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May 21, 2009 10:10 PM

Pie crust questions!

Lately, I have been getting into baking pies from scratch. In fact, I just popped a strawberry rhubarb in the oven. However, I am not proud of the crust - the edges are totally messed up. I don't quite have the hang of making the crust, but I'm hoping to improve with practice. I have a few questions, and I would be grateful if I got a few responses. Also, if you have any tips to share, then please add! Thanks in advance. N
1. Is it possible to fix a crust that is too dry to roll out?
2. Does anyone have a great recipe that uses shortening not butter (we have cholesterol issues)?
3. What is your favorite kind of pie plate (i.e. glass, metal)?
4. Is a pie shield a worthwhile investment?
5. I read somewhere that someone puts the pie plate right on a pizza stone. Can you do that with a glass plate or will it crack?

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  1. A too-dry crust will usually respond well to some more ice water and an hour's rest. If you don't have the time for that, you probably won't succeed.

    The second-best pie crust uses shortening (second only to lard). I never use butter for pie. 2 cups flour, 1 cup cold shortening cut up as finely as you can, 1/4 cup ice water, 1 tsp salt, 2 tsp sugar.

    I use glass plates always, and have never had an issue putting one on a pizza stone -- though I only do that when I forget to take the stone out of the oven. I don't leave my stone in the oven 24/7 intentionally, though I know some people do. If you've chilled your crust in a glass/Pyrex dish, I'd imagine thermal shock could be an issue.

    YES get a pie shield. You'll earn your $3 back in a single session of not burning your knuckles making foil tents.

    And don't even think about making pie crust without a plastic zipper rolling bag. Mine have been going for years, and I think they may be the biggest bang-for-the-buck kitchen gadget ever. I don't care what Cook's Illustrated says. They're tha bomb.

    Other biggest tip: Cut in your fat with a pastry cutter, NOT knives, and let the dough rest a while in the refrigerator. You aren't making bread dough, so it's fine if you have some parts that aren't fully incorporated and homogeneous.

    2 Replies
    1. re: dmd_kc

      Forgive me for not knowing but plastic zipper rolling bag? what is this, does it go over the rolling pin?

      1. re: dmd_kc

        You're talking about one of these?

        Just goes to show, not every gadget or technique works for everybody. I bought one of those zippered plastic thingies and hated it--I just made a godawful mess trying to get the pastry out. I have much better luck rolling mine on a piece of waxed paper, and lifting that to flip it into the pie plate.

        I do have a set of plastic rings of various sizes that I use as guides to roll the pastry to the right size and shape. I don't mean the little rings that you slip on your rolling pin--these are thin plastic, sized 11", 12", and 13" across the inside of the circle. You lay them on the work surface with the ball of dough in the center, and start rolling. I suppose I could do it without them, but they're very handy. I have no idea where I got them, and I don't think I've seen them anywhere since (I just Googled and didn't come up with anything similar), so that's not much help to anybody else--but if you ever see something like this, I recommend them!

        1. re: ipsedixit

          Has anyone had success with a vodka pie crust? I've been eyeing the Cook's Illustrated/ATK version for a while but haven't taken the plunge. So many better uses for vodka, ya know

          1. re: yamalam

            Try it. You won't ever go back to just water.

            I too was skeptical at first but now can't imagine doing it any other way. It almost feels like cheating.

            1. re: ipsedixit

              In Alton Browns super Apple pie he uses Applejack in the crust and it really does make a difference in my testing.

            2. re: yamalam

              Oh yes! Just made up a batch tonight, for a cherry pie to serve with the barbecue feast on Monday. Best thing that's happened to my pie-making technique in a long, long time. Buy a bottle of cheap stuff (I like Monarch) and you'll be less tempted to make it into cocktails.

              I use a hybrid of my mother's tricks (white vinegar and an egg), CI's vodka, and the New York Times' 2:1 blend of butter and lard. I've been tinkering and experimenting for years, and I'm finally pretty happy with it.

              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 teaspoon 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 tines 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. re: MsMaryMc

                It's unanimous. Will have to give it a try!

          2. 1. If you've already tried to roll it out and discovered it's just too dry, you could try adding more ice water--but the additional mixing might leave it over-handled and tough. Better to get it moist enough in the first place. I'm a convert to the Cooks Illustrated vodka trick--makes the dough plenty moist without developing the gluten like water would.

            2. My mother made the world's flakiest pie crusts, and her recipe was 100% Crisco. I've never been able to get the perfect texture she did, and I've gone to a butter/lard mixture that I like for the flavor, but I know her recipe can work wonders.

            3. I like Pyrex glass.

            4. I think so. My latest acquisition is a silicon one that's my favorite so far.

            5. I preheat the baking stone in the oven at 400 degrees F. for at least 30 minutes. Then I put the pie on the lowest oven rack for 15-20 minutes. Next I reduce the heat to 350 degrees F. and move the pie down, directly on the baking stone. I get amazingly crisp bottom crusts this way, even with a wet filling, and I've never had a problem with the pie plate cracking.

            1. Here is a thread I started on how to make an apple pie, with a link to a slideshow you might find helpful. The pie crust calls for Crisco with no trans fats.


              To answer your questions:

              1. I have never successfully fixed pie crust at that stage. The beauty of my recipe is you mix the pie crust to order and immediately roll it out., less chance of dry crust.

              2. Recipe above.

              3. Glass pyrex, and stoneware/ceramic type dishes work great for me. I don't use metal.

              4. Never used a pie shield.

              5. Never used a pizza stone. It is not necessary.

              One of the keys to getting a good pie crust is to have your filling ingredients either warm or at room temperature, not cold, and bake in a hot oven.

              1 Reply
              1. re: TrishUntrapped

                Yuuuuuuuuuum. Apple pie is the king of all pies. And please don't add raisins. Why mess with perfection?

              2. Cooks Illustrated has twice (I believe) done tests with different types of pie pans. Pyrex glass always wins.