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What is the Secret to a Good Pie Crust?

Ice water, which is used in making pie crust.
Using very cold butter will contribute to a pie crust's flakiness.
Most pie crust recipes use lard, shortening, or butter.
Some people say the flour for a pie crust should be sifted before mixing the ingredients.
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  • Last Modified Date: 14 October 2014
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What is the secret to a good pie crust? Most cooks who make pie crusts on a regular basis all have their answers to this question. Some swear by shortening in the mix, others by lard. Some say to sift the flour first, while others don’t. Is there one best way to make a pie crust? Aside from the method, not really.

To make a good pie crust, the cook should always make sure that every ingredient and utensil is cold. Sound odd? Not really. Warmth makes the fat in the pastry bind with the gluten in the flour too quickly, so the pie crust ends up tough, not tender and flaky. So, put the bowl, fork and pastry blender into the freezer for about 20 minutes or so before making the crust. Use ice water as well. Some people keep their flour in the fridge, but the cook can always measure it out and put it in the bowl in the freezer.

A basic pie crust recipe starts with one cup of all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/3 cup of shortening, butter or lard and three tablespoons of ice water. Butter-flavored shortening is always a good choice for a pie crust. Stir the flour and salt together in a medium-sized bowl. Then, use a pastry blender to cut in the shortening until the mixture forms pea-sized pieces.

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Add about one tablespoon of water to the mixture and start gently working it together into a dough. Add the water a tablespoon at a time, until the mixture nearly cleans the sides of the bowl. If more water than the original three tablespoons is necessary, add it one teaspoon at a time. Gather the dough into a ball.

If time permits, let the dough rest in the refrigerator at least one hour. Making the pie crust dough early in the day and chilling it for several hours or overnight is even better. This allows the fat to re-solidify, so the gluten will not develop as much when the pie crust is rolled out.

On a floured board, marble slab or floured wax paper, turn the dough out and flatten it with the hands into a round. Flour the rolling pin and begin rolling the pie crust into a roughly round shape, until it is about two inches (5 centimeters) larger than the pie pan. Carefully fold the dough into quarters and place it in the pie pan, with the point of the pie crust in the middle of the pan. Unfold the pie crust and gently pat it into place into the bottom and sides of the pan. Trim the crust and flute it with fingers or a fork, as desired.

Now comes another controversial question: to pre-bake or not? Again, this is often a question of personal preference. In longer baking pies, the crust will probably bake through. With shorter baking times, though, pre-baking the crust may be a good idea.

When pre-baking a pie crust, the cook should cover the edges with aluminum foil, since pre-baking, along with the main baking, may scorch the crust. The crust can be baked in a hot oven — about 425°F (218°C) for about 12 minutes or until brown. Some cooks also swear by using some kind of pie crust weights, such as beads or beans, during the pre-baking. They say this prevents the pie crust from shrinking away from the sides of the pan.

In any case, when the crust is done, the cook can fill it with chocolate cream, coconut or lemon filling, apples, berries or peaches for a delicious dessert. The filling can be made while the dough is resting, incidentally. The resulting delicious pie with a flaky crust is always worth the effort.

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Discuss this Article

anon268161
Post 15

My pie crust tastes like flour even though I followed the recipe exactly.

anon126180
Post 14

Overmixing the flour with fat makes crusts crumbly after baking. Pea size resemblance is a good guide.

Chilling and not stretching the dough makes a world of difference.

anon108970
Post 13

Over the years, I've made both hot water and cold water crusts. I used to use a generic shortening and flour. The pie crusts turned out perfect every time. We moved and I'm using different brands of flour and shortening. Now I can't seem to get the crusts right. Using the tip above, I added water as I was rolling out the dough and it rolled out better. Next time, I will add a little more water when I mix the dough leaving the dough a little sticky.

anon104436
Post 12

To anon94910: I am inclined to agree with your latter conclusion. The salt brings out the sweetness. After researching it, that's all it does. - troothteller

anon94910
Post 11

Does anyone know why we put salt in flour? I would never dream of not adding a pinch or two of salt, but why? Is there a chemical reason to do with binding of the flour with the water or with the butter, or is it just to make it taste salty? The latter seems unlikely.

anon57968
Post 10

actually, there are many secrets to a good pie crust. First, use as little water as possible, it will not hold together before you roll it out. a good rule of thumb is to make sure the biggest contiguous lumps are about the size of a finger, and the smallest are about the size of a pea. don't worry about cracked edges, much of that gets discarded anyway, if they get too far inwards just overlap them and roll it out.

Second, don't overmix the flour and fat. you want mostly popcorn kernel sized lumps of fat (butter/lard/shortening) in the flour. The reason for this is, when the crust is rolled out, these little globules will flatten out into chips and separate the dough, making it flaky.

third, keep everything relatively cold until you roll it out. it doesn't have to be frozen solid, the butter just has to not melt. as long as it stays solid it would combine with the gluten.

fourth, brush down the top with a two yolk, one white batter. This turns an otherwise dull pie into a golden brown beauty.

that's all I have to offer.

anon22019
Post 8

Perfect pie crust? I must have gotten that gift from my Grandma and Mom. At any rate my one true secret is to not "play" with the dough too much or it will get tough. Never ever re-roll dough, you might as well throw it away and try again. Also, a little tip is to put the unrolled dough ball in between 2 sheets of wax paper to roll it out.

TinyFanny
Post 7

Thank you Sputnik. I'll remember this for next xmas. For this year, I simply cook my tourtiere longer and covered the top with alum paper. It wasn't perfect, but nobody complained.

anon16712
Post 6

Pastry is sticky and sometimes chilling it is not enough. If you have problems I suggest the old fashioned method of using a pastry cloth rubbed with flour as your work surface. A stocking, also rubbed with flour, covering your rolling pin also helps with flour build-up and the pastry sticking to the roller. It works wonderfully for me, especially on the triple digit degree days.

sputnik
Post 5

Making pie crust seems like a relatively simple endeavor, but too many things can go wrong.

Too little water will make dough cracking on the edges, while too much water will make dough tough.

To little flour will make dough tear and will stick to the work surface.

Chilling the dough insures butter not to melt, so chilling is practically a must.

To prevent soggy bottom, bake the bottom crust for a few minutes, before adding filling, or some suggest Pyrex pie baking dish for a more evenly baked bottom crust.

anon6339
Post 4

As I'm rolling the dough, I roll once, then flip, roll again and flip. But it's sticking too much to the counter and I'm using flour. Then it tears when I fold to put into the pie plate. What am I doing wrong there? I always chill my dough when done, but only a short time. I will try that 2 hours next time.

TinyFanny
Post 3

Hi,

I've made meat pie (tourtiere). the meat is cooked ahead of time, the pies have a bottom and top crust, they're frozen. I tried to cook one to see if they would come out alright and the bottom crust won't cook, it's nearly raw and the top one is cooked.

Help, what can I do?

anon1678
Post 2

Hi - I have made TONS of pie crusts over the years. Yesterday was probably the first time I made one but let the dough chill (about 2 hours) in the fridge prior to rolling. All other things were roughly equal. It may have been my best crust yet. Is that the difference?

iamkygirl
Post 1

My pie crusts always turn out crumbly. They seem to fall apart like grains of cornmeal. What am I doing wrong? Help!!!!!!

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