From Scratch: Pie Crust Primer

August 11, 2011

pie primer
Photo by Jody Horton

With a hunk of good butter and a delicate touch, the perfect flaky pie crust is never out of reach. Follow these basic tips and prepare to fill your kitchen windowsill with freshly baked beauties.

Butter Selection

  • Though many recipes call for shortening or lard, butter cannot be beat for flavor. Experiment with unsalted, European-style butters, which are richer because of lower water content. We love Plugra and Lurpak.

Cold Ingredients

  • Cold fights overworked gluten which can make your crust tough.
  • Keep the butter cold and even chill the bowl and flour if your kitchen is especially warm. 

Incorporating the Butter 

  • By hand, rub chunks of cold butter between your fingertips and into the flour until the butter pieces are the size of peas and well-coated with flour. 
  • With a food processor, use the metal cutting blade, and pulse the machine on and off in short bursts until the butter is cut into small pieces (1/4-inch).
  • The butter bits remain in the dough after it’s rolled out, leaving behind little pockets of steam as the crust bakes, which create the flaky texture.

Don't Overwork the Dough

  • Work quickly and with a light touch, especially in warmer months.
  • If the butter ever feels as though it’s softening and beginning to melt, transfer everything to the refrigerator for 15 minutes to chill.

Use Ice Water to Moisten the Dough

  • Add only enough cold water to form a shaggy mass of dough that is just moist enough to hold together when pressed between your fingers.

More Chilling

  • Press and shape the dough into a round disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 1 to 3 hours.
  • This rest helps relax the dough to keep it tender and prevent it from shrinking when baking.
  • An evenly round disk with smooth edges will make it easier to roll the dough into a crust with little waste.

Rolling the Dough

  • Let the chilled dough sit at room temperature for a few minutes to soften slightly; it should still be firm and cold when you begin to work with it, but not completely rigid.
  • Lightly flour the countertop or other surface (a silicone mat or parchment paper), adding only as much flour as you need to prevent the dough from sticking. Too much flour makes a tough, dry crust. 
  • Pick up the rolling pin and roll from the center of the dough disk to the edge, lessening pressure as you go. Work your way around the disk, rotating the dough a quarter turn every couple rolls. Continue until the crust is 1/8-inch thick and just larger than the pie pan. 

Transferring to the Pie Pan

  • Gently fold the pie crust in half or drape it over a rolling pin. Transfer it to the pie pan, centering the fold. 
  • Unfold the crust carefully, but don’t stretch the dough. Drape the dough easily into the pan, leaving plenty of excess around the edges.
  • Trim away all but 1/2-inch of dough around the edges, folding the extra length under to make a neat edge all the way around the rim.

himalayan blackberry pie italian rice pie
Photos by Melanie Einzig (left) and Sarah Shatz

Basic crust recipes plus some of our favorite pies:

Simple Pie Crust
Gluten-Free Crust
Himalayan Blackberry Pie (pictured above, left)
Rhubarb Cream Pie
Carolina Pecan Pie
Italian Rice Pie (pictured above, right)

Like this post? Check out last week's From Scratch topic: Learn to Love Lentils.

1 Comments Add a Comment
  • Miglore

    kristen miglore says: This is so helpful -- I always feared pie dough until I learned how to make it in a food processor, but I'm determined to master working the butter in by hand too.

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »

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