Pie Dough? You Can Do It!

Making pie dough from scratch is easier than you think.

By FamilyTime


While no one claims that making your own pie dough is “easy as pie,” doing so is well within the purview of most home cooks. It’s just flour, water, and some sort of fat, right? How hard could that be?

And yet, pie dough baffles a lot of otherwise competent, even inspired, bakers.

It’s in the Fat

Most folks make pie and pastry dough with butter or vegetable shortening (i.e., Crisco), or a blending of the two. Gone are the days when it was common to make a dough with lard, although bakers agree that lard makes some of the lightest, flakiest crusts around.

Essentially, the kind of crust you want dictates the fat:

  • For rich, tender pie doughs, use butter.
  • For crusts with little flavor but light, flaky texture, use vegetable shortening.
  • For tender, buttery crusts with impressive flakiness, mix the shortening with butter — at least half the amount.

Most recipes for pastry and pie dough suggest keeping all ingredients and even equipment cold and never overworking the dough. This is particularly important when working with vegetable shortening for a flaky pie crust. Work quickly (but don’t rush!) so that the dough is put in the hot oven while the fat is still cold. The fat will melt in the oven and produce steam, that in turn creates air pockets, which translates to flakiness.

When using butter, keep the ingredients at cool room temperature. This results in a tender crust that somewhat resembles shortbread in its buttery glory.

If you want to make pie dough with a 50-50 blend of shortening and butter, keep the ingredients cold and work swiftly.

Most recipes for pie and pastry dough say to “cut the fat into the flour.” This means that you mix pieces of the fat (small slices) with the flour using your fingers or a pastry blender. As you work, the fat breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces until the mixture resembles “sand” or “fine meal.”

It’s now time to add the water, a tablespoon at a time. Keep the water cold with an ice cube. When the dough comes together in a cohesive ball, it’s ready to roll.

Before you attempt to roll the dough, form it into a ball or disc and refrigerate for about 20 minutes.

Spread a little flour on the countertop and then gently pat the dough flat with your fingertips. Rub the rolling pin with flour to prevent sticking and, if you prefer, roll the dough between two pieces of wax paper or plastic wrap.

Do not roll  the rolling pin back and forth on the dough. Instead, push the rolling pin away from you in one direction, stopping just shy of the dough's edge. Turn the dough a quarter turn and roll it in an outward motion again. Continue until the circle of dough is evenly flattened to about 1/8th of an inch.

Loosely roll the dough around the rolling pin and then drape it over the pie plate. Press the dough into the pie plate and use scissors or a sharp knife to trim the overhang. Leave enough dough so you can fold it under itself for crimping.

Blind Bake or Not

If a recipe instructs you to “blind bake” or “pre-bake” the crust, it means to partially bake the crust before you fill it.

It’s usually recommended to prick the bottom of the crust with a fork to prevent it from forming air bubbles during blind baking. Some home bakers prefer to line the pie dough with foil or parchment paper and weight it down with pie weights (small metal beads) or dried beans.

Finally the pie crust is ready for filling and baking. When it’s taken from the oven and served, your guests — and you! — will notice a delicious difference between your homemade crust and one you might have bought at the supermarket.

It’s so worth it!