Perfect Pie Crust Tutorial

I like a super flaky pie crust which I believe you can only get by using shortening in your pie crust. But I also love the rich taste of butter in a crust. So for me the secret of a perfect pie crust is to use mostly shortening, but also use some butter. You get the flakiness from the shortening and the great taste from the butter.

When I was younger I use to be afraid to make pie crust. The few times I tried they looked terrible. The crust fell apart when I was trying to move it from the counter to the pie plate, or if I managed to get it in the pie plate in one piece it shrank when I baked it. I was usually disappointed with the flavor and they weren’t as flaky as I liked.

Then one day I saw Martha make a pie crust on her show and it was a light bulb moment for me. She rolled the dough out between sheets of plastic wrap so it was easy to transfer to a pie plate.

I also learned the importance of keeping all the ingredients really cold. High heat explodes solid fat particles. The explosions create steam which lightens and crisps the pastry. At lower oven temperatures, the fat just softens and melts—no explosion, no steam, no flaky crust. I love the precision and science of baking and now pie dough makes sense.

Since starting my blog, I have had several requests for my pie crust recipe. The recipe was on the blog, but it was sort of buried with my Strawberry Pie recipe. So I decided to give it its own post and take step by step pictures to help make it easier for those who struggle to make a great pie crust.

Cut the butter and shortening in to small pieces so that it incorporates in to the flour more easily. You want to keep the fat as cold as possible, so cutting it in to small pieces helps you work quickly.

Cut the butter in to the flour using a pastry cutter until you have little pea sized chunks. You can use a food processor to cut in the butter, but I haven’t had very good luck doing that. I usually over process the butter in the food processor.

Stir in the water one tablespoon at a time with a fork. The mixture will still be pretty dry.

Use your hands to gather the dough together. You don’t want to handle it too much because your hands will heat up the dough.

Dump the dough in the center of a sheet of plastic wrap.

Use the plastic wrap to knead the dough together just a little bit. So it forms a round, flat disc.

Wrap the plastic wrap around the dough and chill for at least 30 minutes.

After chilling, remove the dough from the plastic wrap and place it between two (I usually use four – two on top and two on the bottom) sheets of plastic wrap.

Roll the pie crust out in a circle. If the plastic wrap gets tucked under the dough just straighten it. When I had a Formica counter top the dough would slide around on the counter, so I used a Silpat underneath so it didn’t slide.

Roll the crust out large enough so that you have plenty of crust for the sides. I like to put the dish in the middle to measure it.

Peel off the top sheet of plastic and pick up the bottom sheet of plastic/dough and flip it over into your pie plate.

Don’t stretch the dough when fitting it in the pie plate or it will shrink back as it bakes. After you’ve fit the crust in the pan, press it gently against the sides and bottom to ensure that no air is trapped between the dough and the pan. Peel the bottom sheet of plastic off after your dough is fitted into the pie plate.

Finish the edges. This time I used a pretty quiche pan, so I just trimmed it even with the top. Martha has a fun gallery of great decorative pie crust ideas to finish your edges.

Prick the crust. Chill the pie crust for at least another 30 minutes before baking or filling with your favorite pie filling. I used this crust for a delicious quiche that I’ll post on Monday.

While this isn’t the perfect recipe or technique for everyone, it’s my favorite and works for me. Enjoy!

Perfect Pie Crust Tutorial

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 c. flour
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1/4 c. unsalted butter, chilled
  • 2/3 c. shortening, chilled (I use butter-flavored shortening)
  • 5 to 7 T. ice water

Directions:

Combined flour and salt in a bowl. Cut butter and shortening into small cubes. Cut butter and shortening into flour until it resembles very coarse meal. Gradually add water 1 Tablespoon at a time mixing with a fork. Divide in half, form into two round disks, and wrap in plastic. Chill for 30 minutes. Bake unfilled pie crust 15–20 min. at 450º.

Here are my tips for perfect pies:

  • Fat and water should be ice cold before mixing. If you are making the dough in a food processor you can even freeze the fat before using it. (I rarely use a food processor because I think it processes the fat to small.)
  • Measure flour carefully; never scoop the flour with the measuring cup. Add ice water gradually, mix quickly with a fork and try to gather the dough into a disk. If it crumbles and won’t hold together, add more water, a little at a time.
  • Chill the dough in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before rolling it out. It will be easier to handle, less likely to shrink and bake up flakier.
  • Roll the dough out between two sheets of plastic wrap. (I usually use two on the bottom and two on top–straighten the plastic when necessary.) Roll the dough from the center out using even firm rolls. Turn the dough as you work, about an eighth of a turn for each roll will help to keep it round. (Putting the bottom plastic wrap on a Silpat helps keep it from moving while you’re rolling it out.)
  • Peel off the top sheet of plastic and pick up the bottom sheet of plastic/dough and flip it over into your pie plate. Peel the bottom sheet of plastic off after you dough is fitted into the pie plate.
  • Don’t stretch the dough when fitting it in the pie plate or it will shrink back as it bakes. Press it gently against the sides and bottom to insure that no air is trapped between the dough and the pan to form blisters.
  • Once the dough has been rolled out and transferred to the pie plate let it chill in the refrigerator for another 30 minutes before filling or baking. (You can chill it after rolling it out if it’s getting too soft. )
  • Use a hot oven. High heat explodes solid fat particles (you chill dough to harden the fat). The explosions create steam which lightens and crisps the pastry. At lower oven temperatures, the fat just softens and melts’no explosion, no steam.
  • Brush the bottom and sides of the unbaked pie crust with lightly beaten egg white. This will help to brown the crust.
  • For a browned bottom crust use dark metal or heatproof glass pans. Shiny pans deflect heat away from the pie so the crust doesn’t brown and crisp well. If using shiny or thin pans, place on a cookie sheet.
  • When baking a double crust pie, be sure that the top crust has holes cut or poked in it so that steam can escape when baking.
  • Crust repairs. It’s no big deal and patching is easy. Roll a scrap of dough a little larger than the damaged area. Trim the edges, dampen them lightly with water, and place the patch, damp-side-down, over the break. Seal by pressing the edges of the patch gently with your fingers.

Other perfect pie crust recipes:

Cooks Illustrated Foolproof Pie Dough, Smitten Kitchen
The Best Pie Crust Ever, City Home, Country Home