Perfect Pie: a baker's dozen+ tips

aperfectpie

What’s your definition of the perfect pie?

That’s like saying what’s your definition of the perfect day. Or sunset. Or movie. We all have our own parameters and standards; none right, none wrong, all different.

But the perfect pie – well, most of us can agree on certain things. Its crust should be tender and flaky, not leathery or hard. Golden; not burned, or pale and soggy. Its filling, nicely sliceable: not stiff as wet cement, nor slumping into the pan in a watery mess.

With Thanksgiving just one week away, it’s time to polish up your pie skills. Whether you’re a beginner, or a well-seasoned expert with braggin’ rights at the Thanksgiving feast, I’m sure you’ll find at least one “ah-ha moment” in the tips below.

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Rule #1: Don’t use cheap ingredients in your crust. With just two ingredients (flour and fat) poised to make or break your crust, it pays to buy the best. King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour (or our softer pastry flour, Perfect Pastry Blend) are top-quality flours that yield consistently good results.

And as for fat: all butter and shortening are NOT created equal. Some less-expensive store brands have more water (and less fat) than the national brands, and they can make your crust stiff or leathery, rather than flaky. Our advice? Use well-known brands (we like Vermont’s Cabot butter, and Crisco shortening). Or find a store brand that works for you, and stick with it; don’t dub around with cheap substitutes – especially when your Thanksgiving pie is on the line!

And which crust is “better” – one made with butter, or shortening, or a combination? See Butter vs. Shortening: the Great Pie Crust Bakeoff.

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The secret to wonderfully flaky pie crust lies in the balance of fat and water: the higher the ratio of fat (to a point), the flakier/more tender the crust.

Many pie bakers make the mistake of adding just a touch too much water, in an attempt to make the dough cohesive. Here’s a tip: Once the dough starts to come together, dump it out onto a piece of parchment or waxed paper, and spritz any dry areas with a water bottle. This will help keep the fat/water ratio in balance. For complete instructions, see our blog post Pie, Any Way You Slice It.

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Pie crust is easiest to roll after about 30 to 40 minutes of refrigeration. Once you’ve shaped it into a disk, wrap it in plastic or waxed paper, and chill it in the fridge. You want it to be stiff enough so it’s not sticky, but not so stiff that it cracks around the edges as you roll; and 30 minutes is just about right. If the dough has been refrigerated longer than that, give it about 20 to 30 minutes at room temperature to soften up, before rolling.

Does your pie crust slide down the side of the pan as it bakes, or shrink away from the rim? Tsk, tsk – you’ve rolled it too much, and/or not let it rest before baking. The gluten in pie crust becomes elastic as you roll the dough – the more you roll, the more elastic it becomes. If you fill the crust and put it directly into the oven, that elastic gluten pulls the crust away from (and down) the sides of the pie pan.

The solution? Refrigerate the crust once you’ve rolled it out (while you prepare the filling). This gives the gluten a chance to relax (no shrinking or sliding); and also hardens the fat (superior flakiness).

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So the crust is in the fridge – time for the sales pitch! But really, even if we didn’t sell this stuff, I’d recommend it. 1) An old-fashioned apple peeler-corer-slicer. Stick an apple on the prong, turn the handle, and less than 10 seconds later you have a cored, peeled, perfectly sliced apple. 2) A silicone rolling mat. Makes cleanup a breeze. The one I use has measured circles marked on it, so you can roll your crust perfectly round, and to the exact right size. 3) A giant spatula. Use it to pick up the crust as you roll, to sprinkle more flour underneath. Then use it to pick up the crust and gently lay it in the pie pan. 4) 9″ parchment rounds, the perfect size for lining your crust before adding pie weights, dried beans, uncooked rice, etc. prior to pre-baking.

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OK, back to business. Be absolutely sure, when rolling out pastry dough, that it’s sufficiently floured. There’s nothing quite so frustrating as rolling out a lovely round, then being unable to get it off the table into the pie plate. Take a giant spatula and, after every five or so strokes of the rolling pin, use it to lift the crust off the the counter or mat, and sprinkle more flour underneath.

That said – don’t overdo the flour. Too much flour will make your crust dry. As you roll, use a pastry brush to brush off any excess.

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Do you have trouble making a smooth edge when you’re rolling out pastry dough? Does your rolled-out dough look like a relief map of Australia? It helps to start with a nice, smooth edge. Shape prepared dough into a round disk about 3/4” thick, then roll the disk, like a wheel, along a clean work surface. Roll several times, until the edges are nice and smooth. Rolling dough into a smooth circle is much easier when you start with a smooth circle.

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Be sure to roll the crust large enough for the pan you’re using. A good rule of thumb is the pan’s diameter plus twice the pan’s height, e.g., a 9” x 1 1/2” pie pan needs a 12”-diameter bottom crust.

Why is this important? Because pastry dough that’s stretched to fit a pan will try like heck to revert to its original size as it bakes. If you’ve stretched a too-small round of dough to cover the pan, it’ll most likely shrink down the sides of the pan, disappearing into the filling as the pie bakes. FAIL.

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Did your grandma roll her rolling pin and roll back and forth, back and forth over pie crust dough? Well, this is one time you shouldn’t follow Grandma’s example! Rolling dough first one way, then the other “confuses” the gluten, making it tough.

Best way to roll pie crust? Start at the center and roll outward, towards the edges, giving the crust a quarter-turn every couple of rolls. This “aligns” and strengthens the gluten in the dough without making it tough. And if you’re worried about the pin sticking to the crust, put a piece of parchment between the two; works like a charm!

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Now, on to the pan. If you’re a pie baker who battles soft, white, flabby bottom crusts, try this trick: bake in a well-seasoned, 9″ to 10″ cast-iron skillet. Cast iron, being both black and iron, conducts heat extremely well; set it on the lowest rack of your oven, and I guarantee your pie’s bottom crust will be wonderfully browned.

Whatever pan you choose, it’s best that it be darker in color (like our dark-gray 9″ King Arthur pie pan), rather than lighter; a light-colored, shiny metal pan will produce a light-colored, under-baked crust.

Do you prefer baking in a glass or stoneware pan? No problem; if it works for you, stick with it.

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Grease your pie pan? Doesn’t seem like you’d need to, since the crust includes a significant amount of fat. But here in the test kitchen, we’ve found that a spritz with your favorite non-stick vegetable oil spray (our favorite is Everbake) makes it easier to get that first slice of pie out of the pan – especially if any sticky filling has seeped out and is acting like glue.

crimp

If you’re making an open-face (single-crust) pie – e.g., pumpkin, chocolate cream, custard, apple crumb – you’ll want to “crimp” the edge of the crust: which means prettying it up a bit, rather than simply letting it sit there all raggedy-looking.

The simplest “finish” to the edge of a crust is simply to trim off any overhang, then press it down onto the rim of the pan gently, with the tines of a fork; this is an appropriate crust when the filling isn’t liquid.

For a liquid filling, it’s best to make a stand-up edge, in order to better contain any sloshing filling as you’re moving the pie from counter to oven. To make a stand-up edge, press and squeeze the crust’s overhang into a vertical “wall;” then use your fingers to flute the wall. A spoon pressed around the outer edge makes a pretty crimp, as well.

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When you’re making apple pie, choose apples according to how soft you like your filling. Of commonly available apples, McIntosh will make a very soft, smooth filling; Cortland, a bit less soft; and Granny Smith, the most toothsome, chunky filling.

Check out local varieties by slicing in chunks, and microwaving for several minutes, side by side; you’ll be able to tell easily which apples soften as they cook, and which remain firm.

thickener

Who’s had this experience? You cut into your pie, and the filling drains out of the crust into the bottom of the pan. Not a pretty sight.

Fix #1: Don’t cut your pie until it’s absolutely cold. Cutting a piece of pie when the pie’s even lukewarm can cause the filling to run into the breach. To enjoy a slice of warm pie, wait until the entire pie cools completely (this can take up to 6 to 8 hours); then cut a piece, and rewarm briefly; the microwave works well here.

Fix #2: Use the correct amount of thickener. Whether you prefer flour or cornstarch, tapioca or Instant ClearJel or Pie Filling Enhancer, it’s important that you match type of fruit to type and amount of thickener. This can be tricky; for lots of helpful tips, see our blog post Thickening Fruit Pies.

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For a lovely final touch atop a double-crust pie, before baking brush the crust with milk or cream, and sprinkle it with coarse white sugar (sparkling sugar). For apple pie, try cinnamon-sugar.

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If you’ve baked many fruit pies, you’ve probably experienced the dreaded boil-over: the filling bubbles up and out of the crust, onto the floor of your oven, where it smokes, turns black, and fills your kitchen with the aroma of burned sugar. NOT pleasant.

It’s inevitable that fruit pies will sometimes spill their filling; make sure you’re prepared by setting the pie pan on a baking sheet lined with parchment. While the filling may burn and even smoke, at least you can simply discard the parchment afterwards – rather than stick your head in the oven and scrape gluey black residue off its floor.

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Can you freeze pie and bake it later? Absolutely! Our blog post FREEZE: the Fastest Way to Fresh-Baked Fruit Pie tells you everything you need to know to get ahead of the Thanksgiving curve – or to save some of summer’s fresh berry pies for to enjoy in January.

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And there you have it – pie news you can use. This Chocolate Cream Pie is now well within your reach!

Bet you’re inspired to make pie crust, right? Enjoy our recipes for Classic Single Pie Crust and Classic Double Pie Crust.

I’m sure you’ve got a tip you can share with everyone – simply enter it in the comments section below, and we can all continue to learn as we go.

Want to weave a lattice crust, make cutout decorations, create a braided edge, and more? Read our pie crust how-to.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. Tribi

    I can’t believe you didn’t mention your pie crust bag! I love the round, reusable, plastic bag that you sell for pie crusts. I mix up my dough and throw it in the bag, put the bag in the fridge for half an hour, take the bag out and roll my crust nice and round right in it (no extra flour, no dirty counter, no dirty rolling pin) and then unzip the bag and flip it into the pan in one easy step. Peel the other side off, give it a quick wash and you’re ready to go.
    I wonder if I could put the bag inside my mixing bowl and make the crust right in it?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Please let us know how it turns out and feel free to post a picture on our Facebook page!Jon@KAF

  2. Barbara

    I make lots of little sugar free fruit pies for the two of us in 1/2 pint jars and chicken or beef pot pies in Elite pint jars, freeze the batch on a cookie sheet, then individually bag them in vacuum sealed bags. I pull out two to bake at a time, putting them in a cold oven, then turning on the heat. Being vacuum sealed, they don’t freezer burn and I can have pie in an hour. If you’re going to make pies, make a lot to have now and later, or to share with someone, or for unexpected company. If I had a separate big freezer, I’d fill it with pies and breads!

    Reply
    1. AnneMarie

      Ditto this! Isn’t it WONDERFUL Barbara?! Better yet, everyone can have what THEY are in the mood for and you’re not “stuck” with a 10 inch pie that goes uneaten. I put a little disk of dough on the top (using the screw lid as a cutter) or top with crumb topping. No need for side and bottom crusts at all :D

    2. Karen

      Barbara, are you baking them in the 1/2 pint glass jars? Are you vacuum sealing the jars? I guess I am not quite understanding and really want to as there are only 2 of us at home now and I do not like having a whole pie. Portion control and variety sounds nice!

  3. Caroline

    So many pie crust recipes call for vegetable shortening. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to find good shortening any more; the formulation has changed. I’ve never made a crust using butter, and I don’t own a food processor. Any suggestions? Can I use lard, or will Crisco act the same even though the fat content has changed?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Caroline, I can’t speak to the difference in performance between the “old” Crisco vs. current, but do try our Classic Double Pie Crust, which uses a combination of Crisco and butter; it’s wonderfully flaky and tasty. Or try this pie crust using lard, if you want to try that instead of Crisco/butter. Good luck – PJH

    2. MicheleGlasgow

      Crisco now contains soybean oil, and palm oil, we cannot have soybean. The store brand also contains soybean oil. Any suggestions as to another brand without soy?

    3. PJ Hamel , post author

      Michele, Spectrum organic all-vegetable shortening is 100% palm oil; you might find it in the natural foods section of your market, or it’s available online. Good luck – PJH

    4. The Baker's Hotline

      Spectrum or Earth Balance may be a couple labels worth looking for to find a soy free shortening. Wishing you well in your search. Irene@KAF

  4. Barbara Leavitt

    A trick I picked up from a local chef, instead of ice cold water use vodka that’s been stored in the freezer. The vodka stays much colder for much longer and the alcohol cooks off without taste, smell or flavor of any kind. I’ve had several pies this way and you wouldn’t know the vodka was used (and the alcohol completly cooks off so it’s kid safe too). Although I am curious to try flavored vodka like whipped cream.

    Reply
  5. Moriah Jagoda

    I was so pleased to read that my Grandma’s crust advice was actually good crust rolling advice. I always think of her as I roll from the center and turning my pie crusts. It is such a relaxing rhythmic time to be spending remembering her words as they are all I have left. I am glad I can keep up the traditions she left me.

    Reply
  6. Louise

    I cannot believe that you recommend Crisco as it contains soybean oil which is 1) amongst the top six allergens and 2) a GMO crop. Apparently the Everbake spray also contains soybean oil !!!! As one who has a soy allergy reading labels constantly is hard work. Very disappointed.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Not recommended, Sarah – they tend to become watery when you thaw them. You might try freezing the filling and crust separately, then thawing, pouring filling into crust, and baking… but that’s still a little dicey. Best bet is to make the crust and freeze it, since that’s the time sink; it’s really easy to mix together the filling right before you use it; probably takes less than 5 minutes. Hope this helps – PJH

  7. Donna Carpenter

    I have a hard time getting my crust to brown nicely. I will try your suggestion of using milk and sugar on the top. Also, how do you keep the top crust from becoming soggy if the pie has set for a day or two?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Donna, there’s no way to prevent the top crust from eventually becoming soggy as the pie sits. Your best bet to help minimize this is to make sure the pie’s baked very thoroughly to begin with; I sometimes bake pie at 350°F for 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Surprisingly, it doesn’t burn (I tent the top with aluminum foil as soon as it’s light golden brown), and the filling doesn’t overcook, either. When you’re ready to serve a slice of pie that’s been sitting a few days, warm it briefly in the oven; that will help crisp the crust. Good luck – PJH

  8. rolling pins and pastry sleeves

    I love using my pastry sleeve on my marble rolling pin and pastry “mat” for rolling out pie crusts, won’t use that silicone junk, plastic is no good for you

    Reply
  9. Sharon Rankin

    My mother always added a little sugar to her pie crusts – 1 Tbsp per cup for savory pies & 2 Tbsp per cup for sweet pies. Makes a world of difference in the flavor of the crust. Otherwise, flaky or not, it’s just so much flour & shortening. Try it.

    Reply
  10. Mark Kyle

    Before filling the pie crust I always brush it with egg white to keep the bottom crust from getting soggy.
    I make an all butter crust but never never skimp on the butter. Cheap butter makes a horrible crust.
    For those who care about such things Kerry Gold butter is always from grass fed cows.

    Reply
  11. Jody Currin

    Fantastic information..i have been following your info and just recently got my home kitchen inspected, the pies are turning out beautiful and as a bonus I decorate them with the great cutouts and colored sugars, this has turned into a pie business out of my home..i love reading your posts and I am grateful to King Arthur for providing me the tools for success..here’s to all butter crusts and the wonderful team at King Arthurs that makes success so easy..thank you for all that you do..

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      And thanks for connecting with us all here, Jody – best of luck with your pie business. You must be very busy right about now! :) PJH

    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Kris, going to spend this weekend honing your pie skills, eh? That’s what I did two weekends ago – a self-taught “refresher course” is always helpful! :) PJH

  12. Maureen Eberly

    When preheating the oven, place a dark cookie sheet in the oven. The heat from the cookie sheet will also brown up the bottom crust on any pie and catch all the dripping too! Instead of spraying the pie dish, I usually coat it with Cabot butter too. I never have soggy bottom crusts. Enjoy!

    Reply
  13. Linda

    Properly thickened fruit pies is a problem I encounter now and then, so I was interested to read your blog on the subject. Unfortunately, the link in this article took me to the sales site for one of your products instead of another blog post. I had to use the search to find it. You might want to correct that link to make the blog on thickening fruit pies easier to find.

    Reply
  14. Charlette

    I love all the tips here, thanks for sharing. I have been gluten free for years now and recently found your GF flours. Are there any adjustments that need to be made when working with them? In the past I’ve tried other’s crusts and flours and it’s been a dismal failure. I couldn’t even get them to roll out. I’ve missed pies and can’t wait to have them again.

    Reply
  15. Lora Wimer

    ARE YOU KIDDING ME???? CRISCO???? That stuff is almost, nearly plastic. I expected better from KA. The best shortening is good old fashioned lard. Not the stuff from Hormel, that is full of crap, just plain lard, home rendered stuff if you can or find some place to buy it. I do my own, it is very simple and easy. I make apple pie for office parties and I only get raves. Any honest dietician will tell you that some fat in your diet is needed, so the excuse that it is bad fat will not fly. Give up chips or something else that isn’t that great and make your pie crust with lard.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Lora, you’ll notice I did mention lard, and explained why I wasn’t focusing on it. In my eyes, there’s no moral high ground around fat of any kind – each person gets to use his/her favorite. It’s great you’ve found a crust you really love (and clearly that others love, too); stick with it! And I’ll stick with Crisco., and we can agree to disagree agreeably. :) Thanks for connecting here – PJH

  16. D Williams

    I have a problem with pumpkin pies and can not figure out why. I have made them for 50 years but since moving to OR a problem. When they are baking, the center area of the crust raises and is wet while the rest of the crust is golden brown once baking is completed.
    The pumpkin over this raised area of crust is steaming.
    Three quarters of the piece of pie is perfect…crust and pumpkin but that center area is like raw dough and wet. I use King Arther all purpose flour and a good quality butter. All other pies are fine. Would appreciate any suggestions.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Sounds like there’s some trapped air there that’s expanding once the pie hits the heat of the oven creating that pocket! This may be a good opportunity to call our baker’s hotline at 855-371-2253 – we’ll ask questions like oven temp, if this happens with other fillings, pie crust recipe, and what the pumpkin filling includes. We look forward to your call – we’re here from 9 AM to 9 PM on weekends and from 8 AM to 9 PM weekdays (eastern time of course)! Irene@KAF

  17. Liz S

    I have been moisture proofing the bottom of the blind-baked crust for pumpkin pie with white chocolate…best thing I ever tried! And using a “Long Island Cheese Pumpkin,” the most orange and sweet I have seen.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Wow, that white chocolate sounds delicious, Liz – thanks for the tip. As well as the info. about the pumpkin… PJH

  18. Connie

    thanks for all the good ideas. However, I didn’t see anything about the “weeping
    pie crust”. What causes it, and how can I keep it from weeping under the marganie.
    thanks,
    Connie

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Connie, I think you’re talking about a meringue crust weeping? That’s a tough one. One thing to do is make sure the meringue is spread all the way to the edges of the pie, touching the bottom crust, with none of the filling showing. Another thing to try is a meringue with some cornstarch in it; I’m not sure, however, of the exact proportions, so I suggest you call our baker’s hotline, 855-371-BAKE (2253); you’ll find a meringue expert there who can help, I’m sure! :) PJH

  19. Sally

    Greatest info I’ve read in eons! More info than 6 yrs. of intense Homeck. I’m from the really old school. “do as I say”. We’ll bless you for the confirmation that you never stop learning. Yes, there are loads of new gizmos, but you are not full of fluff. Baking pastry’s has gone to new and more pleasant experience. Thanks and keep up the good work!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      And thanks for connecting here, Sally – happy holidays from one old-schooler to another! PJH

  20. Martha

    I was always worried about using too much flour when rolling out the crust, but our instructor in the International Baking and Pastry program at my Culinary school said after your crust is mixed use bread flour to dust with and then brush off with a pastry brush before baking. The particles are not as fine as cake or pastry and won’t absorb into the dough in that short of time, provided you brush it off. She’s right, I don’t struggle with my pie crusts now and they are light and flaky :-)

    Reply
  21. louise

    Hi PJ, Glad I found this thread about making piecrusts. I hope you can help me with my lack of piemaking skills. Just made my 3rd crust today. Got a new food processor, and I am getting the hang of making my piecrust in it now, never knew it could be so easy and quick! But, all 3 crusts shrunk down the sides of my pyrex pan after baking. One of the posts here said to let the crust rest after rolling it out??????? Do you put it in your pan, or lay it on a cookie sheet and refrigerate it, how long? I am using crisco as the fat. How about the kind of pan? I am using a glass pyrex one. I know I can’t put the crust in there and refrigerate it, then put it into a hot oven, won’t it crack? Also, I need help please with the problems with my meringue. It looks good after taking it out of the oven, but then, it seems to sink down some. I am whipping it one minute on high, (kitchenaid mixer), then adding 1/4th cup, plus 1 tbsp. sugar slowly, beating for 2 min., again on high. Put the meringue on pie(chocolate), then baked it at 350 until browned. I found that if I put the meringue in my pastry bag, with the star tip, the meringue stays on the edge of the crust, and doesn’t pull away, thats the only thing I have gotten right. Thank you PJ for any help you can give me on this. I have made 3 chocolate meringue pies this week, and all 3 have the same problems. Its driving me nuts!!!! Love the piecrust rolling bag, by the way.

    louise

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hello Louise, I would strongly suggest to call our Baker’s Hotline. We will be able to have a conversation over the phone about the issues you have been having with your crusts and meringue. Our number is 855 371 2253 Jon@KAF

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