How to Make Pie Crust

Keep calm and "roll" with it.

November 14, 2019
Related To:

All Butter Pie Crust

Photo by: Teri Lyn Fisher

Teri Lyn Fisher

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Few things in the baked-goods canon are as impressive as tender, flaky homemade pie crust. The alchemy of pie dough — the transformation of flour, water, salt and butter (or lard, shortening or some combination thereof) into a unified whole — is simple, yet pie crust is one of the most-intimidating recipes for home cooks to master. But we're here to reassure you that it's not as hard as you think. Armed with our best recipes and pastry pros' top tips, you'll be mixing, rolling and crimping your way to pie crust victory in no time.

Chill out

Feeling nervous about tackling homemade pie crust? Keep calm and make pie, we say. Allow yourself plenty of time to find a recipe that you like, and try making it a few times to gain confidence in the kitchen. Speaking of chilling out, one of the most-important steps to ensuring a tender, flaky crust is to remember to keep your pie dough ingredients cold. Alton likes to keep his pie dough ingredients really cold. His Pie Crust recipe calls for keeping butter and lard in the freezer prior to incorporating them into the dough.

For a step-by-step guide to the coolest crust, download the Food Network Kitchen app and watch the video for Martha's Favorite Pie Crust. Martha's recipe calls on ice-cold butter, but the game changer is putting your pie crust back in the fridge if it gets too warm. You want to roll out your crust while the dough is extremely cold. So if your dough feels stretchy or warm, into the fridge it goes!

Consider your fat

If you're in the all-butter camp, try your hand at making The Best All-Butter Pie Dough (pictured). Using all butter creates a rich flavor, and layering the dough puff-pastry style yields an exceptionally tender and flaky crust. Be sure to use unsalted butter to control the amount of salt you add to your dough. Whether you use European or American butter is a personal preference.

Courtney Fuqua, the executive pastry chef at Salt Traders Coastal Cooking in Austin, Texas, prefers using a mix of fats. "I like to use 50/50 mix of butter and shortening. This way, you get flavor from the butter and flakiness from the shortening — the best of both worlds!" she says. Ina, too, pulls in both butter and extra-cold shortening for her aptly named Perfect Pie Crust.

"I'm a fan of lard — even though I have a vegetarian mother," Jubilee cookbook author Toni Tipton-Martin says. Lard is lauded for both its rich flavor and its ability to produce a supremely flaky crust. Tipton-Martin favors a mix of lard and butter, while Amy Thielen relies almost exclusively on rendered leaf lard (with just a touch of butter) to create a crust with an almost croissantlike texture.

When Tipton-Martin is making large batches of pie dough in the food processor, she adds cream cheese to keep the dough from becoming overworked and tough. Try this virtually foolproof Cream Cheese Crust recipe.

Harness flour power

Whitney Otawka, chef at the Greyfield Inn on Cumberland Island, Georgia, and author of The Saltwater Table: Recipes from the Coastal South, loves the flavor of buckwheat flour. "It's nutty and earthy, and it really complements classic autumn flavors like pumpkin, cinnamon and ginger," she says. "When using it in a pie dough, I'll swap about half of the all-purpose flour for buckwheat flour. Since buckwheat is naturally gluten-free, I will knead the dough for an extra minute just to help it form together."

Add a secret ingredient

Unexpected additions can both help ensure pie crust success and provide another way to experiment with flavors. Many pastry pros turn to vodka as their secret agent for a tender, flaky crust. Try this straightforward Vodka Pie Dough recipe — and don't worry, the booze cooks off. The Butter Pie Crust recipe calls on apple cider vinegar (or white vinegar) to help ensure a tender (not tough) texture.

Adding spice to the crust complements other elements of the pie and can enhance seasonal flavors, as it does in this Pumpkin Pie with Spiced Crust. A blend of ground cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, allspice and freshly grated nutmeg punches up both the filling and the crust. Brian Noyes, owner of Red Truck Rural Bakery in Marshall, Virginia, reveals his secret weapon in his Red Truck Bakery Cookbook's Classic Piecrust recipe: "Though [the recipe is] relatively traditional, we incorporate a little bit of lemon and orange zests as a subtle counterpoint to the dough's sweet buttery flavor." Try adding a teaspoon and a half each of orange and lemon zest to your pie dough.

Don't be afraid to take things in a savory direction, too. Nancy Fuller is a fan of cheese in her dough, calling for a cup of extra-sharp white cheddar to add a savory complement to her Granny Smith- and Braeburn-based Apple Pie with Cheddar Cheese Crust.

Work it (don't overwork it)

Otawka makes her pie dough by hand (no expensive kitchen appliances are needed, plus there are fewer dishes to wash afterward). After stirring together all-purpose flour, salt and sugar in a medium-sized mixing bowl, she adds chilled, diced butter and uses her fingertips to rub-pinch the flour and butter together until the butter turns to small flakes and they are dispersed throughout the flour mixture. She then adds a small amount of water to bring it together and mixes it by hand until just incorporated — the dough should still look a little dry and shaggy. Next, she flattens the dough into a disc, wraps it in plastic wrap and lets it rest in the refrigerator for at least one hour. "This gives the gluten, which formed during the dough-making process, time to relax — which will make rolling the dough easier," she explains. For an easy step-by-step tutorial, check out our How To: Make Pie Dough gallery.

Roll it out

Be sure you're working with chilled, rested dough, and use flour to dust your work surface and rolling pin to prevent dough from sticking and ripping. "When you start rolling, I find it helpful to start by pressing the rolling pin down on the dough to flatten it out a little more, and then gently start to roll it out until it's about an eighth of an inch thick," Otawka says. "The dough should look slightly dry and not be a fully homogenous dough. It will come together when resting. Don't overwork the dough — doing so can lead to dense, non-flaky pie [crust]." After lining the pan with the pie dough (leaving about an inch of overhang for crimping), Otawka stashes it in the freezer for 10 minutes. "This re-chills the butter to create an evenly flakier texture; it also helps prevent the dough from shrinking when it's added to the oven," she explains.

Practice your crimping and latticework

Crimping is an art form, but don't get too hung up on getting it to look perfect. "Using both hands, I place the thumbs and index fingers together on each hand and pinch the dough together to make an attractive indentation around the pie," Otawka says. Even simpler? Press the ends of fork tines into the edges of the dough for a classic look.

Once you've filled your pie, a lattice topper is another way to add visual flair. Learning to layer strips of dough to create that woven effect takes practice, but you can give yourself a head start. The Best Pie Dough for a Lattice Crust recipe calls for a mix of shortening and butter, yielding an easy-to-work-with-dough that's also forgiving during the cutting and weaving process. This step-by-step tutorial helps take the guesswork out.

If you're still intimidated by latticework, try topping your pie filling with cutouts instead. "There are so many fun mini cookie cutter sets available to decorate your pies with right now," says Diana Sanchez, executive pastry chef at Jack Allen's Kitchen in Austin. "You can always use a paring knife to cut leaf designs out of extra dough, which is a pretty simple and classic design." Once you've topped your pie, Sanchez recommends brushing the crust with an egg wash; it gives the baked pie a beautiful sheen and helps protect the edges from breaking. Looking for more pie crust design inspo? Check out our primer on How to Cut Pie Crust Designs (there's even a faux-lattice one!).

Double your efforts

Once you've mastered your favorite pie crust recipe, make a double batch and freeze it. Most chefs recommend flattening pie dough into discs in individual portions (each enough for one top or one bottom crust), then wrapping the discs tightly in plastic wrap, putting them in a freezer-safe bag and stashing them in the freezer for up to two to three months. Follow this technique for any amount of extra pie dough — you can use it for individual chicken pot pies, a rustic galette or a batch of dumplings. For more pie-scrap recipe inspiration, peruse our 10 Ways to Use Leftover Pie Dough Scraps gallery.

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