Perfect Pie Crust

Making a tender, flaky pie crust from scratch is easy when you use the right secret ingredient.

  • Perfect Pie Crust
    The best pie crusts are buttery, tender and flaky — all possible by learning just a few simple tricks.
    Photos By Tim Nauman

  • Perfect Pie Crust

The secret to a memorable pie crust is to build a dough resulting in lots of light, flaky layers that give way to a buttery tenderness in each bite. Those who bake top-notch pies with aplomb deserve our praise. Rest assured, though, that practice makes perfect, and almost any homemade pies will be tastier than store-bought versions. According to Ken Haedrich, author of the book Pie, “You can become about 85 percent proficient as a pie-maker in short order. The other 15 percent you’ll acquire over a lifetime.”

So be patient. Make small tweaks with each new pie. Try different fillings each season. Get used to the feel of dough in your hands. Become familiar with the quirks of your oven. The road to pie perfection is paved with lots of good (even delicious!) intentions.

5 Pie Dough Truths

1. Cold Is Key. The colder your ingredients are, the better your pie crust from scratch will be. You can even freeze flour and tools in advance. If the dough is kept cold until baking, the individual pockets of solid fat will melt in the heat of the oven, creating separations or flakiness in the dough.

2. Find Fabulous Fat. For the absolute best texture in pie crust (and results like your great-grandmother used to get), go with real lard. If you can find a source of lard from pastured animals, so much the better. If you opt for butter (or a combo of butter and lard) instead, use a tangy, cultured, European-style butter with a high fat percentage. The offerings of Vermont Creamery, Organic Valley, Plugrá and Kalona Organics are all widely available.

3. Use Your Hands. It is possible to use a food processor to make pie dough, but making pastry by hand is the best way to learn.

4. Plan Ahead. Pie dough can be refrigerated for a few days or frozen for up to a month if tightly sealed. If you bake a lot, save time by doubling, tripling or quadrupling your recipe.

11/26/2013 9:09:48 AM

To increase the relative fat content of a pie crust, have you ever used ghee (clarified butter)? I am thinking that the reduced moisture content could serve to make a better crust, though the lack of milk solids could make it less tasty. Any thoughts? Thank you : )

Gina Labranche
9/21/2012 8:14:45 PM

According to America's Test Kitchen, what the vodka does is make it easier to work the dough by providing extra liquid without the gluten-coaxing effect of plain water if the dough gets overworked. Whatever the explanation, the vodka trick is a fabulous idea and I'll bet Julia Child would have loved it!

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