6 Steps for Building the Perfect Pie Crust
What’s the key to a perfect pie…the crust or the filling? When it comes to judging the ideal slice, the deciding vote often hinges on the crust. Is it light, flaky, and buttery? Does it hold up well to the filling?
Here at the CIA, we make more than 2,000 pounds of pie dough every year in the Apple Pie Bakery Café at our Hyde Park, NY campus—so you could say that we know our dough! Just follow these six steps and you too can build a perfect pie crust.
#1—Cut the fat into the flour
If you’ve made biscuits, scones, or quick breads, you know that the method for combining ingredients can significantly affect the end result. Over-mixing frequently leads to a tough product. Pie dough is no different—the less you handle it, the better the result. Recipes for pie dough use the “rubbing” mixing method to combine the fat into the dry ingredients. Whether you use a food processor, a pastry blender, or two table knives, the goal is to cut the chilled fats—butter or shortening—into small bits and disperse them throughout the flour, rather than blending the fat and flour into a smooth mixture.
#2—Add cold water
After the fat is added to the dry ingredients, the next step is adding water. Like the fat, the water should be ice cold. Before you start making the dough, fill a glass with ice and water. Add the ice water gradually to the dough, about one tablespoon or so at a time, and stop when the dough is just moist enough to hold together when a handful is squeezed. Instead of stirring the dough, use a table fork to push and smear the dough, rubbing it against the side of the bowl—this keeps it tender.
#3—Roll the dough
Before rolling the dough, place it in the refrigerator for at least one hour to rest. This allows the dough enough time for the fat to firm up slightly and the gluten to relax. Chilled dough is also easier to roll out and is less likely to stick when rolling. To keep the dough extra cool and easy to handle, you can use marble pastry boards and rolling pins. Be sure to dust the work surface, rolling pin, and top of the dough very lightly with flour before rolling the dough. Roll in all directions with even, steady pressure to make a large circle. Periodically give the dough a quarter turn to keep it even and prevent sticking.
#4—Transfer the dough to the pan
When moving rolled-out dough to a pie pan, avoid stretching or tearing it. One way to do this is to fold the dough loosely in half. Lift the folded dough with both hands, position it over one side of the pan, and then carefully unfold the dough. An alternative method is to roll the dough loosely around the rolling pin. Position the loose edge of the dough at the edge of the pan and unroll the dough directly into the pan.
#5—Fit the dough into the pan
Gently lift the edges of the dough just enough to ease it into the corners of the pan. Adjust the position of the dough if you need to so that the overhang extends evenly around the rim. Use the pads of your fingertips or a small ball of scrap dough to gently push the dough into position. For a single-crust pie, trim away any excess dough, leaving a one-inch overhang around the pie and tuck the overhang back under the crust. Place the lined pan in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes for one more rest before baking or topping with filling. Whenever you work with pie dough, always give the gluten time to relax before moving to the next step.
#6—Finish the crust
Pinching or pressing a decorative border into the rim of a single-crust pie keeps the dough from slipping down into the pan as it bakes. A classic way to “flute” the pie is to press the dough between the index finger and thumb of one hand on the inside rim and the index finger of the other hand on the outer edge to make a scalloped edge.
When making a double crust pie, it’s important to seal the edge to keep the top and bottom crusts from separating as the pie bakes. Simply brush the edge of the bottom crust with water, milk, or egg wash before setting the top crust in place. Trim the excess dough from the top and bottom layers and seal the crusts together by pressing the dough with the tines of a fork or flute the edges together using your fingertips. The final step for a double-crust pie is to brush the dough with egg wash for a deep golden color and shine. You can also sprinkle a washed crust with sugar before baking. The sugar will caramelize as the pies bakes, making the crust shiny and crunchy.
Remember to always check the dough’s temperature before you put it into the oven. If it doesn’t feel cool to the touch, refrigerate the pie 10 to 15 minutes.
APBC Apple Pie
“This namesake apple pie recipe has been served for many years to thousands of guests visiting the Apple Pie Bakery Café at the CIA. Now you can capture and savor the aromas and taste of this simple American classic.” —Tom Vaccaro ’85, Certified Master Baker and CIA Dean of Baking and Pastry Arts
Yield: One 9-inch pie
Apple Pie Filling
1 cup apple cider
1/3 cup light brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cloves
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons cornstarch
8 cups Granny Smith apples*, peeled, cored, and sliced into ¼-inch slices
1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
½ cup ice water, or as needed
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
Egg wash (1 egg whisked well)
Turbinado sugar (coarse sugar), as needed
Making the apple filling
In a large saucepan on medium-high heat, bring apple cider, brown sugar, spices, salt, and lemon juice to a boil.
In a small mixing bowl, combine water and cornstarch and mix it into the boiling liquid using a whisk. The sauce should be very thick and caramel-like in consistency.
Add apples, tossing occasionally to coat with the sauce. Cook until slightly tender, about 5 to 7 minutes.
Spread apples onto a cookie sheet and cool at room temperature.
Making the dough
Cut butter into small cubes (about 1⁄2 to 1 inch).
Combine flour, salt, and sugar. Toss butter with the flour mixture. Cut the fat into the flour using a food processor, pastry blender, or two knives. Leave some butter in larger pieces, about the size of a pea.
Drizzle a few tablespoons of the ice water over the surface of the flour mixture. Use a fork to push and smear the dough, rubbing it against the side of the bowl. Continue to add the water, a tablespoon or so at time, just until it holds together when you press a handful of it into a ball. It should be evenly moist, not wet, and shaggy or rough in appearance.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Gather and press the dough into a ball. Divide the dough into 2 equal portions. Pat each into an even disk, wrap well, and chill in the refrigerator at least 20 minutes and up to overnight.
Lining the pie plate
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Unwrap one disk of dough (keep the other in the refrigerator), place it on a lightly floured work surface, and scatter a little flour over the top. Roll out dough into an even round about 13 inches in diameter. It should be about 1⁄8 inch thick.
Fold dough in half and gently lift and position it over the pan. Unfold dough, easing it into the pan without stretching it. Press the dough gently against the sides and bottom. Trim the overhang to 1 inch. Chill the dough-lined pan for 20 minutes.
Filling the pie
Mound apples in the dough-lined pan, making the center higher than the sides. Dot the top evenly with the remaining pieces of butter. Brush the rim of the pie shell with egg wash. Roll out second piece of dough into an 11-inch round and place over the filling. Cut vents into the dough round. Press together the top and bottom edges to seal, trim the excess dough so that the edges of the dough are almost even with the edges of the pan, and then crimp or flute the edges. Brush top with egg wash and sprinkle liberally with turbinado sugar.
Baking the pie
Place pie on a baking sheet, transfer to oven, and bake for 15 minutes. Lower temperature to 350 degrees F and bake, rotating pan as necessary for even browning, until the top crust is golden brown and the apples are tender, 35 to 40 minutes.
Remove pie from oven and cool on a wire rack. Let pie rest for 20 minutes before slicing.
The CIA uses Granny Smith apples, but you can use any apple you prefer. For baking, we suggest an apple that holds its shape well, such as Pink Lady, Northern Spy, Rome Beauty, and Golden Delicious.
Special thanks to CIA alumna Casey Platt ’12 for sharing her expertise in testing this recipe.