I love pie. All kinds. Fruit, Custard, Mincemeat, Chess, Pot, Tortiere… But they all have one thing in common. The need for a crust. The elusive, mindblowingly frustrating crust. At least that’s how I always viewed it.
I tried recipe after recipe, and yet my crust either required a chisel to get through, or didn’t even make it to the pie plate- it would fall apart and refused to piece back together. I thought there was something wrong with me, and that I was resigned to purchasing that pumpkin pie from the grocers.
But anyone who knows me, knows I’m nothing if not tenacious. Okay, the word most used by my family is butt stubborn. I’m like a dog with a bone. So, I was’t going to let the pie crust have power or victory over me. I realized it was really just a matter of making pie after pie, paying attention to what I was doing, the conditions of the day, etc, and monitoring the results. After a while a pattern developed. And I was thrilled to find out that it wasn’t just me. As I watched cooking shows, and listened to the experts lament the odd mishap with their own pie crusts, then I realized I was in good company. I mean, if they could have a crust tear, crumble while rolling out, then who was I to complain? Did you know the cracking at the edges happens when you let the rolling pin roll over past the dough? Stop just short. And turn.
The recipe that I’ve been using for about 15 years now has never let me down. Sure it has torn a couple of times. Sure I’ve had to do a quick patch job in the dish. But in the end it always bakes up flakey, tender and yummy. I’m sure there are other magnificent pie dough recipes out there. But I haven’t been inclined to try another. This is my go-to, it never lets me down. If I want it to be for a savoury pie, I omit the sugar and replace with salt and herbs. Even cheese can replace some of the butter.
Try adding your own spin to this classic recipe: 2 tbsp of cinnamon when adding the sugar gives you a great cinnamon sugar crust with the best hue; 1 tsp of crushed lavender buds added to the flour and sugar pulse is perfect for a blueberry pie; 1 tbsp (or more) of either cocoa or matcha powder (food grade) added with the flour will add a lovely colour punch to the dough. And of course herbs of all sorts (except maybe dried rosemary) are perfect for savoury and even sweet pies! The strawberry rhubarb pie below has thyme in the pastry. *If the addition of herbs or cheese are specific to a recipe that I am including on the blog, I will always state how much and when to add it.
These days, if I’m feeling extra organized, I will make up two or three batches of the pie pastry. I will divide each batch into two disks (as outlined in the recipe below, wrap them each in cling wrap and place the two disks into a freezer bag. If I have two or three bags ready in the freezer, then pie baking becomes that much more immediate, and fun!
If you are going to use cut outs or create a lattice of any sort, here are my tips. Roll the softened upper disk of dough out on a well floured counter with a floured rolling pin. Also flour your cutters. Use an offset spatula to transfer them all to a parchment line baking sheet. Refrigerate them for at least 15 minutes before adding them to the pie top. Once they come out of the fridge, let them warm up just a bit (especially if it is a lattice you are doing) so that they don’t crack or break if you fold them in any way. If it is just leaves etc that you are adding to the top of a pie, they don’t need to warm up much.
Once you know where you want to lay them, brush the back of the cut out with water, using your finger gently, and place onto either the edge of the crust, or onto the cutout it will be layered over. Once the entire pie has been decorated, place it back into the fridge for at least 20 minutes before giving it the egg wash and sugar dusting. From that point it can go straight into the oven.
For my pumpkin pies, blueberry pies, or any custard pie where the filling is exposed or not baked (ie, coconut cream pie) I bake my cutouts separately and lay them on top after both the pie and the cutouts are cooled. If you try and lay cutouts onto a custard pie that needs to bake up still, you will find that they will sink into the custard. Better to have them baked separately where you can totally control how long they are in the oven. For the most part, ‘cookies’ at about 1/6 inch thickness, with a slight egg wash and sugar dusting should take approximately 20 minutes in a 375F oven. Just watch them, and remove if they are ready earlier. Set them on a cooling rack before decorating with them.
If you really want to have fun with your leaf cutouts, why not add veins to the cutouts that don’t have any? Just use the back of a knife, being careful not to cut all the way through. You don’t need to add too many lines to get some great details. And then when you are ready to bake the leaves on the baking sheet, take some rolled up tinfoil to push under parts of the outer edges etc. This will make them look more realistic and windblown. Below you can see how I prepared my leaves (adding veining to those cookies that didn’t have any) for baking, and then how they were added to the finished pie after everything had cooled. The pie baked separately from the cookies.
Have fun with pie, and don’t get discouraged. It may take a few times for your fingers to get the ‘feel’ of the crust, but it will truly come together in the end. I promise.
The Perfect Pie Crust
This tender, flakey pie crust recipe has never let me down! Easily adapted for sweet and savoury fillings.
- 2 cup AP flour
- 3 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/3 cup unsalted butter chilled and cubed
- 1/2 cup shortening chilled and cubed
- 1 large egg
- 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 cup ice water
Combine flour, sugar and salt. I use a food processor, feel free to do this by hand, using a large bowl and a whisk. (this is also where I would add any herbs or spices to a specialty pie crust)
Add the cubed butter and shortening and pulse only until blended to a rough, crumbly texture. It should only take 2 or 3 pulses. You still want to see large pieces of butter (the size of marbles). Or use a pastry blender or knife to achieve this.
Whisk the egg, lemon juice and ice water in a small bowl.
Add to flour mixture and pulse just till the dough comes together into a rough ball. Don't worry about grabbing every little bit from the sides, you can add this to the ball you turn out onto the counter by hand.
Shape the ball into two disks and wrap. Chill at least 30 minutes- 1 hour, or freeze till needed. If using these disks for uncovered pies, then you can divide them into equal sized disks
Take out one disk and let return to room temperature. Don't roll a disk that is still cool, it will crack along the edges. Place it on a well floured counter.
Flouring your rolling pin, roll the disk out. Decrease pressure as you reach the edges. After each roll, spin the dough 1/4 turn. Keep flouring all the surfaces to keep from sticking. Roll to 2-3 inches larger than the pie plate you are using (should be around 1/8" thick.)
Either roll the disk up around the rolling pin and release it over the pie plate; or dust with flour and fold it in half and then in half again loosely and lay across the pie plate and then open it up. (In either case make sure that the dough is floured enough so that it won't stick together)
Allow the pastry to fall down the sides of the pie plate, so that there are no gaps between the dough and the pie plate. This will ensure that the dough will not pull up from the base, or shrink during baking. Trim it, allowing enough of an edge to work with the type of crimp you wish to use.
Place the prepared pie shell back into the fridge to chill for about 20 minutes.
From this point follow the directions for the pie recipe you are using.
Repeat the above instructions for the remaining disk of dough. If using as a lid for a covered pie, roll to about 2 inches larger than the pie plate, allowing it to cover any raised filling. Or use to create lattice or cut outs (either with a cookie cutter or free hand)
Use well floured cutters and an offset spatula to transfer them all to a parchment lined baking sheet. Place the baking sheet in the fridge for 15 or so minutes. Once they come back out, let them soften just a little so that they don't crack or break when you start using them.
Once your pie has been filled and covered the way you like, place the finished pie back in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Once the oven is warmed up, only then take the pie out and do an egg wash. The fridge time will help the pastry from shrinking too quickly when it goes into the oven.
To make for a savoury pie, replace the sugar with 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp finely chopped fresh or dry herbs (except woody ones like rosemary)
You can also add cheese to the recipe by removing 1 tbsp of the fat, and replacing it with 3 tbsp to 1/4 cup of shredded cheese.
I also add fresh herbs such as mint or thyme or even dried lavender to my sweet pies. These herbs will always be added to the flour before the addition of the butter and shortening. I will include the amount in the specific recipes that I share.