I honestly can’t remember the first time I made a pie crust from scratch. I must have been pretty young. I do remember growing up watching my mom make pie crust on a fairly regular basis. Usually around the holidays. Pies are so wonderful in the winter time!
The great thing about pies is that they are so versatile. So many great options. Custard pies, fruit pies, cream pies…even savory pies like chicken pot pie or quiche.
And this easy pie crust recipe that I’m about to share with you, while simple, is something you will want in your baking repertoire. Knowing how to make a pie crust from scratch is a great skill to have!
So, without further ado, let’s learn how to make pie crust.
My favorite easy pie crust recipe!
A basic pie crust is made up of just 4 simple ingredients. Flour, butter, salt, water. That’s it!
Some tips to keep in mind as we go through this together:
- Be sure your butter is super cold
- Use cold water (but don’t add too much – err on the side of under doing it)
- And don’t overwork your dough.
Step 1 – Measure dry ingredients and cut in the butter
Measure 1 cup of all purpose flour into a bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and mix together.
Add 6 tablespoons of cold butter and cut in with a pastry cutter (or even just using two knives works if you’re patient) or until coarse crumbs form.
Alternatively, you can use a cheese grater to grate the cold butter into the flour. Or you can put it into a food processor and pulse until it forms small crumbs of butter throughout.
Somehow, you need to get the butter chopped up into very small pieces and coated with flour.
I use a cheese grater most of the time. It’s a great tip I learned recently!
It should look something like this.
However, if you didn’t use a cheese grater for the butter, yours will probably look less like a pile of strange mac and cheese and more like a bunch of crumbs in a bowl.
Step 2 – Add cold water, not too much, to form a dough
Next, add cold water a Tablespoon at a time until it comes together into a ball. It usually takes around 4-5 Tablespoons of water.
Some people recommend using ice water but I haven’t noticed much of a difference. You just need to avoid using warm water because it will melt your butter and you want it to stay very cold.
Stir gently with a fork while adding the water to get the water fully incorporated. Add the water slowly (like 1 Tablespoon at a time) and stir after each addition.
Once the water has been added, the dough will look something like this.
Use your hands to add the last bit of water and to shape into a ball. You want it to look a little bit shaggy. Be careful to not overmix the dough or it will become tough. And whatever you do, DO NOT KNEAD THE DOUGH!
Step 3 – Roll out the dough and move it into the pie pan
Flour your counter generously with flour and place your dough ball on top. Sprinkle with more flour and roll out with a rolling pin. Rotating your dough a quarter turn every couple of times you roll it helps to create a circular shape.
When your dough is slightly larger than the size of your pie pan, stop rolling. As you can see, I accidentally rolled my dough out too far in these pictures.
I test the size by placing my pan on top of my dough circle.
Once the dough is rolled out enough, I usually fold my dough in half, bring my pan very close to my dough, lift it into the pan, and then unfold it. This helps prevent tearing. Very gently press the dough into the bottom of the pan and up the sides.
Step 4 – Trim and decorate the edge
Trim around the edge leaving approximately a 1 inch edge.
Keep in mind that I am using an INCREDIBLY DULL KNIFE in this photo. If you are using a sharp knife, please be extremely careful so you don’t cut yourself. I recommend using a simple butter knife instead of anything sharp!
Tuck the edges of the dough underneath to make a clean, rolled trim.
Flute or add any decoration that you’d like. To do a traditional fluted edge, use your finger and thumb on one side of the dough and then use a finger on your other hand to press the dough in between your thumb and finger.
Now it’s ready for the filling!
Set your unbaked pie crust in the fridge while you make the filling. Why the fridge? Read the next section “The secret to a flakey crust” to find out!
The secret to a flakey crust
I used to struggle with making a flakey pie crust. The kind that melts in your mouth with layers of pastry goodness.
And then I learned that the best way to achieve this is to chill the pie dough before it goes into the oven.
By chilling the dough (in addition to using cold butter and cold water while making it), it allows the butter layers to solidify again. Then when it is put into the hot oven, the layers of butter melt and create the flakey layers.
I’m not sure why it doesn’t work when the butter is slightly warm, but it does seem to make a significant difference when it’s chilled. Who knew?
This was a brilliant tip when I learned it so I thought I’d share it with you too.
Chill your pie dough before baking to create that flakey crust!
What to fill your pie with
At this point, your pie crust is finished but now you need to decide what to do with it. i.e. what to fill it with.
There are so many options for what to fill your pie crust with.
Fruit pies, cream pies, custard pies, specialty pies, savory pies (such as chicken pot pie), and even ice cream pies. The possibilities are endless.
The trick is knowing how to use each type of filling and whether or not to pre-bake your pie shell.
Do I need to pre-bake the crust? Do I need to poke it with a fork?
The simple answer is it depends on what you will be filling it with.
Here’s a list of pies and what to do with the crust:
Types of pies + crust instructions
- Pumpkin pie
- Lemon meringue pie
- Buttermilk pie
- Chocolate custard pie
- Berry custard pie
- Coconut custard pie
- Any pie with the word custard in the name
Do NOT pre-bake the crust, do not poke holes in the crust.
Pour the filling into your unbaked crust and bake all at once.
- Apple pie
- Cherry pie
- Peach pie
- Rhubarb pie or strawberry rhubarb pie
- Berry pie (blueberry, blackberry, mixed berry, etc)
Similar to the custard pies, do NOT pre-bake the crust, do not poke holes in the crust.
Add the fruit and filling (usually some combination of sugar, spices, and thickening agents. Check your specific recipe for details) into your unbaked crust. Add any top crust, lattice top, or streusel topping and bake all together.
- Chocolate cream pie
- Banana cream pie
- Coconut cream pie
- Any pie or tart that you will fill with pastry cream (like a berry cream tart, for example)
Bake the crust before filling. Poke the crust all over with a fork and use pie weights if you have them (a piece of tin foil filled with dry beans or some marbles work great in a pinch) to prevent the crust from bubbling and shrinking.
- Chicken pot pie
- Shepherds pie
Similar to the custard pies, you typically do not pre-bake the crust with savory fillings. Do NOT poke holes in the crust. Add the filling to the unbaked crust, add your top crust (if using) and bake all together.
Other types of non-pies
- Hand pies and other pastries such as Argentine empanadas or English pasties
- Pop tarts
These will be on a case by case basis, but generally, you will not poke the crust or pre-bake it. Tarts are the exception depending on what you are filling it with (see the different kinds of pie fillings above). For most of these, though, you will take the unbaked pie dough, add your filling, close it up, and then bake everything all together. Follow the recipe you’re using for specific instructions.
To see the other recipes in my pie making series, check out the following posts:
- The best pumpkin pie from scratch
- How to make pumpkin puree: 3 ways
- Homemade Apple Pie Recipe
- Mom’s Fresh Strawberry Pie
- Easy Pie Crust Recipe (with all butter!)
What about graham cracker crust?
Graham cracker crust is delicious in so many ways. I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for the sweet crunchiness of a great graham cracker crust.
You can definitely make a graham cracker crust from scratch (it’s very easy) simply by mixing crushed up graham crackers with melted butter and a bit of sugar if desired, stirring together and then pressing the mixture into a pie pan.
Since this post is already super long, I’m going to leave a link here to a recipe that you can use if you want to make a graham cracker crust. Making your own will definitely taste better than the ones you can buy at the store, although those do work in a pinch.
Graham cracker crusts usually work best with these types of pies:
- Ice cream pies
- Pudding pies
- Key lime pie
- Other pies with creamy type fillings
The great news is that traditional pie crust and graham cracker crusts are usually interchangeable. It all depends on what flavor/texture combination you are going for!
What about using shortening?
I remember watching my mom make pies when I was young. My mom ALWAYS used shortening in her recipe, and I never thought much of it as a child. But when I grew up and moved out and eventually got married, I started learning about food and how it’s made.
When I learned about shortening (i.e. partially hydrogenated vegetable oil) I was shocked! Why humans have decided to take a plant (usually soybeans or canola/rapeseed), genetically modify it, extract the oil from it, add chemicals to it so it doesn’t go rancid, then force extra hydrogen atoms into it at high speeds is beyond me.
All to resemble and replace butter and lard, which both have gotten bad wraps.
I don’t claim to be an expert on this subject, but I’ve personally come to highly distrust partially hydrogenated oils. I’m happy to see that butter and lard have reclaimed their place in many types of diets.
And yes, I’m sure I occasionally eat partially hydrogenated oils by accident, but I don’t purchase the stuff to bake with. I’ll stick with good old-fashioned butter, thanks!
My conclusion after much studying and learning about food is this. A food that is as close how it occurs in nature is likely better for my body than something that is heavily processed by humans in a factory or lab.
I figure my body knows what to do with butter and yes, even lard and other animal fats. I do try to buy grass fed butter whenever feasibly possible. Kerrygold brand is my absolute favorite! Just sayin’. The deep yellow color is so intense!
All this to say that obviously you can use whatever you want in your pie crust, but my recommendation (unless you’re vegan, in which case try a high quality coconut oil) is to use real butter whenever possible. 🙂
What about gluten free pie crust?
Unfortunately, I have not experimented much with gluten free pie crust. One of these days I will get around to making one, but for now, I’m not much help. I do know that you can buy gluten free pie crusts in health food stores in their freezer sections such as this one from Whole Foods. You can look for one of those.
Or you can try making a gluten free pie crust from scratch. Sometimes you can simply skip the crust entirely. If you do want to make your own crust, you can try out this recipe from WheatByTheWayside.com or this recipe from GlutenFreeOnaShoestring.com.
Best of luck in your efforts! If you do try a gluten free crust, let us know how it goes in the comments section!
The pie class I taught
I was once asked to teach a pie making class at my church. I’m not sure how they knew that I could make pie crust, (because this was early in my marriage and WAY before I started this blog) but somehow they found out.
So, there I was standing in front of 30-40 women who were all older than me, trying to fumble my way through a demonstration on making pie crust. I’m a pretty introverted person and am not super comfortable in front of a crowd, so it was awkward at best.
I gave them all my easy pie crust recipe that I have given you in this blog post and we made it all together. On 15 folding tables spread out throughout the room. It was awesome! We made it through the class without too many mishaps, and everyone’s pies actually looked really good! I was super happy with the results.
Then we opened it up for questions.
A sweet lady named Yoriko (she’s from Japan) raised her hand and asked why her pie crust always turned out soggy.
I asked what kind of pie filling she used.
She said she tried making apple pie.
Then I asked her if she poked holes in her crust.
She said yes, she did.
Ah ha! We found the culprit! I told her that the reason why her pie crust was turning out soggy was because the filling was seeping through the holes and underneath the crust. When you make a fruit pie, don’t poke holes in the crust…you want a solid dough that doesn’t let the juices out!
She was super happy to have this knowledge and she later told me that she tried making an apple pie (this time without poking the holes) and it turned out perfectly!
It’s interesting, just knowing the information that I have shared with you up above about what to do with the crust based on the type of filling you are using (pre-baking it, poke holes or don’t poke holes, adding a top crust, etc) makes a HUGE difference in the finished product.
I hope the knowledge you gain here helps you in your pie making journey.
Don’t be intimidated. You’ve got this!
I realize that making a pie crust from scratch is one of those things that seems pretty intimidating when you are first learning to cook.
Ideally, we would have all learned this life skill from a sweet grandmotherly figure, but this is not always possible. And while I am not grandmotherly, I’m pretty sweet and I hope that you have learned a thing or two by reading this blog post.
Pie crust can definitely take a bit of practice, so if you have a hard time at first, DON’T GIVE UP! Keep working at it.
The best tips I have for you are the standard pie making tips. Be sure your butter is cold, use cold water (but don’t add too much – err on the side of under doing it), and don’t overwork your dough.
My very best advice is to practice, practice, practice. The more you make pie crust, the easier it becomes. Soon you can make it in your sleep. Well not literally of course. 🙂
You’ve got this!
You can do it.
I’m cheering you on.
If there is anything I can do to help you troubleshoot along the way, please leave me a comment below and I’ll do my best to guide you. I have personally made hundreds of pie crusts over the years so sure, I’ll be your sweet grandmotherly figure!
Send me your questions in the comments below.
Happy pie making!
Homemade Pie Crust Recipe
- 1 cup All-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 6 Tablespoons cold butter
- 4-5 Tablespoons cold water
- Measure 1 cup of all purpose flour into a bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and mix together.
- Add 6 tablespoons of cold butter and cut into very small pieces using a pastry cutter, two crisscrossing knives, or a cheese grater. The mixture should look like coarse crumbs.
- Add cold water a Tablespoon at a time until it comes together into a ball. It usually takes around 4-5 Tablespoons of water. Stir gently with a fork while adding the water slowly (like 1 Tablespoon at a time) and stir after each addition. Use your hands to add the last bit of water and to shape into a ball. Do not knead the dough!
- Flour your counter generously with flour and place your dough ball on top. Sprinkle with more flour and roll out with a rolling pin. Rotating your dough a quarter turn every couple of times you roll it helps to create a circular shape until the dough is just larger than your pie pan.
- Fold the dough in half, bring your pan very close to the folded edge of the dough, lift the dough halfway into the pan, and then unfold it. Very gently press the dough into the bottom of the pan and up the sides.
- Trim around the edge leaving approximately a 1 inch edge. Tuck the edges of the dough underneath to make a clean rolled trim all the way around the edge of the pie plate. Flute the edge or decorate as desired. Your pie crust is now ready to use!