The Quest for the Perfect Pie Crust

By Kate Riley June 7, 2011

Something happened last week that made me realize it was high time I learned to make a proper pie crust from scratch.  What happened to prompt that awareness I will share tomorrow, but the truth of the matter is, I realized how could I truly live this long in my life and not have mastered the art of making the perfect flaky pie crust from scratch?   

In years past, when I’ve made pie (like my Praline Pumpkin Pie) I cut that ‘homemade crust’ corner and either bought a premade deep dish or rolled out the frozen crust variety.  So it was time I consulted an expert to teach me how to truly make a proper pie crust from scratch. 

Of course when one wants to master the art of anything, one turns to Google for instant gratification.  Wouldn’t you know it, when I searched for ‘Perfect Pie Crust, up popped Paula’s recipe with rave reviews.


paulas perfect pie crust on google


Five stars?  Click.  I’ll try that one. 

First the ingredients. 


ingredients for pie crust

To make this crust, gather up some flour, butter, salt, sugar, shortening and a strong vodka tonic. 

I’m kidding.  You’ll need ice water.  Unless you’re making pie crust from scratch for the first time, then a vodka tonic will probably help. 

Here what you’ll really need: 

paulas ingredients


I followed Paula’s instructions closely.  “In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, salt and sugar. Add the shortening and break it up with your hands as you start to coat it all up with the flour.”

Resist the urge to create make believe dough devouring monsters.  That’s not in the recipe anywhere.

dragon eating flour


“Add the cold butter cubes and work it into the flour with your hands or a pastry cutter.” 

Do not make fun little butter towers in your hand, they will only tumble like the walls of Jericho because of the warmth of your hand.  Do what Paula says, y’all and keep that butter cold. 

butter in hand


“Work it quickly, so the butter doesn’t get too soft, until the mixture is crumbly, like very coarse cornmeal.” 

Yes ma’am. 

“Add the ice water, a little at a time, until the mixture comes together forming a dough. Bring the dough together into a ball.”

You got it Paula. 

pie crust ball


If only I’d been armed with this dough ball that summer in 1981.  I could have used it against my pesky big brother when he stole my . . . never mind.

“Divide the dough in half and flatten it slightly to form a disk shape.”  Well, how about quarters since I doubled the recipe.  That math seems right to me, but what do I know.  Mrs. Silver gave me a ‘C’ in Algebra my freshman semester of high school and it haunts me to this day.

 dough separated


“Wrap each disk in plastic and chill in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.”


 pie disks


“On a floured surface roll each disk out into a 10 to 11-inch circle to make a 9-inch pie.”  Got it. 

 flour roll dough

Did it work? 

Did I successfully recreate the perfect pie crust? 

flaky pie crust

I think so. 

I’ll share the pie recipe next.

Meanwhile, do you know what I want to see?  I really want to see a Pie Throwdown between my three favorite television bakers, Paula, Martha, and Ree. 

Paula swears by both butter and shortening in her recipe.  Ree uses shortening, egg and vinegar, but no butter in her pie crust.   Martha doesn’t use shortening or egg at all in her recipe.  I’m curious to try all three and compare.

Who do you think would win in a Pie Throwdown between those three?  Or would it be your Granny?  I think my Memah could definitely hold her own in that kitchen cook off,  what about you?

Got a secret ingredient or special technique you use in your pie crust?  Do tell.




  1. My grandmother made the BEST pie crust. Secret ingredient….lard! Take that Paula Deen. Farmer John made lard that came in a red and white box. Wonder if it’s still available. I need to pester her for the recipe. Thanks for jogging my delicious memory.

  2. I always use Martha’s pate brisee (sp?) recipe and I think THAT is the perfect pie crust. ESPECIALLY with a vodka tonic during the baking process. Shortening just frightens me a little. I’m more of a butter gal. You pie does look pretty perfect!

  3. Ah, I can never find one that works very well either. I have yet to discover the perfect pie crust. I completely plan to try this and see what happens. The pie looks amazing.

  4. I’ve been the resident pie-crust maker in my family from a rather young age. The recipe I use is similar to Martha’s (mine doesn’t have sugar), but I think the true secret to a successful crust is that I’ve got cold hands.
    That’s right, the one good thing bad circulation gives you is the ability to make an excellent pie crust by hand (what’s this food-processor nonsense in Martha’s recipe?).
    I haven’t yet found a use for the cold feet that also come with bad circulation, but I’ll keep looking ;)

  5. Hey Danell and Marina, I read that the real secret is just having the proper flour to fat chemical ratio, and since fat comes in all forms, be it shortening, butter or lard, I’m thinking as long as you get the ratio right, the pie crust will turn out fine!

    Who would of thought it’s just chemistry?

    :) Kate

  6. I have tried a very similar recipe from Farm Journal cookbook, which also contains Crisco, and it always makes a great crust. I have also tried the pate brisee and did not like it as much. I think it the humidity levels make a difference in how the crust turns out. Since I live in South Florida, where the humidity always seems to be high, and the weather warm, using the recipe with the Crisco that retains it’s shape at higher temps, seems to work better than butter that just becomes too soft, and doesn’t then give the little pockets that create the flaky crust. Can’t wait to see what you filled yours with! The crust looks great!

  7. First, I’ve never commented here before. I love your blog.

    Egg and vinegar in the pie crust must be an Oklahoma thing because my favorite bulk pie crust recipe is close to Ree’s, and it’s from a Tulsa fundraising cookbook circa 1986. My favorite individual crust recipe is all butter like Martha.

    However, there’s no doubt in my mind after years of pies crusts that it’s really all in the handling. I’ve taught my sons how to make pie crusts because it is an art of patience and gentle touch. My 19-year-old daughter, however, has no idea. Guess I better get to that.

  8. How funny I just glanced down quickly and saw the title of your post and thought that is easy you need to make Paula’s and then saw teh rest of the post. I haven’t actually made hers but have made it with butter and shortening and have used vinegar, my preference is butter and shortening.

  9. I use the america’s test kitchen recipe myself….which looks a lot like Paula’s. So I vote for Paula in the pie crust throwdown. What’s best about the recipe is that it is so darn good that I occasionally get to smirk at the moral high ground my friends go on about butter only and never putting shortening in their bodies….as they devour every last crumb of my pie crusts with pleasure and ask for the recipe.

  10. Since I have a crisco aversion (yuck), I’ll have to try Martha’s. But, really, Trader Joe’s makes a bomb diggity pre-made. Just sayin’.

  11. I was given my favorite pie crust recipe from an ex-boyfriend’s mother. It is fool proof, but I don’t give it out (a girl has to keep some secrets). There is nothing better than a great pie with a homemade crust. if you have a food processor, that is the easiest way to make one. Check out my blog if you want to make a basket weave on your next pie. :)

  12. I have heard Kate, that the ice water recipes make the BEST pie crust!! Yay you did great!

    Art by Karena

    Be sure to send your friends to come and enter my amazing Giveaway from Tracy Porter!

  13. Kate, there is actually a pie crust recipe that has vodka in it so you can have your pie crust and drink it too. Just google for recipes.

  14. Hilarous Audrey!!!! I confess, I haven’t bought shortening in about 10 years, but ya need fat when you make pie crust, and shortening like butter has plenty!

    Nancy, I am Googling right away . . .


  15. Kate, this post seriously cracked me up! I laughed numerous times, but my favorite was the monster in the dough picture – great stuff!! :)

  16. I finally mastered pie crusts when I had the right tools. Using a food processor and rolling it out on one of those sheets with the crust sizes made all the difference. So for me, the issue wasn’t so much the recipe but operator error…

  17. I feel like I missed on an opportunity here. I could’ve shown you how to make a pie crust in exchange for you showing me how to use power tools. It all boils down to having confidence to develop skills. I keep thinking that I’m going to get brave one day and try a wood project. Love what you do!


  18. Well, of course it *would* be chemistry–which I received very poor grades in. ;) Seeing how you do each step is very helpful for me. I like to see what everything should look like. It looks delicious!

  19. A healthier pie crust is made with coconut oil (as long as the weather is cool enough, this time of year it is tough). A coconut cream pie made with a crust using extra virgin coconut oil is really awesome, but regular coconut oil makes a very tasty, flakey crust for any of your pie crust needs!

  20. Oh it looks so yummy but how did it taste? I love Paula, anyone who’s motto is “needs more butter” is A-ok in my book :-)

  21. BUTTER!!!!
    Is it just me or does any one else feel like, pretty soon, Paula is going to retire and Bobbie is going to run the show. is that why she has her on her show now all the time, is she trying to make us fall in love with him and then she is going to sneak out?

  22. This sounds fabulous! I have the easiest and flakiest no fail crust…it involves milk and vegetable oil, but I think I will give this one a try though sometime.

    Since it makes 4 crust do you know if you can freeze the other portions to uses later?

  23. Hey Kate,
    I used to a regular post every week called ‘Friday is Pieday’ and I keep a pie crust recipe on my sidebar at all times.

    In my humble pie baking opinion, your hands should never be used to incorporate the shortening or butter. The body heat will begin the melt or soften the shortening and that is never a ‘good thing’ as Martha would say. Use a pastry cutter…it’s very easy.

    You want the fat to remain solid until it is baking, at which time it will melt and create the steam which is what creates the pockets of air…which in turn gives you flakey pastry.

    With that said, your pie looks yummy and I am ready for my slice

    Janet xox

    PS…strawberry rhubarb is my favorite!
    My recipes are listed in my tutorial section…everyone is welcomed to them.

  24. This might be my favorite post of yours ever! Super personable, funny, and down to earth. Awesome writing style, girl!

    There’s a recipe in on of my books that uses shortening, butter, margarine, AND lard.

    I’ve never dared to try it! (or buy lard for that matter . . .)

    I don’t make “perfect” crusts, because I don’t really like flaky crusts. But I do ok for filled pies.

    But don’t ask me to make a pre cooked shell. Unless I do store bought dough, it shrinks into a little hockey puck. I haven’t figured out what the difference is between homemade and store bought, but I’ve ruined enough shells to know when to throw in the towel for now!

  25. A Georgia peach here myself – just recently discovered that my FIL doesn’t know who Paula is… how is that even possible??? Especially when you share a state with her! Your pie crust looks amazing, I still use the refrigerated kind:)

  26. Oh my second last blog post was about pie as well, it is the fresh fruit calling I tell you….I turn many many rolling pins, when folks are here at my studio you couldn’t believe the wonderful stories about pins & pastry. So many have been ‘afraid’ to try pie pastry…there is nothing more satisfying than taking a nicely browned beautiful pie out of the oven and see it sitting on the counter, waiting to be devoured. YUM. Yours looks amazing…..[btw 50% of my pins are sold to men..they are INTO cooking & baking YAY !!]

  27. I’m so bad at pie crust but have promised myself I’ll keep trying. This recipe looks doable. I also appreciate the photos. Have you ever made Paula’s corn casserole? You can cut the butter down to 1/3 of what she calls for and it’s still amazing.

  28. I would have to go for Martha’s recipe, to be honest, even though I adore Paula. I won’t do shortening for anything. It’s just not right when they take vegetable oil and turn it into something like that.

  29. America’s Test Kitchen came out with a great recipe that actually uses VODKA! We don’t drink – but we have a bottle of vodka for pie crusts in our home – it’s really, really good.

  30. I often make my own piecrust, learned from my mother. I always use a pastry blender. One hint that I didn’t see here that makes a huge difference for me is to roll out the crust between sheets of plastic wrap. I always had trouble either using too much flour (it kept the crust from sticking to the counter, but made it tough) or not using enough flour (made a more tender crust, but was nearly impossible to get it off the counter!). I just wipe the counter with a fairly damp washcloth, then lay down a sheet of plastic wrap, smooth it out and put the disk of dough on it. Then lay another sheet of plastic on top and roll away. Peel off the top layer, then pick up the crust and plastic wrap, flip it into the pan and peel off the plastic. Super easy!

  31. I made an apple pie the other day that used a “glaze” that you drizzle over the lattice top. It was AWESOME, but would have been better with homemade pie crust! I’ll have to check a couple out. My mom always used one with vinegar so that just screams homemade to me, but I’ll probably try a few.

    Any plans on YOU trying the 3 and letting us know which you like? :)

  32. I spent one cold Maryland winter trying to make the perfect pie crust. I even tried to pry knowledge out of a sweet little lady in a pie shop in TX. Finally she said,”Baby, some of us have the touch and some of us don’t.” Good luck!!! Hope you have the touch. It seems I don’t.

  33. I grew up with the Crisco/flour/cold water crust – maybe a dash of salt. I think so many use Crisco is because it (actually lard) was much more obtainable during the Great Depression! I look forward to trying Paul’s recipe!

  34. Could I have made any MORE grammatical/spelling errors?!? My apologies!

  35. I love making pie crusts from scratch and I’ve tried many recipes, but the one I have been using for the past 2 years (and I swear by it) is from Williams Sonoma:

    It was so tasty and butter and falky…and the best part is it is incredibly easy…you make it in a food processor so as to keep the butter cold. I would highly recommend this to anyone! Once I started using this recipe, I have been designated the official pie maker in our family for all events calling for pie.

    p.s. I LOVE your blog!

  36. I laughed out loud numerous times reading this post.. You are hilarious! Thanks for the recipe! I’ll have to give it a try next time I make chicken pot pie! :)

  37. Wish I had a recipe for you but I have tried to make pie crust and it never turns out!

  38. If you get that Pie Throwdown together, sign me up to judge….not that I’m an expert at making crust…just at eating what I’d imagine would be some FAB-U-LOUS tasting pies!!! :)

  39. I love the Pie Throwdown idea!! I use Ree’s crust and even got a compliment from my mother-in-law on it!
    I would love to try the different pie crusts side by side and see which I prefer. Maybe you should do that for us ;)

  40. In my teen years I would make pie crust using shortening. Then I stumbled across the “Martha” recipe and haven’t gone back since. I like that it’s pure and simple. Makes a great crust!

  41. I use Martha’s “Pate Brisse” recipe which is perfect and super easy (food processor does the work) and uses butter instead of nasty, plastic shortening :)

  42. I have actually never made a pie before. But when I do, I will be referring back to this post for the awesome pie crust! :)

  43. Kate – I have an awesome idea. So – I have a business called Four and 20 Blackbirds where I teach people how to bake pie (especially the crust, that seems to be what most people are afraid of) in Seattle. I would love to give you all my tips and tricks (ingredients, tools, temperature) but since you’re in Cali – it’s sort of a long drive. How about this – want to do a private class via Google chat or iChat or some such digital magic? I think it would be a hoot.
    If you’re interested, let me know!
    Wendy at Four and 20 Blackbirds, Seattle

  44. Looks like your mission was accomplished! I would love a slice of pie right now! How are you so talented to look up a recipe, take great photos, have the perfect temp on your butta and make a delicious pie and I just burned my chicken! Oh yeah, I love your blog!

  45. Hi. Here’s a little secret from my grandma. Don’t use flour (it makes the crust though). When ready to roll, place a large piece of wax paper on your counter and dust with flour (just a bid). Place the dough on top and cover with a piece of plastic wrap. Proceed to roll and turn as you would normally. When you are ready to transfer the dough to the pie plate, lift the plastic wrap carefully and transfer your rolled dough to the plate. Peal the plastic off, trim and crimp sides. Works fine every time.

    P.S. She also likes to use crisco (more flavor).

  46. I have had excellent luck with recipes that call for half butter and crisco and that use cold water and vinegar….. now if i could just remember the source for you!

  47. I love this post, it made me laugh. you rock lady!

    question- who was the Home Depot winner of the $100 gift card? I’ve been anxiously checking to see who won, crossing my fingers its me! ;)

  48. When I saw your vodka comment, I laughed…because the secret ingredient in the Cook’s Illustrated best piecrust IS vodka, which is supposed to keep the flour from toughening up the dough no matter how much you work it. I love the Cook’s Illustrated piecrust recipe, especially for their blueberry pie – yum! Ooh, and your pie looks delicious – looking forward to the recipe.

  49. I trust anything America’s Test Kitchen says since the research the heck out of everything. After they tested every combination possible with fat/flour types and ratios, they recommend 3 parts butter to 2 parts shortening because shortening makes the pie crust flakier but lacks taste, and butter has the taste but lacks as much flakiness. So I say, go Paula!

  50. Your pie looks GREAT!!! Thankfully great pie crust is super achievable!
    Someone beat me to it.. you can totally use vodka (or, I’ve heard, any other hard, high proof liquor). Paula didn’t have you use a pastry blender? Crazy woman. = )
    My Mom (and I’ve come to believe it too) always told me that the secret to having a perfectly soft, flaky, and moist pie crust was to only break the fatty substance (be it crisco, or butter.. I grew up with crisco, it works great) into small pea sized bits.. DON’T over mix! The blobs of fat (really attractive) actually create the flaky consistency, and when you add in the COLD water (or booze), it prevents the fatty substance from breaking up into smaller bits, and decreasing that perfect flake.
    FlipFloppingMomma’s recipe looks a lot like the crust recipe I know and love, though I usually add 1tsp salt.
    Pie is a wonderful thing!!! (totally try making chicken pot pie! it sounds intimidating, but it’s pretty easy if you use cream of chicken soup. and it’s SO GOOD it makes me want to crawl inside and eat my way through)

  51. I’ve always used the good ‘ol Joy of Cooking recipes, and my father-in-law thinks I am a pie goddess. This from a man whose mother owned a restaurant that specialized in homemade pies. Talk about pressure! The secret is to use either shortening that has animal fat, or just go whole hog (har!) and use lard. It, along with the butter, will make the crusts our grandmothers had in the days before we knew what arterial plaque was! My DH ket me take off for a week to HI with my best friend just for presenting him with one of these. Sugar works!

  52. Paula makes me laugh! My husband makes the best pastry ever from a recipe passed down from my Dad.
    Gotta love a man that can bake.!!

  53. Thanks for the pie crust idea. It reminded me of my sweet grandmother who taught me how to make pie crust many years ago. However, we never just made a few. Her recipe made over 20 crust. I still have her hand written recipe and love it!

  54. I have been making my own crust for as long as I can remember. My family favorite (we are such pie snobs here that my family has done taste tests- I know- we’re nuts) is as follows…

    * 2 cups flour
    * 3/4 cup cold Crisco (I like butter flavor sticks but either is good)
    * 1 tablespoon sugar (for a sweet pie- this is my secret…so shhhhh)
    * 1/2 tsp salt
    * ice water (anywhere from 3 tbls to 10 tbls depending on humidity that day)

  55. I love all the sharing of pie crust recipes, you are making me very hungry.

    I know there are cake people and there are pie people. I am happy to be one of those pie people/.

    Also, Martha, my gramma’s recipe wasn’t for 20, but she told me that she had never made just 1 pie in her life. She would start with the crusts and keep making pies until they were gone.


  56. No secret ingredients, but my grandma uses 11 tablespoons of ice water which I for some reason think is really funny, I guess because it sounds like such a random amount. But you know what, it works every time!

  57. My pie crust recipe is old, shared with me by a friend. It’s her late mother’s fabulous recipe, and contains (among the rest of the ingredients) an egg and one of the tablespoons of liquid is cider vinegar. It says it yields four pie crusts, but I cut it into thirds. Flaky and perfect every time.

  58. Lard! That is the secret ingredient for a flakey crust. Yours/Paula’s looks delightful too :)

  59. Paula would win. Being a former pastry chef, I think I can actually provide an expert opinion here :)

    The combination of butter and shortening is good (someone else mentioned lard, which is even better than shortening or margarine.) butter provides the loft for the crust… As it melts it leaves little “pockets” behind, which makes the “flaky.” Butter also adds a lot of flavor. The downside of butter is that it’ll burn faster than shortening, which is why it’s good to cut your butter with shortening – better resistance to possible burning without sacrificing flavor. Eggs add richness.

    Someone else said their grandmother said “flour makes it tough,” but I have to disagree. Working the dough too much, and not allowing to rest is what makes it tough. when you knead the dough, it works the gluten in the flour, making it form “strands” that get tougher as you work them. The strands are what helps the dough have structure, hover, work it too much, and it”ll cause your toughness. This is why you wrap it up and pop it in the fridge – to let the gluten relax, but keep it chilled so the butter doesn’t get soft too soon.

    You can always tell when you’ve overworked the doghouse when you start rolling it out and it snaps back to the small disk, and refuses to “grow.” Some snapping back is to be expected, but when you see the strands, and it shrinks down like crazy, you need to stop and let it rest again.

  60. I have a bunch of blueberries and was just gonna skip putting them on a pie crust, but now…I’m gonna use this recipe! Put some crumblies on top…ohhh cant wait! Thank you! Just in time!

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