How To Make a Pie Crust from Scratch

Today, we wanted to share our own pie process - a gallery of photos and the basic process of making a pie crust. Pies can seem intimidating and time-consuming, but as our own pie here will attest - it's not the looks that count! So just jump in and try, and if you want a quick refresher on making a pie crust, here it is.

If you want to follow along, we're using the vodka pie crust recipe we talk about here:

Recipe Review: The Cook's Illustrated Vodka Pie Crust

  1. Prep your ingredients.
  2. A traditional pie crust is made of just a few things: Flour, salt, maybe a little sugar, and fat and liquid. There are great debates over what fat makes the best pie crust - lard? Butter? Shortening? Oil? We use a mix of butter (for taste) and shortening (for flakiness) in this crust. Yes, shortening is not so good for you, but this is a special occasion treat, and you can also find transfat-free shortening in the organic grocery.

  3. Mix the flour, salt and sugar.
  4. Some people sift it together; we just whiz it in the food processor. If you don't have a food processor - that's just fine. Stir together in a big bowl, and jump ahead a few photos; we'll show you how we mix in the butter by hand.

  5. Cut the butter into small chunks.
  6. The shortening, too. We like these shortening sticks that are premeasured. Also, make sure your butter and shortening are very cold. The colder the better. But you know what? If you forget to put your butter in the freezer, that's OK too. Just throw it in - pie is better than no pie!

  7. Whiz the butter and shortening with the dry ingredients in short bursts.
  8. Use short bursts until the flour is crumbly with evenly distributed fat in sizes no bigger than a pea. The first couple photos here show it before it's done; you don't want big clumps of butter still in there.

  9. If you don't have a food processor, get your fingers in there!
  10. Mix, squeeze, and crumble the butter in with the flour. Some prefer a pastry blender to do this, to keep the butter from getting warm, but we find it faster to just use our hands. Squeeze, roll, and crumble, until the flour and butter are evenly distributed into each other.

  11. Put the flour and butter in a big bowl and quickly mix in the liquid.
  12. The liquid should also be ice cold. Stir quickly with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon JUST until the dough comes together. Don't overmix - and don't worry; the dough will cling together just fine after it's been chilled.

  13. Wrap in plastic and put in the fridge.
  14. The big key to pie dough? Time and cold. It's not difficult, not hard, but it needs time in the fridge. Put the big disc of dough you just created in the fridge to chill for at least an hour.

  15. Unwrap and sprinkle with flour, then lay parchment or wax paper on top.
  16. Then roll, roll, roll, until it's much bigger around than your pie plate. (Meanwhile, you'll have lightly sprayed your pie plate with baking spray or lightly buttered it.) When you're done rolling (make sure it's all of even thickness) remove the parchment or wax paper.

  17. Lay your pie plate upside down on the dough then flip over and tuck in.
  18. Flip the whole thing upside down and tuck the pie dough into the plate, using your thumbs to arrange it evenly. Then use the rolling pin and roll off any dough hanging over the lip of the plate. Again, use your thumbs to pinch or crimp the edges best you can - this is obviously not our strong suit.

  19. Back to the fridge!
  20. Chill the pie for another hour, then take out, brush with egg yolk, fill, and bake! (We used this blackberry apple filling for this particular pie. It was delicious.)

That is our basic pie method - and greatly open to improvement, good ideas, and good tips. Pie making is famously fussy, and there are definitely ways to make any pie better. But we do think it should be a simple, homey dessert, and this method works well for us.

What differences do you have in your own pie crust making method?

The Best Pie Bakeoff 2008: We talked a lot about pies these last three weeks. We saw 29 smashing pies in our Best Pie Bakeoff, and we're excited to try some of these new recipes this week. Thank you and congratulations to everyone who entered a pie in the Bakeoff; thank you so much for sharing and participating. (Next week we'll share our three editorial Special Mention winners, too.)


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Republished article originally posted November 22, 2008.

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