Pie Crust – A Primer

I’m going to repeat a post today because it is timely and will help you to get ready for those Thanksgiving pies.  Everything you need to know about pie crust is here.  You can make your dough, roll it out, place it in the pan and freeze now for use later.

My preference for a tender, flaky crust is a combination of butter and vegetable shortening (my choice is Crisco).  It’s the combination of both fats that gives a crust its flavor and flakiness.  Pay careful attention to 2 keys that are necessary to making a great pie crust: COLD INGREDIENTS and SHAGGY dough.

Now ~ what do I mean by SHAGGY?  The biggest mistake people make when making pie crust is they mix it until it forms a nice, smooth ball.  Doing this will result in a tough, dry, non-flaky crust.  “SHAGGY” describes when the dough is mixed enough, which is to say, not a uniform ball, yet incorporated.   The dough will NOT be a ball at all, it will resemble a shaggy “mess”.

Here’s how to test if you have added enough water.  If you think it’s at the SHAGGY stage, but are not sure, stop adding water and pinch a bit of the dough in your fingers.  If it compresses and stays together its ready!  If it does not, you need to add a bit more water until the dough is able to do this.  Don’t worry, with some practice, you’ll be able to spot when you are at the SHAGGY stage.        

In a bowl measure:

3 cups Cake Flour

2 Tabl. Sugar

1 tsp. Salt

Place this bowl in refrigerator and allow flour to get COLD.

Grate: 1/2 cup COLD Butter into the flour and lightly toss with your fingers.

Add: 1/2 cup Shortening to the flour mixture and lightly toss with your fingers.

Mix together:

1 Tabl. Apple Cider Vinegar

1/2 tsp. Vanilla Extract

1/4 to 1/2 cup Water, ICE COLD!

Gradually Add small amounts of the liquids to the bowl while tossing it with a fork –  STOP ADDING WATER the second the dough looks “SHAGGY”.  You want to see chunks of butter/shortening! As the chunks of the fat melt, the steam will cause air pockets ~ that’s what causes the flakiness!

Dump the bowl onto the counter, divide and carefully press into 2 disks (BE CAREFUL NOT TO KNEAD OR OVERWORK – that will make the dough tough).

Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a couple hours.  Alternatively, dough can be kept refrigerated for a couple of days or frozen for months.

Unwrap one disk of COLD dough, leaving it on the plastic wrap.  Dust lightly with flour and roll out into a circle.


Start in the center and roll towards the outside.  Pick up the dough and rotate slightly. Rotating keeps the dough from sticking.  Add a dusting of flour if necessary.  Repeat this process of rolling and rotating until the dough is circular and rolled fairly thin and is slightly larger than your pie pan.

(If you are confident to roll directly onto the counter, lightly dust the counter with flour and follow the above directions.)


Place your pan near the dough you’ve rolled out.  Now, pick up the plastic wrap and flop it over onto the pan.  Pull the plastic wrap off to release.

(If you’ve rolled your dough on the counter, place the pie pan near by the dough.  Fold your dough in ½ and then pick it up and place in 1/2 of pie pan.  Unfold the other 1/2 of dough.)


If this is going to be an opened-faced, crumb topped pie or custard filled pie, you can finish the edges of your crust: Fold the edges under all around the rim of the pie pan.  Using a fork, mark the edges all around the crust, or use your thumb to press indentations all around your crust.

If this is going to be a double crust pie, place the filling in crust and repeat the rolling process to make the top crust.  Then follow the above directions for finishing your crust.


About bakingway

Baker/Pastry Chef for over 25 years.

Posted on November 13, 2010, in baKING Tips, Pies and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I have only mixed pie crust dough in a food processor because I am always afraid of overworking it. But I love the idea of grating the butter- this is the first time I’ve heard of it.

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