Skip to Content

Back to Basics: Pie Crust Tutorial

Sharing is caring!

A former college professor of mine recently reminded me of a very important fact: fruit pie season is upon us. And, indeed, with the first appearances of my beloved rhubarb gracing the produce stands – which will soon lead to deep red strawberries, plump blueberries, tart-sweet blackberries, and juicy peaches – he is correct.

With the advent of summer’s best gifts upon us, it occurred to me: I am yet to teach you how to make a pie crust.

Oh, sure, I’ve given you recipes for pie crust. I’ve even given you some quick tips. But really understanding how to make a great pie crust takes two things: seeing it done and practice. Now, I learned by watching my mother – the Queen of Pie Crust – for years before I took things into my own hands. If I had any video editing skills whatsoever, I would put together a video on this process – but that will have to wait for the future. For now, we’ll have to settle for a step-by-step photo tutorial.

The recipe I am using for this is the recipe I grew up on, and one my mother obtained in her high school home ec class (update: I was just informed that it is from her college food science class – either way, it’s been around for.ev.er). It is for a 9-inch single-crust pie and is – gasp! – an all-shortening (specifically, Crisco) recipe.

Now, lines tend to be clearly divided between all-butter and all-shortening pie crust makers. People like to sit clearly in one camp or the other, claiming their crust is the only way to go. We will explore the differences between the two camps in another post; for today we will focus on our method, as the method I am going to show you is the method I use regardless of the recipe I am using.

Start by whisking together your dry ingredients in a large bowl. Some people prefer to sift their dry ingredients – really I think this is purely personal preference, as I have never noticed much difference either way.

Pie Crust Tutorial

Add your fat – in this case shortening – and dust the top with a little bit of the dry ingredients. If you are using butter, you’ll want to make sure it is cold and cut it into pieces before adding it to the dry ingredients.

Pie Crust Tutorial

Pie Crust Tutorial

Use a pastry blender to cut the fat into the flour. Some people like to use two knives (which I find to be too tedious), their fingers (too messy), or a food processor (which I find takes away my control of the process) for this. I stick with the pastry blender.

Pie Crust Tutorial

You’re looking for a texture that resembles coarse meal, with a few pea-sized pieces of fat here and there. Those larger pieces are what will give you a flaky texture in the finished crust.

Pie Crust Tutorial

Now, two things to know before you add your liquid: 1.) It must be as cold as possible. If I am using water, I only use water straight from the fridge, and I sometimes even add some ice to that while I’m starting the crust. 2.) How much liquid you need will depend on a number of factors, but primarily on how dry or humid your surroundings are. My apartment is especially dry, so when I make pie crust at home, I need significantly more water than I do when I make pie crust at my parents’ house, which is not nearly as dry. Start with the amount indicated in your recipe, but have a little extra standing by, just in case.

Drizzle your liquid over the top of your flour-fat mixture. Alton Brown actually uses a spray bottle for this, which is not a bad idea. You want that liquid as evenly distributed as possible.

Now, use a fork to start mixing. One of the cardinal rules of crust making is to never over-work your dough – it will make the crust tough – and that begins here. Mix just until things start to come together; it will still look crumbly and maybe even a bit dry on the bottom.

Pie Crust Tutorial

Take a bit of dough and gently squeeze it in the palm of your hand. Does it stay together or crumble apart? If it stays together, you have enough liquid. If it crumbles, you’ll need to add a bit more, about ½ to 1 tablespoon at a time. The more crust you make, the better you’ll get at knowing when you need more liquid – I can pretty much eyeball it as I’m mixing.

Pie Crust Tutorial

Pie Crust Tutorial

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. The pastry mat is not required, though it is nice as they often have measured rings that help when rolling – though I am going to show you a method for measuring your crust in a minute. These also make picking up your crust a bit easier later. You can also use some parchment paper, though be sure to weigh down the corners to keep it from sliding around later. If in doubt, your counter-top will probably work just fine.

Pie Crust Tutorial

You’ll notice that this does not look at all like dough – yet. “But it’s all crumbly and a mess!” That’s ok, it will come together.

Pie Crust Tutorial

Use your hands to start bringing the dough together into a disk. Give it a little pat, even a press or two with the palms of your hands – remembering not to work it too much – to bring it together. If you are working with dough that contains butter, now is when you’ll want to wrap it up in plastic and chill it for about 30 minutes before rolling.

Pie Crust Tutorial

When getting ready to roll, I start by gently patting the dough out with my fingers just slightly. I find this helps keep my dough from cracking when I start in with the rolling pin.

Pie Crust Tutorial

Lightly dust the top of your dough and your rolling pin with flour – I have this handy nonstick rolling pin that I love for pie crust – and start rolling from the center to the outer edge, making sure to move in all directions so that your crust stays in a general circular shape and doesn’t become an amoeba. Your edges still won’t quite be perfect, and that’s totally ok. If your dough cracks as you are working, use a drop or two of the extra water on your fingertips to gently press it back together. {Notice how I keep saying “gently”? I wasn’t kidding about that not-overworking-your-dough thing.}

Pie Crust Tutorial

Now you’ll want to start measuring your crust to see how much more rolling you need to do. Take the pie plate you are planning to use and place it upside down over the dough. You should have at least an inch to an inch and a half of dough outside the edges of the pie plate (if you are using a deep-dish pie plate, you’ll need closer to two inches). Continue rolling and measuring until you get there.

Pie Crust Tutorial

Pie Crust Tutorial

Now: time to move your crust. This is the trickiest part, but here’s the best way I’ve found to go about it: Take a lightly floured dough blade or butter knife (Alton Brown actually uses dental floss for this…I’ve never tried it, but imagine it would work well) and work it gently under the edges. Even the best floured surface will still have some sticky spots, and using the blade here helps release those without tearing your dough right down the middle.

Pie Crust Tutorial

Then, using the blade to help you as needed, gently fold the dough in half…

Pie Crust Tutorial

…then into quarters. 

Pie Crust Tutorial

Place the quartered dough into your pie plate…

Pie Crust Tutorial

…unfold it…

Pie Crust Tutorial

Pie Crust Tutorial

…and settle the dough into your pie plate, using your fingertips (and excess dough) to gently press together any cracks or tears.

Pie Crust Tutorial

Pie Crust Tutorial

Pie Crust Tutorial

If you are making a double-crust pie, you will go ahead and add your filling and your top crust (same method!), gently pressing the edges of your crust together before trimming and crimping. 

To trim the edges, just run a butter knife around the edges.

Pie Crust Tutorial

Pie Crust Tutorial

Everyone has a different way that they like to crimp their edges. Even though I grew up watching my mother crimp her pie crusts, my method is totally different than hers – not better, just different. I like to take my first and second fingers, place them about a half-inch apart on the edge of the crust, and then pinch them together. I then continue around, placing my pointer finger right next to the previous crimp, turning the pie plate as I go. This will be even more pronounced with a double-crust pie, as you will have a double-layer of dough at the edges.

Pie Crust Tutorial

Pie Crust Tutorial

And there you have it! A perfectly lovely pie crust, ready to be baked according to your recipe’s instructions.

Pie Crust Tutorial

Do not be discouraged if your pie crust does not look like mine – it takes a lot of practice to get to this point. Just remember, I would rather eat an ugly crust that tastes great and is flaky and tender than a tough, perfect-looking crust. Just keep practicing, and you will get there!

Do you like how I just gave you an excuse to make a lot of pies?

If you want to practice your pie crust technique without making a million pies (certainly understandable), you can always stop at rolling out your crust, cut it into strips or shapes, place the shapes on a cookie sheet, brush with a little milk or egg wash and sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar, and bake. Then, once you get the hang of making a good, tender/flaky crust (remember, the key is not to overwork it!), you can try your hand at using it for your favorite pie.

Recipes that use a pie/pastry crust:

Apple Dumplings

Blackberry Pie for One

Blood Orange and Almond Tart

Blueberry Peach Pie

Brown Sugar Fig Pop Tarts

Pecan Raisin Pie

Perfect Rhubarb Pie

Sweet Onion, Asparagus and Goat Cheese Quiche

Three Apple Pie

________________________

Would you like to know more about how I use specific ingredients, or do you have a “Back to Basics” topic that you’d like to see me cover? Maybe you’d like to know how to properly cook rice, or the difference between baking powder and baking soda. Leave me a comment or shoot me an email and I will see what I can do!

Previous “Back to Basics” posts:

Reading Recipes {Part 1: The Ingredients}

Reading Recipes {Part 2: The Instructions}

Pantry Staples

Yeast

Sourdough

← Previous
Roasted Garlic, Goat Cheese, and Chive Mashed Potatoes
Next →
Pesto Veggie Pizza

Deliposts

Wednesday 18th of January 2017

If I had one wish it would be to be in your kitchen for just one day! Thanks for the great tutorial. May God bless you.

Angie | Big Bear's Wife

Tuesday 25th of November 2014

I'm actually making 3-4 pies for Thanksgiving so this tutorial is perfect! Homemade crusts normally scare me but this looks like fun!

Kari@Loaves n Dishes

Monday 29th of September 2014

Admittedly I rarely make my own pie crust :/ Your crust looks terrific Stephie! BTW, love the "oops" pic!

Stephie

Monday 29th of September 2014

Thanks, Kari! I hope you give mine a try and I bring you to the dark side of only making one's own crust :-)

Gaye @CalmHealthySexy

Thursday 10th of July 2014

Hi Stephie - Thanks so much for sharing this with the Let's Get Real party. Although I fall into the "butter camp" on pie crust, I definitely need help with my technique. This is a great tutorial.

Southern Pecan Pie - House of Bakes » House of Bakes

Monday 7th of July 2014

[…] recipe and tutorial and can say I have never had a crust turn out as good as this one. Check out, Eat Your Heart Out, to see how she does […]