Pie dough is notorious for being a difficult pastry. While it can take time and a good recipe to master your pie dough technique, you shouldn’t fear this beloved dessert, even if you’re worried that you can’t match the flakiness of your grandma’s crust. I’ve put together a guide on everything you need to know about making pie to give you the confidence to craft the best fruit, cream, meringue, savory and whatever-your-heart-desires pies.
How to Make Pie
Different types of pie crust
As any home baker knows, the number of pie crust styles can be overwhelming. Crumb? Lattice? Double crust? Apple pie alone comes in so many varieties that you can become paralyzed before you even begin baking. One way to avoid this is to keep things simple and work your way up to more complex crusts. Once you get the hang of making a basic pie crust, a lattice is much less intimidating. Plus, the style of pie will help make your decision easier. Some just flat out need a graham cracker crust, for example.
Before you choose your pie crust and start your dough, take this one tip to heart: Make sure your ingredients are COLD. If you take away only one tip, make sure it’s that! I promise, this will be the easiest way to improve your dough.
Now, choose your crust below, and get started. And, if you need a helpful guide, check out my Pie Dough 101 Instagram story.
Check out my essential tools for making pies + tarts.
To begin your pastry crust, make sure your lard is frozen and your butter is refrigerated. Remember, cold is your friend. In fact, on warm summer days I will sometimes even freeze my flour so it doesn’t melt the butter. Here is my favorite dough recipe, from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours which makes a 9-inch double crust, making it a versatile recipe for all kinds of pie styles.
How to Make Pie Dough for a Lattice Pie Crust
- 3 cups (375g) all-purpose flour (you can replace 1/2 cup with whole wheat flour)
- 1/4 cup (50g) sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 2 1/2 sticks (283g) very cold (frozen is good) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces (*if you are using Kerrygold or other European or European-style butter, you don’t need the extra vegetable shortening. See my Apple Galette IGTV video for more explanation.)
- *1/3 cup (63g) frozen vegetable shortening cut into tablespoon-sized pieces
- About 1/2 cup ice water – have more on the ready just in case
- Egg wash (1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon water)
- Sugar for sprinkling
- There are many ways to cut the butter and shortening into the flour, but I prefer to use a combination of my Cuisinart and my hands. The Cuisinart breaks up the fat quickly, so there is less time for it to get warm. Add flour, sugar and salt into the machine and pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter in 3 parts and pulse 2-3 times. By the time you’ve added all of the butter, some of it will completely blended into the flour and some will be in large pea sized pieces. Add the ice water to the dough 3 tablespoons at a time and pulse just once to combine. If you pulse too much at this point you will continue to break down the butter too much.
- Once you’ve added all of the water pour the dough out onto the counter, or into a large flat bowl (pasta serving bowl works well). It may still need some water, so I like to do the rest by hand so that I don’t break down the butter too much.
- First try pressing the dough together to determine if it is too dry. If it isn’t holding together, or there is still powdery flour then add a couple more tablespoons of water and try pressing together again. The dough should come together without falling apart, but not be too mushy with water.
- Press into a log and cut into 2 pieces. Form the dough into disks and wrap well with plastic. See the whole pieces of butter in the dough, this is what you want to create the flakiness. Chill for at least 2 hours.
- Once the dough is chilled sprinkle flour onto your counter, a rollpat or a piece of heavy gauge vinyl. Roll the dough out from the center, adding a little flour and turning the dough a 1/4 turn to make sure it isn’t sticking too much to the surface. If you use a rollpat or vinyl you will use less flour.
- Make sure the dough will fit the pan you are using. There should be about 2 extra inches around the pie plate. Use your rolling pin to transfer the dough to the pie plate. Put the rolling pin in the middle of the dough and fold the dough over the pin to lift it.
- Place the dough in the pie plate, don’t force or stretch it or it will shrink away from the sides as it bakes. Put the pie plate with dough into the refrigerator to rest while you make the lattice.
- Roll the next disk of dough out just as you did the first one, but this time you need to build it on a sheet of vinyl or a rollpat so it can be lifted. Now you will use a pastry wheel to cut strips in the dough. Depending on your personality you can measure the strips or eyeball them. When you are finished cutting the strips remove every other one and set aside.
- Fold up every other one of the remaining strips to the middle point. Lay one of the pieces that you had set aside over the strips that are laying flat. Unfold the strips and repeat with the next set. Continue until you get to the end of this side and then start this on the other side.
- Once the lattice is prepared slide the vinyl or rollpat onto a cutting board or baking sheet so that you can easily transfer to the refrigerator. You need to let this chill so that it is easier to slide onto the filled pie.
- Once the lattice is chilled it will slide easily onto the pie shell filled with fruit. Then you will need to trim the excess length off of the lattice strips. They should fit just over the filling. Fold up the sides of the pie shell and then crimp them in whatever design you choose.
- Brush the surface of the lattice, but not the edge of the pie shell, with egg wash. Sprinkle with sugar, I then stick the pie into the freezer for about 15 minutes while the oven is preheating to 425 F. Freezing the dough will help to set the dough so that it won’t blow out your design when it goes in the oven. After 30 minutes, turn the temperature down to 375°F and bake until the fruit is bubbling and juices are translucent. The length of time to bake your pie will be determined by the filling. My peach-raspberry pie took about an hour. You may need to tent the crust if it is browning too quickly as the filling bakes fully.
Double Pie Crust
The nice thing about double pie crust is that once you have your pie dough technique down, you can easily create a double pie crust. You’ll need enough dough for the bottom and top, but many recipes, like the one above, are created for a double crust. You can also create fun designs with cutouts for the top of the pie, which is one of the reasons pie is so wonderful for special occasions.
Lattice Pie Crust
If you follow my full recipe above, you’ll see that you end up with a beautiful, lattice pie. A lattice finish is a sophisticated way to top your pie, and it is a simple way to add some design to the look. Instead of mastering complicated cutouts, you just cut the dough into strips. The lattice look can be a bit tricky, but again check out my Instagram Stories for tips on how to make the perfect looking pie.
For pie design inspirations or to simply enjoy some beautiful pies, check out my friend Lauren Ko’s book, Pieometry.
Graham Cracker Crust
When I think of graham cracker crust, I think of cheesecake. The graham cracker flavor is just the right amount of sweetness for the rich filling. Plus, one of the best things about a graham cracker crust is how simple it is to make. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can try my homemade graham crackers, but store bought work too for this simple recipe. This crust is also the perfect base for one of my all-time favorite pies: key lime.
- 1 cup graham cracker crumbs (about 5 ounces)
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- pinch salt
- 2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
- In a food processor, mix together the graham crackers, brown sugar, salt, and butter.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and press it out in an even layer.
- Bake for about 12 minutes, until it starts to look lightly toasted.
While I love the finish on a lattice pie, a nice buttery, sugary crumb topping is hard to beat. Plus, it couldn’t be easier. The version pictured above is takes the crumb topping to a new level: the streusel topping is made with buckwheat and pepitas—perfect to take your pumpkin pie game up a notch. Try it with this Buttermilk Pumpkin Streusel Pie.
Types of Pie
What is the best thing about pie? For me, it’s the variety. If you like a rich custard, there’s a pie for that. A beautiful, fluffy meringue? A pie for that. Or you can stick to a classic fruit pie like apple. No matter your taste, the time of year or the occasion, you can find a pie that will make the perfect dessert. These are the types of pies I love, with recipes, including a couple of savory options.
Fruit pies are as classic as it gets. A beautiful apple pie works as well for Easter as it does for the Fourth of July as it does for Thanksgiving. The key to a good fruit pie is perfecting the dough and kicking up the natural sweetness of the fruit filling up just enough that you get the fruit flavor with a little extra pop.
A good custard is a rich, sweet treat that can hit on different flavor profiles. There’s the tangy richness of a good cheesecake, decadent chocolate custards and classics like key lime pie. Each one has its place in your baking repertoire, and all have one thing in common: A creamy, comforting custard filling.
A good cream pie requires a pillowy filling that stays together when you cut into the treat. A little cornstarch will go a long way in a banana cream pie, for example, to give your filling just enough thickness to hold together when cut the first slice. Below is my recipe for banana cream pie, plus a French Silk recipe—for it’s beautiful cream topping.
Meringue Topped Pies
As you probably know by now, a torch is one of my favorite kitchen supplies. I love to blast the tops of meringues with a flame to give my desserts a stunning toasted brown look. Plus, it’s a blast to use. The key to a good meringue is to beat it to nice stiff peaks to make sure it holds up when you add it to the top of your pie.
It’s hard to beat a warm, comforting chicken pot pie with a flaky crust on a cold Minnesota winter day. The golden brown crust is such a wonderful contrast to the creamy chicken stew inside.
Chicken Pot Pie
Best Tools for Making Pie
Good tools can make all the difference when making pastries. Below are some of the most important items you’ll use when making pie, and some of my favorite product picks. You can get all of my favorite pie-making tools, and other baking essentials, here.
A good rolling pin should be easy to handle and heavy enough, but not too heavy. You want to have control when rolling out pie and avoid the dreaded sticking and cracking of your dough. With pie, you also need a pin that is large enough to work with the space you need to roll out your pie. Below are two options—one with handles and one without. Both work great for pie and versatile enough for other baking.
There are three primary types of pie plates: glass, ceramic and metal. You’ll find different bakers who will sing the praises of different materials, and choices often depend on your pie priorities. I usually choose a ceramic pie plate for presentation and a slow, even bake, but many home bakers prefer a glass dish so they can see the crust and judge its doneness visually. I also like the sturdiness of a ceramic pie plate, but much of the pie plate debate is settled by personal choice.
My Pie Plate Pick: Emile Henry Ceramic Pie Plate
Pie weights are used when pre-baking your pie crust to help prevent air bubbles from forming. You can purchase ceramic or metal pie weights, which are small round balls, but dried beans also work just as well. All you’re doing is putting enough weight on the pie dough while it bakes to help maintain its shape, so don’t worry too much about buying the right pie weight balls. Bon Appétit even found that ball bearings work well as pie weights.
If you’d like a recommendation, Cook’s Illustrated has tested various pie weights.
In order to get more precise measurements, you should consider using a kitchen scale when making your pie. Measuring cups work fine, but given pie dough’s finicky nature, you want your ingredients and measurements to be as accurate as possible, and a good kitchen scale is the best gadget for precision.
My Kitchen Scale Pick: Bakers Math Kitchen Scale
If you’ve ever used a torch to finish off your pastries, or even seen a chef use one on a baking show, you probably know how much fun they are to use. I love finishing off, in particular, my meringues with a kiss from a blow torch. You get a beautiful golden brown color that can only be attained with a shot of high heat.
Torch Pick: Bernzomatic Torch
History of Pie
With its place at the dinner table and its role in Americana, we think of pie as an American dessert. But that wasn’t always the case. As NPR notes, the origins of pie can be traced back to the Latin word, “pica,” or magpie in the 13th Century, with one theory being that the savory meats inside resembled the black and white checkered look of a magpie. Or, perhaps, the filling of assorted odds and ends was named after the magpie’s collection of scraps for its nest.
Eventually, the pastry became known by the shorthand, “pie,” and was (lucky for us) made into a sweet. An article in Slate says that sweet tarts can be found as far back as 1379, but sweet pies as we know them didn’t begin to emerge until pies were brought to America from England. Over the years, bakers maintained recipes for both sweet and savory pies, and the recipe list evolved to encompass the delights we know today.