The effort to make homemade pie crust pays off in a flakier and tastier result than anything you buy pre-made. Use this list of simple tips, from choosing the best ingredients to using the proper technique, to turn out a perfect pie crust every time.
1. Use Very Cold Butter or Fat
Butter, shortening, lard, or suet—whatever fat the recipe calls for should be well-chilled and cut into small pieces to start with for the flakiest crust in the end. The fat in a pie crust must maintain some of its integrity in the dough to make the crust truly flaky. Starting with very cold fat makes it easier to keep from overworking the fat into the dough. On a hot day, you may need to chill the fat in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes before you start making the dough.
2. Retain Some Chunks
Many recipes direct you to work the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Just be sure to retain a few larger chunks of fat in the dough to ensure optimum flakiness. As it heats up, the fat creates steam, causing little pockets of air that create the flaky character. Maintaining a few bigger pieces of fat also deters you from overworking the dough.
3. Limit the Water
Start off using the minimum amount of water or other liquid called for in the recipe. Water aids gluten development, which you want to avoid for a tender pie crust. Add just enough water (or other liquid) so the dough holds together when you pinch a piece between your fingers. The dough should look quite shaggy.
One way to limit the water? Use vodka instead—it contains less water by volume than actual water and the alcohol bakes off.
4. Make a Disk
Before you chill or roll out the dough, take the time to shape it into an even disk less than 1-inch thick and with smooth edges. Well-floured hands and a well-floured work surface makes this easier. This step makes the dough much easier to roll out quickly and evenly and helps prevent cracking on the edges.
5. Chill the Dough
Chill the dough before you roll it out for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 days. Again, on a very hot day, you may want to put the dough in the freezer for about 10 minutes just before you start to roll it out.
6. Roll the Dough, Turn the Dough
Roll out the dough on a well-floured work surface with a well-floured rolling pin. With each pass of the rolling pin, turn the dough a quarter turn (about 90 degrees). This alerts you if the dough starts to stick. In that case, lift up one side and throw a bit of flour underneath.
7. Think Curbs, Not Driveways
Roll out and away from yourself, then pick up the rolling pin to start from the center again. Be careful to keep even pressure on the rolling pin across the entire circle of dough so the edges of the dough remain as thick as the center—you want curbs, not driveways.
8. Let the Dough Fall Into the Pan
When you line the pie plate with the dough, lower the dough loosely into the pan, letting the dough fall down into the creases at the edge rather than pushing or forcing it. Stretched dough simply pulls back to its original shape when you bake it.
9. Chill the Lined Pie Pan
Cover and chill the lined pie pan (and any rolled out top crust) before blind-baking or filling the pie. This helps the pie keep its shape (and size!) when you bake it.
10. Bake Until Brown
To get the full tenderness and flakiness of a great pie crust, be sure to bake the pie until the crust turns fully brown, not just golden.