Homemade Pie Crust 101
There are times when it’s easier to use pre-made or frozen pie crust.
Go on: Scold me if you want.
When you’ve already been going for 12 hours by the time 6 pm rolls around, sometimes convenience wins.
Like, on a Thursday night, when you still want to bust out a good dinner AND dessert, but got stuck in a meeting, missed your train, and got home an hour later than you planned.
I totally get it. It happens to me at least once a week.
That said, when I do have the time, I definitely always make my own crust. Nothing compares.
Pie crust 101
Here’s a basic lesson in how to make delicious, flaky pie crust at home.
For a double crust pie (crust on the top as well as the bottom), just double the recipe, then whack it in half before rolling out.
Butter, lard, or shortening?
Pie crust pretty much has three components: Flour, fat, and liquid.
And the fat is the most controversial. Ask five people what kind of fat they use in their pie crust, and you’re almost guaranteed to get (at least) five different answers.
I actually recently put the question out on our Facebook fan page, and got a predictably mixed response. (Butter! Regular lard! Leaf lard! A mixture of butter and lard! Crisco! You get the picture.)
When it comes to the best kind of fat to use in homemade pie crust, there are generally three camps: Those who use shortening, those who use lard, and those who use butter.
I’ll use shortening, but only in a pinch. It’s always reminded me of paste, and I can’t quite get over it. Shortening is usually cheaper than butter, though, so that’s one plus for it. (If you like shortening, please tell me what I’m missing!)
I love lard, but generally don’t have it lying around the house. Here in the Northeast, it can be hard (though not impossible) to find unless you mail order it.
Did you know?
Right now, lard is actually considered to be a healthier fat than butter, with 20% less saturated fat and a good amount of vitamin D (who knew, right?).
Leaf lard is a high-quality pork fat that comes from around the pig’s kidneys and loin. It has a super neutral (a.k.a. not porky) flavor, which makes it ideal for pastry.
Luckily, I also love butter. Big surprise, I know. So that’s how I usually make my crusts. It produces a flaky, crisp crust.
A lot of folks also use a combination of lard and butter.
How do you make your crust? Leave a comment below and let us know!
Gluten: The archenemy of good pastry
Regardless of the kind of fat you use, HOW you work with your pie dough is probably the most important thing to understand.
The key to good crust it to not overwork the dough.
The minute you add liquid to flour and work it into a dough, you start to develop gluten. The more you mix, the more gluten you develop.
When you’re making any kind of pastry, you want to minimize gluten development, so you wind up with a tender, flaky crust. That means kneading and mixing as little as possible.
Other things to consider
There are a ton of other tricks for making good pie crust (what are yours?).
I know people who add a little vinegar or seltzer to their crust. I know folks who toss in a shot of vodka. I even know a few peeps who swear by using Wondra flour.
A lot of people use cake flour instead of all-purpose. This will definitely give you a more tender crust.
What is cake flour?
Cake flour is milled more finely than standard flour, which means that it’s lighter.
The protein content in cake flour is also lower than all-purpose flour. The more protein in a flour, the more gluten your baked goods will develop (which we know is the enemy of a good crust).
You can find cake flour in the baking aisle of most major grocery stores, or order it online. (I like King Arthur Flour’s unbleached cake flour.)
It’s also a good rule of thumb to work with cold ingredients (i.e. butter that’s just out of the fridge), and to chill the crust before rolling. I know some peeps who go so far as to chill their pastry board and rolling pin.
Get fancy with your flavors
This is a good, basic pie crust recipe. You can certainly embellish this recipe to suit your fancy.
For example, making a lemon meringue pie? Toss a little lemon zest into the crust. How about a pumpkin pie? Add a little ground cinnamon and clove to the dough.
You get the picture.
Need some pie inspiration?
You don’t have to ask me twice.
How about a homemade Coconut Custard Pie (super flavorful, made with coconut milk)?
Or you could toss a quarter cup of unsweetened cocoa powder into the dough and use it for this ridiculously decadent Chocolate Cream Pie.
You can also use this crust recipe to make Mini Turnover Cookies, filled with everything from jam to peanut butter to Nutella to fluff.
Simple Homemade Pie Crust
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp. salt
5 1/2 Tablespoons butter
2-3 Tablespoons water
Makes one 9-inch pie crust
Make the dough
I almost always use my food processor to make pie crust dough these days. It’s easier and faster in my book, which counts for a lot lately.
You can also go old school, and cut the butter and flour together with a pastry cutter or a couple of forks. Each way has its own merits.
Grab your butter. Make sure it’s cold.
Toss that into your food processor with the flour and salt.
Pulse it for about a minute, until the texture resembles sand…
Put the cap back on to your machine. Slowly, drizzle the water into the butter/flour mixture, pulsing the food processor as you go. The water amount is approximate (2-3 Tablespoons) because your flour might have a slightly different moisture content than mine.
You want the dough to *just* come together. When it does, stop. (Remember, don’t overwork it. Overworked dough = tough finished crust.) It should be soft, pliable, and be on the dry side.
Chill the dough
Gather the dough up into a flat round. If bits are flaking off, just smoosh it all together. Wrap it loosely in plastic wrap.
Stick it in the fridge for about an hour, until chilled through.
You can cheat and pop it in the freezer to chill it faster, just keep an eye on it and make sure it doesn’t freeze solid.
Roll out the crust
Toss a little flour down on a board. Unwrap your chilled dough and set it down. (Some folks use a slab of marble or granite that they’ve also refrigerated to help keep the dough cold.)
Roll the dough out, turning it every few rolls to help the dough keep its round shape. (Don’t make yourself nuts, just try to keep it reasonably round.)
When it looks like it’s about the right size, give it a quick measure.
I usually just put my baking dish on top of the rolled out crust and see how it looks. You want the rolled crust to be about an inch or so bigger in circumference than your dish.
Clearly, I needed to keep going a little with this one.
Voila. Practically perfect.
How to transfer pie crust to your baking dish
OK, this is the part that people have told me freaks them out the most: Getting the rolled out crust into the baking dish.
Don’t cry over cracked crust
While it’s definitely rewarding to move it in one piece, remember: Unbaked dough is remarkably forgiving.
If you get a few cracks or tears in it, here’s what to do.
Grab a little dish of water, dip your finger in it, and patch up the crack. The water will loosen up the dough just enough that you can smoosh it back together, then smooth it over, just like working with clay. It will bake up just fine.
No muss, no fuss.
To transfer your crust, put your rolling pin on the rolled out dough like this. Lift up the far edge…
…and pull it towards you gently, rolling the pin towards you, until it’s just about folded in half over the rolling pin.
Set your (lightly greased) baking dish on the board behind the dough. Grab the rolling pin by both ends and gently slide it into place, unrolling the dough as you go.
Then, gently ease the dough down into the pie plate, so it’s nestled in and is touching the entire pan.
Crimp that crust
Some folks like to hit the edges of their crust with a fork to make a pattern. I like to crimp mine into waves.
Once the crust is in place, roll the edges under…
…and then scoot the rolled edge into a nice, wavy shape.
You want the crimped crust to sit up on the edge of the pie plate. The crust will shrink a little if you pre-bake it, so keep that in mind.
Pre-bake the crust
If your recipe calls for it, that is.
Some recipes tell you to add your filling to the raw crust, and bake the whole thing at once. Others tell you to pre-bake the crust, also called “blind baking.” Here’s how to do that.
Why blind bake?
There are a handful of reasons to blind bake a crust. You might be making a pudding or a cream pie, where the filling doesn’t need to be baked. Blind baking also helps your crust stay nice and crisp.
Pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees.
With a fork, poke a bunch of holes in the bottom and sides of the crust.
Wait, holes? Yep, holes. While big rips and cracks in your dough are bad, tiny holes let steam escape as the crust bakes, so it stays nice and flat. They will fill in as the crust bakes.
Your finished crust should look about like this. Some people also blind bake their pie crusts filled with dried beans or other pie weights, which also serve to keep the crust from bubbling up as it bakes.
Pop the crust into your pre-heated 425-degree oven, and bake for about 9-12 minutes, until the crust is firm and just starts to turn golden brown. Keep a good eye on it while it’s in the oven, and yank it out the minute you think it’s done.
Let it cool thoroughly before filling. Use as directed in your pie recipe!
Please leave a comment and let us know what kind of pie you like best!
Is this how you make your crust? What kind of fat do you prefer: butter, lard, or shortening (or something else)?