A few weeks ago, I invited my mom to join me in my kitchen for a day of pie making. She’s made hundreds of pies over the years and is known for her tender, flaky crusts. Working beside her brought back memories of making pie with her as a child. I love to watch her hands at work, her touch on the dough is so light and sure. We had a lovely day together and delicious pies to show for our work.
As we worked, my mom and I talked about pie. I told her I know many great cooks who are daunted by pie crust. Her answer was simple: if you want to be good at making pie, practice.
There are lots of tips you can use to improve your crust—how much to cut the fat, how wet the dough should be, and how to roll out and handle your dough. But in the end, there is no substitute for doing.
You don’t need fancy tools to make a good pie crust. The essentials are a mixing bowl, measuring cups and spoons, a pastry cutter, a rolling pin and a pie plate.
I use one more tool that’s not a necessity but is my favorite pie secret, and that’s a pastry frame. A pastry frame is canvas stretched tight over a wood and metal frame. It can be used for pies, pastries and even rolls. They are inexpensive (I paid about $15 for mine) and they roll up compactly to store. They make it incredibly easy to roll out your dough without sticking, and thanks to the canvas, your dough absorbs less flour, making your crust lighter and more tender. My frame even has guides so you know exactly how large to roll your dough.
The ingredients for pie are simple too, no matter which recipe you use. Each recipe has dry ingredients, usually all-purpose flour, salt, sometimes sugar, a liquid (ice water, milk or even vodka), and a fat.
There is great debate in the pie world about which fat is best: butter, shortening, lard, or a combination of those fats. The two best pie makers I’ve known, my mom and my husband’s late grandmother, both use(d) lard. Their crusts speak for themselves—flaky, delicious, out of this world. So lard is what I use, too. Whatever fat you choose, it must be cold, cold, cold. Cold fat makes for flaky crust.
So let’s get baking.
Before anything else, measure the lard and put it in the freezer to get it extra cold. Then prepare the rest of the ingredients.
Measure 2 cups of flour and sift onto a piece of parchment or wax paper.
Re-measure the 2 cups of sifted flour. My mom lifts the parchment like a funnel and pours it back into the measuring cup. She also re-measures over the surface where she will be rolling out the dough. The overspill helps to flour the surface. My mom is all about economy of action.
Tap across and level with a knife.
Add the salt to the flour and sift again, this time into your mixing bowl. Then add the cold lard. Using a pastry cutter, cut the lard into the flour. Some pie makers turn this step over to their food processor. Resist the temptation! It’s too easy to overwork the flour and end up with a tough crust. The pastry cutter, on the other hand, will give you a nice workout. I like to think I’m burning off a few bites of pie.
The motion with the cutter is down and twist your wrist one quarter turn, Daniel-san. Down and twist. Continue this motion until the flour has been worked into the lard and your dough resembles small peas. Don’t overwork the dough at this point.
Next add liquid. My mom uses very cold milk. Grandma Eva used ice water. Both work equally well. Start by adding about half the liquid, which for my mom’s crust recipe is 2 tablespoons. Then slowly add one to two tablespoons more, using a fork until the dough pulls together into a ball. Stop before the dough gets too wet but is nicely pulled together.
Cut your ball in half and lightly work into two disks. Wrap them individually in plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator for half an hour or up to a day.
Remove one ball from the refrigerator at a time and turn onto your nicely floured work surface. Don’t be shy about the flour if you are rolling out on a counter or cutting board. It’s not fun to have your dough stick. This is why I love my pastry frame—the dough never sticks, even with a moderate amount of flour.
Work the dough with your rolling pin, applying gentle pressure. Roll away from you, then turn the dough a half turn and roll away from you again. As you turn the dough, make sure to add more flour underneath as needed.
Continue this until your dough is too large to turn. Roll until your dough is about a 12″ circle for a 9-inch pie plate and about 1/8 inch thick.
Many pie makers will tell you to fold your dough in quarters then gently lift it into your plate. Our method is much simpler and works like a charm. Gently roll the dough over the top of your rolling pin, slip the plate under, center and roll the dough into the plate.
When it comes to pie plates, my mom and I agree: a simple style glass Pyrex is best. It does a wonderful job of evenly cooking your pie crust. We even prefer Pyrex over more expensive ceramic plates.
The next step is important. Working around the pie, lift the edges of the dough and make sure the dough is snugged into the corners of the pie plate without stretching the dough. This will keep your dough from slipping down when baking.
If you are making a double crust pie, roll out the top at this point. I like to cut my vents while my dough is still on the pastry frame and the surface is firm. That way I can use a cute little cookie cutter to cut a small shape in the center of the crust.
Fill the pie with your filling. Wet the edge of the dough in the plate with a little water. Roll the top over the rolling pin, carefully center it over the pie, and roll into place. Trim around the pie using kitchen scissors or a knife, leaving about a 1/2-inch overhang.
If you are making a single crust, trim around the pie, leaving about 1/2 inch overhang.
My mom and I both flute the edge of the pie by using a thumb and two index fingers, folding the edge, crimping and fluting as you go. Follow the same process for a double crust pie.
Finish your double crust pie by brushing the top with milk or egg wash and sprinkling the surface with sugar to make a lovely crisp sheen on your crust. If you didn’t before, make sure to cut vents for steam.
For a single crust pie where the filling needs to be baked in the pie, fill and bake according to your recipe. Trust me on this one: once you fill your pie, bake it immediately.
For a pie requiring a precooked crust, use a fork to pierce evenly around your pie crust. Bake in a 400ºF oven for about 15 minutes until your crust is golden brown.
You may wonder why I don’t mention pie weights. The need for them depends on your recipe. My mom and I have never had trouble with our crusts slipping into the pan, and have never needed or used weights. If you feel you need them, line your pie crust with parchment or foil and use dry beans or rice to fill the pie.
We never throw away our leftover pie scraps. Cinnamon pie scraps are a favorite treat. Place your scraps on a cookie sheet cut in bite-sized pieces. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and cook at 400ºF for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown.
Just look at that crust, so light and flaky.
The pre-baked pie crust can be made several days ahead until it is ready to be filled with coconut or banana cream …
Or one of my favorites: fresh peaches. That’s the pie we made today. While peaches are in season, it’s a treat not to be missed.
The first few pie crusts I made tasted good but weren’t very pretty. I’ve even had a few epic failures, like the time I filled an apple pie and put it in the refrigerator overnight so I could cook it fresh on Thanksgiving morning. It came out of the oven gorgeous and golden. But when I served the pie, the bottom crust had turned to goo. So awful! I’ve lived and learned and gotten better with every crust. It’s a skill worth working at, and one your family and friends will love you for.
There are many ways to make a great pie crust, this is simply one method. But it’s a good one. It creates a flaky, tender, delicious pie crust every time. This tutorial is mostly about technique and could be applied to other recipes.
This crust is simple, yet tender, flaky and delicious. It works for sweet or savory pie fillings. Makes 2 single or 1 double pie crust.
- ⅔ cups Cold Lard
- 2 cups Sifted All-Purpose Flour
- ½ teaspoons Salt
- 4 Tablespoons Cold Milk
Measure lard and place in the freezer. Sift flour onto a piece of parchment or wax paper. Re-measure flour and sift again with salt into a mixing bowl. Using a pastry cutter, cut cold lard into the flour mixture until the dough resembles small peas. Do not overwork. Add 2 tablespoons milk and work into the dough using a fork. Add one or two more tablespoons of milk, working with a fork until the dough pulls together into a nice ball. Divide into two equal pieces and lightly work into disks. Wrap disks individually in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1/2 hour or up to one day. On a floured work surface, roll out into a 12-inch disk about 1/8 inch thick and place into a pie plate.
Fill and bake according to your pie recipe. If a recipe calls for a pre-baked pie crust, pierce evenly around the crust with a fork and bake in a 400ºF oven for about 15 minutes or until golden brown. Makes one double crust or 2 single crusts.
Calli is truly a woman of many talents, from cooking, sewing, crafts, beautiful photography and gardening. Her blog, Make it Do is a treasure trove of recipes, household tips, crafts projects, sewing patterns … you name it. It’s also peppered with photos of her beautiful kids. Go visit her site, and visit it often. There’s always something new to learn there!