat to yourself: gentle, gentle, gentle.

You should be able to see the butter marbled throughout the dough.

Divide the dough into halves. If I’m feeling extra picky, I’ll even weigh them out to make sure they’re exactly the same.

Wrap each half in plastic wrap.

You can freeze it for later, or chill it in the fridge for about an hour until you’re ready to roll out your crust.

ROLLING OUT THE DOUGH

First you’ll roll out the bottom crust. You can use any clean, lightly floured counter top. If you have a marble slab (or granite counter tops), now is the time to use them, because they stay nice and cool. If you’re in practice mode, you might try a pastry mat — they have rings printed on so you can measure the crust as you roll it out.


Lightly flour the top of the dough as well.

Starting in the center, roll outward. Imagine the shape of a wheel with spokes — that’s what you’re doing with the rolling pin.

Pick up the dough and give it clockwise turn periodically as you roll, so the dough is as close to a circle as possible.

When you’re rolling, apply gentle pressure as you roll forward.  I like to use a wooden rolling pin without handles for more control.

Take a break to check and see if you’ve rolled the crust large enough. If you don’t use a pastry mat, simply turn the pie plate upside down and use it for reference. Roll the bottom crust out a little larger than you think you’ll need — you want plenty of extra dough around the rim of the pie plate to create a pretty edge.

Secret #5: If at any time the dough becomes too sticky or soft, transfer it to the refrigerator for a few minutes to firm it up. If the dough cracks or tears, dab a little water on it and press it back together, or patch it with a bit of extra dough.

Once your bottom crust is rolled out to the right size place your dough inside the pie plate.  (If you’re using a metal pan, you might want to grease it well.)  The easiest way to transfer the dough is to fold it gently in half and then in half again.

If you notice you have excess flour on the dough, use a pastry brush to quickly sweep it away.

Lay the dough in the pie plate and unfold and reposition it.

Fit it into the bottom of the plate.

Use kitchen shears or a knife to trim the dough all the way around. Leave about 1/2″ of overhang depending on how big the edge of your pie plate is.

Fill with the fruit. Then chill the fruit-filled bottom crust in the fridge while you roll out the top crust.

Repeat the steps for the top crust, making sure to make it a little larger than the pie plate too.

After you’ve rolled out the top crust, carefully position it on top of the fruit.

Trim again.  You want a little more overhang than with the bottom crust.

To really seal the edges, I like to dab the bottom crust with water to “glue” it to the top crust.

Go around the whole circumference of the pie and fold the dough under along the edge.

Seal it well with your fingers, creating a decorative edge. Two easy and beautiful techniques are pressing with the tines of a fork, and pinching the dough between your fingers. I’ll show you the pinching method.


Crimp the edge all the way around.

You’ll want to be sure to cut vents in the top. It’s as easy as making little slices with a knife. But if you’re in the mood for something more elaborate, you can use cutouts on the flat top crust before you place it on the pie.

Secret #6: For a golden brown finish, whisk an egg with a little water or milk and brush it over the top crust before you put it in the oven.

You can sprinkle it with sugar too.

The final step is to place your pie in the oven with a foil-lined baking sheet on the rack below to catch any overflowing juices.  You can also wrap the bottom rack in foil. Both of these techniques make clean up a snap.

Follow baking directions for the filling you’re using. For most fruit pies, you’ll bake them at 400-425 degrees F. for 20 minutes, and then lower the oven by 25 degrees F. and continue baking for an additional 40-50 minutes, or until the juices are bubbling and the crust is golden brown.


Voila! You just baked a perfect pie. Doesn’t that feel great? I’d love to know: Will you be baking pies for the holidays?

P.S. — Feeling like an expert? Step up your crusts with a technique called fraisage.

P.P.S. — Do you like knowing all the secrets? Find the whole Secrets to Living Well series here.

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{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

1 susan September 19, 2012 at 10:09 am

I am so in need of this! After many attempts I still feel like I fall short in the crust department. I’ll be referencing this in my next pie baking!

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2 Sarah September 19, 2012 at 11:29 am

I wish I was your neighbor! Or even lived in the same state. I would drive on over to eat some of that pie. Looks delicious. I will be testing this out this thanksgiving!

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3 adria September 19, 2012 at 11:54 am

That star crust is really adorable! Thanks for the tips.

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4 Jaime September 19, 2012 at 12:10 pm

I just made my first pie crust attempt using many of the same tips but mine still didn’t turn out quite right! I made sure everything was cold, used the pastry cutter, etc. I’m not sure if I kneaded too hard or pressed down too hard when rolling, or if I should have pre-baked it a little (I made a pumpkin pie) or baked it a little longer or at a higher temp but it was leaden. These delicious looking beauties are inspiring me to try again though! Practice makes perfect right? :)

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5 Melody September 30, 2013 at 8:47 pm

Oh my word! Me too! I spent a lot of time making sure everything was really cold and stuff but it was probably the toughest pie crust I’ve ever made(and trust me, I’ve made quite a few)! I made it in a triple batch, so that might have been the problem. Next time will try it in just a regular batch and see what happens! P.S. Never set a glass pie plate with a perfectly baked pumpkin pie on a glass top stove to cool. Someone may come behind you and accidently turn on the wrong burner…that’s beneath your pie. Glass pie pans will explode. :)

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6 Hannah Craner September 19, 2012 at 12:25 pm

Lindsey…your pies!!! They look incredible. I wish I were your neighbor!

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7 Lindsey (Cafe Johnsonia) September 19, 2012 at 12:36 pm

Thanks everyone! I just realized I should have included links to the recipes! Here’s a list of my favorite fruit pies:

Pear Butterscotch (pear cut out)–http://www.cafejohnsonia.com/2009/10/pear-butterscotch-pie.html

Blueberry (stars)–http://www.marthastewart.com/317714/georges-blueberry-pie

Strawberry-Raspberry Lattice–http://www.driscolls.com/recipes/view/6229/Strawberry-Raspberry-Lattice-Pie

Honey Caramel Peach–http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Honey-Caramel-Peach-Pie-354193

Raisin Pie (different sized holes in top crust)–http://www.marthastewart.com/326925/raisin-pie

Cherry-Plum (double circle top crust)–http://www.cafejohnsonia.com/2008/06/cherry-pie-from-fresh-cherries.html (substitute plums for half of the cherries)

Blue Ribbon Apple Pie (how-to pics)–http://www.landolakes.com/recipe/2038/blue-ribbon-apple-pie

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8 Kim from design + life + kids September 19, 2012 at 1:14 pm

This article is inspiring! I can’t wait to test my skills this season using your tips and recipe suggestions. The food photography is beautiful and delicious!

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9 Jan @ Family Bites September 19, 2012 at 1:34 pm

I love this post, Lindsey! Such great tips. I recently read the pie plates should be buttered and floured like a cake pan…the flour creates a small barrier between the dough and the pie plate and allows the air to circulate better. I’ve tried the trick a few times and love the result.

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10 invitation consultants September 19, 2012 at 2:00 pm

oh my goodness – those look delectable!

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11 Tamsin September 19, 2012 at 3:13 pm

“Crimp the edge all the way around.” The picture of how to use your knuckle to crimp the crust is easily the most helpful pie making tip I have ever seen. Thank you!

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12 Design Mom September 20, 2012 at 8:15 am

I felt the same way when I saw the photo, Tamsin! Lindsey is the best.

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13 Valerie September 19, 2012 at 4:34 pm

Pie Crust, my nemesis. I think pie crust has a big component of “art” in the its making. You have to really learn the look and feel of dough for the variables you’ve described. While I have made great progress on yeast dough’s, pie crust remains elusive and I am hesitant to go a pie “binge” and practice til perfect as I fear a lack of will power to limit my consumption. Maybe I could establish a more conservative “practice til perfect” approach, maybe once a month.

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14 Lynn September 19, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Great post! I learned from a friend’s mother that rolling out the crust is easiest if one puts it between two layers of saran wrap (or whatever you use….). Remove the top layer and place the crust in the pan with the remaining saran side up. Then remove the wrap. It is easy to roll out and to put in the pie pan!

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15 Stephanie September 19, 2012 at 6:36 pm

This is great advice — I make pie often and am going to try out some of these ideas for sure. Thanks for sharing!

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16 Kate @ ramblingsfromutopia September 19, 2012 at 9:30 pm

Oh my! They look so amazing and I’m sure they tasted just as wonderful! I see many pies in our future thanks to all your great tips.

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17 Katherine September 20, 2012 at 4:38 am

This is such a useful post! I will definitely try this recipe. However, I live in Europe, where butter is packaged differently than in the US. It is not sold in sticks, so I have no idea how much a cup of butter (or other fat) could be. I would be so grateful if you could let me know the equivalent in grams or even ounces (which I can convert). Many thanks in advance!

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18 Sandy November 23, 2012 at 10:56 am

Katherine, 1/2 cup of butter weighs 4 ounces. Happy baking!

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19 Lynn September 20, 2012 at 12:48 pm

Yum! Where are those beautiful blue floral plates from?!

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20 Jen September 22, 2012 at 9:12 am

I am a crust novice but just made an AWESOME Tart cherry pie! The crust is flaky and delicious. Thanks for the great tips.

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21 nuniek September 23, 2012 at 4:34 pm

Thank you for sharing your secret, although we in Indonesia do not have the custom to bake pies during holidays, I like to make them occasionally and have the hard time making the crust. Your tips are very useful!

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22 Becky @ Project Domestication September 24, 2012 at 8:53 am

This post came at the perfect time of year. I’m beginning my Thanksgiving Pie practice. My main goal this year is to practice rolling them into perfect circles. Love your tips.

(So glad you linked to this today in your Brandied Apple Pie post, not sure how I missed seeing this last week.)

Linds, you rock!

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23 Vicki V September 30, 2012 at 4:52 pm

My mom is the pie crust queen, but I find it to be difficult. I will definitely be pinning this so that I can try it yet again! To me, the hardest part seems to be rolling it.

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24 Judy October 1, 2012 at 5:05 pm

What a great tutorial on pie crusts. I enjoy baking and these tips are great. I would love for you to link this up to my Fall into Fall party that opens each Tuesday evening at 8pm EST. Hope to see you there.

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25 Erin @ The Great Indoors October 9, 2012 at 6:11 am

Found you via Centsational Girl. I wish I’d had this tutorial a few years ago when I failed twelve pie crusts before I figured it out! I love how thorough this is- definitely stealing your secrets for my next crust!

Erin

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26 Mom November 13, 2012 at 10:01 am

You are amazing! Those seven pies are beautiful and look delicious! I am making pies for Thanksgiving. As you know, rolling out pie crust is about the only thing that makes me swear. I’ll use your tips and will hopefully not be swearing this year! Thanks!

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27 Sarah November 18, 2012 at 8:56 pm

I decided to be brave and try making the pies for Thanksgiving this year. If I am making a cream pie do you blind bake? Or do you just cook as is? Do you have an estimated time, or just watch it?
Thanks again for the tips. I might be emailing you again for more help as I attempt :) Thanks for being my kitchen guru friend that I can ask all my questions to!

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28 Caryn November 21, 2012 at 4:17 pm

I just wanted to let you know, I made my very first pie two days ago, following your directions, and it came out PERFECT! Now I’m getting ready to make crusts for four more–the first one was a test run, now it’s time for the big show: Thanksgiving. Thank you so much for this!

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29 Heidi November 23, 2012 at 11:21 pm

I made my first pie crust ever after reading this and psyching myself up– it turned out fabulous! Thank you, thank you, you have helped me to conquer yet another “it’s too complicated” cooking hurdle… and it was SO much cheaper then buying a frozen pie shell.

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30 Anna November 26, 2012 at 12:01 am

I’ve used this recipe twice now and I love it. The butter gives great flavor. The only tricky part for me is figuring out how much liquid to add.

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31 laura November 26, 2012 at 2:47 pm

Thanksgiving pie success! I need to work on the appearance, but it was perfect in every other way. This was so helpful. http://goodhouseguest.com/?p=1758

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32 Kelly March 24, 2013 at 11:38 pm

What’s the trick with the star crust? I’m making a strawberry rhubarb soon, and I think those stars would be utterly delectable.
Roll out, cut out, layer? How does the outer edge get the crinkle then, would I just leave a little more, 1/2″ or so on the bottom layer?

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33 Gianna Robinsin September 28, 2013 at 7:41 am

I made this crust last night, but only had the butter almost frozen and with ice water. The flour and Crisco were not freezing. I chilled the dough overnight . The texture was perfect, the taste was perfect and the handling wax the best I’ve experienced in 32 years of pie baking…the only strange thing was that the scalloped edge did not hold its beautiful shape ! Should I have chilled the filled pie for some time?

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34 Cynthia November 21, 2013 at 12:25 pm

It would be nice if you had a hyper link to a pfd file that would have recipes and other things of interest like this formated for easy printing. I’ d love to just print this off on a single sheet for my cookbook binder and it is just a pain to cut and paste it all. I’m sure I am not the only one interested in such a thing. :) Thanks for thinking about it.

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35 Mom December 4, 2013 at 11:23 am

I still love looking at your pies and how beautifully you make the crusts! I learned a lot from you and now I just need to practice! Thanks for your expertise!

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