Perfect Pie Crust Tips and Tricks for the Beginner

It is berry season!  And soon cherry season!  And then it will be time for peaches and apricots!  And then apples!  And since pie is one of my most favorite ways to enjoy summer fruit, and since I have already shared my favorite berry and apple pie recipes, I think it is high time I share a few pie crust tips and tricks!

Pie crust is not really difficult.  But there are a few tricks that make or break a pie crust.  This tutorial is primarily written for those of you who have never attempted a pie crust or those of you who have tried and failed. 

As you can tell from the number of images in this post - I didn't leave a single thing out!  I tried to make this as 'one on one' as I possibly could because I really, really want each of you to experience that warm glow you feel when someone you love takes a bite of your pie and says, now, that's a pie crust!

The recipe, one I have used for years, makes a pie dough that is easy to work with and tender and flakey when baked.  It is a great pie dough for beginners.  Once you have mastered it, you will be ready to move on to more delicate pastries.

If you have never made pie crust, you might want to make a batch to just get used to the feel and to handling it so you have a better idea of what to expect.  At the end of the post, I have a little suggestion for what to do with your dough after you are done "learning".

Added after post date!  Be sure to read the comments section for thoughts about chilling vs not chilling as well as butter vs shortening. I chose not to cover those issues in the tutorial because it is designed for beginners to learn to make a pie crust!  But I am getting good tips from readers there so don't miss them.  Sarah's tip for trimming the dough is brilliant!

So - let's get started!

You will need the following tools:

mixing bowl
measuring cup and spoons
wire whisk
pastry blender
rolling pin
large surface for rolling out the dough - personally I prefer wood
pie plate (8" or 9")
sharp paring knife

A note about rolling pins:  I am still using the rolling pin my brilliant mother gave me when I got married.  It is perfect for rolling pie crust and cookie dough.  The surface is as smooth as silk and the roller and handle move independently of each other by way of ball bearings inside the roller.   I have found this type of rolling pin allows greatest control during use.

A note about pie plates:  Metal and pyrex both work fine, but I dearly love my "vintage" corning ware pie plate.  If you ever find one - buy it and use it!  I have never, ever had a soggy pie crust when using this pie pan.

A note about my scorched wood work surface!  A constant and ugly reminder that placing a red hot sauce pan on a piece of wood is not a terribly good idea!  It is what I have to work with right now so please try to overlook the ugly black scorch mark!

Basic Pie Crust for 8" to 9" pie. 

2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup Crisco shortening
4 to 5 Tablespoons ice water

Notes about ingredients:

Flour:  Although I prefer King Arthur All-purpose Flour,  price increases for wheat has forced me to switch to Gold Medal.  For pie crust, I don't ever sift the flour, but I do stir and fluff it in the canister a bit to aerate it  before measuring. Whatever you do, do NOT do anything that will pack the flour into the cup.  Place the flour lightly into the cup until it is heaping and then use a straight edged knife or spatula to scrape off the excess.

Crisco vs butter:  I am a devotee of shortening pie crusts.  And I make no apologies.  I have yet to taste a pie crust made with butter that can match its light and flaky texture.  And as long as I continue to hear "now that is what a pie crust is supposed to taste like", I am not changing!   Believe me - I am a huge, huge, huge fan of butter - just not in pie crust!

I did find a recipe recently that called for half butter and half shortening.  Once I try it out, I will let you know.  It just may be the perfect balance between flavor and texture.

Ice water:  Water content in flour can change with the humidity in the air so start with 4 tablespoons and add more if your pie crust mixture is too dry to form into a ball. But be very careful - add water a teaspoon at a time.  You do not want your dough to get sticky.  It should hold together but still feel dry and not stick to your fingers.

 Make a glass of ice water just before you begin making the dough so the water is nice and cold when you are ready to add it to the flour mixture.

Making your pie crust

Begin by setting your oven to the temperature suggested in the filling recipe you are using.

Prepare your filling before beginning the pie crust.

Measure 2 cups flour into a mixing bowl. Add the salt and whisk to mix thoroughly.

Place the shortening into the flour mixture and break up with the pastry blender.

Continue working the shortening into the flour with up and down motions until the shortening is broken down into tiny pieces. Stir the mixture with the pastry blender to make sure there are no large lumps of shortening remaining.

Add the water, starting with 4 Tablespoons.

Quickly stir with a fork to blend the ingredients.  Use a light hand and don't over mix.

Mix just until dough forms a ball.  Over working the dough is the surest way to tough crust!

Divide your dough into two equal portions.

Generously dust your work surface and rolling pin with flour.  Do not worry about adding more flour to the dough - there is enough fat in the mixture to manage it. Place one ball of dough on your work surface.

When rolling your dough, apply very light pressure.  I have watched people roll cookie and pie dough with so much pressure that it seems as if they were trying to force the dough into the pours of the wood!!!!  LIGHT, EVEN PRESSURE AS YOU ROLL!  If your dough sticks to the work surface after two or three passes with the rolling pin, you are applying too much pressure (or your dough is too wet).

Roll, pick up the dough, turn it 1/4 turn, roll, pick up and turn and roll. Follow this process for the first few rolls and you should not have a sticking problem.

Now gently lift the dough off the board, drape over one stretched out hand and dust the work surface again.  ( If you look closely, you can see the contours of my hand under the dough!) Or you can simply set it to one side while you dust.

Return the dough to the work surface

Again, applying very light pressure, roll the dough, rotating the dough a1/4 turn until it gets to be about 8 or 9" across

Now continue to roll changing direction with each roll and lifting the crust and dusting the work surface as needed.

Once your crust measures about 4" more across than your pie plate, your crust is  ready to transfer to your pie plate.

Gently lift the side farthest away from you and fold your pie crust in half toward you.

Now fold it again.

Gently pick up your folded crust and place it into your pie plate so it covers 1/4 of the pie plate as shown.

Gently unfold your pie crust. 

To keep your crust from shrinking or tearing, snuggle your dough into the pie plate by lifting the edges and letting the weight settle it into the plate contours. A wrinkle here and there won't hurt anything.

Using a sharp knife, trim the dough so that it extends about 3/8" beyond the lip of your pie plate.

Inspect your crust to be certain there are no tears in the surface
.  Any tears must be repaired.  Lightly moisten the area around the hole with water.  Tear a piece of dough from the scraps you have just cut, making sure it is larger than the hole.  Gently press into place to seal.

Now, following the instructions given above for rolling the bottom crust, roll and fold the second ball of dough.

Place your filling into the prepared dough lined pie plate.  Many fruit pies call for dots of butter - add them now! 

Place your top crust over the filling as shown in the photo above.

Gently and carefully unfold your dough and adjust as needed so that the overhang is about equal on all sides.

If your top layer should tear, simply repair it just as described above for repairing tears in the bottom layer.

Some tears are to be expected when you are learning to handle crust.  Repaired tears do not in any way affect taste.  Your pie may not be perfect looking, but don't give up.  I have baked pies in 6 different states and they always turned out beautifully except in Phoenix, AZ.  In the 20 years I lived there, I never one time was able to make a pie that did not tear in multiple spots!!!!  I just learned to live with it.  Never understood why that climate gave me so much trouble!  New Mexico is even drier, but no problems.

I am just telling you this so you won't let this be an issue.  Tough crust is an issue - not patches!

Using a sharp knife, trim your dough about 3/4" beyond the edge of the plate rim.

You will have two layers of pie dough that should look like this!

Fold the top dough layer over the bottom dough layer so that the edge of the bottom layer is completely enclosed within the upper layer.  This will prevent the filling from leaking out into the pie plate during baking.

Gently press the two layers together around the entire rim of the pie.

Finger pinch the edges to create a crimped edge.  I am not even going to try to verbalize this process.  The best thing I can think of is to simply show you!  My sweetie photographed my hands first from the back and then the front so you could see how I position my fingers. 


Any reasonable facsimile will do!  Just as long as the two layers of pie dough are sealed together - that is all that really matters.  Practice will make pretty!

Use a very sharp knife to make a pretty design in the top crust.  The slits are steam vents, allowing the steam that builds up during baking to escape.

My mother taught me to make this wheat pattern when I was about 12.  I still like to use it sometimes.

I poke a few extra little slits near the edges as well. 

I love a light dusting of sugar on top of my pie!  Some people recommend brushing on a little milk before dusting with sugar, but I just dust!  It gets a little melty and crunchy during baking.

What to do with the leftover dough?

Roll it out to the same thickness as your pie crust.  Slice it into pieces approximately 3" x 3".

Place on a cookie sheet.  Dust with sugar and cinnamon.

Then just slide it in the oven on the shelf below the pie.  Only takes about 10 to 15 minutes (375 to 400 degrees).  When done, remove and let cool.

Yummy, easy snack.  Perfect with ice cream or a cup of tea. And it keeps my sweetie out of the pie while it is cooling since searing heat has never been a deterrent!!



How do you prevent the top

How do you prevent the top crust from "tenting", causing a space between the crust and the filling?

Betty, thank you for your

Betty, thank you for your question.  As the pie bakes and the ingredients heat up, steam is formed and it must have a way to escape or it will cause the crust to rise leaving the space you speak of.  I haven't looked at my tutorial in a long time, but I must have neglected to mention that one should always make several slits in the top crust once it is in place to prevent this from happening.  It is something I have known since i was six or seven and just never thought.  I am so sorry if I overlooked that bit.

Thanks. However, I always cut

Thanks. However, I always cut slits in the top crust and it still tents. Anything else could be causing this?

Betty, I wish I could help.

Betty, I wish I could help.  I rarely have this problem and if it does occur, the crust seems to immediatly settle back in place once out of the oven.  I do use large slits and quite a few of them as my great grandmother taught me.  There is so much wonderful information available out there these days since i wrote that post.  Why not try googling something like "how to prevent pie crust tenting while baking"  or something similar.  There are a million cooks out there now and there should be some solutions!!!

I am so sorry I can't help more.  I hope you can find the answer you are looking for.

We very rarely find

We very rarely find shortening here and ususally just use margarine - our pastry is always oily and just not quite right. Would there be a way I can solve this problem?
Thank you for the tutorial, I am rewriting a version for the restaurant cooks to see if they can make a difference.

Love your tutorial on pie

Love your tutorial on pie crust! You make your pie crust the same way my Mother taught me many, many years ago. I have shared the same process with my daughters and daughter-in-laws over the years. They receive complements for their pies quite often.
I have tried the Butter flavor shortening in the past to get that "buttery" flavor, but like you I prefer non butter flavoring for most of my pies. Depends on the filling I am using.
Great job! Thank you for sharing!

Thank YOU Wendy for stopping

Thank YOU Wendy for stopping by and for taking time to leave a note!!  It is really hardnot to make a good crust using this recipe. 

Although I'm kind of late on

Although I'm kind of late on finding this, I'm still glad I found it! I find this very useful, especially since I just got into the hobby of baking pies!

Love this tutorial! Thanks.

Love this tutorial! Thanks. What's your suggestion for a one crust pie? I just made one - lousy - and the crust sunk down into the pan. Help!

Elaine, Thank you for

Elaine, Thank you for bringing this to my attention!  I really do need to make a tutorial for making one crust pies.  

I am going to try to work that into my post schedule very soon.  In the meantime, I have sent you an e-mail with the recipe and tips you will need for success.

 Thank you so much for pointing out the need for a tutorial for one crust pies.

Thanks, this post was

Thanks, this post was EXTREMELY helpful.

I made a pie earlier today and wasn't happy with how it looks (I'm sure it tastes fine, as long as the bottom isn't soggy). I was making it for a dinner party so I decided to try again following your suggestions. It turned out beautifully!

The detailed, step-by-step instructions made it less stressful than the first go-around.

My great grandmother used to

My great grandmother used to use lard in her pie crusts. I want to try it one of these days.

As for what to do with the leftover pie crust, what I do is similar to yours. Roll out the dough as you would a pie crust. Spread with a thin layer of butter. Then sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. Roll the the dough into a tube (like a pumpkin cake roll). Slice into 1/4 inch 'cookies'. Place on cookie sheet and bake as you would the squares. Our family would call these periwinkles. We sometimes make a double batch of dough just for these periwinkles. :)

WOW... are you sure you do

WOW... are you sure you do not own a pie shop this looks amazing and professional.. the way you fold the sides and cut the slits. I am sooo impressed.

Wow, I can almost smell the

Wow, I can almost smell the crust baking.
I think the far easiest way to make pie is to gather all the ingredients then call your sister in to do the rest. Works really well for me every time. Too bad she lives in another country now!

P.S. Did you photograph this

P.S. Did you photograph this yourself? I know from experience how tough it is to take pictures when you're working with dough (Mix ... Wipe hands ... Dry hands ... Take picture ... Repeat). :-)

I only photographed part of

I only photographed part of it myself!  Although I have become quite clever with my one handed camera technique, photographing some parts of this tutorial was beyound my capabilities!  My sweetie came to my rescue taking a few critical shots on this one.

Hooray! You finally published

Hooray! You finally published the pie crust tutorial! My crust-making has improved a lot since I asked you for tips. One thing that worked for me was mixing the water in with the pastry blender. For some reason, I just couldn't get it mixed properly with a fork. Maybe I was using too light a hand because I was so worried about over-working the dough. Anyway, I'm still going to print out your tutorial and study it. Thanks!

I am so glad to hear this

I am so glad to hear this from you!  And to return a favor - because it it hadn't been for you, Avital, I would still not know how to make Challah!

One of the reasons I like to use this recipe for teaching is that because of the fat content, it is a little more forgiving than say a butter recipe would be.  The scraps get mooooshed together and re-rolled to make the little pastry cookies and they are still tender so no need to be overly concerned about overworking the dough.  Using a light hand when mixing is important for sure, but the beauty of this recipe is that it allows for a happy medium! And should usually deliver good results for a beginner.

Sorry - THIS is where I meant

Sorry - THIS is where I meant to write about your delicious looking pies!!! Though the strawberries look yummy too!

Great, comprehensive advice

Great, comprehensive advice for beginners! I do a few things differently (besides the butter thing, my opinion is firmly set as well, HAHA). Firstly, I refrigerate the divided dough for about an hour in flattened disks, so that I can be a little firmer with my rolling pin. When I roll, I also use a French pin with no handles. When I was learning to roll pastry, I used to use a regular one, and I would be annoyed when dough would get caught up in the handles - so no handles for me! Also, instead of trimming the edges with a knife, I use a pair of kitchen scissors. I rotate the pie with one hand, and cut, snip-snip-snip, quickly and easily with the other.

I also employ your folding trick to get the dough into the pie pan. LOVE that.

I knew I was going to hear

I knew I was going to hear from "the other side" of  butter vs shortening! :-)

Ditto on chilling vs not chilling! :-)

When using butter, chilling is usually a good idea because of it's lower melting point. Chilling once the dough is mixed is necessary to keep the butter particles suspended between the flour particles.  Ice water  helps to keep this dough workable without chilling .

I am finding that a mixture of butter and shortening work well in cookies because of the difference in melting temperature - something I will explore in a "cookie baking tips and tricks" in November.  So, I am thinking the combination might bring the best of both worlds to pie crust too! 

My main reason for using this recipe is the fact that it is nearly foolproof - easy to work with (as pie crusts go) and unless overworked, always tender and flakey. Easy to work with and almost guaranteed good results - good beginner recipe.

Love your idea of using kitchen shears to trim the crust!  What a great idea!  I will be trying it out on my next pie. 

Thank you so much, Sarah, for sharing your thoughts and tips.  I just bet you have the most awesome vintage pyrex pie plate for baking your lovely pies! 


Wow! You make it look so

Wow! You make it look so easy.

It is Joel!  Make a couple

It is Joel!  Make a couple practice batches of pie dough and practice mixing, rolling and placing the dough in the plate! 

If you really want to make a pie the first time you attempt a pie crust, you might want to just purchase a can of prepared pie filling for the test pies rather than make a filling from scratch.  That way you can concentrate on your pie crust making skills!