FAQ: Pie & Pie Crust

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie | ZoeBakes by Zoe Francois
Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Thank you to everyone to who sent me baking questions on Instagram. There were hundreds of questions, so I’ve compiled a few posts to answer as much of them as I can. This one focuses on questions about pie and crust and there are also posts answering FAQs about Baking Homemade Bread, Cake Baking and Decorating, Meringue, vegan desserts, Pies and Pie Crust and Equipment. If you have additional questions about pie or pie crust, please leave me a comment and I’ll get to as many of them as I can!

I also have a guide to making pie crust for you to check out! And get all my favorite pie making equipment here. There are also three episodes of my TV show on pie. Check them out on discovery+, HBO Max and Magnolia Network!

Now to the pies…

Your Questions About Pie and Pie Crust

Pie dough rolled out into a circle next to a French rolling pin

Mixing and Rolling Pie Dough

  • The MOST important tip for mixing pie crust? Keep everything cold. The fat (butter, shortening, lard or other) should be very cold so it keeps its shape as you work it into the flour. This will result in the flakiest crust.
  • How to make a perfect round pie dough? I massage the dough into a perfect circle before refrigerating the dough, then again when it is chilled, to make sure the edges aren’t too brittle. The trick to rolling out the dough into a circle is to roll away from you and rotate the dough, so it is always even and round. The best way to imagine this process is to watch it in action in my video.
  • Best way to attempt a pie crust for beginners? You can make pie dough by hand or in a food processor, but I suggest you do it by hand at first, so you have more control over the ingredients. The food processor is an awesome tool, but it goes really quickly and can break down the fat too fast if you’re not sure when to stop. Here are my instructions.
  • Is butter or shortening better for pie crust? I use a combination of both. I love the flavor and flakiness you get from butter, but the tenderness you can get from shortening. Lard is a good fat too in place of the shortening!
  • Can you make a dairy-free pie crust? Absolutely, you can use shortening, a vegan butter substitute or lard. Check out my chocolate pecan pie, which has a dairy-free crust thanks to Country Crock Plant Butter!
Pie dough laid over a pie plate
  • I struggle with pie dough, especially rolling it out. Tearing, sticking, uneven thickness. Help! It starts with the mixing of the dough, making sure it is super cold and has just enough liquid to hold it together, but not so much that the dough can be tough. Keep your dough cold as you work and make sure to use enough flour to keep it from sticking, but not so much it will dry out the dough. Rolling the dough away from you, starting at the center, then rotating the dough, creates the most even dough and ensures it isn’t sticking to the counter. Don’t roll over the edge or they get paper thin. Watch my Instagram video on pie dough to see my technique.
  • How to prevent the pie crust from sticking to the surface without using too much flour? Keeping the dough cold, so it isn’t too sticky. You can pop the dough back into the refrigerator at any time to chill it down, then continue rolling.
  • How to prevent a tough pie crust? The first step of adding the fat until it coats the flour will prevent too much gluten from forming. If you squeeze the flour in your hand and it sticks together, without the addition of water, you are ready to move on to the next step. The flour should also have a slightly darker color because of the addition of the fat. Doing all of this will also mean your dough requires less water and that will also prevent the gluten from developing (which causes the toughness).
Apple pie with whole wheat crust
Apple Pie with Lacy Whole Wheat Crust
  • I have trouble rolling out pie crust without it cracking. What does that mean? It either means the dough is too dry or you need to let it sit at room temperature for up to 15 minutes until it is more malleable. I also massage the edges of the dough before rolling to soften the dough so they don’t crack as much.
  • Why does my crust shrink so much while rolling and in the oven? Shrinking when rolling the dough or in the oven is from not allowing the gluten in the dough to relax. If your dough springs back when you try to roll it, give it a few minutes alone to relax, preferably in the refrigerator and it will allow you to roll it with ease. Don’t try to force the dough into place, it should just drape easily into the pie pan. Freeze the pie until it is firm before baking. 
  • Is my pie dough too thin? It could be. If you are using a large or deep pie plate, you may need to use a larger batch of dough. It should be about an 1/8-inch thick, unless the recipe suggests something else. 
Lacy rolling pin from JK Adams
Apple pie with lacy whole wheat crust before baking
  • I bought that patterned rolling pin but it didn’t turn out when the dough baked. Help! There are a few tricks that help:
    1. The dough needs to be tender, but not flaky. A flaky crust puffs up in the oven and blows out the pattern. A tender crust has the fat blended evenly into the flour, without large chunks of butter.
    2. Roll the dough to about 1/4-inch-thick disk with a regular rolling pin, then make sure the dough is really well chilled before rolling it with the patterned pin, or it will stick in the grooves.
    3. Freeze the pie before baking so the pattern in the dough has a chance to set before the butter melts in the oven. 
    Lattice Apple Pie

Lattice Top Pies

  • How do you do the crisscross lattice top pie? There are many ways to create a lattice top. Depending on the filling you can weave it right over the filling or create the lattice on a sheet of parchment and slice it onto the pie. You can watch me do the lattice top pie on my show (there are three pie episodes!), in my Instagram videos, and here in this post.
  • How to weave a lattice crust without the pastry breaking? If your lattice is cracking as you weave the lattice the dough is probably too dry and brittle, so next time you make the dough, try working more of the butter into the flour at the very beginning and/or add more water when mixing. 
  • How can I make a beautiful pie crust like that apple pie? Mine are never pretty. The first step is the dough. If the dough is made properly, it will be easy to crimp and create pretty patterns. Those just take practice. Even a crust finished with a fork pattern around the edge, which is simple, but so pretty. If you want a stenciled crust, then you need a dough that is tender and less flaky, and a special rolling pin. 
Apple Almond Galette
Apple Almond Galette
  • My pie crust oozes butter. Occasionally a galette will seem to almost fry. What to do? This can be caused by butter pieces that are too large, too much butter in a recipe or the wrong temperature (both of the dough and oven). If there are giant pieces of butter in the dough, it will leak out as it melts in the oven, so make sure they are no larger than a pea. Freeze the pie before baking, so the butter and dough are set hard. Make sure the oven is nice and HOT so the dough will set right away and give the crust structure. If the oven is too cool, the dough will just slump and the butter will melt out. 

Blind Baking (definition and how-to)

Dairy Free Chocolate Pecan Pie
Dairy-Free Chocolate Pecan Pie
  • How to prevent soggy pie crust? For double-crusted pies, make sure to bake at a high temperature, preferably on a preheated baking stone, until the dough sets. Then you can reduce the temperature and bake until the top and filling are done. For single-crusted pies, you may need to blind-bake the crust to set it before adding filling. See post about blind baking.
  • What is the best way to blind-bake for a pecan pie (or any baked liquid filling)? See above for how to blind bake. Make sure the pie crust is set and no longer looks wet before you remove the foil and beans, this will ensure your wet filling doesn’t make the crust soggy. 
  • How do you prevent a soggy bottom on apple pie? I even cooked the apples down. For a double-crusted pie, that you can’t blind bake, you need to make sure you are baking it at a very high temperature for the first half hour or so. I use a preheated baking stone under the pie, to make sure the temperature stays hot, even when I drop the oven temperature midway through, which sets the crust. This keeps the bottom of the pie from getting soggy.

General Baking Tips

  • My pie crust tastes fab but I can’t get the crimp to stay defined when baking. Freeze the pie before baking until it is really hard, to set the crust. A perfectly flaky crust won’t keep its crimp as well as a tender crust. The large sheets of butter in a flaky crust are meant to push the dough up while baking to create the flaky layers, but that also means it will push out most shaping. If you work the butter in more uniformly, you’ll get a tender (but less flaky) crust that holds a better shape.
  • My pie crust melts/droops down the outside of the pan. Help? Freeze the pie for at least 20 minutes before baking to set the dough. You may also need to increase the temperature of your oven and try baking on a preheated baking stone. This mostly happens when the heat isn’t high enough to set the crust before all the butter melts out. Use an oven thermometer to make sure your oven is running true to temperature. 425-450°F is generally a good place to start, then you can reduce the heat once the crust is set.
  • When baking a pie, my crust is always burned on the edges and pale in the center, even if I cover it. The trick is to only cover the edges and leave the center exposed to the heat. I create a foil tent when the pie is still frozen, that fits perfectly, and then I can slip it easily into the oven when the edge starts to look like it needs covering.
French Silk Pie with ruffled whipped cream
French Silk Pie

Pie Fillings

  • Your advice on thickening berry pies without a chalky thickener taste? Make sure you cook or bake the filling until it is bubbling and the juices are translucent. I often cook the filling before baking, so that the starch cooks out completely. Check out my Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie recipe here.
  • What is the difference between using cornstarch vs evaporated milk for filling in lemon meringue pie? Cornstarch is a thickener and will bind the pie filling so it isn’t soup. Evaporated milk is a concentrated dairy with a slightly sweet, almost caramel flavor and is added for flavor, but won’t bind the filling.
  • What is the best way to keep a berry pie from being too runny and falling apart? Berries have a lot of water content, so it is helpful to bind the juices before baking. I like to cook the filling first, that way I am sure that it won’t be a runny mess after it bakes and cools. I do that in my strawberry-rhubarb pie.
Lemon Honey Meringue Pie | | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François
Lemon Honey-Meringue PIe
  • How do you prevent a meringue pie from weeping? I typically start with a Swiss meringue to make sure the meringue is already cooked and safe to eat. You can’t rely on it baking long enough to heat throughout if you are baking the pie with the meringue on it. A trick I learned from Shirley O. Corriher, a food scientist, is to sprinkle the filling with a thin layer of cake crumbs the second it comes out of the oven. The cake crumbs will absorb any moisture caused by the interaction between the filling and the meringue. Then immediately cover it with the meringue, while the filling is still hot, making sure you touch the meringue to the crust to secure it on the pie and bake until toasted. I usually cover the pie with meringue and then use my blow torch
  • How do you prevent your filling from falling when the pie cools down? There’s always a gap between the filling and the pie crust. The filling sets up … it’s not that it’s thin or leaking at all, no soggy bottoms but it constricts when cooling. What’s happening is that all of the liquid from the fruit filling is being removed from the fruit, so the fruit loses the volume and will collapse. That’s why it’s better to cook the filling before you bake it so it won’t lose volume. I cook the filling in this recipe, if you’d like to take a look!

Pie Recipes

This peanut butter pie recipe is oh-so delicious. With a graham cracker crust, a smooth peanut butter filling made with cream cheese, a layer of chocolate ganache, and a whipped cream and candied peanut topping, this dessert is deluxe and irresistible. Be sure to chill this pie for two hours or overnight before serving.
Get the recipe
Key Lime Pie is what I would make if stuck on a desert island. It satisfies my craving for sweet, creamy and tart. The perfect dessert!
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Purple Sweet Potato Pie with a mound of an Italian meringue inspired by Esther Williams (anyone younger than me will have to google her).
Get the recipe
This pie is all the things I love in a pumpkin pie and more. The pumpkin filling is not too sweet, because of the tang of buttermilk and it's combined with a crunchy streusel made with pepitas and buckwheat. From Sister Pie: The Recipes and Stories of a Big-Hearted Bakery in Detroit by Lisa Ludwinski
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To make the pie extra special, roast your own pumpkin. I promise it is it worth it, and not nearly as hard as it sounds. Canned is fine too, and no matter how you get your pumpkin flavor, the resulting combination of flavors in this pie is a must for your dessert table.
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I love pie, all pies, but this blueberry pie stands above the rest. When wild blueberries are baked up in a pie shell, with just a bit of lemon, some sugar and pats of butter, I could eat the whole thing.
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To make this delicious galette I spread a layer of the applesauce on pie dough, cover it in sliced apple, fold up the crust and finish it with lemon sugar. Nothing could be easier and it is one of my all time favorite desserts. Add vanilla ice cream and really, in my mind, it is perfection.
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This is really a rustic blueberry pie, made without a tin and given a more romantic name. It’s simple, delicious, easy and contains little more than plump, sweet-tart blueberries. A galette need not be complicated, you can use fresh and/or frozen blueberries.
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3 thoughts to “FAQ: Pie & Pie Crust”

  1. How do you prevent your filling from falling when the pie cools down? I’ve tried leaving it in the oven to completely cool before taking it out and no luck. There’s always a gap between the filling and the pie crust. The filling sets up…it’s not that it’s thin or leaking at all, no soggy bottoms but it constricts when cooling.

    1. Hi Brittany! What’s happening is that all of the liquid from the fruit filling is being removed from the fruit, so the fruit loses the volume and will collapse. That’s why it’s better to cook the filling before you bake it so it won’t lose volume. Zoë cooks her filling in this recipe, if you’d like to take a look!

  2. I love how you share tips and tricks with your followers. It gives me the confidence to try anything interesting that I see on your website. Thank you so much.

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