A foolproof recipe and step-by-step photo tutorial for How To Make A Pie Crust!
Please tell me you’re hungry, because it’s officially Pie Week here at Gimme Some Oven!!!
I will tell you right up front that I am doing this series as a bit of a pie-making novice. Don’t get me wrong — I love pie, but my family seemed to be more into baking cookies than pies growing up. So for years, the idea of crafting pie shells and perfect fillings and lattice crusts had me 100% intimidated! I even had a pie in my logo for the first three years of blogging, but there were sadly no pies in my (Gimme Some) oven.
This summer, though, I decided that it was time to finally learn how to make pie. My strategy for conquering learning new things in life seems to be “go big or go home”, so I gave myself a week to learn how to bake some classic pies, and figure out what my personal go-to recipe would be for how to bake a pie crust. So I started baking this past Thursday, then invited a bunch of friends over for a pie night on Saturday as motivation. About 2 full days of baking, 5 crust failures, 8 pounds of butter, 1 oven mitt fire, 10 loads of dishes, and 26 hungry friends later, I’m happy to say that we made and enjoyed 6 awesome pie recipes that will be coming to you this week on the blog.
So whether you are a pie pro or a newbie like myself, I hope you’ll join along with Pie Week!
But first, let’s start at the very beginning — How To Make A Pie Crust.
I can already tell that the comment section on this post is going to be long, because I’m pretty sure everyone has their own opinions about how to make the perfect pie crust…which I love! To me, that speaks to the generations of traditions and wisdom that have been formed around this delicious dessert. And I love that there is not just one way to bake a beautiful pie crust, just like there is not one way to bake a “perfect” chocolate chip cookie. So if the suggestions and recipe that I offer here today differ from what you have been taught or have learned from years of experience, then I say more power to you — go with what works! This post is simply meant mostly for beginners, or to offer some new ideas for those looking for some new tips or techniques.
To Mix The Dough
Food Processor: This is my favorite method by far, and the method I used in the recipe below. A food “pro”cessor will cut the butter into a pie crust the best, and literally does so in seconds.
Electric Stand Mixer: This is my second favorite. An electric stand mixer is not quite as fast as a food processor, but it gets the job done pretty quickly. I do recommend chilling the mixing bowl for at least a minute or two before using.
Pastry Cutter: This is the “old school” method that still works well, although it’s just that — a little more “work”. Get ready to use your arm muscles when cutting in that butter. And since it takes a bit longer, you may need to refrigerate the dough a little longer after mixing to re-chill the butter.
100% By Hand: If you absolutely insist, you can make a pie crust 100% by hand with standard dinner knives, or with your fingers. Just keep in mind that your warm fingers will warm the butter, so work quickly.
To Roll Out The Dough
Sturdy (Cold) Rolling Surface: This may go without saying, but ideally you do not want to roll out your dough on any sort of surface that can slip or slide easily. You want your dough to be pretty chilled, which will require some strength to roll out. So whether it’s a countertop, a cutting board, a marble board, or whatever your surface is, be sure that it is nice and solid.
Flat Rolling Pin: To each, his/her own here. I prefer a long flat rolling pin, at least 19-inches in length. Some prefer a long French-style rolling pin, which is slightly thicker in the middle. And some prefer a standard rolling pin, with handles on the ends. Whatever you use, just keep in mind that your crust will likely be at least 12-inches in diameter, so you need a pin at least that long.
Surface Cover: This is optional. I have rolled out many crusts successfully on a flour-covered rolling surface, and then lifted and transferred them by hand to a pie plate. But if you want to ensure that your crust makes it from surface to pie plate 100% entact, you can cover your rolling surface with one of the following:
Silpat: This is my favorite surface cover. These silicone sheets have a nice “cling” to the surface, so that they won’t slip and slide while rolling the dough. But they also peel away from the surface, and then peel away from the dough quite nicely as it is laid out in your pie plate.
Parchment Paper: Another great alternative, although I find this to be a little slipperier when rolling out the dough. To help this, though, sprinkle a few drops of water on your rolling surface and then lay the parchment down. it will stick better this way.
Plastic Wrap: I have a friend who swears by rolling on plastic wrap, and it can work beautifully. Again, I find it to be a little tricky with slipping and sliding, but it works great.
To Bake The Dough
Pie Plate: Most pie recipes call for a 9-inch pie plate. You can use ceramic, metal, or glass. (Although pie crusts tend to shrink a bit when baked in glass pans, so I recommend ceramic or metal.)
(Pre-Baked Pie Crust Only) Aluminum Foil or Parchment Paper: If blind or par-baking a pie crust, you will need to cover the pie dough for the first round of baking with aluminum foil (not heavy-duty) or parchment paper. This will serve as a barrier between the pie crust and the weights (below).
(Pre-Baked Pie Crust Only) Pie Weights or Dry Beans: If blind or par-baking a pie crust, you will need to weigh down the crust with pie weights. Or you can also use a bag of dry beans. Either will work.
(Optional) Pie Crust Shield: These will help literally “shield” your crust from the heat of the oven if it starts to turn too brown while baking. Simply lay the shield on top of the crust for the remainder of the baking time to help prevent from burning. (Or you can also do this the old-fashioned way, and loosely mold aluminum foil over the crust.)
Butter vs. Shortening vs. Lard: Everyone tends to have a strong opinion on this one. I generally prefer not to cook with shortening or lard, so my favorite crust is an all-butter crust. In my opinion, it has the best flavor, but it is also the most finicky when it comes to baking. Many bakers swear by a half-butter-half-shortening crust, which I have tried and like. Or others even use a 4:1 ratio with butter to shortening. Basically, anytime you use shortening and lard, the crust will turn out to be more flaky, and those two ingredients are also more forgiving when it comes to mixing. But shortening has little flavor (unless you get “butter”-flavored), and lard can even smell a little pork-ish.
Vodka?!? I know — sounds crazy! But the alcohol in vodka doesn’t promote the formation of gluten, so it helps to keep your crust even more tender and flaky. Alcohol does not completely “bake out” during the cooking time, though, so if you’re at all iffy about using alcohol just substitute ice water. (But if you’re on the fence, remember that it’s also just 2 Tbsp. for the entire crust, so that comes to less than 1/4 tsp. per slice!)
Keep It (Freezing) Cold: The goal when making a pie crust, especially a butter crust, is that the ingredients be kept cold at all times. You want to work the butter in as quickly as possible so that it does not warm up. And any water, vodka, or liquids used should be ice cold. And I also refrigerated my dough after initially forming it into a ball, and then again after forming into a crust before baking. I know many cooks who also freeze their bowls, rolling pins, surfaces, etc. and swear by it (although I nixed those steps). Bottom line…the less your dough is exposed to warm temperatures and warm fingers before baking, the better.
Don’t Overwork The Dough: This was my mistake multiple times. It turns out that pie crusts are not just about temperature and getting the right level of moistness in the dough. They are also about gluten. And if you overmix the dough, the gluten doesn’t do what it is supposed to and the crust can become tough and/or shrink while baking. I’ve found the best way to avoid overmixing is to incorporate the liquid (water and/or vodka) into the crust by hand with a spatula, rather than letting a machine do that final step. But if you do use a food processor or mixer to incorporate the liquid, make it brief and do not let the dough ball up around the food processor blade. Rather, shape it into a ball with your hands once the mixture has formed small clumps.
Practice Makes Perfect More Delicious Pies: Don’t be discouraged if your pie crusts do not turn out “perfectly” at first. Learning to make pie crusts takes practice, practice, practice. So if a batch of dough doesn’t turn out quite right, or if your crust is not as beautiful as you’d hoped, don’t give up! Keep practicing, and enjoying taste-testing your attempts along the way. :)
Pulse together flour, sugar and salt in a food processor until combined. Sprinkle in half of the cubed butter, and pulse in 2-second intervals, 2-3 times, or until incorporated. Add remaining butter and pulse until incorporated. Dough will be in little clumps.
Sprinkle dough either by hand or with a spray bottle with the vodka and ice water. Then use a spatula or spoon to mix the liquid into the dough, mixing until just combined and the dough sticks together. (You can also do this step in a food processor — just be careful not to overmix. The dough should not form a ball in the food processor.) Use your hands to pack the dough into a ball, like you’re packing a snowball, then carefully pat the dough into a 1/2-inch thick round disk. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap, then refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or up to 3 days, until ready to use.
To Make A Single Pie Crust:
Transfer the dough to a well-floured work surface, then lightly dust the top of the dough and the rolling pin with flour as needed. Roll out the dough into a circle at least 12 inches in diameter and about 1/8 inch thick, the perfect size for a 9-inch pie plate. Carefully transfer dough to the pie plate, and gently press the dough into the plate without stretching it.
Use some kitchen shears or a knife to trim off any excess pastry, leaving about a 1-inch border of crust around the top of the pan. Then, section by section, carefully lift the rim of crust so that it sticks straight up, then fold it back about 1/2-inch (towards the outside of the pan) and pinch the crust into itself to sculpt an upstanding ridge. Use a fork or your fingers to form a scalloped edge if desired. Poke the bottom of the crust all over with a fork so that it does not bubble up while baking. Place pie crust in the freezer for 10 minutes to re-chill the butter before continuing.
Your recipe may call for the crust as is (unbaked) to continue. If your recipe calls for pre-baking the crust, line the inside of the chilled crust with aluminum foil so that it is gently pressed into the bottom and sides of the crust, and hangs over the edges of the top of the crust. The foil should basically be like a second skin, fitting the mold of the crust. (A chilled pie crust will prevent the foil from damaging the crust shape.) Fill the bottom of the crust with pie weights or dried beans. Then bake immediately at 400 degrees F for 15 minutes. Remove the crust, and carefully lift out the aluminum foil layer with the beans in it, and set that aside. If any of the crust has started to bubble up, poke it with the fork a few more times. Return the crust to the oven for 10-12 minutes for a partially baked prebaked shell (should be lightly browned), or 15-17 minutes for a fully prebaked pie shell (should be golden brown).
To Make A Double Pie Crust:
Double the recipe, cut the dough in half and pat each half into a 1/2-inch thick round disk. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap, then refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or up to 3 days, until ready to use.
Prepare the bottom half of the crust as you would for a single pie crust (instructions above), but after trimming the excess dough around the edges, do not freeze the pie crust. Instead, place your filling in bottom half of the pie crust. Then roll out your second disk of dough, just like you did the first, and gently lay it on top of the pie. Trim extra dough so that the edges line up with the bottom pie crust. Then pinch the two crusts together into a ridge that stands straight up, and then fold it back about 1/2-inch (towards the outside of the pan) and pinch the crust into itself to sculpt an upstanding ridge. Use a fork or your fingers to form a scalloped edge if desired. Place pie crust in the freezer for 10 minutes to re-chill the butter before continuing. Bake according to recipe directions.
Brush some milk or an egg white on the surface of the crust before baking. Sprinkle with a little sugar if desired.
**If you would like to substitute in some shortening, you can either use:
1/4 cup shortening + 1/4 cup butter or
2 Tbsp. shortening + 1/3 cup butter
Just be sure that both the shortening and butter have been completely chilled in the refrigerator beforehand.
The recipe time and yield depend on whether you’re making a single or double pie crust, and whether or not they are prebaked.
Step-By-Step Photo Tutorial:
Mix the dry ingredients together. Then pulse in the butter or fat.
Sprinkle about half of your liquid in, then pulse to combine. Then repeat with remaining liquid until the mixture is crumbly. (It should not form a ball in the food processor.) You can also add the liquid in a bowl, and fold it in with a spoon or spatula to prevent overworking.
Use your hands to shape the dough into a ball like you’re packing a snowball. Then pat it into a round disk (about 1/2-inch thick), cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm.
Remove and unwrap the dough, and lay it out on a well-floured surface. Roll the dough into a 12-inch circle. Then — very important! — let the dough rest for 5 minutes. This will relax the gluten and help prevent the crust from shrinking.
Gently lift the dough into a pie plate. (Or if you are rolling the dough out onto a surface cover like a Silpat or parchment or plastic wrap, lay the dough on top of the pie plate then lift off the cover.) Trim the excess dough from the edges, leaving about a 1-inch border.
Lift the border up so that it is vertical, then fold the dough back about 1/2-inch and pinch it into a ridge all around the pie plate. Use your fingers or a fork to make a scalloped crust if desired. I recommend making the crust just slightly larger than you would like it to be, as it might shrink slightly during baking.
Then place the shaped dough into the freezer for at least 10 minutes to chill, then remove. If your recipe calls for an unbaked pie crust, proceed from here according to recipe instructions. If your recipe calls for a pre-baked pie crust, line the crust with aluminum foil so that it is touching the bottom and sides of the crust. Let the foil gently hang over the top of the crust. (Do not wrap the foil back around the sides and bottom of the crust, otherwise, it will not cook evenly.)
Fill the inside of the foil with uncooked beans or pie weights. Give it a good shake so that the beans evenly cover the inside of the crust.
Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Then remove the pie, and lift out the aluminum foil and beans. Prick the bottom (and sides if desired) of the pie crust to prevent bubbling. Then cook at 375 degrees F for 10-12 minutes for a partially pre-baked pie crust, or 15-17 minutes for a fully pre-baked pie crust. Then use with your desired recipe.
Be sure to check out some of these delicious pie recipes too!