Pie Crust 101: How to Make Pie Dough From Scratch, Plus Easy Ideas to Elevate Any Pie
New to pie-making? We've put together a guide to all your pressing crust questions, from rolling to crimping to getting the perfect flaky layers.
Featured pastry and pie photos by Olga Ivanova with food styling by Julie Smith. Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning if you follow the link and make a purchase, Yummly makes a commission.
While you’re planning holiday dinner menus, it’s tempting to put store-bought pie dough on your grocery list. We get it. Life is busy! But if you have a little time to experiment with making a homemade pie crust, it’s so worth it, because you CAN taste the difference.
Maybe there’s a friend or grandma in your life who’s a master pie baker, and you remember devouring a flaky, buttery crust wrapped around crisp-yet-jammy, cinnamon-flavored apples. Recreating that memory is within reach. So we’re going to dive into how to make a pie crust from scratch, and do it well.
That said, just in case you choose to go with store-bought pie dough this year, we’ve still got a few easy techniques to elevate any pie crust. Wondering how to crimp pie crust or make pie vents? Want to blind-bake (prebake) a crust to keep your pumpkin pie from getting soggy?
Wherever you are in your pie-making journey, even if this is your first time, there’s a perfect way to dip your toes in the water — make that, dip your fingers in the flour.
Jump ahead to:
Ingredients for homemade pie crust
Learning how to make homemade pie crust starts with the ingredients. A good pie dough has only a few required ingredients: flour, salt, fat, and liquid. There are many variations, but this is the simple formula and there’s no real need to mess with it. Here’s a quick explanation of the different ingredients you might find in recipes.
Flour and salt
Flour and salt for pie dough
Flour. Some recipes call for pastry flour because it’s low in protein and produces a tender crust. But all-purpose flour is also great and can create a delicate, flaky crust as well.
Salt. This one is a non-negotiable. If you forget salt once, you will NEVER forget it again: Dough without salt tastes bland. Some recipes also call for sugar, but it's not required — sweetness can be lost next to a sugary filling; plus, a sugar-free crust can be used for savory pies, too, like chicken pot pie or quiche.
Cubed shortening and cubed butter for a homemade pie crust
Grandma probably used lard, but it’s not as easy to find as it used to be. Many pie crust recipes now call for unsalted butter, vegetable shortening, or a combination of both. Whatever fat you use, cut it into cubes before you add it to the dry ingredients.
Shortening. Shortening makes pastry very tender. It also helps a pie hold its shape during baking because of its high melting point.
Butter. Pie crust made with butter has excellent flavor; however, the fat’s water content and low melting point can make butter pie dough trickier to work with and easier to overwork. On the plus side, during baking, the lower melting point can help prevent air gaps in double-crust pies.
Both fat options produce great results with the right recipe and techniques.
Water, milk, vodka, and vinegar are liquids you can use to make pie crust
Liquid promotes gluten development — and you want minimal gluten development because it’s what makes pastry tough. But you need some liquid in order for the ingredients to hold together and form a dough.
Ice water. This is the most common liquid used in pie dough.
Milk. Some recipes use milk or buttermilk for a rich crust.
Vodka. To minimize possible toughness, recipes sometimes use vodka or vinegar.
Two great ways to make pie dough from scratch
How to make pie dough? Grandma probably mixed the dough by hand, but you don’t have to. A food processor can work just as well and takes less time (but it does add a few more dishes to clean).
Whichever method you choose, for the flakiest crust possible, all of your ingredients should be VERY cold. Having cold ingredients helps keep the fat unmelted, which is what makes the final result flaky. While you can refrigerate the flour before combining your ingredients, it’s ok if it’s at room temperature. However, it’s important that you use cold butter or shortening and that the liquid is ice-cold.
Note that you can freeze pie dough, sealed airtight, up to 2 months, and you can refrigerate pie dough up to 2 days.
Making pie dough by hand
Mixing dough by hand is very easy if you have the time.
1. On a work surface or in a bowl, whisk together the salt and flour. (How much salt and flour? Choose one of the crust recipes at the bottom of this post for amounts!)
Salt and flour mixed together in a large bowl for homemade pie dough
2. Toss the cubed pieces of butter or shortening into the dry ingredients and make sure each cube is coated with flour as you start squeezing the mixture together. Gently break up the fat and work it with your hands until the butter resembles peas in coarse sand. (Or cut in the fat using a pastry blender, aka a pastry cutter, if you have one.)
Flour with cubed butter mixed in to make pie dough from scratch
3. Make a well in the mixture. Pour in the cold liquid sparingly (start with less than the full amount in your recipe). With a fork, starting from the outside of the flour and working toward the center, mix the flour/fat mixture with the liquid, using more liquid only as needed, until it’s just combined.
A well in the butter and flour mixture is ready for the ice water
4. Bring everything together to make a ball and form a disk about an inch thick. If you’re doing a double crust, divide evenly into two balls and gently form two disks.
A ball of dough formed for homemade pie pastry
5. Wrap in plastic wrap or seal in containers and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 2 hours (or up to 2 days). This lets the water in the dough even out, the fat re-solidify, and any gluten that formed relax. Use this time to make the filling.
Dough divided and wrapped in plastic
Making pie dough with a food processor
Using a food processor is very fast. If you have one, we highly recommend it for holidays and feasts.
Flour and butter in a food processor for pie dough
1. Place the flour and salt in the food processor and pulse once. Add the fat. Pulse 3 or 4 times or until the mix has large chunks of fat.
Pouring ice-cold water into food processor to blend with flour-butter mixture
2. With the processor on, quickly pour in the liquid a little at a time using only as much as is needed to get it all combined (you may not use all the liquid). Turn off the food processor as soon as the dough forms.
3. Remove the dough from the food processor and form a disk (or divide into two disks if it’s a double crust), wrap in plastic or seal in containers, and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 2 hours, or up to 2 days.
How to roll out pie dough and how to cut it
When you remove the dough from the refrigerator, make sure to handle it as little as possible to keep it from getting tough. Gentle handling also prevents the dough from shrinking away from the pie dish during baking.
Dough smoothed out with a rolling pin
1. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough quickly and gently so as not to overwork it. For each roll, lightly push the rolling pin away from you once and then turn the dough clockwise 45 degrees. The slight turn helps keep the dough round, and the movement keeps it from sticking to your work surface. As you go, lightly re-flour the surface as needed.
Pie plate on top of dough to check for size
2. Keep your pie plate nearby so you can check to see when the dough is about 1 inch wider than the pie pan all around so there’s enough pastry for sealing (for a double crust) and crimping.
Quick note: If you see streaks of butter or shortening, that’s a good thing! Streaks (even small chunks) of fat mean a flakier dough.
3. How to cut pie crust: Despite your best efforts at rolling out an even round of dough, it may have some wonky edges. If that's the case, use kitchen scissors to tidy up the edges. You can also do this once the dough is in the pie pan. Keep the scraps for patching any tears later.
Tips for getting pie dough into a pie pan
Transferring dough from the counter to your pie plate can be tricky. Lifting that big round directly from the work surface to the plate puts you at risk for tearing. Use one of these two methods instead. These tips for careful positioning once you get the dough to the pie plate apply to store-bought pie dough, too.
Rolling pin method
Transferring dough to pie plate using a rolling pin
Roll up your dough on the rolling pin and then use the pin to lay it on the plate. Gently ease the dough down into the inside corner of the pie plate without stretching.
Transferring dough to pie plate by folding it into quarters
The other option for positioning a bottom crust is to fold the dough in quarters and lay the corner in the middle of the pie plate so that when you unfold it, it’s perfectly centered. Be sure to gently ease the dough into the inside corners of the pie plate without stretching.
You can use either method to position the top crust of a double-crust pie.
How to crimp and seal a pie crust
Putting the finishing touches on a pie starts with sealing and crimping. These tips apply whether you’ve made pie dough from scratch or are using store-bought refrigerated pie dough (the kind you unroll, not a pre-shaped pie shell, which can’t be crimped).
How to seal pie crust edges: Fold the edge of the top crust under the bottom crust
Sealing is crucial for double-crust pies like apple. You're locking the top crust to the bottom crust so the filling doesn’t ooze out during baking. The foolproof way to do this is to trim the bottom crust a little shorter than the top crust, then tuck the top crust under the bottom crust and gently press down on the two crusts on the lip of the pie plate before crimping.
Crimping is just pinching or pressing the edge of the crust to create a pretty pattern and make the pie delightful to look at. How to flute a pie crust is the same thing as how to flute a pie crust.
How to crimp pie crust: Pinch it between two fingers and a thumb
Classic crimping. Squeeze the dough together using your index finger and thumb from one hand and the thumb of the other hand, pinch-by-pinch around the pie.
Easy crimping. Press the edge of the crust together and create a pattern using a fork, spoon, or table knife.
Maintaining the shape. Once you're done sealing and crimping, place the pie in the freezer for 30 minutes to an hour before baking to help it hold its shape while in the oven.
How to blind bake to prevent soggy crusts
If you made a double-crust pie, you're almost ready to pop it in the oven. But for many single-crust custard or cream pies like pumpkin, you need to take a step back in the process before crimping, and prebake — or blind bake — the crust before adding the filling.
Blind baking keeps the final pie crust from getting soggy. How to prebake a pie crust simply involves baking the crust on its own, usually with pie weights to maintain the crust’s shape in the oven.
A pie crust lined with parchment paper and pie weights for blind baking
Pie weights are used in blind baking to keep the bottom of the pie from puffing up and the sides from sagging. After you’ve set the dough in the pie plate, line the dough with parchment paper and fill it with specially made pie weights, uncooked rice, or uncooked beans. The rice and beans shouldn’t be eaten after they’ve been used as pie weights, but they can be saved for future use as pie weights.
Piercing an unbaked pie shell with a fork is called "docking"
"Docking" is simply poking tiny holes (usually with a fork) in the pie dough to allow steam to escape during baking so it doesn’t puff up. This technique isn’t as reliable as pie weights, though, for preventing slumping as the empty crust bakes.
Parbaking vs. blind baking
Parbaking is just like blind baking but the crust is only partially cooked. This is sometimes done with single-crust nut pies like pecan pie to prevent a soggy bottom. Some double-crust pies have you parbake the bottom crust before filling it, then add the filling and top crust and finish baking.
Finishing touches: How to vent and wash
You’re likely eager to put your filled pie in the oven, but there are a few more tips to know.
Cut pie vents
How to cut slits in pie crust for venting using a paring knife
Double crust pies need to be vented so there’s a place for steam to escape as the filling cooks. You can do this by cutting small slits in the top of the pie or by using a pie bird specially made for pie ventilation. Without vents, the top crust puffs up into a big dome, creating an air gap between the crust and the filling.
Pie vent designs cut into the top crust with a small knife serve as vents and add extra beauty to your finished pie.
Apply a wash
If making your double-crust pie pretty is important, you can add shine and color by brushing the top crust before baking with a pastry brush dipped in a little egg, milk, or cream.
• Egg wash. Beat 1 egg with 2 tablespoons milk. You likely won't use it all. This results in a shiny, golden crust.
• Milk wash. Use about 2 tablespoons milk. This results in a golden brown crust.
• Cream wash. Use about 2 tablespoons whipping cream. This results in a slightly shiny golden crust.
Shield the edge of the pie
The pie edge cooks faster than the rest of the pie and is susceptible to burning. To provide peace of mind, you can cover the rim with strips of aluminum foil or specially-made pie crust shields for the first 20 minutes of baking. And by the way, it’s definitely easier to shield the rim before the pie goes into the oven, rather than partway through baking when the pie is hot.
Get a crunchy bottom crust
We’ve already covered how blind baking helps prevent a soggy crust. You can also ensure a crispy bottom with a few other methods:
• Bake your pie directly on the bottom of the oven.
• Bake it on a pizza stone.
• Depending on the filling, make a streusel to crumble over the bottom of the crust before filling to give the dough an extra layer of protection against a wet filling. This works for fruit fillings like apple that will mingle well with an additional crumbly (and delicious) layer.
How long do you need to let pie cool?
You’ve baked your pie, the kitchen smells amazing, and you're dying to dive in. But wait. Giving your pie enough cooling time before slicing — at least three hours — is crucial. If you don’t let it cool, the slices collapse and the filling oozes all over the plate.
Pie crust recipes and a favorite pie
What's your perfect pie crust? It depends on what you're looking for. Here are a few excellent pie dough recipes you can try as you learn how to make pie dough from scratch, and a new Yummly recipe to get you thinking about the pie filling.
This all-butter pie crust recipe from Completely Delicious gives options for cutting in the cold unsalted butter by hand with a pastry blender, rolling in the butter with a rolling pin for extra flakiness, or making the dough in a food processor.
With shortening for tenderness, butter for flavor, and part vodka to moisten the dough without creating gluten, this pie pastry, developed by food science guru J. Kenji López-Alt for Cook’s Illustrated, will get your holiday diners talking. You’ll add flour in the food processor in two stages, and then fold in the liquid by hand.
As with the previous recipe, for this easy pie crust you’ll add flour in two stages in the food processor to promote flakiness in the crust, but in this one (also by J. Kenji López-Alt), you’ll use all butter and only water for liquid.
Creating a fabulous apple pie is all about the details. For starters, not every apple holds up well to baking, so this pie features two that do, Granny Smith and Golden Delicious. Three kinds of spices and two of citrus add complexity, and cranberries bring in a pop of color and tartness. For beauty, and to prevent the slump that can occur in a baked apple pie between the top pastry crust and the filling, you’ll precook the apples just a little.
Now you can sit down and enjoy your well-earned and well-made slice of pie.
A slice of double-crust Spiced Apple Cranberry Pie
More ways to love pie
Turkey might get the attention on the holiday table, but if you're like some of us, the meal is all about the pie. And you're going to want more than one option!