Homemade pie dough is about a thousand times more flaky, tender, and flavorful than the store-bought kind. It takes a little bit of extra work, but it absolutely does not need to be as intimidating as it may seem.
I joke that working with homemade pie dough often seems like everything is going wrong until it actually comes out of the oven golden brown, wonderfully flaky, and absolutely delicious.
I’m sharing a ton of tips in this post, so let’s go ahead and get right into the juicy stuff. (Or should I say flaky stuff?)
Top 3 Pie Dough Tips:
1. Keep everything cold, especially your butter.
If your kitchen is above 73°F, then refrigerate all of your ingredients and equipment, including your bowl, rolling pin, and pie tin until it’s between 65-70°F (dip an instant thermometer into your flour to gauge the temperature). If it’s a hot day, or you have hot hands, you’re probably better off making your pie dough in a food processor.
Once your dough is made, the internal temperature should be around 65°F before you start rolling it out. Too cold, and it will be too hard and brittle. Any warmer, and the butter will melt and stick and your final crust will be a non-flaky mess.
If your kitchen is warm, fill freezer bags with ice and a little water and set them on your work surface for 10 minutes to chill it before rolling out your pie dough.
2. Be quick, gentle, and a little messy!
It should take about one minute to cut the butter into the flour mixture. For a flaky crust, leave chunks of butter about the size of walnut halves. For a sturdier crust (better for custard fillings like pumpkin pie), leave chunks of butter the size of peas.
Over-working the pie dough develops more gluten, which can make the baked crust tough and dense instead of light and flaky. This can also create shrinking in the crust while it’s baking. Additionally, over-working the dough with your hands can start to melt the butter, which will prevent that flaky texture from forming.
The dough won’t look like much at first. It’ll be kind of craggly and messy looking, that’s okay. You just don’t want any really floury dry bits. That means you need more water. If your dough is sticky, then you’ve added too much water.
3. Give the dough a rest.
If you have problems with your crusts shrinking while baking, then they need more time to rest so the gluten can relax so it doesn’t snap back to its original smaller shape. For best results rest the dough:
After mixing it: wrap it in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Especially if your kitchen is warm.
After rolling it out: let it rest on the counter for 5 minutes before placing it into your pie tin if you have issues with shrinking. Do NOT stretch the dough to fit into the tin, as it will snap back like a rubber band while baking.
After filling it: Refrigerate the assembled pie for 10 minutes before baking it.
Now let’s move onto the other area of pie crust that I think frustrates a lot of people.
Rolling Out the Dough
Here’s a step-by-step video on how to roll your pie dough easily and keep it nice and pretty.
I typically roll out my dough on a marble pastry board, but that is totally optional. You can use the trick I mentioned above of icing down your counter before rolling to help keep things nice and cool. Avoid overworking the dough as you roll it out. Keep the dough moving so you don’t roll over the same areas repeatedly, making it tough.
Don’t be shy about flouring our work surface, the dough itself, and your rolling pin throughout the process. There are two inexpensive tools that I find are both a MUST when it comes to rolling out pie dough: a flour shaker and a bench scraper.
The flour shaker allows you to easily add flour wherever sticking might be happening. The bench scraper allows you to easily keep the dough moving as you roll it out, which is essential. I keep the dough moving in quarter-turns to prevent sticking and to keep it an even thickness.
Alternatively, you can roll the pie dough out between two sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap. I find that most non-commercial paper and plastic wrap isn’t big enough to accommodate a 12 to 14-inch diameter circle, so I don’t often use this method.
If at any point the butter begins to get melty and sticky, return the dough to the fridge immediately.
Use your fingers to flute the edges of the pan if you wish. I find that I need to make a more dramatic flute than I might think since the design will loosen during baking. Whatever you do, don’t make the flute too heavy otherwise it’ll slump don’t the sides.
Butter vs. Shortening?
I’ve done an extensive amount of testing on pie crust. Let’s just say my kitchen has seen a LOT of butter. I made the messes and did the testing so you don’t have to. Here’s what I learned.
When it comes to pie dough, I’ve heard a lot of confusing and conflicting opinions about which is the better fat?
If you’re curious, you can learn more about the general differences between butter and shortening here.
But I actually tested the two fats in pie crust side-by-side to compare. I still need to do testing with lard, so stay tuned for that!
This all-shortening dough was very easy to work and requires less chilling time with since shortening has a higher melting temperature than butter. However, this also means that unlike the very hard chunks of cold butter that remain in the control dough, shortening is soft enough that it is easily overworked, resulting in a crumbly dough instead of a flakey dough.
As you can see in the photograph, the all-shortening dough ended up being flat, tender, and fairly crumbly. The texture was actually reminiscent of shortbread and it was completely lacking in flavor. In fact, the flavor reminded me of store-bought dough.
In this all-butter dough there were plenty of visible chunks of butter studded throughout. Once it came together and was chilled, it was a bit of a challenge to maintain that perfect temperature where it’s warm enough to shape but cold enough that the butter doesn’t melt. The extra effort paid off immensely, though. This pie crust was ridiculously light, flaky, and loaded with rich buttery flavor. You could immediately tell this was homemade, in the best way. This is why I almost always prefer a 100% butter pie crust.
If you like the affects of shortening, then I’d recommend a 50-50 ratio of butter and shortening to get the best of both worls.
Other Pie Crust “Tricks” Put to the Test
A few reputable sources have claimed that by substituting a portion of the water with vodka in a pie crust recipe, you prohibit gluten development and therefor ensure a tender, flaky crust. I tested this against my standard pie crust recipe and found the differences to be slight. I don’t think it’s worth the extra effort if you don’t have chilled vodka on hand.
By hand or with a food processor?
It’s been said that pie crust made by hand, either with a pastry blender or two knives, produces a flakier and superior crust. When I tested the by-hand method vs. the food processor method I did notice that the by-hand version was a bit flakier. Since it takes less than 5 minutes to mix up the dough by hand, and since you’re guaranteed to *not* over mix it if you use a gentle hand, I prefer this option. Also, my food processor is a pain to lug out of the pantry!
Optional SECRET Ingredient!!
As you can see, I’ve done a lot of side-by-side testing of pie crust variations. Most of the time the classic recipe has won out, with a single exception. SOUR CREAM!
Sour cream acts as a tenderizer in baked goods and I was curious to see if it would significantly affect the texture of pie crust. I added 2 tablespoons of sour cream to my standard recipe along with the butter.
This dough was very soft and slightly sticky, but easy enough to work with. This pie crust puffed up to a surprising height. The texture was ultra light, puffy, and flaky, almost like puff pastry. If you have sour cream handy, I definitely suggest giving it a shot if you have some on hand. Add in 2 tablespoons to the recipe below, and reduce the water by about 2 tablespoons or as needed.
Baking the Crust
I’ve included instructions on how to blind-bake the crust for recipes that require an already baked crust. Otherwise, just follow the directions in the pie recipe you’re following for baking the crust.
The material of your pie pan can make a noticeable difference in how your pie bakes. This is actually something I talk about a lot in The Magic of Baking, my online baking class. Here’s what you need to be aware of at minimum:
These pans heat up and bake quickly, so you may need to shave some time off your baking to avoid overdoing it. Avoid dark or coated aluminum pans for baking pie crust, which are likely to result in overly browned crusts.
Glass bakes more slowly than aluminum, but since it’s slow and you can see how brown your crust is getting, you’re less likely to over bake. Don’t take your pie directly from the freezer to the oven unless the manufacturer says it’s safe to do so. I like this OXO glass pie pan because it’s made from borosilicate glass to withstand extreme temperature changes without shattering.
These are pretty for serving at special occasions, and like glass they bake more slowly and shouldn’t be subjected to extreme temperature changes.
Place your pie pan on a rimmed baking sheet before putting in the oven. This helps you to remove the pie tin without damaging the crust with your oven mitts.
Be sure to check out my free pie crust troubleshooting guide:
And now, finally, the recipe!
Photos by Lauren J Photography.
(159 grams) all-purpose flour
stick (113 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 to 6
ice cold water
In a medium deep mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt, and sugar. Add the butter, and cut into the flour using a pastry blender or two knives. You can also use a food processor.
For a flaky crust, leave chunks of butter about the size of walnut halves. For a sturdier crust (better for custard pies), leave chunks of butter the size of peas.
Make a well in the center of the mixture. Add in a few tablespoons of water and toss with your fingers to saturate. Continue this until the dough comes together. If the dough holds together when pinched between your fingers, it’s good. If it doesn’t, drizzle just enough water until it does. You can remove the mass of dough that collects and sprinkle additional water on the floury bits left behind.
Shape the dough into a disk and chill in the fridge until firm and cold, at least 30 minutes or up to 3 days or make ahead.
Let the dough sit at room temperature for up to 10 minutes, or until slightly pliable. The dough is best to work with when it has an internal temperature of about 67 to 70°F.
Roll the dough out on a generously floured work surface. Keep turning the dough after every roll to ensure it doesn’t stick to the counter and is of even thickness. Use your hands to cup the edges of the dough to keep it smooth and prevent cracks. Add additional flour to the dough, the counter, and your rolling pin as needed. Roll out into a 12 to 14-inch circle, depending on how deep your pie tin is.
Gently roll the dough up and around the rolling pin then unroll and drape over a 9-inch pie tin. Gently press into the pie tin, being careful to avoid stretching it to fit. Use scissors or a knife to trim the excess dough, leaving a 3/4-inch overhang. Fold the overhang under itself and crimp or flute. Avoid making your edge too thick and heavy or it may slump over while baking.
Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
If the pie recipe calls for a prebaked shell, preheat the oven to 400°F. For an extra crispy bottom crust, place your oven rack on the bottom shelf or bake on a preheated baking stone.
Line the chilled crust with foil or parchment. Fill the crust completely with pie weights, sugar, rice, or dried beans. Place on a rimmed baking pan.
To par-bake if baking again with filling: Bake for 12 to 17
minutes, or until pale and just beginning to brown but not raw.
To bake completely: Bake for 20 minutes Remove parchment paper and weights. Continue to bake until totally browned and crispy, about another 5 to 10 minutes.
Double this recipe for a double crust pie.