Perfect Pie Crust

Yes, you can make your own homemade pie crust! It’s not hard, once you get the hang of it, and the result is so much better than your typical frozen pie crust that you get at the store.

There are many different ways to make a pie crust. Every baker I know seems to have their favorite recipe or trick. The most classic pie or pastry crust is made with butter. That one can take some practice to master, because if you handle it too much it will end up tough. A more forgiving pie crust is one that is made with a mixture of butter and shortening. That way you get the flavor of the butter, with the easy flakiness that comes from using shortening.

Some people use all vegetable oil, and some swear by lard. One of my favorite ways to make a pie crust these days is to use sour cream as the fat, along with butter. No need for a food processor; the dough is easy to roll-out, and the crust is wonderfully flaky.

The following are instructions for making 1) a basic butter crust (pâte brisée) for sweet and savory pies and tarts, 2) a pre-baked pie crust needed for dishes such as quiche, 3) a combination butter and shortening crust, and 4) an egg wash finish for the pie.

The instructions will yield enough dough for 1 10-inch pie with a crust top, or 2 10-inch topless pies or tarts. If you are making a tart or just a pie bottom, cut all ingredients in half.

  • Prep: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Ingredients

All-Butter Pastry Crust for Sweet and Savory Pies (Pâte Brisée) (enough for bottom and top crust)

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
  • 1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces) unsalted butter, very-cold, cut into 1/2 inch cubes*
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 6 to 8 Tbsp ice water

*The first thing I do when I'm even thinking about making a butter-based pie crust is to cut up the butter into cubes and put them in the freezer. They should chill at least 15 minutes in the freezer, and even better, over an hour or overnight. 

Variation: Swap out 1/2 a cup of the flour with ground blanched almonds or almond flour

Method

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1 Put flour, sugar, and salt into the bowl of a food processor and pulse a couple times to mix. Add about half of the butter to the food processor and pulse several times. Then add the rest of the butter and pulse 6 to 8 times until the largest pieces of butter are about the size of large peas. Sprinkle the mixture with about 1/4 cup of ice water (make sure there are no ice cubes in the water!) and pulse again. Then add more ice water, a tablespoon at a time, pulsing once or twice after each addition until the dough just barely begins to hold together.

You know that the mixture is ready if when you pinch some of the crumbly dough together with your fingers, it holds together. Be cautious with the amount of water you add, too much and the crust will be tough.

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2 Carefully empty the crumbly dough mixture from the food processor on to a clean, dry, flat surface. Gather the mixture in a mound. At this point, if you want, you can do what the French call fraisage: push down with the palm of your hand on the dough crumbles a few times. This will help flatten the pieces of butter into layers which will help your crust be flaky.

Divide the dough mixture into two even-sized mounds. Use your hands to form each one into a disk. Do not over-knead! Kneading develops gluten which will toughen the dough, not something you want in a pastry crust.

If you started with cold butter you should be able to see small chunks of butter speckling the dough. This is a good thing. These small bits of butter will spread out into layers as the crust cooks so you have a flaky crust!

Sprinkle each disk with a little flour, wrap each one in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for one hour or up to 2 days.

3 Remove one crust disk from the refrigerator. Let sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes in order to soften just enough to make rolling out a bit easier. Roll out with a rolling pin on a lightly floured surface to a 12-inch circle; about 1/8 of an inch thick. As you roll out the dough, check if the dough is sticking to the surface below. If necessary, add a few sprinkles of flour under the dough to keep the dough from sticking. Carefully place onto a 9-inch pie plate. Gently press the pie dough down so that it lines the bottom and sides of the pie plate. Use a pair of kitchen scissors to trim the dough to within 1/2 inch of the edge of the pie dish.

4 Add filling to the pie.

5 Roll out second disk of dough, as before. Gently place onto the top of the filling in the pie. Pinch top and bottom of dough rounds firmly together. Trim excess dough with kitchen shears, leaving a 3/4 inch overhang. Fold the edge of the top piece of dough over and under the edge of the bottom piece of dough, pressing together. Flute edges using thumb and forefinger or press with a fork. Score the top of the pie with four 2-inch long cuts, so that steam from the cooking pie can escape.

 

How to Pre-Bake a Pie Crust

If your recipe calls for a pre-baked crust, as many custard pie recipes do, follow all the steps above until you get to the point where it says to put in the filling. Note that you will need to make only a half recipe if you are only doing a bottom crust. Freeze the crust it for at least a half hour, until chilled. This is an important step in pre-baking. Otherwise the crust will slip down the sides.

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Preheat your oven to 350°F. When the pie crust is sufficiently chilled, line the pie crust with parchment paper, wax paper, or aluminum foil. Fill at least two-thirds full with pie weights - dry beans, rice, or stainless-steel pie weights. Bake with weights for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, cool a few minutes and carefully remove pie weights. Poke small holes in the bottom of the pie crust with a fork and return to oven (without the weights) and cook for an additional 10 minutes, until the crust is golden. Cool completely before filling. You may need to tent the edges of the pie with aluminum foil when you bake your pie, to keep the edges from getting too dried out and burnt.

 

Combination Butter and Shortening Crust

Ingredients for one double-crust 9 inch or 10 inch pie:

  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 3/4 cup (a stick and a half) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup of all-vegetable shortening (8 Tbsp)
  • 6-8 Tablespoons ice water

1 Combine flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor; pulse to mix. Add the butter and pulse 4 times. Add shortening in tablespoon sized chunks, and pulse 4 more times. The mixture should resemble coarse cornmeal, with butter bits no bigger than peas. Sprinkle 6 tablespoons of ice water over flour mixture. Pulse a couple times. If you pinch some of the crumbly dough and it holds together, it's ready. If the dough doesn't hold together, keep adding water, a tablespoon at a time, pulsing once after each addition, until the mixture just begins to clump together.

2 Remove dough from machine and place in a mound on a clean surface. Divide the dough into 2 balls and flatten each into 4 inch wide disks. Do not over-knead the dough! Dust the disks lightly with flour, wrap each in plastic, and refrigerate for at least an hour, or up to 2 days before rolling out.

3 After the dough has chilled in the refrigerator for an hour, you can take it out to roll. If it is too stiff, you may need to let it sit for 5-10 minutes at room temperature before rolling. Sprinkle a little flour on a flat, clean work surface and on top of the disk of dough you intend to roll out. (We use a Tupperware pastry sheet that has the pie circles already marked.) Using a rolling pin, apply light pressure while rolling outwards from the center of the dough. Every once in a while you may need to gently lift under the dough (a pastry scraper works great for this) to make sure it is not sticking. You have a big enough piece of dough when you place the pie tin or pie dish upside down on the dough and the dough extends by at least 2 inches all around.

4 When the dough has reached the right size, gently fold it in half. Lift up the dough and place it so that the folded edge is along the center line of the pie dish. Gently unfold. Do not stretch the dough.

5a If you are only making a single crust pie, use a pair of kitchen scissors to trim the dough to within 1/2 inch of the lip of the dish. Tuck the overhang underneath itself along the edge of the pie dish. Use your fingers in a pinching motion, or the tines of a fork to crimple the edge of the pie crust.

5b If you are making a double crust pie, roll out the second disk of dough. Gently place onto the top of the filling in the pie. Use a kitchen scissors to trim the overhang to an inch over. Fold the edge of the top piece of dough over and under the edge of the bottom piece of dough, pressing together. Finish the double crust by pressing against the edges of the pie with your finger tips or with a fork.

6 Use a sharp knife to cut vents into the top of the pie crust, so the steam has a place to escape while the pie is cooking. Optional Before scoring, you may want to paint the top of your crust with an egg wash (this will make a nice finish).

 

Egg Wash

A lovely coating for a pie can be achieved with a simple egg wash.

  • 1 Tbsp heavy cream, half and half, or milk
  • 1 large egg yolk

Beat egg yolk with cream and brush on the surface of the pie with a pastry brush.

Main Ingredients

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