I’ll be honest: I’ve spent the last 10 minutes debating on whether to save this post until early-Novemberish when Thanksgiving dinners and holiday soirees have us all scrambling to make photo-worthy pies filled with canned pumpkin and toasty pecans. In the end, I considered my fridge full of summer berries, Chilton County peaches, and the first of this season’s cherries and decided now was as good of time as any to teach y’all how to make and bake a beautiful (and delicious!) pie dough. If you’re looking for tips on press-in crusts or store-bought varieties, this is not the post for you, but if it’s braided double crusts and flaky pastry you’re after, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s dive in on how to make pie dough.
What Is It?
Any homemade pie crust starts with a plain pastry dough. Unlike doughs made for tarts, strudels, or cream puffs, pie dough is typically made with three simple ingredients: flour, fat, and water. That’s it! Although other ingredients like eggs, sugar, and salt can be added to manipulate the flavor, color, and texture of your final pastry, it’s the type and proportion of those three main ingredients that makes all the difference.
The right amount and type of flour can make all the difference in a homemade pie dough. Unbleached all-purpose flour is typically chosen for standard pie crusts, but it must be handled appropriately to yield a crust that is both tender and flaky. Too much flour can create a tough or dry crust and not enough may flour may lead to a wet crust that shrinks upon baking. Although proportions are everything to a great pie crust recipe, even perfect pastry dough can be ruined by over-manipulation. Because all-purpose flour is prone to increased gluten formation, pie doughs that are overworked may wind up being tough and dense.
I would argue that fat is the single most important aspect of learning how to make pie dough. Fat contributes flakiness and flavor to pie dough, and different types of fat offer their own myriad of benefits. It’s widely known that shortening and lard produce the flakiest pastries thanks to its ability to coat the flour more easily than butter. Butter is often chosen for flavor, although margarine will yield similar textures. Oil is a final alternative for pie makers (I made one once here!), although it’s used less frequently and often yields a grainy crust. The amount, temperature, and method of dispersing fat into the flour makes all the difference as we’ll see in a couple paragraphs.
The addition of liquid to a pie dough enables leavening. As the dough heats in the oven, steam generated from the water leavens the pastry and enhances its flakiness. Water also hydrates the dough which is helpful for gluten production, although many people add vinegar, lemon juice, or even alcohol to prevent too much gluten formation. Without enough water or liquid, pie doughs are dry or too crumbly to work with, but if too much liquid is added, crusts make shrink or become too tough.
How to Make Pie Dough
First, flour is combined with salt, sugar, and any other dry ingredient being used to flavor the crust. Once evenly combined, the fat is cut into the dry ingredients using a pastry cutter, a food processor, or even just your hands. Continue cutting in the fat until it has been evenly incorporated and is broken down into pea or marble-sized pieces. Keeping the fat cold and working quickly helps to ensure that the pastry will remain flaky and prevent gluten formation. Once the fat has been thoroughly integrated into the flour, ice water or another cold liquid is tossed into the sandy mixture until the flour has been barely moistened and a shaggy dough comes together.
Quite often, dough is chilled prior to use which makes it easier to handle and enhances the final baked product. Because the dough should be manipulated as little as possible, some doughs may need to sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes to rolling to make the job easier.
Pastry Cutter vs. Food Processor, vs. Hands
99% of the time, I opt for my pastry cutter when it comes to preparing pie dough. The reason is simple: I don’t trust my fingers to do the job well but I also don’t love the clean-up involved with my food processor. A great pastry cutter can make the job quick and the clean-up simple, so, for me, it’s a win-win. With that being said, don’t sleep on those other methods. If you’re new to pie dough, a food processor might help distribute the fat into the flour more evenly, but there are some benefits to working in the fat by hand too; as your fingers flatten the fat into the flour, those chunky pieces will create holes in your crust that enhance its overall flakiness. The bottom line is, this is a choose-your-own adventure kind of deal. Do what works best for you.
How Is It Used?
Once prepared and chilled, homemade pie dough can be used to make any number of treats. Although it’s typically used for dessert pies, you’ll also find that same dough being used for quiche, hand pies, and more! For today’s post, I’m going to spend time talking about the areas I get the most questions about: storing pie dough, rolling, crimping, and braiding pie dough, and baking pie dough.
Storing Pie Dough
Once prepared, most pie dough need some chill time. This isn’t a Netflix and chill kind of situation: this is a temperature situation. I like to ready my pie dough for the fridge by patting it into a flat round disk and wrapping it in plastic wrap. The wrap will protect it from drying out in the fridge. If you plan to make a slab pie or any kind of squared-off pastry, you may find it easier to chill it in a flat rectangle shape that will be easier to roll out after chilling.
If you don’t plan to use your pie dough right away, you can typically store it in the fridge up to a week in advance. Any longer, and you’re better off leaving it in the freezer. Simply wrap your plastic-wrapped dough in a sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil and freeze on a flat surface. Once frozen, pie doughs can be saved up to 6 months. When you’re ready to use it, just thaw out overnight in the fridge and allow it to rest at room temperature about 10 minutes or until it’s pliable for rolling.
Rolling Pie Dough
As with most pastry dough, rolling pie dough is best done on a cool, lightly-floured surface. My marble counters make an excellent place for rolling, but pastry mats and other flat surfaces will work brilliantly as well. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, begin rolling from the center of the dough to the outer edges, using short, firm strokes. Every few rolls or so, gently slide your hand under the dough to make sure your surface is still thoroughly floured. If you find more flour is needed, gently roll the dough onto the floured pin and sprinkle additional flour as needed. For most crusts, pie dough should be rolled to 1/8″-1/4″ thickness. Check to make sure your dough is large enough by holding your pie plate over the rolled-out round of dough; the dough should be an inch wider on all sides, larger if you’re working with a deep-dish pie plate.
To transfer your pie dough to a pie plate, gently roll the pie dough onto your rolling pin and unroll into the pie plate! If this method doesn’t suit you, rolled-out rounds of chilled and lightly floured dough can be folded in quarters, picked up, and unfolded into the pie plate. Once in the pan, tuck the dough into the edges of the pan and begin crimping or braiding your dough as desired. If you are making a double-crust pie, you can transfer your pie dough top the same way you did the bottom crust: simply roll the dough onto your rolling pin, unroll it centered on the pie, and begin crimping your edges together as desired.
A latticed pie is one of those things many people aspire to. In fact, there are tons of Instagram accounts, Pinterest boards, and more dedicated to intricately woven pie tops. Below, you’ll see a few of my favorite simple lattices. In my own kitchen, I love to use a pizza cutter and a clear sewing ruler to keep my trimmed strips the exact size I want them to be. I don’t have the patience for much beyond this, but if you do, know the principles are the same: keep your dough cold and work quickly!
Crimping Pie Dough
Again, nothing fancy here, just a few of my favorite crimps! When in doubt, the back of a fork is your friend. Just pinch your edges together and crimp away!
Preparing Pie Dough for Baking
At some point in your baking career, you’ll stumble upon a recipe that calls for an egg wash. More often than not, this is solely for aesthetic purposes. An egg wash, prepared by combining a whole or part of an egg with some kind of liquid (water, milk, or cream), is typically brushed in a thin layer on a prepared pie dough crust prior to baking. The protein, fat, and water in the wash adds color or gloss to the finished pie crust. Below, you’ll see a sampling of a few different wash varieties. Choose whichever works best for you or go for my favorite: whole egg whisked together.
A blind baked (or par-baked) crust is one that has been partially or fully baked prior to adding the filling. Usually done only on single crust pies, blind baking can help prevent soggy bottoms and ensure that crusts are cooked thoroughly and evenly. To blind bake, start by docking (or poking holes with a fork) the bottom and sides of your chilled pie dough that has been rolled into a pan. Fit a crumpled sheet of parchment paper into the bottom and sides of the dough and fill it with pie weight, dried rice, or dried beans. The weight will prevent steam from bubbling underneath the dough and ensure that the crust remains flat in the pan.
More Help on How to Make Pie Dough
We’re nearing the end of this lengthy (but hopefully helpful?) tutorial, so I wanted to wrap things up with a few frequently asked questions. Most of these are internal questions that blaze across my brain when a failed pie attempt has me searching Google for answers or help, but some of these are questions that have been posed me to by readers like you! We’ll end on this note, but be sure to see below for my favorite double crust pie recipe. It’s been tried and true for me for years, the combination of shortening and butter yielding a flaky yet flavorful crust. Give it a try and let me know what you think! Without further ado, here’s some FAQ!
Why is my pie dough sticky? Two possible situations: either it’s not cold enough or you added too much water. Pop it in the fridge for 30 minutes or so to see if that helps!
Why did my pie crust shrink in my pan? Again, it’s probably a hydration issue. Next time, add a little less water and chill the pie crust prior to baking it. I even like to pop crusts in the freezer sometimes!
What kind of rolling pin is best? This is a personal preference thing. I prefer a wooden rolling pin with traditional handles, but you may opt for a French pin or one that is made with marble or plastic! The important thing is keeping that pin floured the whole time you roll out your dough!
Can I use different flours in my pie crust? Sure. The internet is loaded with recipes for people looking to use alternative flours. I don’t have a recipe here that I’d recommend, but I’m sure you’ll find something on the interwebs.
Is a deep-dish pie the same as a standard one? Not typically. On this site, I always specify where a deep-dish pie pan is needed, because they always hold more volume. If you attempt to make a deep-dish pie recipe in a standard pie plate, you’ll wind up with too many ingredients and not enough room. Tread lightly.
So what kind of pie plate is best? Again, this is a preference thing. I live and die by my William-Sonoma Goldtouch Pan, but many other people swear by glass or even ceramic. I will say that glass is helpful when you’re wanting the ensure a crisp, golden bottom- after all, you can look under the pie and see how the cooking is coming!
Do I have to flour or grease my pie plate? Nope, not unless the recipe you’re following specifies to do so.
How can I get a crisp-bottomed pie? Par-baking is a great option for single pie crusts, but I also love to bake my pies closer to the bottom third of the oven. Other recipes may specify to add an egg wash to the bottom of the pie.
How do I know my fruit pie is done? I always look for bubbling fruit in the middle of the pie.
What do I do if my pie crust is too brown before the filling is bubbling? Use a sheet of aluminum foil to gently cover the top. If it’s just the edges getting too dark, make a foil collar to rest around the edge of the pie like a crown.
Where can I learn more about your favorite pie crust? Check out a super old post here!
Now that I know how to make pie dough, what pie do you recommend? For a cream pie, check out my favorite Southern Coconut Cream Pie . For a summer favorite, look no further than this Peach Berry Pie . And for something a little different, try these Raspberry Champagne Pop-Tarts.
My Favorite Pie Dough
A pie crust equal parts buttery and flaky, lightly golden, and perfectly baked- this is the only recipe for a double pie crust that you’ll ever need.
- Prep Time: 10
- Total Time: 10 minutes
- Yield: 1 Double Crust 1x
- Category: Pastry
- 3 ½ cups (420 gm) all purpose flour
- 3 teaspoons (12 gm) sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon (4 gm) salt
- 2/3 cup (135 gm) chilled solid vegetable shortening, cut into pieces
- 3/4 cup (1–1/2 sticks, 170 gm) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 10 tablespoons (approximately) ice water
- Give the dry ingredients a whiz in the food processor to combine.
- Pulse in the shortening and butter, just until barely evenly dispersed.
- Begin adding ice water, 2 tablespoons at a time until moist clumps begin to form.
- Remove dough from food processor and separate in two round disks. Wrap in Saran wrap and chill for at least two hours prior to use.
- When ready to use, roll out to 1/4″ thickness and line the bottom of a 9″ pie pan. This is enough dough to fill a deep dish pan as well. Prior to baking, brush with an egg wash, if desired. This is done by whisking 1 egg with 1 tablespoon of water and lightly brushing crust prior to use.
- This recipe makes a double crust. If you want extra dough for decorating the top, I recommend doubling the recipe and saving leftover crust for a future pie! The dough freezes nicely when wrapped well.
- Chilling the dough is essential. If your dough gets too warm while you are rolling it out or decorating the top, you may not get as flakey of a crust as you might desire. So work swiftly!
- Patch up holes or tears in the crust with leftover dough. Even small holes on the bottom of the pie plate can make a burned and sticky mess of your pie and you’re not going to want to waste a drop of this deliciousness!
- You can easily substitute the shortening for butter and visa versa, however I cannot vouch for any other substitutions. Unless you’re super anti-shortening or anti-butter, I strongly recommend this combination for a buttery, flaky crust.