There’s nothing like my mom’s flaky, buttery, melt-in-your mouth homemade pie crust. It wasn’t just a shell for housing creamy chocolate silk, fresh strawberry rhubarb or traditional pumpkin filling—it added flavor and texture to every delicious bite.
If you’ve never made homemade pie crust yourself, now’s the time to take the leap. These seven tips will help produce a from-scratch crust that comes out of the oven crisp and golden—just like mom’s.
1. Cut in the Butter until You See Peas
Virtually every pastry pie crust recipe directs you to cut the butter into the flour until it’s reached a crumblike texture. (Whether you go about it with two knives, a pastry blender or a food processor is up to you!) Here’s the tip: Stop when the crumbs start to look the size of peas. A pea-size mixture allows the butter to be evenly distributed throughout the dough without melting.
The reason? Excuse me while I get a little technical. Part of what contributes to a crisp, flaky crust is the bits of butter melting and leaving little pockets of air in the crust as the pie bakes.
2. Choose Lard
Speaking of butter, many pie crust recipes call for all-butter pie crusts. For an extra-tasty flavor, substitute lard (like my grandma did) or butter-flavored shortening for all or part of the butter. It’s the secret ingredient in our Cinnamon-Sugar Apple Pie.
3. Use Ice-Cold Water
Make sure the water is truly ice-cold before measuring and adding it into the butter/flour mixture. This keeps the butter from melting as you mix the dough.
4. Don’t Overmix
And here’s the key: Be gentle! Overmixing the dough results in tough, overworked pastry, so mix only as much as necessary to hold the dough together.
5. Keep the Dough Cool
Remember what I said about butter; if it’s already melted before baking, your crust will lose its flaky texture. Once you’ve mixed the dough, shape it into a disk (or two for a two-crust pie), wrap it in plastic and refrigerate for at least a half hour or up to two days (a great make-ahead option). For a two-crust pie, keep one disk of dough in the fridge while you roll out the other one. Once assembled, cut slits in the top crust and chill the pie in the freezer for about 15 minutes to firm up the butter before baking.
6. Pick the Right Plate
We’ve all dug into what looks like a perfectly good pie only to discover a bottom crust that’s soft and unappealing–aka the dreaded soggy bottom. You can avoid that. First, pick the right pie plate. Use a matte-finish aluminum or glass pie plate for baking your pie (think shiny = soggy), and don’t grease the plate unless directed in the instructions.
7. Bake with the Rack on the Bottom
Another way to avoid soggy crust is to bake the pie on the bottom rack of the oven. The oven’s heating element is on the bottom, and keeping the pie as close to that as possible helps crisp up the bottom crust.
8. Get Your Oven Really, Really Hot
Here’s the one time having a hot flash is a good thing. If the recipe calls for getting the oven ripping hot, baking the pie for several minutes, then lowering the temperature to complete baking, don’t skip this step! Remember the gluten I mentioned earlier? This initial heat blast helps the gluten set before the butter melts which prevents your nice fluted edge from collapsing. This initial heat blast helps the gluten set before the butter melts. When you lower the temp, the pie can then finish baking without getting burned edges.
9. Use a Foil Protector
Speaking of burned edges, prevent them by loosely covering the edges of the pie crust with strips of aluminum foil if they’re browning too fast. Or make your own permanent foil protector from a 12-in. aluminum pie plate. Cut a 7-in. diameter circle from the center; discard. Center the foil protector over the pie plate so the edges are covered.
10. Don’t Forget to Glaze
To get a beautiful golden glaze on the top of a two-crust pie, whisk together an egg yolk and cream. Brush the mixture over the top crust and sprinkle with a little coarse sugar. You’ll end up with a pie that looks shiny and delicious. Time to pass the forks.