15 Tips for Perfect Pie Crust
Making the perfect homemade pie crust isn’t as difficult as you might think! It just takes some practice and a bit of attention to detail. These are my top tips for making the best flaky pie crust.
Table of contents
- 15 Tips for Making Perfect Pie Crust
- 1: Jump in and Practice
- 2: Keep Everything as Cold as Possible
- 3: Use a Bit of Shortening
- 4: Use the Tips of Your Fingers to Press the Fat into Sheets
- 5: Use Vodka in Place of Water to Control Gluten Development
- 6: Take Your Time When Adding the Liquid
- 7: Go by Sight and Feel When Adding the Liquid
- 8: Flatten into a Round Disk to Chill
- 9. Plan Ahead & Make the Dough the Day Before
- 10. Focus Your Pressure on Rolling Across the Dough Rather Than Down Into the Table
- 11. Rotate the Dough as Your Roll
- 12. Roll Your Dough Wide Enough
- 13. Do Not Stretch the Bottom Crust to Fit
- 14. Lighty Stretch the Top Crust to Prevent the Pie Gap
- 15. Bake on a Preheated Surface to Prevent a Soggy Bottom
I think pie crust is something that a lot of bakers tend to be a little intimidated by. It can feel fussy and achieving that perfectly flaky texture can feel daunting. But I’m here to tell you that it isn’t all as difficult as you might think and that making your own pie dough is absolutely worth it!
Over the years I have made countless pie crusts and learned quite a few tricks along the way. Today I want to share with you my top tips for making the flakiest pie crust. I’m also going to troubleshoot some things along the way.
15 Tips for Making Perfect Pie Crust
These tips all work with any pie dough recipe. I find my recipe pretty fail-proof and it includes an in-depth tutorial for how to make pie crust, including multiple crimping techniques.
1: Jump in and Practice
My first tip is that you really just need to get in there and try it. Pie crust, like bread dough, is something that is really about feel and you just need to get some practice to learn how the dough should feel. I can try my best to explain the texture and feel of the dough you are aiming for, but reading a recipe or watching a video isn’t quite enough.
If you’ve never made a pie crust before I highly encourage you to jump in and try! It’s really not as hard as you might think!
2: Keep Everything as Cold as Possible
It is extremely important to use cold butter and ice water when making your pie crust. Keep the butter in the refrigerator until right before you are going to use it.
The reason is that you want the butter to stay solid as you work it through. You don’t want it to melt or even get soft as you are working the dough because that is going to make a completely cohesive dough. What you want is solid pieces of fat dotted throughout the crust. These are going to melt in the oven and create little pockets of steam which is where the flakiness comes from.
If you live somewhere very warm you may even want to put your bowl and flour in the refrigerator or freezer before you start so that your butter doesn’t warm up too quickly.
3: Use a Bit of Shortening
I always highly suggest using a bit of shortening as part of the fat in your crust. Butter is what is going to give us all of the amazing flavor, so I keep that ratio high. But I do like to add a little bit of shortening because that helps the crust not shrink as much in the oven.
Shortening is 100% fat which means when it melts there is no water evaporating off like there is with butter. It also has a higher melting point than butter. These two things help keep the crust’s shape and prevent it from shrinking as much. It also makes it a bit easier to handle so if you are brand new to making pie crust this is going to help you out.
4: Use the Tips of Your Fingers to Press the Fat into Sheets
Use the tips of your fingers to press the butter into sheets rather than working it through with a food processor, pastry blender, or grating it on a cheese grater.
Start with your butter cubed up into about half-inch cubes and then start pressing each piece of butter between your thumb and fingers to create flat sheets. As you work it through, some of the butter will break up into smaller pieces and some will stay rather large. These uneven pieces of fat create the most flakiness.
I prefer this method to the others stated above because it also really helps to coat the flour in the fat which also helps prevent gluten formation. And I can control how much the butter is worked through. The more you work the butter through, the more sturdy the crust will be.
5: Use Vodka in Place of Water to Control Gluten Development
If you are brand new to making pie dough or if you’ve had issues with your crust being really tough in the past I suggest trying vodka in place of water for the liquid in the dough.
When water hydrates flour that is when gluten starts forming. If the gluten is formed too strongly, then that is when your crust will become tough. However, gluten cannot form with alcohol. Using vodka gives you an extra insurance policy to control gluten development.
If you feel confident in your mixing technique, you will not need the vodka. But as you’re learning it can definitely help! Use the cheap stuff. It will cook off and your crust will not taste like vodka.
6: Take Your Time When Adding the Liquid
You will notice that most pie crust recipes give a range of flour to use in your dough. This is because depending on the brand of flour, where you live, and the time of year, it will hydrate differently.
You want to worry less about how much liquid is going into your dough and more about how your dough looks and feels. Go slowly, adding bit by bit and turning the mixture over itself to allow the flour to get hydrated. Be gentle here and take your time so you do not overwork the gluten structure.
7: Go by Sight and Feel When Adding the Liquid
Knowing when there is enough liquid in your dough will take a bit of getting used to. You are done when there are no big dry patches of flour and when you gently press it together it does not crumble.
I find most pie crust recipes encourage you to keep it very dry and barely hydrated. I find this to create more problems than it solves. You want the dough to be slightly moist but not overly so. Watch the video tutorial to get a good idea of what it should look like.
8: Flatten into a Round Disk to Chill
It is much easier to roll the dough into a circle when it starts in a circle. So press your dough into a nice round disk when you go to wrap it for chilling. It will make the rolling process much easier!
9. Plan Ahead & Make the Dough the Day Before
Pie dough needs a minimum of 1 hour of chilling time before you roll it out. This allows the flour to fully hydrate and the gluten structure to relax. I always recommend making it the day before and then it will be ready to go for you the next day!
You can also prep much farther in advance and freeze the pie crust up to 3 months before you need it. Let it thaw in the refrigerator overnight before rolling.
10. Focus Your Pressure on Rolling Across the Dough Rather Than Down Into the Table
I find that people often struggle with rolling out dough and the biggest issue tends to be where their pressure is focused. Think about focusing your pressure on going across the dough rather than down into the table.
If your dough is really fighting you, put a cloth over it and let it sit for about 10 minutes. This will allow the gluten to relax and it will be easier to roll out. The more you mess with the dough, the more stubborn it will become.
11. Rotate the Dough as Your Roll
While you can roll your dough out between two pieces of parchment paper, I find it easier to do it right on a floured countertop. As you roll it, rotate it 90 degrees between every few rolls. This allows you to check for sticking and redistribute flour underneath if needed. It also helps keep the dough in a circular shape.
12. Roll Your Dough Wide Enough
It’s really important that you roll your dough wide enough so that it does not need to stretch at all to fit in your pie plate. Aim for at least 1-1 1/2-inches wider than your pie plate all the way around.
I find that most pie dough recipes are barely enough to make this work. For this reason, my pie crust recipe is a bit larger than most to make sure you have plenty to make it wide enough.
13. Do Not Stretch the Bottom Crust to Fit
When you place your bottom crust into your pie plate make sure to let it naturally fall into the plate and do not stretch it to fit. Any stretching you do will cause the crust to shrink up on you.
14. Lighty Stretch the Top Crust to Prevent the Pie Gap
In contrast to the bottom crust, I do like to purpose stretch the top crust just slightly. Since the filling will naturally shrink as it bakes, giving the top crust a little stretch will cause it to shrink with the filling. This is my tip for avoiding the dreaded pie gap!
15. Bake on a Preheated Surface to Prevent a Soggy Bottom
And of course, we can’t walk about pie crust tips without addressing how to avoid a soggy bottom! My biggest recommendation for this is to bake the pie on a preheated surface. I like to put a sheet pan in my oven while it is preheating. Then when I’m ready to bake, the pie goes right onto it. Not only does this catch any spills if the filling boils over a bit, but it helps the crust to set quickly and you will prevent a soggy bottom!