Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pie Crust 101

Just in time for a Thanksgiving pie-a-palooza, here is a tutorial on making homemade pie crust.

I think I should say that I made a lot of bad pie before I began making good pie. I understand the difficulties that cooks have with pie crust. I've had them too.

I grew up eating lots and lots of pie, some of it good and some of it not so good. I saw people making pie, my parents and grandmother, but none of them actually demonstrated the technique to me. Maybe they expected it to be in my blood. But I suspect they never had an actual lesson and maybe had a few years of struggle on the learning curve too. Needless to say, I spent many years struggling with dry crusts that would tear and fall apart. I eventually gave up and gave in to Pillsbury All-ready Pie Crusts. I know this is a common story. Now that we have ready made food in every grocery store, it's easy and convenient to give up on the homemade. But as with so many other products from the kitchen, no store-bought pie tastes as good as a homemade pie. Pie is worth the time to learn how to do right.

Two crust pies are more dependent on good technique than a good recipe. I have a method for making crust that takes the swearing and tears out of the job. I have taught many beginning pie makers this technique, as well as my children. It works!

First of all I think it is important to understand what makes a crust tender and flaky and how it becomes dry and tough. Pie crust should have a ratio of about 2.5 parts of flour to 1 part of fat. This fat can be butter, shortening, lard, oil or any combination of those to equal 1 part. When cold fat is cut into the flour so that the fat bits are still large, basically making the mixture like cookie crumbs, those bits of fat will melt when baked and leave pockets of space in the dough and that creates the flakiness in the crust. If the dough is overworked or the fat is warm and the flour becomes absorbed into it, making a closer association between the flour and fat molecules, the dough can get tough. Also the technique for rolling is very important. If the dough is rolled out on a flour covered surface and more and more flour is added as people tend to do if they are having problems with dough sticking, soon the dough has absorbed more flour and there no longer is a 2.5 to 1 ratio of flour to fat. That larger amount of flour will make the dough dry and tough. When you eat the pie you will be chipping a tooth on the edges of pie crust. Rolling the dough out between two pieces of parchment paper or waxed paper makes the dough easy to handle and a breeze to transfer to the pie dish. No sticking or fighting with tearing dough.

Let's make pie!

First we'll start with the basic pie dough recipe.
Since I'm lazy, I use a food processor.
Measure out two and a half cups of all purpose flour, one teaspoon of salt and one tablespoon of sugar.

To this is added one cup of fat. The fat can be butter, shortening, lard or oil or any combination of those equaling one cup. DO NOT USE butter flavored shortening. It is from the devil. It tastes like nasty fake butter. It's gross and disgusting and very bad for your health. If you use it, don't blame me if your pie comes out horrible.

Pulse the processor until the butter is cut into the flour and resembles coarse crumbs. If a processor is not available this can be done the old fashioned way with a pastry cutter or even just forks and knives to cut in the fat. The pastry may even come out flakier since the butter bits will not be as fine as the processor makes.

Pastry cutters

Add 1/4 cup of cold water. Run the food processor until the dough sticks together and begins to form a ball. Depending on the humidity and other factors with the flour, it may be necessary to add another tablespoon or so of water. Use your hands to mix the dough if you are not using a food processor. Work quickly so that the warmth of your hands doesn't melt the butter and make the dough sticky.

Shape the dough into two equal sized discs. At this point the dough can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated or frozen for future use. It's always nice to have some dough in the freezer for those times when you want to throw a pie or a quiche together. Half the work is already done!

That was the recipe, now for the technique!

Here is my easy-as-pie parchment paper method for rolling out pie dough. Not only does parchment paper make the dough easy to roll and handle, there is much less mess than the old flour board way. Alyssa and I made hundreds of apple turnovers with this method. I couldn't even dream of doing that job without parchment paper.

And by the way, if anyone from the health department is looking at this...yes, I have my food handler's card and I know the rules about having hair tied up in the kitchen. But it's my blog and my pie and I'll have my hair the way I want to, thankyouverymuch.

Because I had trouble uploading this video onto Blogger, I had to divide it into two parts and do some awkward editing. So sorry about that.

Also, try to disregard the hooligans causing a ruckus in the background. We're making pie here!

Use your favorite pie filling recipe. Here is what I used for my apple pie:

5 cups peeled, sliced baking apples
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon (we like lots of cinnamon)
1/2 teaspooon nutmeg
the juice of half a small lemon (2 teaspoons) it'll add sparkle to the pie
4 tablespoons butter, cut in pieces and placed on the top of the apples

Finish the pie by brushing an egg wash over the crust. This is one whole egg beaten with a teaspoon of water. It gives the crust an appetizing shiny appearance and helps it to brown nicely. Sprinkle sugar on this if you like the extra crunch and calories.

Bake the pie in a hot oven, 425 degrees, until the crust is golden brown, about 45 minutes. Cover lightly with foil and turn the oven down to 350. Continue baking until the filling is bubbling in the center.

If you've been intimidated by pie crust, I hope you'll try this and let me know how your pie turns out!


  1. Cool. Now I need to go home and make a pie.

  2. I did it! I baked an apple pie according to your recipe tonight. It looks beautiful, tomorrow I'll report on how it taste. I've baked a zillion pies in my past but for some reason never a fruit pie. Southerner, I guess. My pies used to be pecan, pumpkin, sweet potato... things like that.

    It's been about 4 or 5 years since I made a pie from scratch and I've always done the crust by hand with a pastry cutter. Tonight I used my daughter's kitchenaid. Wow. That was fast. But I worry that I may have overworked the dough. Never having used one before, I think I was a bit heavy handed with it.

    I LOVE your parchment paper trick. That makes it so much easier.
    Thanks for the tutorial.

  3. Yahoo!! I just saw this. So glad you tried this and were successful. Pie on! or, um...Roll on!

  4. See what a good teacher you are? Thank you. For the first time ever I made good pie crust. Up until now, my daughter's boyfriend made better pie crust than me. (He's a keeper, huh?)Now I don't have to ask him to make it, or use store bought. Thanks!

    1. Yay!! Congratulations! You are on your way to a life of pie. And the world needs more good pie. Thanks for the comment, I do appreciate hearing that I could help you get going in the right direction.

  5. Thank you! we used store pie crust this christmas for our scratch pumkin and coconut cream pies, they were great but we know the homemade crust will make the difference. As I was trying to figure out how to do tarts I stumbled upon your tart blog..Thanks a million, the tarts will be great when our food truck opens!


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