Pie anxiety: simple techniques for well-behaved piecrust.

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What do a spoonula, a large plastic bag, a spray bottle of water and parchment paper have in common? They’re all part of the arsenal when I start to make pie crust. Of course, there’s a rolling pin and pastry cutter involved, too. This messy business is one of the key steps to good pie crust. Really.

I’ve been baking a lot of pies lately. Crumb crusts, chocolate roll-out crusts (more on that one later), blind-baked crusts, double crusts. I can go from the thought of pie to a disk of dough resting in the refrigerator in under 10 minutes by now. This is the two-crust recipe I’m happiest with at the moment:

2 1/2 cups (10 5/8 ounces) Round Table Pastry Flour or King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup (2 ounces) vegetable shortening
1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces) cold unsalted butter
1/2 cup plus 1 to 2 tablespoons (4 1/2 to 5 ounces) ice water

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, and salt.

Now comes the spoonula. It’s my favorite tool for getting underneath the rim of the shortening can. It’s also very good at getting the last bits of the stuff off the bottom. Normally I’m not much of a spoonula person, but there are a few things it does that no other utensil in the kitchen is quite as good at.
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Cut in the shortening until it’s in lumps the size of small peas.
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Here my other favorite tool goes to work: our Pastry Pro pastry cutter. Every single half-moon shaped pastry cutter I’ve ever used has been a big disappointment. I bend them all. The wire ones are the worst. This Pastry Pro thing has a flat bottom, which is blissfully ergonomic and works like a charm, even on hard, cold butter. Watch.
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Dice the butter into 1/2-inch pieces, and cut into the mixture until you have flakes of butter the size of your fingernail.

When we teach people to make pie at the Baking Education Center, this is the step people have the most trouble with. Anything that you’re nervous about when it comes to food tends to be overstirred, overmanipulated, or overhandled. Trust us. More is NOT better here.

Add the water, two tablespoons at a time, mixing with a fork as you sprinkle the water into the dough.
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Keep things on the dry side. The reason? Too much water means too much gluten and a tough crust. Think of all the rolling and squeezing this dough is about to endure. The more you work it, the more you develop the protein in the dough. Is there anything worse than hard pie crust?

When the dough is just barely moist enough in places to hold together when you gently squeeze it, transfer it to a piece of wax or parchment paper.
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I usually make a band of nascent dough the length of the parchment and about three inches wide. It’s ok if there are dry spots in the pile. Use a spray bottle of water to lightly spritz these places; that way you’ll add just enough water to bring the dough together without adding too much or creating a wet spot.

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Fold it over on itself three or four times to bring it together.

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You want layers? This is how you get’em.

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Folding like this also brings the dough together without overworking it.
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This dough is ready to be divided; it’s had about 5 folds.

Divide it in half (or 55-45; I usually make the bottom crust a little bigger).You can see the layers you’ve built in the cut side of the dough.

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Pat it into two disks 3/4-inch thick.

Roll the disk on its edge, like a wheel, to smooth out the edges.

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This step is another small thing that makes a big difference. When you start with even edges, your dough will roll out evenly, without a lot of cracks and splits. How many repairs have you had to make before having a big enough circle to line your pie pan in the past?

Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes before rolling.
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Another little step that makes a big difference. This rest does a lot of good things for your dough. The water in it gets more evenly distributed. The gluten gets to relax. And the fats in the dough firm up, which makes things flakier.

Time to roll.

This is where the plastic bag comes in. Mom taught me to roll pie crust between two layers of waxed paper, which I did for years, despite the wrinkles that inevitably occurred. When I moved into the professional food world, I discovered parchment paper, which had a little more body and didn’t give the dough a wedgie as I rolled it. One day, in the old test kitchen 5 years ago, the temperature was over 85°, and I had to roll some very soft dough. The only way I had a prayer of getting it to work was to slit one of our all-purpose bread bags up the side and across the top, and put that over the dough.

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Magic. I could see where I was going, I could reposition the plastic without tearing the dough, and best of all, the rolling pin stayed clean as a whistle. I’ve been rolling dough this way ever since.
How big? A 9-inch pie pan needs a 13-inch circle of dough. Of course, you can just put your pan upside down over the dough as you roll it. If you have an even inch of dough showing around the top, you’re there.
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Spray your pie pan, lightly. This will make getting the slices of pie out a little easier later.

Peel off the parchment and drape the plastic-topped dough over your hand. Lay in into the pan, and peel off the plastic.
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Make sure the dough is fitted down into the pan, not stretched or hanging in midair before you add the filling.

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Time for the filling.
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Next the top. At this point, I took a pair of scissors and trimmed the petticoat of dough hanging down so it was an even inch all the way around.
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I bring the bottom crust up over the top and then flute the edges. To vent the pie, I used a small cutter to cut holes in the top.
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Now for the tragic conclusion of the story. The pie was in the oven, baking nicely, and had another 15 minutes to go, when I foolishly forgot to bring a timer with me to a meeting. This is what happens when you bake a strawberry pie for 2 hours and 15 minutes.

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Strangely enough, the filling still got rave reviews!

Susan Reid
About

Susan Reid grew up in New Jersey, graduated from Bates College and the Culinary Institute of America, and is presently enjoying her fourth career after stints in advertising, running restaurants, and teaching at the New England Culinary Institute. She joined King Arthur in 2002 to ...

comments

  1. PJ Hamel

    I actually love to bake fruit pies for a long, long time. I usually bake a double crust apple pie for 2 or 2 1/2 hours, putting a sheet of foil over the top after the first 30 minutes or so; the filling insulates the bottom crust, the crust protects the filling from drying out, and both crust and filling have a slight caramelized flavor that’s just wonderful. Susan, thanks for the step-by-step; I love the hint about using a spray bottle to add water!

    Reply
  2. Penny

    I love these photo demonstrations. I’ve been making pies for at least 40 years and I’m still discovering tricks! When I make an apple pie I prepare the apples and put them in a big bowl then in the microwave about 50 minutes – enough to get them hot. Then I add the sugar/flour/spices and put them in the pan on the crust. Now when I put the pie in the oven the apples start to bake right away. I still put foil over the pie after an hour and continue cooking until the caramel I see coming out of the slits is nice and thick looking. People beg me for one of my pies!

    Reply
  3. Jackie M.

    Thanks for the tip on the plastic, I was taught to use wax paper, but always seemed to just iron that wrinkly paper right into my pie crust. Great idea on the spray bottle, it should also work for baking powder biscuits (using milk) for the dry spots.

    Reply
  4. Penny

    oops – when I put the bowl of apples in the microwave I really only zap them for 5 minutes – surely not 50! Sorry

    Reply
  5. Dr. Electro

    I love to bake pies. From now on I will use plastic for rolling. I like the sound of your recipe, too.

    Reply
  6. Susan Reid

    Thanks, Doc! One tip I didn’t get into was the issue of pre-cooking the filling. I’ve simmered filling on the stove, cooked it in a shallow casserole dish in the oven, and as Penny mentioned, you can also pre-cook it in the microwave. The only caveat is to be sure the cooked filling is cool before filling the pie.

    There are several advantages to this. For one thing, it eliminates the gap between filling and top crust, because the apples have already “collapsed”. It also gives you a chance to see that you have enough thickening going on, and to adjust the flavors if you like.

    PJ is right: low and slow is a great way to make an apple pie, because the caramel notes it imparts are extra-yummy good! Susan

    Reply
  7. Julie Hackstedde

    I am a big fan of King Arthur; the site, the products, the recipes, down-to-earth people. I loved this story about the over-baked strawberry pie. It reminded me of the time I made a pecan pie for my husband (his favorite) after his dad had died; I wanted to comfort him. I put the pie in the oven, turned it to bake, and went upstairs to work on my sewing, not checking the oven temp! It was set at 500 from a previous broiling occasion, and by the time I realized that the good smell coming up the stairs had a burned component to it, the pie was completely ruined. My daughter gave me a silicone rolling pin and rolling mat, (from KA) and I love it. I no longer have trouble rolling out pie crust, rolled cookies, cinnamon rolls or anything else that I need to roll out.

    Reply
  8. Julie Cole

    I love to bake pies – especially fruit pies. I’m a firm believer in using tapioca as my thickening agent (sometimes a little flour too, depending on how juicy my fruit is). Crunchy tapioca bits will ruin a pie, so I always mix my filling before I ever start the crust. That gives the fruit time to macerate and the tapioca to soften. But I wouldn’t pre-cook apples because I like them to still have a little body in the end. Because of the tapioca, my pies are never done baking until I see nice thick bubbles coming from the vents. I have a lot of fans of my crumb topped pies – but the same rules apply. Always wait for bubbles. If I need to cover with foil, I do that for the first half of the baking and uncover at the end so that I get a nice crisp top. Strawberry-rhubarb season is coming soon!

    Reply
  9. PJ Hamel

    Gwyneth, yes, I’ve done that. The crust gets pretty dry, and cracks easily as you roll. It also starts to get an off flavor… much better to freeze it, rather than refrigerate.

    Reply
  10. CAROL L.

    but what about the soggy bottom crust? I use a glass piepan, and tapioca as a thickener. refrigerated dough. Could it be oven temp? How hot should the oven be for a pie with a browned bottom crust?

    Hi Carol,
    Typically, when you bake with glass, you reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees, as glass is such an excellent heat conductor. To help with the ‘soggys’, try brushing the inside of the crust with a little egg white, OR melted butter. If you use butter, refrigerate the crust again to firm up the butter. This provides a barrier between the filling and the crust.

    Happy Baking!

    MaryJane @ The Baker’s Hotline

    Reply
  11. Gloria

    Hi – What is the trick to making pefect blind pie crust that stays put in the pan. Yes…I refrigerate it before baking. I really do think it’s how I finish the edges around the rim of the pie plate with the crust. Any tips or tricks?

    Gloria, here’s a trick – Make a flat (not fluted) edge; nest an empty pie plate inside the crust-lined plate; turn the whole thing upside down on a baking sheet, and bake it that way. Gravity prevents the crust from slipping down the sides of the pan. PJH

    Reply
  12. Ken Desmarais

    I tried your pie crust recipe and it made the very best blueberry pie I have ever eaten. The step by step directions were simple to follow and spot on. Even the bottom crust was light and flakey. Thank you so much!

    Reply
  13. Robert Ghiz

    I prefer using a eleven inch pie plate for my family, I have increased the amount of flower to three cups plus one half cup. I am estimating the extra butter and shorting.

    Reply
  14. jmas

    I am new to home made pie crust and I have the stillest issue how in the world do you keep the parchment paper from moving all over the counter when rolling it out for the life of me I could not keep it in one place even sprinkling water on the counter did not help any suggestions. thanks for any help you can offer
    JeanneMarie

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel

      I feel your pain! I have an old cutting board and if I have trouble with parchment moving around, I tack it to the board and roll on that. You could also try duct tape? :) PJH

  15. Shelley

    Thank you so much for posting this tutorial. I am an excellent cook and a decent baker…but have me make a pie crust? I have meltdown anxiety. everyone loves pie. I do EVERYTHING in my power to talk them into something else. BUT I am going to try your method….and i am praying I can master it. It’s ridiculous how much stress a pie crust can cause! Thanks again.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Well at least you know you are not alone in your pie anxiety, Shelley! We’re here to help you! Barb@KAF

    2. Shelley

      I did it. Hubby is at work, house is quiet, I am armed with the ingredients to FINALLY make a pie crust. I purchased the great pastry blender you pictured and the awesome KAF parchement. I was nervous. I resisted the tempation to overwork it. I used the folding method, rolled the edges and let it rest. I rolled according to your method and actually GOT the crust in the pie plate in one piece without tears! Filled it with whatever I had (Fresh apples, canned cherry fillig and dried cranberries-dont judge – hehe) and made the top! My only issue was sealing and crimping, but I did it(it’s not that pretty) and it’s in the oven NOW! I had a few extra pieces of trimmed dough so I threw them into the oven for a few minutes (couldnt wait) and OMG!!! The crust is delish! So buttery, FLAKY and YES, I see the layers!! I am so happy, I am giggling all over the place.

      You might have just done the impossible, got me to make a GOOD pie crust. THANK YOU! Do you have a tutorial on sealing and edges?

    3. The Baker's Hotline

      Woo hoo! Happy to hear that your pie was a success. I don’t believe we have a guide specifically for crimping crusts, but we have tips on our varying pie blogs. Jon@KAF

  16. Mindy

    Using the split open bread bag (I keep these) to aid with rolling the dough is one of the best tips ever! Tried it for the first time today and rolled my pie dough out with ease. I’ve always used parchment or waxed paper but the combo of parchment and the bag was the ticket. Every time I come to this website (which is often!) I learn something new. Thank you!!

    Reply
  17. Pat Simkin

    I have been making pies for over 40 years and have always had excellent results. people have said how wonderful my crust is. My problem is that the last 6 months my pie crusts have been tough. I thought at first that I was careless and over mixing or doing something wrong. I’ve changed the shortening I use but my crust is still tough. I am going to follow your step by step recipe as if I was a novice baker and see if that solves the problem. my one other concern is that my oven temperature might be off.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      The biggest culprit in tough crust is overworked dough, so be sure to leave some of the butter in visible shards, which will create that flaky crust effect. Shaggy dough that is no so pretty in the dough stage is often the crust that tastes the best. You could also try adding a tablespoon of easy roll dough improver to your recipe, which helps to relax the gluten and makes a tender texture. You can take a look at that product on our website here: http://bit.ly/18RvIbx. Good luck and happy baking! –Kye@KAF

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