The Basics: How to Make Pie Crust

July 24, 2013

How to Make Good Pie Crust

Where I come from, pie crust is serious business, and none was quite so delicious as my Grandma’s — though I believe my mother is pretty much her equal. Great pie crust seems hard to come by, and many home cooks are intimidated to try it themselves, but I’m convinced the secret boils down to two things: a tried-and-true recipe and a little confidence.

For years, I’ve been using the “Never-Fail Pie Crust” recipe from Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens, and it truly never fails me. In fact, everyone always raves about my crust, so I’ve never felt the need to branch out. I’ve adapted the recipe below and want to show you just how easy it is to make. Summer and fall are pie-making seasons, so never mind living up to your grandmother’s reputation (or anyone else’s) — just grab that flour, believe in yourself, and make it happen!

Note: While I use a lot of alternative flours in my cooking these days, this is a standard pie crust recipe, so I recommend using unbleached white flour or substituting half whole wheat. This tends to make enough for one double-crust pie plus a single shell, depending on the size of your pie plate. You can double the recipe easily, and the dough freezes well. I use this for galettes and any pie-like concoction that calls for a standard crust.

Alrighty: With my trusty helpers at hand to help me show you how it’s done, let’s get started…

How to Make Good Pie Crust

First, get everything ready. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • rolling pin
  • measuring cups and spoons
  • fork
  • pastry cutter (or two blunt knives)
  • sifter (or fine mesh strainer)
  • large mixing bowl
  • pie plate

How to Make Good Pie Crust

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 Tbsp salt
  • 1/2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 lb (approx 8 oz) shortening or lard, cool or at room temperature
  • 1 small egg
  • about 1/2 cup water

How to Make Good Pie Crust

Use a sifter or fine-mesh strainer to sift the dry ingredients together into a large mixing bowl.

How to Make Good Pie Crust

Using your pastry cutter (or two dinner knives), cut in the shortening (I use lard straight from a farmer a lot) until the mixture is coarse and crumbly. Here’s how it should look:

How to Make a Good Pie Crust

Break the egg into a liquid measuring cup and beat with a fork. Add water to raise the liquid to the 3/4 cup mark and beat again to combine. Next, make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in 1/2 cup of the egg mixture, mixing lightly with a fork and tossing flour in from the sides as you go until it’s mixed in:

How to Make Good Pie Crust

Knead the dough a couple of times until it comes together in a nice ball, then wrap tightly in saran wrap and keep in the fridge until ready to use.

How to Make Good Pie Crust

To use the dough: For a double-crust pie, cut the dough into three equal pieces (and set one aside). Form the dough into a ball, or thereabouts:

How to Make Good Pie Crust

On a floured surface, roll out one dough ball into a round disk about 1/4″ thick. Keep plenty of flour under it and on your rolling pin so it won’t stick. (If you give the dough a quarter turn after every roll, that will help keep the dough loose, too.)

How to Make Pie Crust

Do your best to make it nice and round, then lift it gently from the surface and lay it evenly over your pie plate. To transfer your dough without tears, try one of these tricks: Gently fold the dough in quarters, then place the “point” in the center of your pie plate and unfold; or, gently lift one side of the dough, drape it over your rolling pin, then slowly lift the rest of your dough (keeping the pin in the middle) and lay it in the center of your plate.

Here’s how it looks when my mother makes it:

How to Make a Pie Crust

My own pie crust never looks this great, so don’t worry: If your crust isn’t perfectly round, or if it hangs unevenly over the edges, just trim it. If any holes appear, plug them up with extra dough from your trimmings.

Roll out your top piece of pie dough the same way. After filling your pie, place your second layer on top and trim the edges of the pie with scissors or a knife. Then take a fork and press it gently against the edges all the way around to seal the pie crust together (you can also pinch it with your fingers to create a rounder, lovelier-looking crust). Don’t forget to make a few venting slits.

Hpw to Make a Good Pie Crust

If you like, brush the top with the remaining egg mixture before placing it in the oven (it’ll make a glossy, beautiful crust), then bake according to your pie’s instructions. (Depending on the pie, I usually bake mine at 375 for 40-45 minutes, or until it starts to brown.)

Do you have a favorite recipe for pie dough? Are you intimidated by pie crust, or is it second nature for you?

This is the second installment of SlowMama’s “The Basics,” a new series of how-to posts designed to help you be a better, more self-sufficient cook, hostess, seamstress, carpenter, homemaker…you name it. If there’s a basic skill you’ve always wanted to learn, let us know!

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul 

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1 Anna July 24, 2013 at 9:46 am

A question: did you find that your Nova Scotia recipe translated as is to American flour, or did you have to tinker with the amounts? I find my family’s Canadian pie crust recipe just doesn’t work here. I believe the reason is that American all-purpose flour is softer, while Canadian all-purpose flour is higher in gluten. I seem to need more fat and liquid here for the same amount of flour – oddly, since some other family recipes come out too wet using American flour. So I was just wondering if you have a rule-of-thumb for converting the recipe.

Reply

2 Zoe Saint-Paul July 24, 2013 at 9:55 am

Hi Anna,

I’ve been using flour in the U.S. for so long now, I’m not sure how this recipe would translate. I should ask my sisters in Nova Scotia. I do know this: the original recipe says this amount should make two double-crusted pies, and I find it consistently makes 1.5. That may be due to the flour. And come to think of it, my mother’s pie crust always has a slightly different consistency. Smoother, I think.

I find with pie crust dough, you have to be willing to add just a little bit less or more liquid or shortening, and after you do it a few times, you get the hang of it. I find recipe to be pretty forgiving — I’ve been short on fat, I’ve used two kinds of fat, I’ve added a bit too much liquid and needed to throw a little more flour into the mix — and every time it’s turned out just fine.

If you try it with Canadian-made flour, let me know how it turns out!

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Margaret Cabaniss 3 Margaret Cabaniss July 24, 2013 at 11:01 am

I’m one of those people that always gets nervous around pie crust. I think the only cure is to practice making lots of pies. Oh darn.

It occurs to me that your recipe might be particularly nice for beginners, since shortening is easier to work with than butter (it doesn’t melt quite so easily) — particularly in the high heat of summer! Thanks for sharing your secrets.

Reply

4 Zoe Saint-Paul July 24, 2013 at 11:31 am

Shortening is definitely easier to work with than butter. I’ve actually been using lard a lot — despite what we’ve been told, I’m convinced it’s healthier. I especially like it for savory pies.

The lard or shortening shouldn’t be too warm (and I just made a tiny change above to say the fat should be cool or room temp). If it’s too hard, you can barely work with it, but the cooler it is, the flakier the crust will be.

This is a perfect recipe for beginners. As you build confidence, you can branch out and try more challenging pastry doughs. I’m afraid buttery crusts are out around here, but please invite me over when you make one because I love them!

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