Homemade pie dough is about a thousand times more flaky, tender, and flavorful than the store-bought kind. It takes a little bit of extra work to get a perfect pie crust, but it absolutely does not need to be as intimidating as it may seem.
Until the dough comes together in a cohesive ball, it seems like something has gone wrong. Not to mention all of the frustrations when pie dough shrinks or loses its shape after baking. I’ve factored in as many potential pie crust woes into this recipe to make it as foolproof as possible.
I actually completely overhauled my pie crust recipe in 2020 to make it even more tender and flaky. I took a bunch of feedback I’d received over the years from readers to improve the recipe and I’m SO happy with the results. Take a look at just how FLAKY:
I spent weeks testing, experimenting, and researching different pie dough methods, tips, and tricks. Some worked, others didn’t.
I’m sharing a ton of tips that truly work in this post, so let’s go ahead and get right into the juicy stuff. (Or should I say flaky stuff?)
P.S. Take a look at these pie crusts made by HTH community members. Many of whom had previously struggled to master pie dough. Follow the tips on this article to bake pies that look like these:
Top Pie Dough Tips:
For Flaky Pie Crust, Keep Everything COLD, Especially Your Butter
If your kitchen is above 73°F, you can refrigerate all of your ingredients and equipment including your bowl, rolling pin, and pie plate until it’s between 65-70°F (dip an instant thermometer into your flour to gauge the temperature). If it’s a hot day, or you have hot hands, you’re probably better off making your pie dough in a food processor.
If your kitchen is warm, fill freezer bags with ice and a little water and set them on your work surface for 10 minutes to chill it before rolling out your pie dough. This will prevent the butter from becoming greasy as you work with the dough.
Pea Sized vs. Large Chunks of Butter in Pie Dough
The general rule of thumb is that smaller pieces of butter will result in a more mealy textured crust that holds up better to custard fillings. Larger chunks of butter will yield a flakier crust better suited for fruit fillings. Larger chunks also run the risk of creating pools of butter as your pie dough bakes. Overall, the differences can look relatively minor from a visual perspective once the crusts are baked.
If you don’t have a ton of pie dough experience or confidence, I’d recommend small pieces of butter. It makes the dough much easier to work with!
Take a look at what a difference it makes to use pea sized vs. large chunks of butter in pie crust:
Cut the Butter Into Small Uniform Pieces
It should take just a couple minutes to cut the butter into the flour mixture so you don’t risk the butter getting too hot. For this reason, it’s helpful to start out with pieces of butter that are already small in size. I’ve included several options for processing the butter below. My personal favorite is to grate it like cheese!
Method 1: Grater or Knife
Take your butter and freeze it for about 10 minutes, or until it’s super cold and firm. Using the large holes on a grater, literally grate the butter like cheese. If you have it, you can also use the grater attachment on your food processor. Return the grated butter to the freezer for another 10 minutes until it’s firm before adding into the flour mixture. You can get a similar effect without a box grater. Just freeze your butter for even longer, then use a sharp knife or bench scraper to slice it into chunks.
Working quickly, use your hands to further cut and break the butter into pieces the size of small peas. You can also use a pastry cutter/blender or two knives.
Method 2: Food Processor
Since I live in Phoenix where temperatures often exceed 85°F, I typically use a food processor to make pie dough. It’s quick, easy, and prevents the butter from warming up too much. Cube your sticks of butter with a bench scraper and freeze until firm. Add into the dry ingredients in the bowl of the food processor with the butter and pulse until the butter is the size of peas.
You want the butter to end up the size of little peas. This will help bring the dough together cohesively without overworking it.
Over-working the pie dough develops more gluten, which can make the baked crust tough and dense instead of light and flaky. This can also create shrinking in the crust while it’s baking. Additionally, over-working the dough with your hands can start to melt the butter, which will prevent that flaky texture from forming.
Creating pea-sized bits of butter will also prevent the butter from pooling into greasy puddles as the pie bakes. I used to use larger chunks of butter and would encounter these grease pools too often, so I’ve scaled back to much smaller pieces.
How Much Water to Use For Pie Dough?
This is one of the trickiest parts of making pie dough. The reason is that many factors affect how much ice water you’ll need to add, such as the climate and humidity of your kitchen and the brand of flour you’re using. That’s why the recipe calls for a range of water. Add half of the total amount to start with. Toss it in to combine either by hand or with a few pulses of the food processor.
Pick up a piece of the mixture and pinch it between your fingers. It should hold its shape. If it crumbles away or seems really floury and dry, then you need to add more water.
At this point I like to turn the mixture out onto a work surface and begin pressing it together into one messy lump of dough. Doing so will give you a better indication if you need to add more water.
The dough won’t look like much at first. It’ll be kind of craggly and messy looking, that’s okay.
Once you have a fairly cohesive mound of dough, flatten it into a disk and fold it onto itself, kneading gently as you work.
Do this a couple times to ‘laminate’ the dough. Every fold will give you more flaky layers. Just be careful to be gentle and work the dough only until it comes together into a smooth cohesive disk like this:
If you were to cut the mass in half, such as for a double crust pie, you can visibly see the layers of butter thanks to that extra folding step. These layers are going to bake into crispy tender flaky goodness:
Give the Dough a Rest
If you have problems with your crusts shrinking while baking OR if your crust becomes tough then it needs more time to rest so the gluten can relax so it doesn’t snap back to its original smaller shape. I’ve included these resting periods in the recipe directions.
After mixing it: wrap it in plastic and refrigerate overnight. You can shorten this to a few hours if you must, but I find overnight really makes a difference in preventing classic pie issues.
After rolling it out: let it rest in the fridge after you’ve rolled it out and placed it in the pie dish and/or after you’ve assembled. Do NOT stretch the dough to fit into the tin, as it will snap back like a rubber band while baking.
Now let’s move onto the other area of pie crust that I think frustrates a lot of people.
How to Roll Out Pie Dough
I typically roll out my dough on a marble pastry board, but that is totally optional. You can use the trick I mentioned above of icing down your counter before rolling to help keep things nice and cool. Avoid overworking the dough as you roll it out. Keep the dough moving on a lightly floured surface so you don’t roll over the same areas repeatedly, making it tough.
You’ll want about a 12-inch diameter for a 9-inch pie pan. Some pans are deeper than others, so factor that into your rolling. Whatever you do, make sure the thickness is about 1/8-inch for your pie crusts. Thinner will result in rips and tears. Thicker and it won’t cook through and get flaky.
Flour your work surface, the dough itself, and your rolling pin throughout the process as needed. There are two inexpensive tools that I find are both a MUST when it comes to rolling out pie dough: a flour shaker and a bench scraper.
The flour shaker allows you to easily add flour wherever sticking might be happening. The bench scraper allows you to easily keep the dough moving as you roll it out, which is essential. I keep the dough moving in quarter-turns to prevent sticking and to keep it an even thickness.
Alternatively, you can roll the pie dough out between two sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap. I find that most non-commercial paper and plastic wrap isn’t big enough to accommodate a 12- to 14-inch diameter circle, so I don’t often use this method.
If at any point the butter begins to get melty and sticky, return the dough to the fridge immediately.
Use your fingers to flute the edges of the pan if you wish. I find that I need to make a more dramatic flute than I might think since the design will loosen during baking. Whatever you do, don’t make the flute too thick and heavy, otherwise it’ll slump down the sides.
More Dough Than Other Recipes?
You might notice in the recipe below that I call for more ingredients than other recipes. This is because I think it’s easier to work with dough when you have a little more than you may need. It comes together more cohesively and if you get any rips, tears, or make any mistakes with a design you have extra.
This especially comes in handy if you have a deeper pie dish or if you want to get fancy with any designs.
Pie Crust: Butter vs. Shortening?
I’ve done an extensive amount of testing on pie crust. Let’s just say my kitchen has seen a LOT of butter. I made the messes and did the testing so you don’t have to. Here’s what I learned.
When it comes to pie dough, I’ve heard a lot of confusing and conflicting opinions about which is the better fat.
If you’re curious, you can learn more about the general differences between butter and shortening here.
But I actually tested the two fats in pie crust side-by-side to compare. I still need to do testing with lard, so stay tuned for that!
All-shortening dough can be easier to work with in one sense because unlike butter, shortening requires less chilling time. Shortening has a higher melting temperature than butter. However, this also means that unlike the very hard chunks of cold butter that remain in the control dough, shortening is soft enough that it is easily overworked, resulting in a crumbly crust instead of a flaky crust. In our blind-baked shortening crust, the parchment paper holding the pie weights actually stuck to the crust, pulling some of it off with it.
As you can see in the photograph, the all-shortening dough ended up being flat, tender, and fairly crumbly. The texture was actually reminiscent of shortbread, and it was completely lacking in flavor. In fact, the flavor reminded me of store-bought dough.
In this all-butter dough, there were plenty of visible chunks of butter studded throughout. Once it came together and was chilled, it was a bit of a challenge to maintain that perfect temperature where it’s warm enough to shape but cold enough that the butter doesn’t melt. Especially for me living in the desert. The extra effort paid off immensely, though. This pie crust was ridiculously light, flaky, and loaded with rich buttery flavor. You could immediately tell this was homemade, in the best way. This is why I almost always prefer a 100% butter pie crust.
If you like the benefits of shortening, then I’d recommend a 50-50 ratio of butter and shortening to get the best of both worlds.
Other Pie Crust “Tricks” Put to the Test
A few reputable sources have claimed that by substituting a portion of the water with vodka in a pie crust recipe, you prohibit gluten development and therefore ensure a tender, flaky crust. I tested this against my standard pie crust recipe and found the differences to be slight. I don’t think it’s worth the extra effort if you don’t have chilled vodka on hand.
Optional SECRET Ingredient!!
As you can see, I’ve done a lot of side-by-side testing of pie crust variations. Most of the time the classic recipe has won out, with a single exception. SOUR CREAM!
Sour cream acts as a tenderizer in baked goods, and I was curious to see if it would significantly affect the texture of pie crust. I added 2 tablespoons of sour cream to my standard single recipe along with the butter.
This dough was very soft and slightly sticky, but easy enough to work with. This pie crust puffed up to a surprising height. The texture was ultra light, puffy, and flaky, almost like puff pastry. If you have sour cream handy, I definitely suggest giving it a shot. Add in 2 tablespoons to the single recipe below, and reduce the water by about 2 tablespoons, or as needed.
Can you Make Pie Dough Ahead of Time?
Yes! Pastry dough can be shaped into a disc and refrigerated for up to 3 days, as long as it’s well wrapped in plastic.
Unbaked pie shells can also be refrigerated for up to 3 days. This works perfectly for single-crust pies like pumpkin or sweet potato. Simply roll out your dough, lay it into your pie tin, crimp the edges, and cover loosely with plastic wrap. When ready, simply remove from the fridge, fill, and bake.
Pastry dough can also be shaped into a disc and frozen for up to 2 months, well wrapped in plastic and placed in a freezer bag or airtight container. Defrost in the fridge overnight. You can also freeze already rolled out dough if you have room in your freezer. You can use it straight from the freezer; just let it sit at room temperature briefly so it becomes easier to press into the pie pan.
Unbaked pie shells can also be covered and frozen for up to 2 months. No thawing necessary.
How to Bake Pie Dough
I’ve included instructions on how to blind-bake the crust for recipes that require an already baked crust. Otherwise, just follow the directions in the pie recipe you’re following for baking the crust. Or, check out my full article on How to Blind Bake Pie Crust here!
The material of your pie pan can make a noticeable difference in how your pie bakes. This is actually something I talk about a lot in The Magic of Baking, my online baking class. Here’s what you need to be aware of at minimum:
These pans heat up and bake quickly, so you may need to shave some time off your baking to avoid overdoing it. Avoid dark or coated aluminum pans for baking pie crust, which are likely to result in overly browned crusts.
Glass bakes more slowly than aluminum, but since it’s slow and you can see how brown your crust is getting, you’re less likely to overbake. Don’t take your pie directly from the freezer to the oven unless the manufacturer says it’s safe to do so. I like this OXO glass pie pan because it’s made from borosilicate glass to withstand extreme temperature changes without shattering.
These are pretty for serving at special occasions, and like glass, they bake more slowly and shouldn’t be subjected to extreme temperature changes.
Place your pie pan on a rimmed baking sheet before putting in the oven. This helps you to remove the pie tin without damaging the crust with your oven mitts. Better yet? Place the sheet on a BAKING STONE to ensure a golden crispy bottom crust and avoid any sogginess.