pie-crust-101 Recipes, Tips

pie crust 101

To begin, I want to make a note about the zillions of pie dough recipes out there: I barely buy it. Not the value of a recipe, mind you, but that new ones will ever come to pass. At their very base, they’re all just some type of solid fat (butter, shortening or lard) cut with powdery ingredients (flour, sometimes salt and sugar) bound with a liquid (usually water, but some folks get creative with milk, cream, buttermilk or vodka), and I’m amused that every year, so many cooking publications feel a need to pronounce that By Golly, They’ve Got It! They’ve found the perfect pie dough. In my mind, it was never lost.

That said, Cooks Illustrated is really onto something grand this year, so thank you to all who pointed me in this recipe’s direction. That thing is vodka, my friends. Yes, I think they’re brilliant too. But really, vodka, because it is 80-proof, will mostly evaporate in the oven, meaning that your crust gets the liquid it needs but much of it will not stay. Worried about a boozy vibe to your pie? Vodka is, by definition, colorless and odorless, so once it’s baked, you’ll forget it was ever in there. Of course (aheeeeem) if you are the sort that likes to pick up small scraps of raw dough and eat them because, mm, butter is awesome, let’s just say that things can get a little messy and leave it at that. Really, it’s not always a bad thing.

pie crust 101, step onepie crust 101, step twopie crust 101, step threepie crust 101, step four

So let’s get started shall we? As I noted yesterday, I am a fan of the humble pastry blender–it’s simple, lo-fi, and uses minimal dishes–so I’ll be using that today. However, these same steps could be taken with your food processor or Kitchen Aid, if you’re partial to them.

First, measure your flour. Measuring cups work just fine, but since I had a lot to measure, I weighed it, which makes my life much easier. You’ll need 2 1/2 cups* for one double-crust pie, plus one teaspoon of salt and two tablespoons of sugar. Whisk all of these dry ingredients together.

pie crust 101, step fivepie crust 101, step six

Now is the point where I suppose I should jump in on the Great Butter versus Shortening, but yawn, you can get that elsewhere. I tend to go the all-butter route but this year put my trust in the CI recipe, which calls for some shortening. Feel free to use all of one or the other, if that’s your preference, simply by swapping out the ingredient with the same volume of the alternative.

Dice your butter and shortening–cold from the fridge–into smaller bits with a knife, toss them into the dry ingredients bowl and start cutting away with your blender.

pie crust 101, step sevenpie crust 101, step eightpie crust 101, step ninepie crust 101, step ten

The first picture shows the dough after a few cuts with the blender, i.e. big chunks. The second picture shows it a minute later, and you can see the chunks getting smaller. In the third picture, you’ll see that the dough is beginning to align itself with the blades, becoming more of a solid mass–you’re almost there. Another minute later, it should resemble a coarse cornmeal. You’re almost done! Wasn’t that easy?

pie crust 101, step elevenpie crust 101, step twelve

Next comes the moment you have all been waiting for: vodka. Add 1/4 cup vodka (we keep ours in the freezer, like good Russians, so it’s always icy) and 1/4 cup very cold water to this cornmeal-textured mixture and fold it all together with a rubber spatula. It should easily come together in a mass with a little stirring. This CI recipe is on the sticky side, to compensate for the vodka that will burn off.

pie crust 101, step thirteen pie crust 101, step fourteen

Mound the dough into one pile, and divide it into two balls. If you are OCD, as I am, you might weigh the dough to make sure you are dividing it evenly, but this is not mandatory. Flatten the balls into discs, wrap them in plastic and chill them in the refrigerator for at least 45 minutes and up to two days. (If you want to store it longer, triple wrapping them and then sliding them into a freezer bag in the freezer is recommended.)

Aren’t you proud of yourself? You have made a pie dough! Pat yourself on the back and leave others to wonder how you got the floury handprint! The mysteries never cease…

pie crust 101, step fifteenpie crust 101, step sixteen

At this point, you can prepare your pie filling, be it apples or pumpkin or something even awesomer that I hope you’ll share with me. Set it aside.

Once your dough is thoroughly chilled, and I mean thoroughly–my fridge is on the warm side and I didn’t feel that 45 minutes was sufficient. The dough should feel as firm as a cold stick of butter–it’s time to roll it out.

Rolling the dough out between two pieces of plastic is a great trick, as it keeps your counter clean and keeps you from having to flour and re-flour and, if you’re me, scrape and flour again because it keeps sticking anyway. Make sure you pull any folds out of the plastic every few rolls to ensure that the dough remains smooth.

To fit this in a standard 9.5-inch pie dish, you’re going to want roll it out to a 12-inch circle. I find that a ruler, or the side of the plastic wrap box which just happens to be 12 inches, is helpful to have around. If your dough has gotten soft or warmer in the time you have been rolling it out, I find it helpful to slide it onto the back of a tray and into the freezer for 10 minutes to get it firm again.

preparing a tart shell

Carefully transfer your dough to the pie plate by peeling off the top piece of plastic, and rolling the dough around the rolling pin, leaving the bottom piece of plastic on the counter, and unrolling it into the pie plate, or by folding the dough gently into quarters and unfolding in the pan. Working around the circumference of the pie plate, ease dough the dough into the corners by gently lifting dough edges with one hand while pressing around pan bottom with other hand. If you’re making a single crust pie, crimp the edges decoratively with your fingers at even intervals and add the filling according to your recipe’s instructions. If you’re making a double-crust or latticed pie, leave dough that overhangs the lip of plate in place and refrigerate dough-lined pie plate, proceeding according to that recipe’s instructions, or, heck, mine.

And if you’re me, and decided at the very last minute to mess with you guys by using a tart pan instead and par-baking it, but not telling your what I actually put in it until tomorrow, you’ll do just that. Nya-nya! I can assure you, it was amazing.

One year ago: Jacked-Up Banana Bread and fiittingly, How to Make a Lattice-Top Pie

NaBloSlackerMo Yes, peeps, it was a late night. Did I mention I had a wee dinner party? And there was wine, so much of it? And it was late? And because a great time was had by all, I’m not sorry? Fine, a tiny bit. But I wouldn’t take it back.

Update 11/25/08: New year, new tutorial. I have added some additional tips and a vodka-free crust recipe in Pie Crust 102: All Butter, Really Flaky Pie Dough. Check it out!

Foolproof Pie Dough
Cooks Illustrated, November 2007

Makes enough for one 9-inch double-crust pie

2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons sugar
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into small bits
1/4 cup cold vodka
1/4 cup cold water

1. Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogeneous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds (dough will resemble cottage cheese curds and there should be no uncoated flour). Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.

2. Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

* Note: I was making a double recipe, because, well, I make a lot of pie and wanted a stash of dough, so don’t freak out if your dough is smaller than mine. It’s supposed to be.

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139 comments on pie crust 101

  1. I have to admit, I was doubtful about this, but then I got to thinking that my Grandmother always added a teaspoon of vinegar to her pie dough, which helps tenderize it, and I can’t help but think vodka must have the same effect.
    We keep the vodka in the freezer too, but mainly because no one here ever drinks it and it’s only there for random guests.

  2. San

    A friend of mine just mentioned this recipe the other day when I was saying I have never been able to make an edible pie crust. OK, so now I’ll have to try it.
    Love your blog, have been lurking for a while and am finally stopping in to say “hi”.

  3. I LOVE the vodka idea – I can see how that would make the crust easier to work with (more liquid at first) yet also so totally flaky and not squishy (like nasty commercial pie crusts) post-baking. I have to try this recipe!!
    Also, I am a firm believer in the joys of the pastry blender. One of my very favorite kitchen tools.

  4. leslie

    hi deb! been reading your blog for a while (love it!) but have never posted… i’ve also been eying this vodka pie crust thing for a while – mildly weirded out, but trusting in cooks illustrated, who has never lead me astray. just wondering if you think i could sub this in on your beautiful cranberry caramel almond tart?

  5. deb

    Hi Leslie — I am sure this will work great. Because it doesn’t have an egg, it might be slightly softer than a dessert shell, however I couldn’t help but notice that for the dessert I baked in the weighted one above, it shrunk a lot less than the dessert shell in the cranberry, caramel and almond tart recipe.

  6. Steph

    I have always been the worst at pie crust. When I was in high school, and we were living with my single dad, my 8 year old sister could do it, and still not me. I think it’s time to navigate away from the box crust and try again. Thanks.

  7. Simply brilliant…what a great reference guide! I know that passions flare about pie crust especially around this time of year. Thank you for the well-thought out, easily laid out post. I love the picture at the top…it seems vaguely dangerous. Like, are you IN or OUT with this pie crust thing!??

  8. I battle with pie crusts… they either fall apart and barely get into the pan in one piece, or if you feel like it’s actually working (!!) it shrinks 3 1/2 sizes in the oven and burns. Whoops.

    I have a feeling I’ll be making a pie this coming week… and I am definitely going to give this crust a try.

    Thanks for the tips!

  9. Beautiful!!! Vodka, who’d’ve thought?

    Deb, thanks so much for passing this recipe on! I am a former subscriber to CI, but would’ve missed this one since I don’t subscribe any more.

    It’s a bit silly that I don’t have a pastry blender, but I’m going to have to go out and get one soon to get pie-crust bakin’ for the holidays! :)

  10. I just read that article in CI yesterday and was planning to try it for my Thanksgiving pies. Making pie crust gives me hives! This method sounded foolproof. I’m so glad that you beat me to it. Now, I will wait to see how it worked for you before I dive in. Thanks!

  11. I love all the step-by-step photos here. And it’s even more helpful for this post, as pie-crust making is not exactly intuitive (at least, not for me). I also saw this recipe from CI and have wanted to try it. Your post definitely got my juices going!

  12. Catherine

    I too struggle with crust–I have never really been successful until last night, when I made this crust with all butter (because I live in Norway, where the selection of psuedo-butters is enormous and indistinguishable, and I therefore pretend none of them exist) and used it in a pear tart tatin (can it be a tart tatin without apples? whatever. It was the best thing I have ever made). I even used lemon vodka (because it was all I had) and you can’t tell.

    On another note, while this is the first time I have commented, Deb, I totally stalk your blog in all it’s awesomeness and have occasionally alarmed my office mates by drooling on the keyboard when looking at it.

  13. oy pie crust… the 1 thing i cant ever EVER get right. Thats Moms department, and she too, use’s vinegar… I think I’ll give it a shot. Seems like a lot of liquid.. I recall Mom using just a smidge of water and a smidge of vinegar. Omg they will be so impressed when i ta daa a tasty pie!

  14. Ann

    I’ve been meaning to try this ever since I read about it in September. The foodies over at egullet are pretty enthused about it too. Maybe I can finally create a decent pie crust!

  15. One day I might actually get a hang of all the kitchen gadgets we’ve inherited. I’m one step closer, now that I know what that chopping-looking thing is in the back of the pantry: it’s a pastry blender! Slightly embarrassed about my ignorance, but whatever — I’ve learned something new today.
    Fortunately, I’ve never understood what the fuss about pie-crusts is all about. Perhaps I’ve been lucky — or just not been brought up with the responsibility that comes with an old American pie.

  16. eloise

    i made this pie crust two weeks ago for a pie contest at work and it was amazing. i have never made a crust that was so easy and flaky!

  17. That is fascinating – the vodka part that is.

    I’m usually in the “there’s nothing new under the piecrust sun” and I stick to my standard formula, but vodka. Huh. May have to try that.

  18. Honestly, I subscribe to a veritable assload of cooking magazines, but Cooks Illustrated is the only one that I can rely on for new takes on basic recipes that are, by and large, perfect. They do not lie.

    Well, except for that one time, about a brownie recipe, where they put brownies in two camps — too cakey and too fudgy. Which, too fudgy? THERE IS NO SUCH THING. The Goldilocks touch they so effortlessly apply to most of their recipes was so grotesquely unnecessary in that case.

    But dude, in that same issue, they improved basic potato salad enough to make all of my coworkers (and me) swoon at a recent potluck (yes, a potluck. Ah, newspapers don’t pay that well, so if we want to party, we must potluck it. Because we’re classy.)

  19. Just yesterday I was making a pie crust (using my pastry blender), wondering why everyone seems to need to use a food processor! So I was very pleased to see your post today, and I’m looking forward to trying out the recipe.

  20. Hi Deb! Thanks so much for posting this! I’ve tried many pie dough recipes many, many times and after so many failures, I feel like such a loser in the grocery check out line with my *sigh* store-bought pie crust. My days of embarrassment are over! Thanks!

  21. So, um, say you have only really terrible vodka, the kind that does actually taste like something, like rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover. Do you suppose this will ruin the party entirely, or will the industrial-solvent bouquet evaporate in baking? I have half a bottle of this crap left, and I’m all out of stickers to remove.

    (And – anybody tried other liquors yet? Bourbon-crust sweet potato pie?)

  22. deb

    Hannah — I wouldn’t worry about using cheap stuff. Vodka is vodka. In your martini, you might want something fancier, but for baking? I can’t even imagine using Grey Goose (plus, the Russians only like the Absolut anyway) for the purposes of evaporating it.

  23. laura

    just wanted to thank you for the beautiful apple tart recipe from a few (many?) days ago. i used it tonight for some friends, wanted to do a test run before thanksgiving, and it was delicious! and impressive! and easy! your blog is a lot of fun to read and your enthusiasm is contagious. many thanks.

  24. Julie

    Well, the only vodkas I have in the house are infused – a vanilla and a citrus. I wonder if the flavors would come through in pie? I am thinking the citrus would not be unwelcome in a berry or apple pie, but I think I will use the vanilla one in my pumpkin pie on Thursday. Glad you tried this recipe and posted your success! CI has never, ever led me astray!

  25. lana

    I tried this last night and I think I managed to screw it up. (Ha, give me anything labeled “foolproof”…)
    It never got to the cornmeal-looking stage- it actually all came together like dough before I added the liquid. After I added the liquid it got VERY sticky. Did I overwork it with the pastry blender? Might it still be okay (It’s in the fridge)? Perhaps the hippie shortening I used was not a good idea?

  26. Eileen

    We’ve used alcohol–usually vodka, sometimes gin or brandy for years in pastry with great success. I wouldn’t use anything low alcohol or with excess sugar. I fondly remember using a pear eau-de-vie…hmnmm where is that bottle? Also–for the pastry cutter/cuisinart/kitchenaid-less, use very cold butter, coarsest grater set in bowl with flour (plus salt,sugar, etc.) works beautifully. Just remember to dash flour on the growing mound to prevent clumping. If it seems too warm, set in freezer to firm up. Crumble with fingers to the “cornmeal” stage, then proceed as above with adding the, ahem, booze.

  27. amaranta

    Do you have/know of a gluten-free alternative pie crust that comes out as flaky-tasty good as this one? I have a friend who is gluten-free for health reasons and is just heartbroken that she has to avoid pie for Thanksgiving. Thanks in advance!

  28. Janet

    I just rolled out the dough and the crust is chilling in its pan in the fridge waiting to be par-baked, as I write. (for coconut custard pie). I know I should wait until it’s finished before evaluating….but, here goes. First of all, I used the food processor method as specified in the original recipe–not by hand as you did–and I think I may have overprocessed it. The dough was very soft and wet. I had it in the fridge about an hour in a half and it was still very wet and sticky when I rolled it. I had to do a lot of patching and shoring up. I plan on baking it in a little while. I don’t have high hopes.

  29. Adrienne

    I am trying this as I type and have had the same experience as Janet and Lana. My dough is dripping with liquid. It was all coming together before the liquid. I am really bummed. Is there something missing??

  30. Fairly new to your blog, first time commenter (Hi.)
    Let me preface this by saying that, while I am a fairly decent baker – cookies, cakes, muffins, that sort of thing – pie crust scares the ever-loving crap out of me. Mostly because of the small margin for error, and also I have nightmarish memories of my mother attempting to make pie crust, only to end up swearing and screaming at a shapeless lump of dough on our kitchen counter. (Her pumpkin pie still kicks butt, though.) So this was only my second attempt at a homemade crust.

    I halved the recipe, since I made just one pecan pie. I, too, used my pastry blender, mostly out of laziness (why get the food processor dirty for one pie crust?). I was prepared for the stickiness of the dough, having read the comments on this post ahead of time, I made sure I had plenty of flour next to me when I rolled it out. I do think I rolled it a little thin – I had a lot of dough left over, which I of course made into the same pie dough/cookie treats my mom used to make when I was a kid (Spread with a little butter, sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon, bake away). I also did not leave enough room on the edges — it shrank down on me a little…this, obviously, is my own damn fault, and I’m not interested in winning a pie beauty contest, I’m more interested in how it tastes….and I like it. Tasty, flaky, buttery-I think it’ll be a hit! Thanks for the recipe, it looks like a keeper.

  31. Ann

    OK, I don’t know WHAT the hell happened, but I’m having the opposite experience to what others have noted. I used the food processor, and I have a dough that is dry & crumbly and will not come together. I stuck it in the fridge in hopes of being able to get advice and salvage it later, but right now it is a powdery mess. Can 1/4 cup vodka and 1/4 cup water really be enough? I used all butter, that couldn’t be the problem, could it? Am I just not mixing it aggressively enough? What the hell? Any advice appreciated.

  32. Ann

    OK, I’ve gone back and double-checked my measuring cups – I didn’t accidentally use too much flour or only 1/8 cup water or anything obvious like that. I used two sticks butter, the full 16 oz.

    The dough is as dry as it was earlier (no magical refrigerator cure). Any thoughts?!?

  33. Adrienne

    Yay! I stuck with it and it was most delicious!! Just much wetter than I am used to. The maple nutmeg cream pie was a big hit. Thanks.

  34. Sandy

    What a great recipe! Had no problem with it. I made mine night before and let chill in fridge overnight. Very easy to roll out next day. (used sprinkle of flour during rolling out process) Only things I did different was use salted butter (I bought salted in error, but cut down on added salt called in recipe). I made sure all butter, shortening and liquids were very chilled (in freezer for 30 min or so) before adding. I also didn’t use any food processors or mixers. Just old fashioned knives and later a hand held pastry blender. Wonder what others who didnt have success did wrong. This is pretty much fool proof. I encourage others to try again.
    Thanks for posting this recipe!

  35. eric

    Although my wife is the real genius in the kitchen, pies have happily been in my column for awhile. At thanksgiving, I make a pumpkin-pecan-rum pie every year. This year I substituted vodka for water in my normal recipe and let me say the vodka works amazingly well. I use shortening so the crust is usually pretty flaky, but this year it was even more so. Neighbors threw a Turkey 2.0 last night so we tried it again with the same result. Great tip.

  36. Cliff

    Drat. We tried the recipe for our pumpkin pies:The dough rolled out great but the crust shrunk up quite a bit during baking and had a cardboard texture.

  37. Cheryl

    This was my very first time making my own pie crust – I had absolutely no problem with it, it turned out perfectly (I used my Kitchen-Aid). I even had most of my guests telling me how GREAT the crust was on my delicious Nutmeg Maple Cream tart (one person even came in my kitchen to tell me that it was the best dessert he’d ever had). So, don’t know what could’ve happened to the others, but I can say that I’ve always been terrified to bake my own piecrust and was so excited that it turned out great! I have another one in my fridge that I can’t wait to fill!
    But I would like to know exactly what the vodka is supposed to do instead of water.

  38. Jan

    I suspect that the problem for those with very wet or very dry dough has to do with how they measure the flour. If a “cup” of flour is 4oz. you will have a very wet dough. If a “cup” of flour is over 5-1/2 oz. you will have a very dry dough. If those who had problems try again, this time weighing your flour, I think you will have more success. CI uses a 5oz. weight for a cup of flour in this recipe. BTW, a simple, inexpensive postal scale will work fine for this type of kitchen work. Good Luck.

  39. Catherine

    I couldn’t find the Pilsbury roll-out pie crust at the grocery store this year and so turned to your vodka recipe, and boy am I glad I did! I made a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving and the crust turned out perfectly. My sister, who doesn’t even like crust (she usually scoops out the filling in her slice), loved it, too. I’ll be coming back to this recipe at Christmas. I say to store-bought crust: Never again!

  40. Megan

    urg. ‘foolish pie dough’ is what i ended up calling this when it was done – ‘foolish’ mostly referring to me for trying something new the night before Thanksgiving.

    i was the victim of embarrassing pie crust shrinkage. yes, it probably happens to all bakers at one time or another, but i swear it’s never happened to me before! i know, that’s what they all say…

  41. Cat

    Do you know of any recipes that don’t require vodka? (being underage has its downfalls) They don’t have to be quite as foolproof…

    Thanks a lot Deb!

    -Cat.
    ps. you’ve inspired me to make a food blog.

  42. I know what you said about flavored vodkas, but I had the seemingly brilliant idea to use the Absolut New Orleans mango black pepper vodka with a sweet mango pie filling, what do you think?

  43. Laura from South Carolina

    We’ve been using this recipe for months now and love it! You wouldn’t think, from the consistency of the dough, that this recipe would work, but it does, and it works beautifully, no matter how much you handle it. Our family & guests love it! We even found a way to improve upon it. OUR SUSTITUTION HINT: We don’t use traditional vegetable shortening. We found that we could avoid these unhealthy hydrogenated and/or trans-fats by using *drum roll, please* expeller pressed organic coconut oil, which is a more healthy alternative (and is not the same thing as the truly bad, hydrogenated coconut oil we hear so much about). The expeller pressed works like a charm in this recipe! With the brand we are now using (Spectrum) you cannot smell or taste coconut. Expeller pressed organic coconut oil comes in a jar, stores at room temp (with a nice, long shelf life) and has a color & consistency similar to shortening.

  44. AJ

    Sigh, leave it to me to be fooled by fool-proof pie dough. Things seemed to be moving along just fine until the rolling process, then I remembered why I never make my own pie dough. I cobbled something together that looks frighteningly like the masked killers in that new Liv Tyler movie … but I have high hopes for the finished product. Will keep you posted. Am waiting on the no-knead bread to finish to bake it. It’s an All Smitten Weekend here in the crooked kitchen.

  45. By the by, a friend turned me on to the idea of freezing the fats for pie dough/shortbreads/etc and then GRATING them with a hand grater into your flour/salt mixture. No worrying “Is this pea sized? Do I have things cut in evenly enough?” Works a treat.

  46. Rob

    Dear Deb:
    You copied the Cook’s Illustrated recipe with a typo;where it says :
    1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening cut into 4 pieces
    it should say: cut into 1/4 inch pieces

    I have found the same typo copied into a dozen (at least) web pages

    also it would be nice if you would add a caption to the last picture and explain that you have filled the pie mold lined with dough with little ceramic balls
    best regards

  47. deb

    Fixed now. However, I don’t think it is reasonable to cut shortening into 1/4-inch pieces, even super-cold so it now says “small bits.” This is easier if you buy shortening “sticks.”

    No caption functionality at this time, but perhaps one day!

  48. Claudia

    I’m new to searching the net, new to blogs, and I found more than exactly what I was looking for! Thank you! A friend told me about and let me try her Vodka pie crust (under an excellent apple pie) but I didn’t get the receipe. Also, she has the perfect set of kitchen processors (blender, mixer, processor, bla, bla) to use in her cooking and I don’t have any. Lo and behold, I not only find the recipe(elsewhere using the processor-drat!), I find someone doing it by hand (Yea! You!), and gives me pictures to help me figure it out! (Wow! Let’s use all learning styles: visual, kenesthetic, auditory…) and Thanks to all the other writers, for their support and comments. Though I have a pastry blender, I have usually used the two-knives method when making my pie crusts and have had pretty good luck. I always eat it no matter how it comes out, anyway. I just wanted to impress some people this weekend , and I have these perfect peaches, but it has been a long time since I baked a pie. I’m feeling pretty confident now…

  49. I know I’m late in the game finding this, but thank you so much! The recipe is awesome and the step-by-step instructions and photos really help. I made this last night for a cherry-apple pie and it was awesome! So much easier and better to work with than other recipes I’ve tried and it turned out beautiful and delicious!! Thanks again!

  50. Erica

    I went shopping and forgot to buy (dare I admit this?) Pillsbury pie crusts, so I figured I would just make my own. My 1982 Joy of Cooking crust recipes all called for shortening, which I didn’t have, the Moosewood Cookbook recipe didn’t inspire confidence in me, and I was at a bit of a loss.

    Lo and behold, the smittenkitchen pie crust 101! (Which, despite featuring shortening, told me to calm down and substitute butter, duh!)

    My poor Hamilton Beach blender, which crushes ice beautifully, quailed when I asked it to chop butter into flour, so I ended up doing it by hand, with two knives. No problem!

    The dough came out bigger, stickier and squishier than any pie crust I’ve made before, so I was kind of worried, but when chilled and rolled out, it baked beautifully into my apple-blueberry pie and I think I can safely say that it was the best pie crust I’ve ever made.

    Thanks Deb/Cooks Illustrated! What a tasty crust! Plus the vodka gives it shock value. :D

  51. Raymond Gassmann

    The vodka pie crust recipe is excellent. My wife tried it by making an apple pie and a pumpkin pie and both turned out good. My wife tried a different strategy on the pumpkin pie, though. Instead of cooking the pumpkin before putting it in the pie shell, we used a food processor and pureed the pumpkin. Cooking it only once retains a lot more flavor. If anyone is interested in the full recipe, let me know.

  52. David Troyer

    I made my first pie using this pie crust recipe and, well, I simply cannot believe how well it turned out! I did the Cooks Illustrated Pumpkin Pie and it was excellent, although next time I will probably add more ginger and spices to make it a bit more exotic. I’m going to try the expeller pressed coconut oil next time in place of shortening.

  53. andi

    this was probably the easiest pie crust i have ever made as far as rolling it out and transferring it, however i was really disappointed in the lack of flakiness – i’m gonna give it one more try, before i do, does anyone have any tips on how to achieve more flakiness from this recipe? i made it as written, pastry blender and all!!

  54. Sarah

    I’ve made this 2 times now. It does roll out like a dream, and unlike my old recipe, doesn’t crack and fall apart as I try to put it into the piepan. I have to put lots of flour on my fingers to crimp the edges, because it sticks to my fingers if I don’t. I find that it makes softer looking “crimps” because the dough is so soft. But it doesn’t shink up in the pan when making a single crust pie. Glad to see it can be made w/out a food processor….I hate the mess when making pies…one less thing to clean up.

  55. I came across this recipe in CI and as my pie crusts are very lackluster decided to try it. Thank you for posting the method using a pasry blender; I do not have a food processor. The pies were absolutely splendid! Now I can bake something that outshines my husband’s talent.

  56. glvnyc

    i’m anxious to try this recipe, but am reluctant to because of the vodka, as my mom can’t have any alcohol due to medical conditions and medications. with that being said, would what would you suggest?

  57. deb

    Hi Glyvnyc — The vodka does bake off completely, however, if you are still concerned I have another entirely vodka-free recipe on this site, over here. (Just halve it if you are not making a lid or lattice top.) I switch back and forth between the two pie recipes. And yes! I was on the Martha Stewart Show briefly a couple months back. Thanks for noticing!

  58. glvnyc

    deb: wow – how cool it must have been to meet martha! thanks for that other dough recipe. would it be ok to use all butter? we try our best to eat only unprocessed fats. i went to williams sonoma this morning and picked up their pastry blender and can’t wait to start experimenting. i’m hoping that by thanksgiving day i’ll be able to make an edible pumpkin pie. i look forward to hearing from you.

  59. This is the best pie crust EVER! My kids make me bake the scraps as “cookies” so they can have a little treat while they’re waiting for the pie to cool. That’s how yummy it is!

  60. Tracy Cook

    Hi I am an avvid english fan (thanks to my stateside cousin) Can you pleas ut on ypour site how much a stick weighs / Making the pastry today for thanksgiving dinner ( I know its late )

  61. GCHC

    you deserve knowing that this recipe and how-to saved my thanksgiving life! thank you thank you thank you. my pies turned out to be the best pies at thanksgiving. PLUS this is the first time I’ve EVER made them. thank you!

    gchc

  62. Michael

    I subscribe to CI and saw this recipe a while ago and tried it. I just wanted to add that it was nice to see you display photos of your steps since it was my first attempt at making a pie let alone any sort of crust and CI really didnt show me what I needed to do so much as tell me. Great blog…btw…there is a video online that explains why vodka makes the crust perfect and how they tested over 100 various ingredients to prevent the creation of gluten.

  63. teddi

    rob (from july 18, 2008) deb was right about the 1/2 c solid vegetable shortening being cut into 4 pieces (not 1/4 inch pieces that you suggested) saw it being done on tv today.

  64. d

    Alton Brown supports what you said about vodka (sort of). He used Apple Jack alcohol in his apple pie recipe. He said the alcohol works better than water because it doesn’t create a gluten with the flour nearly as quickly which is more forgiving. I adore Alton Brown and I love your blog, therefore, I will use vodka (or apple jack for apple-y stuff) when making pie crust from this point foward.

  65. HI!
    I work over at instructables.com (are you familiar?) and we all are familiar with this recipe and use it every time. (I think my boss found it in an OLD cooking magazine!)
    Your tutorial is so gorgeous and well documented. I would love it if you would post it as an instructable! You’ve already got perfect pictures and copy, so it would be a total snap. Plus, it would be a great way to drive traffic back to your site!
    Let me know once you’ve posted and I’ll make sure you get featured on the front page. I think this has huge potential.
    Let me know what I can do to help!
    Best,

    Sarah

  66. David

    Could someone please recommend a temperature and time to bake this pie crust? I tried this pie crust today following the baking instructions from my rhubarb pie recipe which specified 30-minutes at 450-degrees. The crust turned out way too dark.

  67. My grandmothers would dream of making pie crust without lard… they think butter is for wimps. But I probably am a wimp, lard just makes me nervous. What is the difference in the result… if any?

    1. deb

      Lard supposedly makes for a lighter, flakier crust, but as you can see, I generally make mine with butter. Best way to see for yourself is to get some, give it a spin, see if you like it more.

  68. Adelina

    I’m glad I visit your blog, more often that I actually want to admit!!!

    I did watch an episode about this pie dough from Cook’s Illustrated about a couples of months ago and I had no idea where my notes went….THANK YOU for posting this recipe!!! I might finally find an excuse to purchase Vodka!

    LOVE your site!

  69. Marine

    Bonjour,
    Je ne sais pas si ce “pie” est sucré ou salé, mais avec quelques efforts de “translation”, je le découvrirais!!
    Bye bye from Paris!!

  70. Betsy

    Hi Deb–made my first ever pie crust for Thanksgiving using your instructions and photos in this post, and it turned out GREAT. I’ve loved making the recipes you post–your instructions are always precise (makes me appreciate good recipe writing). Also–your son is so cute. Congratulations!

  71. Randi Lynne

    Since I am fairly new to cooking, I am constantly doing things “for the first time.” I used this recipe (used all butter) to make a pie crust for the first time fora pecan pie I made today. Everyone in the family remarked at how flaky and delicious the pie crust was. I am anxious to compare it to a crust with water only and one with shortening or a shortening/butter combo. I am anxious how much the vodka contributed to its structure. This wonderful crust was a big confidence booster! :) Thank you.

  72. Julia

    I’ve always found that waxed paper worked better for rolling out between than plastic wrap. It doesn’t bunch up as much and comes off the dough nearly clean too. Then again, I’m a butter-flavored Crisco girl, rather than a butter one (when it comes to pie crust), so what do I know? ;-)

    Thanks for your wonderful blog that I’ve just discovered and have been poring through rather than working.

  73. Simone

    I feel hopeless about baking now! I read this and I was very excited to try it. I used it as a wrap/pocket for my jamaican beef patties. It tasted great but I could not get it to not fall apart as I stuffed it. What am I doing wrong!

    Help! I am desperately trying to learn to bake but it’s intimidating. I can do everything else in the cooking department but somehow nothing I bake turns out right.

  74. This may be the lamest question ever…
    I’ve got some dough hanging out in the fridge for a blueberry pie I’m making tomorrow morning and I don’t know if I’m supposed to butter/ flour/ anything the pie pan before I wrangle the dough into it…
    help, Deb!

  75. Thank you so much for this and the 102 article. I’d never heard of a pastry blender, and you’ve saved me from spending 200 quid on a food processor that I really don’t have the room for, and really don’t need by the sounds of it. Looking forward to trying out using my new pastry blender next week once it’s delivered, when I will hopefully try and recreate your awesome looking Strawberry and Rhubarb pie for myself.

  76. shabuchwae

    #1: THANK YOU for this recipe! I’ve been afraid for years to make a pie from scratch and you gave me the courage! And boy, oh boy was it a hit!
    #2: I got crazy and used your dough to make empanadas! I know…I know…truly…I know! This is not empanada dough. But I made them anyway…and they were like cornish pasties making babies with empanadas…and I baked them with an egg wash (so they would brown on top)…AND THEY WERE DIVINE! You MUST try it!!!!

  77. Planning to try this later in the week to make mini chicken pot pies…they’re a big hit with my boys. Here’s hoping the vodka does burn off completely or I may have some tipsy little ones!

  78. Erica

    Hi Deb, I bought a pastry blender and while I really want to love it, I find myself spending most of my time with it trying to unstick the butter that gets stuck on it (after I press it down, the butter clumps on top of the little chop-like slats)—does anyone else have this problem? I feel so foolish but don’t understand what I’m doing wrong—any ideas? Thanks so much!

    1. deb

      Erica — Just keep pressing. It eventually comes through as you press on other chunks, and gets broken down smaller. Every so often — generally, as I’m almost done and really want to make sure there are not large forgotten chunks left — I’ll swipe my fingers or a rubber spatula across the blades to press/push everything out.

  79. Ian

    I just used this recipe yesterday, and I discovered an easy way to get the dough into the pie plate that didn’t involve folding or rolling onto the pin. I laid plastic wrap on a granite countertop so that it was stuck on and flat (I needed to overlap two pieces – a commercial size plastic wrap would help here), then I put the dough on with another piece on top, and rolled it out. I then peeled off the top plastic, and pulled the plastic wrap off the counter carefully while inserting a pizza peel underneath (maybe I could have just put the wrap on the peel originally). Then I put the pie plate on upside down on top of the dough, and flipped the whole thing over in one motion, sandwiching the dough between the plate and peel. Then I carefully peeled the other plastic wrap layer off (it sticks a bit, so this was probably the trickiest part). The dough settled into the pie plate easily, and I pressed it into place. I did the same for the upper crust, but just flipped the peel with dough onto the top of the pie. This was much easier than folding or rolling, which I’ve had difficulty with in the past.

  80. Ian

    I just used this recipe yesterday, and I discovered it was easy, after rolling out the dough, to insert a pizza peel underneath the plastic wrap, put the pie plate on top upside down, and flip them over. I did the same for the upper crust.

  81. saffronrose

    A tip for rolling out dough- use a large freezer-size ziploc bag, cut in half. The plastic is thick enough that it doesn’t wrinkle up, and it makes lifting and turning the dough a breeze. For this recipe, I sprinkled a good amount of flour on each side of the dough disk, then rolled it out. My Mexican coworker taught me how to press tortillas this way, and it works well for a lot of different things.

  82. My husband and 5 year old daughter just used the vodka recipe to make me home made (gluten free flour too!) pop tarts for Mothers day (here in UK) and they turned out heavenly. Thanks for helping start out a great day! Love your beautiful site, will definitely be checking it out often.

  83. jeff

    Hi Deb – I am teaching myself the art of pastry and your site has been a great help (thanks!). I think I’m doing pretty well, right up to the rolling; it seems I am not a good roller. The picture of your rolled, unbaked pastry looks like a lovely, nearly perfect circle. My rolled crusts end up looking not-so-vaguely like Antarctica, with its jagged and irregular coastline. Any suggestions on how to achieve a more circular finished product?

    1. deb

      I have some rolling tips in this post, but in short: Just roll, turn, roll, turn, etc. By continually rotating it, it should stay round. Craggy edges are the norm, but if you end up with an especially long crack that cannot be mended by overlapping it and rolling it again, you can fold that part back in and roll it back out in one piece.

  84. Neera

    Deb, I’ve only made pie crust in a food processor or stand mixer, but really want to use the pastry blender (so I can do it places where I don’t have access to a fp or mixer). When you used to use this recipe, did you follow the 2-step process with just adding a portion of the flour with all the fat first or did you do it the more standard way, adding all the fat and flour together before starting in with your pastry blender? I’ve always had great luck with this recipe when using the food processor but want to try it by hand. Thanks!

    1. deb

      I’ve never done a two-step process with either a food processor or by hand. I mix the flour, salt and sugar. I cut or pulse in all of the butter. I prefer the pastry blender because it gives you the most control over the size of those butter pieces. It ensures they stay visible.

  85. Rachel

    A small tip for when you are using shortening in crusts is to put it in the freezer! We buy the sticks too and only use those for crusts and other recipes that require it to be cold since it does cost a little more than the tubs of shortening. Leaving it in the freezer gets it almost as hard as cold butter.

  86. Komal

    I just finishes baking a peach and blueberry pie using your crust recipe and it tournes out super yummy! I did a lattice top crust which was very flaky, buttery and tender. However my bottom crust turned out too tough maybe because I didn’t time my baking and must have overbaked it. I added a teaspoon of vinegar to my dough and ended up using close to 1/2 c of water + 14 c vodka. Do you think maybe my crust was tough because of the extra liquid? The dough felt very dry so I had to add the extra water. For being my very first fruit pie I think it turned out outstanding so thanks a bunch for the recipe and I look forward to suggestions on making the bottom crust tender. Thanks again!

  87. Penguinlady

    HELLLPPP! I’ve got the crust in the pan, but you didn’t say anything about baking it before filling. Can you do that? How long? At what temp? Does it make a difference if I do or don’t? Which is preferable?

    There are three things on earth that terrify me: spiders, colonoscopies, and pie crust. I need some help here!

  88. Penquinlady, Bake your crust first if you are filling it with a custard or other pre-cooked filling. What is described here is called “blind baking” where you prick your pie crust with the tines of a fork, line your pie crust with parchment and fill with dry uncooked beans or pie weights. I would bake this at 425°F for 20 minutes.

    If you are cooking your filling (fruit pies, pumpkin, etc), prepare your crust, pour your filling in, top it with an additional pie crust (for fruit pies), seal and bake as directed in the recipe.

    Good luck!

  89. Great photos. The photos of the size of the fat pieces before cutting in the liquid are helpful. “Size of peas” always kind of confused me! The readers comments really add to my understanding of the potential pitfalls. I am a former pastry chef and once upon a time made 20 pies a day, but I am out of practice and the last few pies have been a dissappointment. I like the reader’s idea of using coconut oil instead of shortening, and making a tarte tatin with home grown winesap and granny smith apples is my plan for today. I think I will try brandy instead of vodka in the crust though. A little brandy taste should complement the apples I think.

  90. Lauren

    Hi there! I love your blog. I use it all the time. I am getting ready to prepare for Thanksgiving and I have to make four pies this year. I am wondering the best way to make the crust ahead of time (talking weeks here) and free it. Is it better to freeze it in the pie/tart pan or in small rounds to thaw and roll later? Thanks!

  91. This is my first and foremost moment i go to listed here. I discovered countless excellent things with your site certainly its conversation. From tons of comments on your items, I assume I m not the only one owning all the pleasure here! nurture the great operate.

  92. Sara

    New follower. Love your blog! And just love to see the Cooks Illustrated props as they are 1 of 5 top go to sources.

    Thanks to my mom’s early instruction, pie crust has always been a breeze. I’ve never had pie phobia. But I had a hard time helping my friends replicate it because the actual recipe I was given in no way resembled what we actually did. In 2000s I got hooked on CI and finally found that someone had written down the recipe I actually use, or close to it. Today, whenever, when I’m asked, I dole out the Cooks Illustrated recipe proudly. (It’s a tiny bit better and more reliable than my tried and true)

  93. Sara

    Oh, though not opposed to blenders, I like using the old-school hand pastry blender too for nostalgic reasons. I still pre-cut to make it easy, and stick it in the flour.

    For those posters who had problems with pastry blenders – my grandma’s pastry blender was like a good solid knife. Today, good kitchen shops have good ones. You should be able to press down on dough without the tines collapsing. But the grocery store version I bought in 1990s first on my own? Useless.

    The other thing that I always do is take a version of the CI recipe, make a 3-crust batch, divide in two rounds, roll out and then cut off the extra. You have extra, so you don’t sweat the perfect circle issue. Put it over the pan, cut off the extra and take the scraps and make an extra mini pie. My mom made pie-cookie scraps for us kids – sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar and toss in the oven so kids don’t poke at the pies before dinner.

  94. Lintee

    What temperature do you bake this pie crust at and for how long? Did I miss it somewhere? I made it tonight and it’s a challenge being so sticky. I hope someone comes up with a method on how to handle it because mine kept breaking apart and finally I just pressed it in the pie pan and fluted the edges the best I could. Thank you

  95. Karl

    Thanks for this recipe. I’ve used other, similar ones successfully in the past, but unlike most people who find “their” recipe that works and hold onto it, I just never seem to be able to keep track of what worked best last time. So back to the drawing board (21st c. equivalent: google search) every time for me. I like the butter/shortening combo — butter flavor + crispy snap that you get from shortening. Today I’m going to use this recipe to make Shaker Lemon Pie with some fresh meyer lemons from my mom’s backyard. Yummmm! Ok, the one thing I wanted to mention: I go with an even LOWER tech solution to blend in the fat (butter/shortening) w/ the flour: I just use my hands (clean, dry, and cool — I run them under cold water and then dry them off before starting) and just rub the fat into the flour between my fingers (working quickly) until it’s the desired consistency. I learned this technique making biscuits years ago, and it’s worked great for me w/ pie crust too. About as simple as you can get!

  96. Mary

    Enjoy Cooks’ Magazine.
    I found the vodka recipe a year or so ago. There is another one with sour cream that works well also. My pies are better than Marie Callendar’s….Yeah for Cooks.

  97. petite.cherie501

    First of all, I love your blog! Though decent at most (non-yeast, non “crust-making”), this past year I’ve developed rudimentary skills for yeast breads, rolls, and sticky cinnamon rolls. Sigh, now ready to tackle pastry I dug my Cooks Ill. recipe out along with my KAF Perfect Pastry Blend. All our vodka is Citron. I’ll give it my best, “fridge” it overnight, and make 4 quiches tomorrow. For quiche would you partially pre-bake in a blind fashion? I hate gooey crusts but don’t want to go the more scrambled egg frittatta route. Thank you for any suggestions. Merci!

  98. Rick

    The butter and shortening are key in a pie crust, more than most things. They melt at different temperatures, which helps create a flaky crust, and they each give complimentary texture (snap vs tenderness, as mentioned above).

  99. i’ve made three pies using the c.i. vodka recipe. i used a food processor and will try the pastry tool as soon as i can find a decent one.

    i’m confused about the differences in the weight of a cup of flour suggested by the c.i recipe (5 oz/cup) from what the flour package says (4.2 oz/cup). i used the package directions for the first two pies and the c.i. amount for the last one. although all tasted fine, the c.i. measurement pie dough was a lot drier and harder to roll out without tearing. are different brands of flour that different with regards to the weight of a “cup”? i did read the earlier post on flour weights vs. dryness.

    1. deb

      Hi Bill — I find it really confusing too. As if cup measurements weren’t annoying enough, it seems that no two publishers can agree on what a cup of flour weighs and it’s hard, too, for me when I want to share weights and cups. My cups of spoon-and-sweep or fluff-and-gently scooped flour weigh in a 4.4 ounces or 125 grams. 5 ounces feels really generous, like it was rounded up. Most brands of all-purpose flour weigh about the same. Sorry I cannot be more helpful; I just wanted to say that I don’t think it’s just you exasperated by it.

  100. JennyMontyinSD

    Hi Deb,

    I’m not a crust snob (never understood the fuss…the filling is where it’s AT, yo), but I’ve been trying to be better about making my own crust over the past few years. I am an above average baker, pretty good, actually, and this is the crust that has worked best for me. (Thanks!) And yet…I just made it this evening, and it’s chilling in my fridge, and it was DEFINITELY not on the sticky side after folding it all together. It came together in a most assuredly dry and crumbly manner. I’ll be baking this in the morning for an apple pie, and I’m a-scared! To save me from falling down in a dramatic swoon of frustration in the morning, do you have any tips to save me when I roll it out and I find it to be too crumbly? (Let’s hope I don’t have that problem…but I might…) I get so panicky about the butter getting warm that if the magical crust rollout doesn’t happen RIGHT AWAY I assume I’ve failed. Help me, Obe Wan, you’re my only hope.

  101. Liz

    In case anyone is wondering if you can make this with vanilla vodka that someone brought you for a birthday that is probably beyond the age when you can get away with drinking vanilla vodka….

    Yes. Yes you can. Don’t tell a soul, but yes you can.

  102. Carolyn

    I’ve used this recipe a few times now and it always works out beautifully….very flakey! It’s perfect for sweet or savoury pies.

  103. Gwen Alexander

    When I checked the pantry for vodka, it was all gone so I used tequila. The crust turned out as usual (delicious and flaky) with no tequila taste, which is almost too bad. Tip for new cooks–put enough of the liquid into the flour mixture to make it the right texture for roling out after its time in the refrigerator. Also, you can par-bake the crusts used for pumpkin and similar pies and then paint the insides with egg to keep the filling from soaking in. The crust won’t get more brown during the second cooking with the filling but if the fluted edge is in danger of browing too much, cover only that part of the pie with aluminum foil or one of those special pie-edge covers.