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Mar 4, 2009 01:55 AM

Pie Crust Problems

So many people have expressed either problems or tips for pie crusts, I think it would be a good idea to start a sub-thread.

So what problems do you have? Does it not taste nice? Does it crack?

I just use butter (which I keep in the fridge, but I think I've microwaved to soften before) flour and maybe a pinch of salt. Mush that together with your fingers till you get breadcrumbs, and that's pretty much it. you can put it in the fridge for 30 minutes, but I'm pretty sure in a rush, I've used it as-is.

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  1. I would never use soft butter in my crust. Frozen is best so that each flake of butter is coated with flour which is what makes it flaky. I make mine in the food processor, cold bowl, cold blade and ice water. I prefer White Lily flour.

    11 Replies
    1. re: Candy

      For those of us that don't have a food processor, frozen butter might be hard to beat in!
      Sounds like good science though if you have one

      1. re: Soop

        You don't want to beat the butter into the flour because the desired result is not creaming. You want pea or wheat kernel sized pieces of butter coated with flour that has been moistened by the liquid of your choice. This dough is relaxed and consolidated by the chilling that follows.

        You need these small pieces of butter to give you the desired flaky crust when it bakes.

        1. re: Kelli2006

          Hmm. I see what you mean. I went down to "breadcrumb" level, deliberately smooshing anything I saw that was pea-sized or bigger. I know I keep the butter in the fridge, so I'm sure it would have been too hard to process by hand.

          I think I basically reached in and crushed stuff with my fists, going onto my fingers as it got smaller.

          1. re: Soop

            Yes, as others have said, you definitely want to start with cold bits of butter. I cut mine up (after taking the butter out of the fridge), then put it into the freezer for 15 minutes or so. I usually use the FP, but have also used my fingers or two knives (the latter is a better option, as your fingers are warm).

          2. re: Kelli2006

            You can also use a box grater on the coarse side to grate frozen butter. A pastry blender also is a handy tool.


          3. re: Soop

            From Cooks Illustrated: freeze the stick of butter, then grate it on the large holes of a box grater. This makes perfect bits for working into the flour bby hand or with a pastry cutter.

            1. re: greygarious

              I think I read about this on chowhound before, and I tried it (not for making pie dough, but for scones). I actually used my small microplane to grate it and it worked very well (I used the sliding food-holder so I didn't even have to hold it in my warm hands). I think, though, that maybe the small microplane was too small, and I should have used the medium.

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                I think I read that here too, but haven't tried it.

              2. re: greygarious

                Made a pastry dough at my mother's last week. She doesn't have a stand mixer, a food processor, or a pastry blender. I took the butter directly from the freezer, grated it on the large holes of a standard grater, and worked the butter into smaller bits with my fingertips at the same time as I worked in the Crisco. Couldn't have been happier with crust. It was just perfect.

              3. re: Soop

                If yoyu don't have a food processor then a pastry blender is needed, inexpensive and available in any store that carries cooking gadgets. I have also used a hand held electric mixer. 2 knives will also work to cut the fat into the flour.

                1. re: Soop

                  Try freezing the butter, then grating it over the flour, no need for a food processor at all.

              4. The butter should be cold--microwaving it and sticking your fingers all through it for extended periods of time are habits that a professional pastry chef would frown upon mightily.

                1. ATK is advocating the use of vodka in pie crusts. It's not water so it doesn't produce glutin and makes for a nice crust. I haven't tried it yet but I'm gonna use their recipe the next time I make a crust.


                  5 Replies
                  1. re: Davwud

                    I've tried it--works great! Makes a dough that's much easier to handle.

                    1. re: Davwud

                      I've tried it. It doesn't have to be vodka, BTW -- any similar proof liquor will do. I used white rum and while it made the dough taste delicious it had no discernible flavor in the finished piecrust.


                      1. re: Davwud

                        I tried the vodka trick in the summer time (when it was quite humid) and didn't notice any difference. In the summer, my crusts are pretty easy to handle just because there is so much moisture in the air. I don't think it makes a flakier crust but I can see how it could make it easier to handle in drier weather yet I never tried it this winter.

                        I agree that "cold is key" as others have posted but I think you can take that to an obsessive degree. I have had just as good luck (if not better in the winter) with cold butter from the fridge as with frozen butter.

                        I make my crusts by hand so when I get to a stage where I've cut all the butter and shortening into the crust and I need to work the water in I usually just toss it around with my hand. I've tried using a fork as so many cookbooks recommend but sometime the dough is still just too dry.

                        I think one of the wonderful things about pie making is that on any given day no matter how much of an expert you are it can be a very humbling experience. I've made hundreds of crusts and most of the time its a breeze but there will still be the unexplainable dud once in a while. It will still taste good but will be difficult to work with. It reminds me that it doesn't have to roll out perfect every time. You just have to deal with what you got.

                        1. re: heypielady

                          I live in a generally dry climate, so the vodka trick definitely helps me.


                          1. re: Amuse Bouches

                            I made one of these crusts for my Lemon Meringue Pie for Mothers Day. I got a lot of compliments on it and most said that it's the best LMP I've made. And I've made a lot.


                      2. Making the perfect pie crust has been a lifelong quest for me. My mother’s pies had the most perfect, light, tender, flaky crust I’ve ever had. Of course, she had more than sixty years of practice to get it right! I’ve been working for years to come close to the standard she set, or even (do I dare?) improve on it.

                        This recipe is the work-in-progress result. It combines my mother’s original recipe with some other experts’ tricks and tips, and my own experiments. The egg and the vinegar were Mom’s secret ingredients. The vodka is an idea from Cooks Illustrated magazine—it lets you use more liquid for an easier-to-handle dough, without promoting the development of gluten (which makes the crust tough), the way more water would. The 2:1 ratio of butter and lard comes from an article in the New York Times food section, where they reported their results with all sorts of different fats and proportions. The lard gives the crust a flaky texture, and the butter gives it a nice flavor. I can’t remember where I got the idea for the baking stone, but I do know it does a great job of keeping your bottom crust from getting soggy. No matter how juicy the pie filling, even the bottom of your pie will be amazingly crisp.

                        You may not be as obsessive as I am. A lot of these directions and ingredients may seem a little over-the-top to you. You’ll have to look hard for a store that carries any kind of pastry flour, and the only place I’ve found King Arthur brand is on their website. If you don’t want to hunt down real leaf lard (it’s out there, but it’s hard to find), you can use regular supermarket lard, or Crisco (my mother swore by it!) If you don’t have time to let the dough rest overnight, and then let the rolled-out crust rest another night in the pie plate, then go ahead and speed up the process. And of course, you can bake a perfectly good pie without a baking stone in your oven. Just don’t expect the results to be as good as if you did it the hard way! I’ve tested and compared all these nitpicky instructions to the easier, cheaper alternatives, and I’m convinced they really do make enough difference to be worth it. Try it my way just once and see if you don’t agree!

                        Approaching the Perfect Pie Crust

                        Makes one double (top and bottom) crust or two single (bottom) crusts.

                        3 cups sifted pastry flour (I use King Arthur) or all-purpose flour, plus more for sprinkling
                        1 teaspoons. salt
                        14 Tablespoons unsalted butter (preferably the higher-fat European-style, like Lurpak or Plugrá), chilled
                        7 Tablespoons rendered leaf lard, chilled
                        1 large egg, well-beaten
                        1/4 cup ice-cold vodka
                        2 to 3 Tablespoons ice water
                        1 Tablespoon white vinegar, chilled
                        1 egg white, slightly beaten

                        Before you begin, chill your mixing bowl, pastry cutter, and all your ingredients. You want to keep everything cold during the whole mixing process because you don’t want the fats to melt and over-blend with the flour—you want to keep bits of them nice and separate.

                        Sift together flour and salt. Cut butter and lard into flour (some people swear by a food processor for mixing the fat and flour, but I’ve never had good luck with it—I prefer an old-fashioned pastry cutter) until the biggest lumps of fat are kidney bean-sized. Combine egg, vodka, water, and vinegar (start with 2 tablespoons of water, and add more if the dough is too dry, which is more likely if you’re baking in a dry climate). Pour liquid into flour mixture all at once. Blend with a spoon just until flour is all moistened. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes (overnight is best) before rolling out.

                        Divide the dough into two balls and roll them out, one at a time, on waxed paper (you will need to sprinkle a fair amount of flour on the waxed paper, the dough, and the rolling pin to keep it from sticking). Try to handle the dough minimally and roll it lightly—too much handling develops gluten and makes the crust tough. If you can see big blobs of fat in the crust as you roll it out, you’re doing it right!

                        To place the dough in the pie plate, flip the waxed paper over and peel it off carefully when dough is in place. Try not to stretch the dough as you’re putting it in the plate, or it will shrink back as it bakes. Trim about 1/4-inch past the edge of the plate and fold edges lightly under the rim. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before baking (again, several hours or overnight in the freezer is better).

                        For a single-crust pie

                        An unbaked bottom crust can be frozen in the pie plate until you need it. Freeze it until firm, then wrap in an extra-large Ziplock bag. It isn’t necessary to thaw it before baking—it can go straight from freezer to oven.

                        To pre-bake an unfilled bottom crust, prick it with a fork at 1/2-inch intervals before refrigerating. Adjust the oven rack to its lowest position. Place a baking stone in the bottom of the oven and preheat it to 400 degrees F. for at least 30 minutes. Lay a doubled square of aluminum foil on the pastry, just covering the bottom. Weight the foil with pie weights. Bake until crust is firmly set, about 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Remove weights and foil, and if the filling is going to be wet, brush bottom of crust with slightly-beaten egg white. Mask edges of crust with a pie shield or foil. Continue to bake directly on the baking stone until crust is crisp and rich brown in color, about 10 minutes longer.

                        For a double-crust pie

                        Refrigerate the unrolled portion of the dough for the top crust until you are ready to roll it out.

                        If the filling is going to be wet, brush the bottom crust with slightly-beaten egg white before chilling, to keep it from getting soggy.

                        Fill the bottom crust and top with the top crust. Seal edges together with fingers or the times of a fork.

                        To bake a filled pie (single or double-crust), adjust the oven rack to its lowest position. Place a baking stone in the bottom of the oven and preheat it to 400 degrees F. for at least 30 minutes.

                        Mask the edges of the pie with a pie shield or foil. Place the pie on the lowest oven rack for 15-20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees F. and move it down, directly on the baking stone (this makes gets the bottom crust really crisp). Follow the directions in your pie recipe for total baking time.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: MsMaryMc

                          Such a wonderful set of instructions for us super-nitpicky people! I love it!

                          Most of these recommendations I use already... I haven't tried the vodka/vinegar additions, but I will now.

                          We were out of leaf lard one day, and made a crust with some leftover goose fat. SUPER TASTY! Was tremendously delicious, and was a little easier on the tongue than lard from pigs. Goose fat may be my new replacement for leaf lard.

                        2. Here's a link to a thread I started some time ago. You might get some good tips from the slideshow.


                          My basic flaky crust philosophy is:

                          1. Cold is the key. Cold shortening plus cold four plus ice cold water = Flaky pie crust.

                          2. The flour and shortening combination should not be uniform. Some pieces will be larger than pea size, and all of it is larger than cornmeal.... If your mixture is uniform, you have overworked it.

                          3. Butter is fine for some things like a tart crust, but I think a non trans fat shortening such as Crisco is way better for pie crust. (Butter has water in it so it doesn't help with flakiness.) Some swear by lard but I find it tastes too meaty....

                          14 Replies
                          1. re: TrishUntrapped

                            If you use an all butter crust as I do, a bit of baking powder added to the flour helps to produce a flaky crust. I use lard when making a meat pie.

                            1. re: Candy

                              How much baking powder do you add for, say, a single crust, or per cup of flour, Candy?

                            2. re: TrishUntrapped

                              I agree that cold is the key. Put everything in the fridge before hand, including the bowl with the dry ingredients. I use frozen butter and put the shorttening and the water in the freezer. I did this when I used a pastry cutter and now when I have a food processor. Even after you roll out, keep it cold, especially with single crust pies. After it is fitted into the pan, freeze it for a while.

                              1. re: PAO

                                I keep my pastry cloth, rolled around my rolling pin, in a plastic bag in the fridge.

                              2. re: TrishUntrapped

                                Completely agree Trish. My recipe came from my grandma and shortening is used.
                                This one makes enough for 2 (9") 2-crust pies and 1 (9") pie shell. You can use what you need and flatten the rest with your hand; wrap in foil and freeze. Makes a very flaky crust!
                                Everything should be ice cold! I'm typing it as it is written. I usually have pretty non-uniform size particles in mine.

                                Country Tearoom Pastry

                                4 c. sifted flour
                                1 T. sugar
                                1 1/2 t. salt
                                1 1/2 cup shortening
                                1 egg
                                1 T. vinegar
                                1/2 c. cold water

                                Blend flour, sugar and salt. Cut in shortening until particles are the size of peas. Beat egg, blend in vinegar and water. Sprinkle over flour mixture a tablespoon at a time, tossing with a fork to mix. Gather dough together with fingers so it cleans the bowl. Chill before rolling.

                                This is my first post...I hope the font is not as BIG as I am seeing it after I post!! I came back to edit to see if I was missing font size? Oh my!

                                1. re: vera_ewashington

                                  Oh, no it does that. Weird isn't it?

                                  1. re: vera_ewashington

                                    Vera, the font is large when you first create the post (for your eyes only), but it posts in regular size font.

                                    Your recipe above is the EXACT same one we made with my mom when we were kids. She called it "No Fail Pie Crust" because you could roll the thing like crazy and still get a good, tender and flavorful crust.

                                    I should add, there are seven kids in my family. I'm the oldest. Growing up, we always seemed to have a baby in the house. My mom used to let us make the pie crusts for Thanksgiving pies (Apple, Pumpkin, Blueberry, Cherry, and Mince). One year, five of us had rolling pins and we made a lot of pie crusts. All of us kids working on the very floury kitchen table is a good memory.

                                    I have also used the vinegar/egg pastry recipe with a local church group of teens who made and sold pies to finance a work trip to Appalachia. I chose this recipe because I knew the crusts would get a lot of wear and tear... The results were excellent. Although I use my mother-in-law's recipe more often now, your recipe is a little workhorse in the kitchen!

                                    1. re: TrishUntrapped

                                      Oh good!
                                      I have memories of that as well :)
                                      Us kids would always get to roll out the extra pie dough, butter it and sprinkle on cinnamon and sugar for a yummie baked treat. I still do that with any extra :)

                                      1. re: vera_ewashington

                                        Vera we used to do that too with the leftover pie crust scraps (We never wasted anything!) I used to cut the dough into strips, butter and sugar and spice them, then roll them into little pinwheels and bake them.

                                        Are you sure we aren't related? ;-)

                                        1. re: TrishUntrapped

                                          I grew up doing that as well. On Thanksgiving, my mother puts cheese and herbs in her dough scraps, bakes them in the toaster oven, and sends them out warm with the hors d'oeurves.

                                          1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                            Now that's a brilliant idea. I have to try to remember that.

                                    2. re: vera_ewashington

                                      For Vera_ewashington: MY MY!!! This is the BEST darn pie crust I EVER made! I made a delectable Leek and Onion tart yesterday and a tomato pie today! This crust got raves!!! I would urge you all to try it!

                                    3. re: TrishUntrapped

                                      #3 is not true. In fact, it is the steam created (from the water content of butter) as the pie crust bakes that produces the multiple layers in pastry associated with flakiness. Butter and multiple folding is what makes puff pastry flaky for instance.

                                      Flakiness is produced by big lumps of fat incorporated in the flour and softness by integrating the fat into the flour (i.e., small particles of fat.) In a sense, the two are competing factors. But you can have both if you use big particles of butter and a fatty liquid like cream, say. Gluten can also be inhibited by the use of high-fat liquids like cream, acidic liquids like vinegar or substituting alcohol for water.

                                      BTW, I'm not making this up. :) This is in Rose Levy Beranbaum's Pie and Pastry Bible. My crust of choice is her cream cheese pie crust that is both soft and flaky because of the butter, cream cheese and vinegar in the ingredients list. Her recipe is available in

                                      1. re: amy_wong

                                        Amy, I don't necessarily disagree with you. Just basing my discoveries on my own experiences.