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Pie Crust 101

  • Food

I have talked before about making pie crust but I thought today, in honor of the great pie holiday Thanksgiving, I would show you some photos of the process. Maybe this little pie crust tutorial will inspire you to make your own pie crust, too.

But first, a little pie crust history. My mother was the Queen of Pies in our family. She loved to cook and bake all kinds of things but pies were her true specialty. She just enjoyed the hell out of baking and serving pies. She was decorating her pies with leaves and such way before Martha, too. Just saying.

Anyway, growing up with the Pie Queen as a mom is sort of intimidating and I was scared to death of making my own pie crust. I’ll admit that I was rather content to just let my mom do it – I didn’t need to compete with that. This approached worked just fine until Thanksgiving 1996. Two things happened that year to make me change my mind about making my own pie crust. The first was that my mom was diagnosed with colon cancer, stage III. The second was that it was my first Thanksgiving with Dale. I really wanted to impress him with a home baked pie and I really wanted to make sure that I learned to make pie crust from the Pie Queen before she, well, to put it bluntly, died.

So, I made my first pie ever in 1996. And I haven’t looked back since! You want to know my secret for getting over my fear of the pie crust? I told myself, “self, it’s just flour, water and shortening. If you screw it up you can throw it out and start over.” I swear, I haven’t had a problem with pie crust since I adopted that attitude.

Here’s my recipe. It’s not exactly my mom’s, I’ve adapted it to my own specifications over the years.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur)
1 tsp white sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup solid vegetable shortening
1/3 cup plus 1 T ice water

So, mix the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl. Then add the shortening in chunks. Like this:


Now get out that pastry blender (please don’t use two knives and you don’t need a food processor either) and start cutting the shortening into the flour. Keep working it until it looks like this:


See how the shortening is all mixed in and it looks all crumbly? That’s perfect.

Time to add that ice water. It’s important that the water is ice water. I don’t know why but it’s what my mom said so it’s what I do. So, you just pour that ice water over the flour mixture. I use the side of a rubber spatula to start mixing it all together. If the dough starts to stick together in clumps then you’ve added enough water. If not you can add another tablespoon or two of water but you don’t want it to be sticky so be careful with this part.

It looks like this when it’s done:


Divide the dough in half and stick each half on a piece of plastic wrap. Press it into a disc and wrap it up and stick it in the fridge for a while – like this:


Leave it there for at least a half an hour but up to 2 days. You can also freeze it at this point and then when you’re jonesing to make a pie all you’ve got to do is defrost your crust.

After the dough has chilled it’s time to roll it out. This is the fun part! Sprinkle some flour on your counter top and on your rolling pin and start rolling that disc into a bigger circle.


I don’t worry too much about the thickness of the crust. Generally, when it’s big enough to fit into the pie pan then it’s the right thickness, too. I fold it over my rolling pin and then plop it into my pie plate. Press it down into the bottom and up the sides – gently, don’t tear it! And then, if it’s a single crust pie, fold over the edges and make a nice fluted design. If you’re making a double crust pie then add your filling and then roll out the top crust and lay it gently over the top. Tuck the top crust under the edges of the bottom crust and then make that pinched fluted design again.

Proceed with whatever type of pie you’re making. For this Thanksgiving I’m making apple, pumpkin, mincemeat, cranberry pecan and chocolate cream. Come on back tomorrow so I can wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and show you some photos of those pies!

This Post Has 40 Comments

  1. that’s a lot of pies. my mom’s crust is good too. and her recipe is similar except she uses butter instead of shortening. you know, being french and all.

  2. I’m so glad you inherited your mom’s mad piecrust making skillz. I didn’t get the cooking legacy, but my grandma did teach me to crochet the week before she died, and I’ve been in love with fiber ever since. I love things like that – it gives me a fond sense that my beloved are not really gone forever.

  3. The reason for the ice water is that you need to keep everything nice and cold for a flaky crust. The flakiness come from the shortening not being soaked into the flour granules, so there are little blobs of fat surrounded by flour which then basically fry the flour when the crust bakes. If the shortening gets melty, it soaks into the granules and doesn’t cook up as nicely. And that’s about as well as I can explain it after working all night.

  4. Mmmmmm, THANKS SO MUCH!! I’ve never been good at making pie crusts, you’ve made it sound so easy! But hey….you are making my favorite pies, can I come over to your house?
    Have a VERY Happy Thanksgiving!

  5. This is perfect! Last year I tried a Martha Stewart pie crust that flopped and I was stressing about pies last night, even though I have made them for years. That one flopped recipe wiped out years of good pie making…LOL.

    I will give this a try today! Thanks for sharing!

  6. What a nice memory of your mom. Before my grandma died, she taught me to make hand dipped chocolates and I’m glad I learned.

    My recipe for pie crust is to open the box, open the package, then unroll the crust. 😉 Yours sounds better, though, and I’ll give it a try. Can you share the cranberry pecan pie recipe? It sounds really interesting and delicious.

  7. Thanks for the tutorial. So far, I’m a store-bought pie crust kind of gal but maybe I’ll try your recipe.
    Two items that belonged to my grandmother that I cherish are her pie pan and her pastry cutter. They remind me of all the pies she brought to our family holiday meals.

  8. Mmmmm, pie! That cranberry pecan sounds amazing.

    It’s wonderful to see that your recipe is the same as ours in our family, and that so many commenters say basically the same thing. We have often feel that we are the only people in the world who can make pies. Hee. It’s all to do with the taste and texture of the shortbready crust, which so many so-called gourmet restaurants just don’t GET. Well, then there’s the issue of the filling, too. How much do I HATE most apple pie fillings, for example: all gooey and glutinous and with hard chunks of apple in it? When I see a so-called gourmet saying you should use Granny Smith apples so they don’t cook up soft and mushy, I want to send salt labeled “sugar” to them as a “gift.”

    Who knew the subject of pie was going to get me all lathered up this morning? Hee.

  9. During my college years I spent every Thanksgiving and Christmas taking pie orders for Bakers Square restaurants (then “Poppin Fresh Pies”, that’s how old I am). It got to the point where I couldn’t look a French Silk pie in the face …. fortunately (or unfortunately, for my hips) that aversion has worn off.

    Your pies sound delicious, and after reading your tutorial I almost feel guilty for buying my dessert this year.


  10. Mmm, pie! I just made a pecan pie yesterday (yes, with homemade crust) as well as pumpkin bars with cream cheese icing AND Chex mix. That should hold us for a day or so 🙂 Hope you have a great Thanksgiing!

  11. Thanks Carole. Now, can you talk a bit about that cranberry pecan filling? I have both ingredients sitting in my kitchen.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  12. I grew up with 6 sisters and my mother all demonstrating exceptional comfort with cooking and baking. I tended to slip out of sight to avoid the crowd, so never perfected pie crusting. But I did learn that ice water keeps the shortening or butter from melting into the flour, which makes for a nicely flaky crust.

    With all those pies, you must host a hell of dinner crowd! Enjoy!

  13. The ice water is to keep the butter or shortening or whatever kind of fat you’re using solid. By virtue of the fact that you’re working the dough at all, it means there is friction causing the fat to heat up, the ice water helps insure that it doesn’t get too soft and start falling apart.

  14. My mother also made great pie crust (she chilled her shortening as well as using ice water) but no matter what recipe I use mine just isn’t as good as the stuff in a box, so I call myself “pie crust challenged” and offer to make the bread! Happy Thanksgiving!

  15. Okay — just read all the comments and clearly we are dreaming of the cranberry pecan! I’m going to try with the crust, although I may do it in the food processor.

  16. I think I grew up with the same mother!! Her pies are amazing. We all always had birthday pies rather than cakes – we love pie that much. Your crust recipe looks very similar to hers. I can vouch for the fact that it will make a very light, flakey crust.

    Enjoy your Thanksgiving tomorrow and of course, the pie.

  17. What a great tutorial!! I am definitely bookmarking this one. I hope you have a fabulous Thanksgiving filled with family, friends, knitting, and great memories!

  18. That’s the same way I make pie crust too. I am only making two this year though. You are making 5, wow! Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving Carole!

  19. Yum! My grandmother used to give my sister and I leftover pie dough and we’d roll it out, put it in tiny little pie tins (like from pot pies), sprinkle it with sugar and cinnamon and bake them. I want to do that again, just because.

  20. You had me right up to the rolling-out part, because that’s where my piecrust always causes trouble. Either during the actual rolling or when trying to get it off the counter . . . because no matter how much flour I use, it pretty much always sticks. Very discouraging. Thank heaven for Pillsbury!

  21. Yes! I am so pleased to see someone else who uses a pastry blender. Why would anyone want to use (and clean) a food processor? Your recipe is very close to my favorite crust recipe, except I don’t add sugar. But I rarely make it because I don’t keep shortening on hand any more. I’m experimenting with using butter or oil, but so far I haven’t found anything I’m happy with.

  22. I make mine in the Cuisinart. I have really hot hands and I pretty much cannot handle the dough at all or the fat melts and the gluten overdevelops and then – tough crust.

    I’m a butter person for pie crust, though. I have nothing against shortening, but the only thing I was using it for was pie crust and I don’t make pie all that often. So, the Crisco would be rancid just when I needed it ;<

  23. I don’t get people who don’t get that store-bought pies suck royally! And I’m with Norma on the pre-made pie fillings. Ewww! You need crisp Macintosh apples and a pastry blenda. Thanks for sharing your recipe! Have a great Thanksgiving Day! Oh, and a blocking photo counts, you can tell Kim I said so. Blue skies!

  24. My Grandmother makes it with a flour-water paste… She thinks that makes the water blend in better. (I dunno. I don’t really like crust.)

  25. Wow, pie crust is one of those amazing, magical things that I just can’t do. It’s awesome that you can and chose to share with others.

  26. Want to come over and make my pie crust? I usually do ok, just never turns out the way I like it. Maybe I’m a perfectionist. Although, cakes? Cakes I can do. But, if you want to ever taste heavan on’s my cookies 😀 I used to bake 2 dozen a week for my husband so I had perfected my recipe. Now that he’s gained a few pounds, I kicked it back to only on occasion. 😀 (he’s got a chocolate addiction.)

  27. I inherited both my mom’s recipe and skills (almost) for pie crust. The family recipe is from the Crisco can, back in the 60’s. I now replace 2 tbls of Crisco with butter and have been toying with the idea of going all butter one of these days, just to see.

    The one thing that I cannot do with a pie crust is roll it out and successfully transfer it to the pie pan without a canvas and prophylatic thingy for my grandmother’s wooden rolling pin. My mom never needed such a thing. My husband bought me a primo one last year. The canvas has these anchor things to keep it from slipping.

    And I use two knives with impunity.

  28. YUM.

    I lost my fear of pie crust when I stopped following the stupid Joy of Cooking recipe — they don’t call for nearly enough grease — and just went by what it looked like. I start with 2 cups or so flour and a stick of butter and add shortening until it looks right. Then I add 1/3 cup of water, give or take.

    I have and use a pastry blender, but why not two knives? They work.

  29. Yum. I keep meaning to make some pastry to put in the freezer for “emergencies” around the holidays… of course, at this point I doubt I’ll have time. Do you have any special Christmas pies?

  30. Just now catching up on blogs after the big move and HAD to comment. LOVE the pie crust instructions. I’ve been wanting to learn for years. LOVE the teen’s beautiful sweater. LOVE the recipes! Seriously, this batch of posts was wonderfully homey to see all together in one Bloglines page. Thanks.

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