Keep It Cool: Work in a cool kitchen. Always use cold butter and ice water when making the dough. Rest the dough in the refrigerator – both after mixing and after rolling out. Chilling the dough allows the gluten in the dough to relax (making the crust tender), and firms up the fat in the dough (making it flakier).
My favorite tiny tip: wash your hands in cold water before working with the pastry.
Mix-it, not a lot: Minimize mixing and handling. You can use a food processor to combine the ingredients quickly and conveniently, pulsing rather than keeping the machine “on” when combining the flour and butter. Adding the water by hand will keep you from adding too much (resulting in a mealy crust).
Go Easy: on the flour you use for rolling out the dough — too much, and the crust will be dry and fall apart. Stash each dough disk in a gallon size zip-top bag in the fridge or freezer and then use the bag for rolling out the dough. Simply cut off the top and two sides of the bag (leave on the bottom ‘fold’). Or use parchment to line your work surface and minimize the amount of flour you use.
When rolling, work from the middle out to the edge and rotate the dough a 90 degrees after every roll for a perfectly round crust. You need a 12-inch diameter dough round to cover the bottom of a 9-inch pie pan.
Also, go easy on the water. Too much water in your crust will cause your pie to shrink in size during the baking process. Use just enough to incorporate all the ingredients.
No Stick, No Problem: Lightly grease the pie plate with non-stick spray or butter (this helps crisp the bottom crust too) before putting in the bottom crust; this will make taking the slices out of the pan much easier later. Be sure to press the dough into the corner of the pan before filling. Before filling is another great time to chill your dough before baking (which will greatly reduce shrinkage)!
Put an Egg (wash) on It: One large egg whisked together with 1 tablespoon of water is the perfect final touch before baking. Brush the crust with egg wash for beautiful browning and shine. Egg wash is also great glue for sealing double crust pies or pocket pies. Sprinkling the pie with coarse sugar before baking is another sweet (but optional) final step.
Double Check for Doneness: A browned crust isn’t always the best indicator of doneness — instead check the filling. Fruit pies are ready to should be bubbling through openings. Custard pies (think pumpkin) are done when a knife inserts between the center and the edge of the pie come out clean.
Bonus tip: Most pies cut best when they are completely cool. On a warm day this can take thick fruit pies as many as 5 hours. Party pies can be baked the day before partying.
Now that you know how to make a crust like a champ, check out our recipe for creating a buttery and flaky crust that will have your guest fighting for seconds!
Meghan Splawn is a professional recipe developer, food stylist, and candy eater. Her personal blog, Stir & Scribble, is full of clever cooking, classic cocktails, and useful kitchen tips.