Learn the essential tips for making a pie crust that yields the most tender and flaky texture. With only four ingredients, this is my go-to recipe to use for savory and sweet pies, plus you can prepare it in advance.
Table of Contents
- The pie dough base
- Flour selection
- Add seasonings
- Break down cold butter
- Creating a flaky crust
- Creating a mealy crust
- Add cold water
- Tools to make pie crust
- Chill the dough before using
- Rolling out the dough
- Pie shaping
- How to crimp the edges
- Brush on egg wash
- The importance of venting
- When to blind bake a pie crust
- Bake time
- My favorite pies
- Homemade Pie Crust Recipe
After extensive testing, this homemade pie crust recipe is hands down my favorite. I make it with four key ingredients; all-purpose flour, cold butter, salt, and ice water. That’s it! But the ratio of the ingredients and how you incorporate them are crucial. If you’re hesitant to make pie dough from scratch, let me assure you that it’s straightforward, and you’ll never go back to store-bought.
To make the pie dough, you can simply use your hands to break down the butter, but I prefer to toss everything into a stand mixer to do the work. Due to the high amount of fat and mixing the proteins, it’s essential to chill and rest the dough for at least 4 hours. I like to plan ahead and often make the crust a day or two beforehand, so it’s ready to roll out when I’m ready to bake.
The pie dough base
The style of dough I use is called Pâte Brisée, a versatile French recipe using all-purpose flour, cold, unsalted butter, salt, and water. The flavor is neutral not to overpower the filling. But don’t worry, as the crust cooks, more aromas and flavors develop for irresistible golden slices.
The structure is sturdy yet tender, but there are ways to manipulate the butter to create a more flaky or mealy texture, depending on the filling. This recipe makes enough for a double crust to create a top and bottom. However, you can easily halve it if you just need a single crust.
The best flour to use for pie crust is all-purpose flour. The level of protein plays a massive role in texture development. When mixed with water, gluten bonds form, creating a protein matrix that gives the crust structure.
All-purpose flour contains 10 to 13% protein, a moderate level so that the buttery crust holds together but is still tender. Pastry flour uses softer wheat, contains 7.5 to 9.5% protein, and can be substituted if you desire a more crumbly texture.
I add a small amount of salt to the flour to enhance the taste and keep it from being bland or pasty but not overly savory. I use kosher salt, but you can use finer granules of table salt for a more dispersed taste. Some recipes call for sugar to deepen the color and flavor but use it sparingly. I find that as the melted crystals cool, they harden and can be crisper.
Break down cold butter
Cold unsalted butter is vital to develop sought-out flakes, tenderness, and rich flavor. Each brand varies in salt level, so start with unsalted for better control. Cut the butter into cubes, either ¼-inch in size for mealy dough or ½-inch for flaky dough to give more oversized pockets of fat.
Keep the butter refrigerated until ready to use. The solidified fat holds its shape better when broken down into flour, resulting in a more light and flaky crust.
Creating a flaky crust
Flakiness is determined by the size of the fat broken down into the flour. The larger the pieces, the flakier the texture. About a pea or shelled peanut size is the target for flaky dough. Use this style for heavier fruit or savory fillings like apple pie or chicken pot pie.
Creating a mealy crust
Mealy dough is named after the appearance of the raw flour mixture, which resembles coarse cornmeal. The butter is blended more thoroughly into smaller pieces. The result is a less flaky texture, with a tighter structure that’s sturdier yet still tender. This type of crust works great for soggier fillings like custards in quiche lorraine, chocolate cream, or fresh fruit pies.
Add cold water
Adding in moisture is essential to build the crust structure and helps with gluten formation but in limited amounts. Using cold water prevents the broken-up pieces of fat from softening, especially if using mechanical shear during mixing. Preserving the pockets of fat creates an easier to shape and flakier crust.
Add a small amount of water at a time, so the starches in the flour can adequately hydrate. Depending on the age of the flour and humidity, you may need more or less liquid. Typically mealy doughs need less water because there is more contact of the flour with the fat, making it less absorbent. Milk can also be used for a rich dark crust, but it will be less crisp.
Tools to make pie crust
- Hand mixing: Works well for the best control over fat size. Mix the flour and salt with a whisk, then use fingers or a pastry cutter/dough cutter to break the fat into the desired sized pieces. Gradually add the water and stir until a clumpy dough forms. I like this method when I want to feel the fat being incorporated.
- Stand mixer: My quick and easy go-to method is demonstrated in this article. I use the paddle attachment at low speed to quickly cut the fat into the flour, then use fingers to break up any large pieces. Add water in small amounts at a time to hydrate the dough until it just begins to clump together.
- Food processor: You can process a portion of the flour with the butter until there is no flour remaining and a clumpy dough forms. The rest of the flour is briefly pulsed until just incorporated. You need to transfer the dough to a separate bowl to add in the water with a spatula.
Chill the dough before using
Once you shape the dough into one or two discs, it’s time to chill them. I like to tightly cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate them in a resealable bag or container. This process prevents them from picking up smells of other ingredients. During mixing, the fat warms up, so refrigerating keeps them solid.
After mixing the ingredients, gluten is formed. It’s best to let the dough chill for 4 hours to allow the protein network to relax, making it easy to roll out. It also prevents the texture from tasting tough or shrinking when you’re shaping. I recommend making the dough one or two days in advance so that you can jump into rolling, filling, and baking without the wait time.
Rolling out the dough
Let the dough sit on the counter for about 5 to 10 minutes, enough time for the butter to become pliable. It will be slightly sticky, so lightly flour your work surface and rolling pin. Don’t use too much, or the extra proteins can make the crust a little harder.
I find that for double crust or lattice crust, roll out the top and bottom pieces about ¼-inch thick for sturdy slices. For single crust pies that are fully cooked (blind baked) before filling, go a little thinner, above ⅛-inch. Since the structure is set, it does not need to be as thick. For an even thickness, I like to use my adjustable rolling pin. Alternatively, start rolling from the center and out, turning the dough as you go.
This recipe works well for a 9 to 10-inch pie dish. I prefer glass because I can monitor the browning on the sides, and it conducts heat evenly. Glassware holds onto heat better and aids in carry-over cooking during cooling. Transfer the dough to the plate, pressing it into the bottom and sides of the dish.
Trim off any excess dough, leaving some overhanging to tuck under and crimp or flute. Make sure to chill the dish while rolling out the top crust, cutting out shapes, or making a lattice crust design. Refrigerating the top portion while adding the filling makes it much easier to work with later.
How to crimp the edges
For a single crust edge, use the tines of a fork to press down and crimp. Alternatively, make a fluted design using your thumb and pointer fingers, working your way all around.
Crimping not only creates an attractive edge but also locks in the filling for double and lattice tops. Once you place the top crust on, leave about ½ to ¾-inch overhang. Press the bottom and top edges together, so they seal, then tuck the dough under the rim of the pie dish.
Brush on egg wash
To accelerate the browning on the surface for a beautiful crust, add an egg wash. It also helps any spices or sugar toppings stick for extra contrast in texture. Depending on how golden and shiny you would like it, you can use various combinations. A whisked whole egg or yolk adds a yellow hue.
Diluting the egg with water makes it less golden and easier to brush on. If you add milk or cream, it deepens the browned color and provides more flavor from the cooked milk solids. You can even just use milk or cream by itself, but it will have a matte finish.
The importance of venting
It might seem like a pretty decoration, but adding slits, a hole, or a lattice design creates ventilation. As the filling heats up, it creates steam. You need a way for it to escape. The vent concentrates the filling’s flavor and consistency and prevents sogginess.
An open weave is excellent for juicier fruit fillings like blueberries. But if you like a more liquidy texture like for cherry or apple pies, add several shallow cuts or a large circle about 1-inch in diameter in the center.
When to blind bake a pie crust
When fillings that don’t need to be baked or precooked like creams and custards, then you can blind bake the crust. This method is the process of thoroughly cooking the bottom crust to be filled later and served.
The process initially starts with adding pie weights or beans to prevent puffing up, then removing them to complete cooking until golden brown and crisp. Fillings that are wetter, like pumpkin or egg custards, need some partial baking, so the bottom doesn’t get too soggy, about 10 to 30 minutes.
Time varies based on the crust type, baking temperatures, and filling. Typically I use a temperature between 350 to 400ºF (177 to 204ºC). For blind-baking pie crusts, you need about 40 to 50 minutes. For a double and lattice crust, about 60 to 70 minutes.
The key indicator for doneness is a golden brown color on the top and sides. If the filling needs more time but the edges are browning rapidly, place a pie shield on the edges. Amazon sells them in silicone (affiliate), but you can simply wrap foil along the sides. If the surface is browning, loosely tent the top with foil to prevent it from burning.
My favorite pies
- Apple pie
- Blueberry pie
- Cherry pie
- Chicken pot pie
- Banana cream pie (blind-bake)
- Lemon meringue pie (blind-bake)
- Quiche lorraine (blind-bake)
- Pecan pie (blind-bake)
- Pumpkin Pie (blind-bake)
I prefer to use butter. Dairy is more flavorful due to the fat and milk solids that brown. It has a lower melting point (95ºF/35ºC), so use it while cold. Once you’re ready to roll it out, let the dough soften a bit, so the butter is more malleable. About 80% fat and 15% moisture, it’s not as flaky compared to vegetable shortening. However, when baked, the fat melts, and the water in the butter creates steam. The butter pockets make crisp, flaky layers in the crust.
You need liquid to hydrate the flour so it can form a soft dough. When this happens, gluten forms from the flour proteins glutenin and gliadin. Adding in a portion of hard alcohol, which only contains about 60% water, reduces gluten formation while still moistening the flour. This technique makes a more tender crust. Most of the alcohol evaporates during the baking process. Substitute half of the water for vodka.
No! Bread flour contains up to 15% protein, which would develop too much gluten and make the texture hard. It’s best to use a low protein pastry flour or moderate protein all-purpose flour to make pies.
No, however, you can add some to enhance the sweetness and browning of the crust. Sugar interferes with gluten bonding, which helps with tenderness. High levels of sweetener like for tart doughs will make the texture crisper and cookie-like.
Preventing a tough crust
When making the pie crust, the goal is to press or “cut” small pieces of fat into the flour. The butter coats some of the gluten-forming proteins, glutenin and gliadin. This process creates a moisture barrier, preventing some water absorption. Add only enough water to help the mixture stick together. Do not overmix, or it will cause too much gluten development, making the dough elastic and rigid.
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Homemade Pie Crust
- 3 cups all-purpose, flour plus more for dusting
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt, or table salt
- 1 ¾ cups unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes, chilled
- ¾ cup ice-cold water, chilled
- Keep the measured ice water and diced butter in the refrigerator until ready to use. In a stand mixer bowl, add the flour and salt. Combine using the paddle attachment on the lowest speed (Stir) for about 10-seconds.
- Add chilled diced butter to the bowl. At the lowest speed, turn the mixer on and off quickly for a few seconds to coat the butter with the flour. This helps to prevent the flour from spilling over.
- Continue to mix at low speed until the flour and butter resemble wet sand with coarse crumbles and pea-sized pieces remain, about 60 to 75-seconds. Use fingers to break up any large chunks. This will give a flaky dough. For a mealy dough, process until you reach a coarse cornmeal consistency. Do not overmix. The dough should not bind together before adding the water. Alternatively, use a dough/pastry blender or your fingers to break the butter into the dough.
- Gradually add 1 tablespoon of ice-cold water to the bowl. After each addition, turn the mixer on for 1 to 2-seconds. Only add enough water until the dough looks lumpy and hydrated but not wet or sticky. Where it just begins to clump together with small crumbles on the bottom of the bowl. All of the water may not be needed, about 8 to 10 tablespoons is typical. When the dough is pinched together, it should compress and hold, not be dry or crumbly. Do not over mix. The dough will be pressed together before resting.
- Separate the dough into 2 even-sized portions, about 1 pound (454 grams) each. Press them into a 1-inch thick round disc and cover separately in plastic wrap. Place both in a resealable plastic bag. Store in the refrigerator to rest for at least 4-hours, overnight, or up to 2 days.
- Once removed from the refrigerator, allow the crust to sit at room temperature for about 5 to 10 minutes or until pliable. This will make it easier to roll.
- Dust the counter and dough with flour. When rolling out, make sure to rotate and dust with flour underneath. This will prevent the dough from sticking and make it easier to transfer to the pie dish.
- Roll the dough into a 12 to 13-inch circle. For a single crust, roll to about ⅛-inch thick. For a double crust or lattice, about ¼-inch thick for the top and bottom.
- Proceed with filling and baking according to specific recipe directions.
- Recipe Yield: Double crust (top and bottom). Halve the recipe for a single crust.
- For a Mealy Dough: Cut the butter into ¼-inch cubes, making it easier to cut into finer pieces. The flour mixture should look like coarse cornmeal before adding the water.
- Make in Advance: The dough needs 4 hours to chill and relax. Make it two days in advance to save you time the day of baking. To freeze, wrap each disc in plastic wrap then foil, store in a resealable bag for up to 6 months. Defrost in the refrigerator one to two days before using.
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