Flaky, buttery perfection is simpler than you think.
I know a lot of great home bakers. People who can whip up a layer cake or a double batch of chocolate cookies from scratch, probably with one arm tied behind their backs if necessary.
But homemade pie dough sometimes seems to trip up even accomplished home bakers (or at least scare them a little). I get it. A good pie dough requires developing a feel for the dough — an intuition of texture and technique. This is often hard to get from a recipe that says something vague like “cut the butter into the flour.” What does that mean, exactly?
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Luckily, pie dough really is easy to get right every time, so long as you have the right recipe to guide you to success. And here it is. So let’s go step-by-step, and in lots of detail, so you can avoid the most common mistakes and get your best pie ever — and forevermore.
(Note: this recipe makes one double-crust 9 or 10″ pie. It is also provided again at the end, in a shorter format that you can print.)
- 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (see directions step 2., below)
- 1/3 to 2/3 cups ice water
1. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, and salt with your fingers or a whisk. I use my fingers for the simple reason that it saves me from washing a utensil.
2. Add the cold, diced butter and work with fingers until the butter is the texture of small peas. The butter does not have to be too combined – there should still be loose flour. Let’s go into detail here:
PRO TIP #1: Use very cold butter. You need butter crumbles in the flour, not a bunch flat smears. Warm butter will smear into the dough, over-hydrating it and killing the promise of flaky pie crust. Those crumbles will melt when baked, and when they melt, steam gets released, forming a little flaky pocket.
PRO TIP #2: How do you dice a stick of butter? Easy. This is how the pastry chefs do it:
- First, take a stick of butter. Cut it into thirds lengthwise, so you have three long sticks.
- Next, turn it on its side. Cut this “clean” side into three long strips. Now you have nine even batons. Trust me on this; don’t peek! You still need it all together in stick shape.
- Third, instead of cutting it again lengthwise, cut it six times “shortwise” — going working right to left, into five even cuts.
- Now separate everything. You now have a pile of 45 perfectly even butter squares.
3. Add water and stir with your fingers until it all just holds together in a shaggy mass, and turn out onto countertop. I find that in winter, I need more water than in summer, because of the low humidity. What is a “shaggy mass”? What is not a shaggy mass? (Yes, this is a pastry term.) See below.
4. Divide dough in half. Shape/press each half into a thick, flat disc about 1/2” thick. Wrap each in plastic wrap and chill in fridge at least 1 hour or overnight.
PRO TIP #3: Why chill the dough? This lets the gluten relax and the butter firm up. Relaxed gluten means that the dough won’t fight you when you roll it out. Chilled butter makes a nice, flaky dough.
5. Roll out the dough out with a rolling pin until the dough is about 2 inches wider than the pie pan and about 1/8″ thick. To roll out a pie dough, lightly dust flour on the countertop as well as the dough. Roll up and down once or twice at most, then rotate the dough, so you can be sure it isn’t sticking and are getting it into a round shape. Dust with a little more flour as needed. Keep rotating it as you roll.
You did it! Proceed according to pie directions. Here is the recipe again, simplified.
What is your favorite pie? Tell us in the comments, below.
Perfect Pie Dough
- 2 ¾ cups
all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1 cup (or 2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter, diced into small pieces
- ⅓ to ⅔ cups ice water
- In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, and salt with your fingers or a whisk.
- Add the cold, diced butter and work with fingers until the butter is the texture of small peas. The butter does not have to be too combined – there should still be loose flour.
- Add water and stir with your fingers until it all just holds together in a shaggy mass, and turn out onto countertop.
- Divide dough in half. Shape/press each half into a thick, flat disc about 1/2” thick. Wrap each in plastic wrap and chill in fridge at least 1 hour or overnight.PRO TIP: If you are only making a single-crust pie, such as a pumpkin pie or a small galette, you can freeze the other crust, wrapped, for up to two months.
- Roll out the dough out with a rolling pin until the dough is about two inches wider than the pie pan and about 1/8" thick.
- Proceed according to pie directions.
Came out great! This was very helpful with the photos. Thanks.
Can this be frozen?
Hi, Rochelle! Absolutely. Make the dough to the point where you press it into a flat round. Then wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and freeze. Thaw it overnight in the refrigerator overnight, not at room temperature, which will activate the gluten and warm the butter. You want to keep those good butter chunks cold. Happy Baking!
This is such a great recipe! I just referred to it again this morning. It’s fun to make w/wonderful flavor : buttery w/ a tinge of sweetness. Flaky too.
Thank you Lisa
Can this be halved to make just one pie crust?
Absolutely! It halves easily. I also sometimes make the full recipe, then flatten one half into a round, wrap, and freeze it. That way, I already have a pie dough ready next time I want to make a pie! (Probably sooner than later for me this time of year.) Great question. Happy baking!
Hi Lisa! If I wanted to bake this pie crust for a pudding pie, how would I do that? Would I pre-bake it ahead of time and if so, do you have any guidance on that?Your help is appreciated!!
Hi, Melanie! Yes, I would par bake it for sure. Par baking isn’t hard; it just has to be done right. I pre-bake all of my custard pies and tarts to some extent. So you have a couple of options. One is to use this recipe. The other is to use a pâte sucrée, a slightly sweeter shortbread crust, which is common for custard pies and tarts. The butter gets distributed more evenly in a sucrée, which helps make it crisper by coating the flour a bit against the custard’s wetness. You can get that recipe here: https://unpeeledjournal.com/pate-sucree-recipe-tart-dough/ . Again, either will work. Just follow the sucrée directions for the crust either way, and let me know if you run into any questions!