Basic Pie Dough – Tips and Tricks

Pie dough is one of those things that a lot of people, even some really good bakers, find intimidating.  I’m not exactly sure why, but I’m amazed at the number of people who resort to purchasing the frozen kind.  It’s so easy to make your own, and requires only pantry staples so you can make it at a moment’s notice.  Now I know everyone seems to have their own thoughts on the “right” way to make pie dough.  Some people insist shortening is necessary for a truly flaky crust.  Some chill the ingredients at multiple stages throughout the process.  I have tried probably close to 10 different recipes and at least in my book, they all end up with a pretty similar result.  For me, that means shortening is not necessary (I hate it anyway) and all that meticulous chilling, well, I just don’t think it makes a significant difference.

You can use whatever recipe floats your boat – they are all variations on a basic theme, and there are just a few key techniques that help you achieve that buttery flaky crust we all love.  I have included my favorite recipe at the bottom of this post.  Another great thing is that you can make the dough so many different ways depending on what kind of equipment you have around.  You can simply use a mixing bowl with a pastry cutter or two knives, or you can use a food processor or stand mixer (my preferred method).  The principles are the same no matter what equipment you use so if you don’t have fancy kitchen equipment, do not be deterred!  Let’s make pie dough!


First, mix up all the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.  Usually a combination of mostly flour, a little sugar, and some salt.


(Time out – who’s that super cute little helper in the mixing bowl?)


Now you’ll take your butter and cut it up into small pieces.  The butter does need to be very cold when you start working and if at any time during the process it starts to get soft or melt, chill it until it is firm again.


Toss the butter into the bowl with the dry ingredients…


…and mix until the mixture is coarse and sandy, and the largest butter pieces aren’t much bigger than peas.  (If you are doing this by hand, just cut in the butter with a pastry blender until you achieve a similar result.  If you are using a food processor, pulse the mixture together.)

Then you add a little bit of very cold water to the mixture and mix just until the dough clumps together.  (Some recipes call for part vodka – again, I don’t think it’s necessary.)

Form the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator until firm, at least 30 minutes.  It’s tough to see in the picture but hopefully you get a bit of marbling effect in the dough from the butter – that’s good.  Those areas of still concentrated butter will help with the flakiness.


Once chilled, lightly flour a work surface.

Roll out the dough with a rolling pin.  I lift up my dough sheet and rotate it every few rolls or so to prevent it from sticking to the work surface.

Check to be sure your dough is large enough to fit your pie plate.

To transfer the dough easily to your pie plate, wrap it loosely around your rolling pin…

…and then unroll it over the pie plate.

Voila!

I take any excess edge pieces and use them to patch any tears or other edges that seem a little short.

Fill with your desired filling (cherries – mmmmmmmmm).


Repeat the process once more if you are using a top crust.  Lay the top crust over the filling, pinch the edges together in a fluted pattern, and cut slits to allow steam to escape.  Brush with egg wash – this is important!  You want a lovely golden pie crust, trust me.  Sometime soon I’ll do a post on a lattice top crust.  Very easy and pretty, my favorite type of top crust.

Basic Pie Dough
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Yield: 1 9-inch pie crust*
Ingredients:
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. sugar
¼ tsp. salt
8 tbsp. cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3 tbsp. very cold water

Directions:
Combine the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Mix briefly to blend.  Add in the butter pieces and mix on medium-low speed to cut the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse sand and the largest butter pieces are not much bigger than peas.  Mix in the cold water on low speed just until the dough comes together.

Shape the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.  (This dough can be frozen for up to 2 months.)  Remove from the refrigerator.  Roll out the dough on a lightly floured work surface.  Use as directed in your desired pie recipe.

*Double the recipe for a double crust pie.

Source: adapted from Williams Sonoma

45 Responses

  1. Thanks for sharing! so coincidence, today I made a savoury pie too, ham & zucchini pie, quite good.

  2. You have inspired me to try things I never would have dared to do. Pie crust is next!

  3. I’m glad you posted this. People need to lose their fear of pie crust. I’m (clearly) of the shortening party, which makes pie crust even more accessible on a moment’s notice. Have extra pie crust? Here’s a trick my dad showed me: Roll out any extra pie crust very thin and put on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar and rub it around with your fingers until it is well distributed. Bake with the pie for about 10 minutes. It’s delicious and hard to resist. Great snack food, especially while your mouth is watering from smelling the pie that’s baking.

  4. Aw – sweet little face in the mixer bowl – love. And we’re always thrilled when someone else does the legwork to come up with the best pie dough! Thanks for posting…!

  5. Thanks for this! I’ve never made a homemade pie b/c I WAS intimidated. Thanks for the steps & pics. These are great!

  6. Thanks for sharing, Annie! I just made my first pie crust a few weeks ago and it was so easy! I made enough that I could even freeze my own homemade crusts to use for my next pie. My edges weren’t very attractive but I discovered that You Tube is super helpful to show how to do lots of different tricks and patterns.

  7. I, too, can’t bring myself to use shortening, so I use chilled butter, or occasionally I use lard.

    I use a “never-fail” recipe that includes an egg and some vinegar. The idea is that once you master it, you then start making it without the egg. Once you master that, you also omit the vinegar. But it turns out so lovely every time that I have never omitted either one. LOL!

  8. I used to seriously fear the pastry crust. And even biscuits, for that matter. Cutting butter was just not my thing. But the same tips you have here saved me. We’ll put the butter in the freezer for 10 minutes or so before cutting it up, and then scoop it back into it’s wrapper or put it on a plate and back into the freezer until we’re ready. For a small batch of biscuits, the Scott Peacock technique works great: just crumble it with your fingers. But for pastry shells, I’m a dedicated food processor type these days. Cheers!

  9. Annie – On the picture with the dough hanging in the Kitchenaid, is that the plastic paddle with fins that is supposed to scrape the sides of the bowl. If so, how do you like it? Great tutorial on pie crusts . . . I’m going to try your recipe soon.

  10. It’s so strange .. I think you are reading my mind this week! 😉 I am making an apple pie and told my husband to pick up some pie crusts on his way home from work. Now I think I will just make it myself since I have all the ingredients!! THANK YOU!!! This dough looks wonderful!

  11. Ohh, I love the vodka trick. Of course, that means that I have to keep the kids (and me) out of the dough! I use half butter and half non-hydrogenated shortening (Spectrum brand). 100% butter just doesn’t taste right to me.

  12. You make it look so easy, I’m going to have to give pie crust a try again. Thanks!

  13. Oh wow, I am so glad to see a recipe that makes it in a stand mixer (Finally!!)

    All the recipes I have ever found made it in a food processor which I do not own.

  14. I’ve always been so nervous to make my own pie crust! I love to bake though. I’m vowing that next time I need a crust I’m going to make it myself! I like the idea of using the mixer.

  15. I’m so glad I came across this- I’m supposed to be making a banana cream pie for my mom’s birthday on friday and she requested a pastry crust. I have the time to make the crust the day of, but is it better if I make it say, today, and then let it sit in the refrigerator for the two days until I roll it out and bake it?

  16. Thanks for the tips! This recipe looks lovely.

  17. Great post! I used to be so scared of pie dough, but I totally agree! I’ve never noticed a great difference in the various pie dough recipes, so I just stick with butter because I don’t like to use shortening when I can help it. Glad to hear someone who’s made oodles more pies than me say the same thing. 🙂

  18. Thanks for posting this. I could had used it this weekend as I tried a pie crust recipe and it came out terrible. It tasted fine but it wasn’t flaky at all. I will try this one next time. 🙂

  19. You know, I’ve made pie crust by hand and with my food processor, but I never thought to try using my stand mixer! I’m definitely going to try this next time. Also, please tell me you’ll be posting the recipe for the cherry pie filling next? I bought a bag of cherries last night and they are a bit lacking in flavor, so I thought they might be better used in a recipe than eaten by themselves. I’ve also never had a freshly made cherry pie before and I’m intrigued!

  20. Definitely going to make a pie sometime soon!
    Strawberry Rubarb here i come!

  21. Thank you for the tips 🙂

  22. Thank you for this post. I will be using some of these techniques. I usually mess up on pie crusts.

  23. I agree, people really need to get over their fear of pie crusts. I’ve been taught by mom at a young age, so luckily, I’m not too worried!

  24. I love pie! Annie I wanted to ask — for your pictures where both of your hands are in the camera making pie crust — how did you set up your camera? Is it on a tripod, or is there another person taking the photograph? So curious. Thanks!!

  25. Wow, the cherries and butter look amazing! Thanks!!!

  26. You made that look so easy. I fall into the category of people who are completely intimidated by homemade pie crust. I will give it another shot though, following your directions.

  27. I need some tips on how to entertain my toddler while cooking/baking. Can you do a blog entry on this someday? You must be doing a better job than me!

  28. I confess I am a pie dough scaredy-cat. Even my grown son who bakes profusely (including pie crust) admonishes me about this fact. I vow to cloister myself in the kitchen one day (without telling anyone what I’m up to- just in case I royally fail) and make a pie crust using your instructions. Cherry pie I’m sure- since yours looks so lovely. Thank you for sharing such wonderful photographs and instructions. 🙂

  29. My poor husband has been begging for a cherry pie for weeks now and I kept putting him off because I was terrified of making the crust. Well, we both put this thing together in no time earlier and it just looks wonderful! The dough was super easy and just the right amount. This is my new standard, especially because I want to try a Chess pie next. Now if only I can figure out how to do a “fluted” border . . . 🙂

  30. I definitely have a pie-crust phobia! This one looks like it’s great to try though – thanks for the step by step instructions! I have a whole bowl full of cherries in the fridge that are just aching to be baked into something!

  31. I have always begrudgingly made pie crust with shortening only because whenever I used a recipe with butter I had trouble rolling it out. Following your recipe and directions my pie came out perfectly. I made a blueberry pie with cutout stars for a 4th of July party I was invited to and it was a hit!! I will be using the crust recipe from now on.

  32. I love that you got that picture of Andrew in the mixing bowl! Adorable.

  33. Thanks for posting these tips. I tried the WS recipe and did it in the food processor b/c I don’t have a paddle attachment for my mixer. It turned out wonderfully and definitely my most successful pie crust yet!

  34. I use the Kitchen Aid as well. I love it much more than the food processor (sorry Martha Stewart). I feel like I have more control over the process with the Kitchen Aid.

    In addition, I substitute part of the white sugar for brown sugar. I like the flavor with fruit pies. I am making this pie right now. Unfortunately, I have to go to the market for the plums.

    I love your blog.

  35. This is very similar to a recipe (using shortening) that I found when I was about 8 years old. I have looked for that cookbook for years and cannot find it. It was Fannie Farmer for Children Cookbook. I still have the recipe in my childish hand.

  36. PS I forgot to ask for notification of follow up comments.

  37. Thank you for this helpful tutorial. I was previously included in the “people who are intimidated by homemade pie crust” category. I made this recipe yesterday to accompany a sweet cherry pie filling and it went swimmingly!

  38. Hi Annie:

    Do you know how long the pie dough will keep in the refrigerator? I would like to make the dough tonight for a pie that I will assemble and bake on Saturday morning. I suppose I could freeze the dough tonight and take it out on Friday to thaw in the fridge. If you have any suggestions on this I would really appreciate it.

    Thanks,

    Kristin

    • It will be fine. To figure it out yourself, think of the ingredients (basically just butter and flour) and know that they will be fine refrigerated for a few days.

  39. Great – thank you! Makes perfect sense and that tip will definitely help me figure it out next time.

  40. Hi Annie,
    I’m ready to tackle this pie recipe. Do you know if I make extra if I can roll and freeze like Pillsbury?
    Thank you for all of your recipes. Because of your blog, I’m getting a really great reputation in the kitchen! 🙂

    • You can definitely freeze it. I’ve never used a store-bought crust so I’m not familiar with the Pillsbury kind, but when I freeze it I just leave it as a disc. Then you can thaw and roll it out when needed.

  41. I’m so embarrassed to be asking so many questions….Until you stop answering them, I’ll keep asking. So in this post the pastry mat is Pampered Chef. Do you like the de Buyer better or are they so similar it doesn’t matter? The De Buyer/sur la table is more $ so I was wondering if it was better quality or if the price difference is the name brand?

    • Either one is great. I accidentally cut the PC one which is why I purchased a new one. Brand doesn’t matter, it is the features of the product that matter most.

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