Perfect Pie Crust Recipe & Photo Tutorial

This post begins a series on pies, tarts, and galettes in all their many forms.  Thanks to SF Food Wars for providing the inspiration to make pies and for Driscoll’s Berries for providing the blackberries you’ll see in many of these pies.

Blackberry Pie with the Perfect Pie Crust and vanilla bean whipped cream

It’s a simple three letter word, yet it holds a lot of weight. For all you bakers out there, stop laughing, I’m not just making a pie weights pun. I’m serious. People both love pie and fear it. It’s everywhere right now, and is in the midst of a serious resurgence.  Though it may be something we associate with small-town America grandma’s kitchen it seems the pie has been around it’s recognizable form since the 1400’s.

When you think pie, do you think apple, blueberry, cherry? I have a wholly different experience. I am a first generation American my grandmother, turned out galettes and tartes like nobody’s business, but I never tasted an American-style pie in my early childhood. The syrupy store-bought fruit pies of the 70’s and 80’s were extremely off-putting to me.  Then there was “the November incident”. I ate cherry pie on the morning my brother was born. Taking advantage of the fact my parents weren’t around, I thought I could get away with dessert for breakfast (who did I think I was, Stephanie Shih?). I paid dearly, and so did the car upholstery. In fact, it paid all the way to the hospital.  That’s all it took; I grew up thinking (gasp) that I didn’t like pie.

Lack of exposure was the problem as pies just were not a part of my life growing up. While I had heard of exotic wonders like key-lime pie, I had never tried them, others like chess pie, shaker lemon (my favorite) and even pecan and sweet potato eluded me until I was in my very late twenties and in some cases mid-thirties.  Things changed, many years later, when I tried good American style, apple pie- warm from the oven with good tart apples and brown sugar crumb topping. I was surprised to learn (only in my twenties) that I adore a good pumpkin pie and began to try pies on menus as I traveled around the country.

Nectarine Blackberry Tart

My Pie Cherry:
Now, here’s the real kicker. Until last month, I had never ever made an American style pie. I know it’s crazy. I love tarts and galettes, and I suppose I may have made a chicken pot pie once, but when it comes to sweet American style shallow or deep dish pies, nope, never. Then, I get this email from SF Food wars something about a pie contest. Since I am only slightly insane. I decided I should apply to enter it. Without much forethought into the fact that I had NEVER MADE A PIE, I sent in my entry. I gave it a clever name, I came up with a good flavor profile, and guess what! I was accepted.

Oh no, I was accepted! This meant I had to make enough pie (actual pie) to feed 300 people 1-2 bites of mouth-watering pie.  Thus, my work began. I would perfect pie crust, because you see this is my favorite part of pie- the crust.

Don’t Fear The Pie:
This tart dough/pie crust is simple. It is hand made because, guess what, it is better that way. I did side by side taste and bake tests and it just rocks. Not only that.  It is easier to make your crust by hand. Yep easier! For those that have a fear of pie crust. Stop Fearing The Pie. Pie is friendly.  Pie is easy, and if you make your dough by hand, there is actually very little clean up. My dough calls for lard and butter. Shortening and margarine are not the same. The flour and fats are  also measured by weight not volume. This is not because I am snooty or a fancy baker lady. This is because I want you to succeed.

Case in point, for so long, I couldn’t figure out why my pie crusts were “temperamental” one time they would be flakey golden goodness, one time they were just okay or worse they didn’t work at all. I heard that pie crust could be affected by the weather or by the capricious gods of baking. The truth is that flour is impossible to measure in cups, it just shifts and compresses and fluffs too much Also, one type of flour can weigh more or less than another. So, get a basic digital kitchen scale that allows you to zero it out while a bowl is on it, weighs items up to 5lbs, and weighs in grams and ounces. I have this one, but I am going to upgrade to either this one or this one really soon- both will measure up to 11 lbs.

Ingredients Perfect Pie Crust Recipe & Tutorial

The Equipment:
Aside from a digital scale, the only other equipment you’ll need for this dough is a pastry cutter-the kind with the blades, not the little wires, a bench scraper, a simple French rolling pin, a pastry brush (I like the tiny silicone ones) and a big metal bowl. If you don’t have a pastry brush, you can get away with using your fingers, but please, don’t use your makeup brushes no matter how well you’ve cleaned them. (What? I’ve never done that! Not even that one time in college when I was really desperate.) It’s gross and your brushes will never be the same- and again, I’m speculating only.

Chilled Flour Perfect Pie Crust Recipe & Tutorial

About the Ingredients:
This recipe calls for Unbleached (Organic) All Purpose King Arthur Flour (it has a higher protein content), Organic Unsalted Butter, Leaf Lard, Cider Vinegar, Fine Grain Sea Salt, and Ice Water. These are simple ingredients that our grandmothers would have been able to obtain. They would not have had a fancy organic certification, but when my grandmother was born in 1906 France, cows were not being fed antibiotics because there were no antibiotics, and partially hydrogenated butter-flavored crap in a tub?  Need I say more?  When I finally struck upon the right mix of butter to lard, and got my hand mixing down, I though, “wow, this tastes just like my grandmother’s pastry”. To me, this means I have used the right ingredients in the right way.

A word on leaf lard: leaf lard is made from the fat surrounding the kidneys of the pig, and is said to make the best pastry. Lard has gotten a very bad rap in the past, but the fact is that it actually has less saturated fat than butter.  I’m not referring to the lard you’ll find on a shelf in your local grocer- most of that has been partially or fully hydrogenated. Not only is it terrible for you, it doesn’t taste good and it doesn’t make good pastry.  Some specialty grocery stores will carry house-rendered lard which is just fantastic, but even my favorite grocer doesn’t carry leaf-lard. I have to head to Prather Ranch in the Ferry Building to stock up on tubs of Range Brothers certified-humane white porky goodness. If you don’t have a local source for leaf lard, you can order it from Flying Pigs Farm.

Recipe Perfect Pie Crust Recipe & Tutorial

  • Ingredients:

  • 12 oz King Arthur Brand Flour
  • 5 oz very cold organic unsalted butter cut into very small pieces no bigger than ¼ inch- making them very small is SUPER important.
  • 3 oz very cold leaf lard crumbled into tiny bits of different sizes from pea to hazelnut size
  • ½ teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 7 tablespoons ice water
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Cold Butter Chunks Perfect Pie Crust Recipe & Tutorial

Step by Step Instructions:

1.     After your ingredients are weighed, place flour in metal bowl, and place in freezer for at least 15 minutes along with sliced butter, lard, pastry cutter, and rolling pin.
2.     Dissolve sea salt in the ice-water and add the apple cider vinegar to the mix- I like to use a small mason jar with lid for this. Place that in the refrigerator.
3.     If your hands are at all warm, run them under very cold water for a minute or so and towel-dry.

Perfect Pie Crust Recipe

4.     Remove bowl of flour and the butter from the freezer. Scatter the butter evenly across the flour and begin gently working the butter and the flour together with your fingertips. Move quickly, but do not work the butter too hard. If you press too hard, you’ll make your dough tough. This should be a gentle and easy process.
5.     Once most of the butter is broken down into pieces about the size of hazelnuts, you can start working in a short rocking motion with the pastry cutter around the bowl- for maybe 10 or so strokes.

Next we'll add lard Perfect Pie Crust Recipe & Tutorial

6.     Next, sprinkle in the leaf lard evenly over the top of the flour and butter mixture and work it in with the pastry cutter at first. I usually finish with my hands. The final product will look like coarse corn meal with some pieces of fat the size of peas and a few up to the size of chickpeas

Ready to Add Water How to Make Perfect Pie Crust Every Time

7.     Fetch the ice water from the fridge and shake it up very well.  Add five tablespoons of the liquid being very careful not to get any chunks of ice in the dough. Also, make sure it is distributed very equally over the surface of the dough.
8.     Begin gently working the water into the dough with your hands. You should be able to tell quickly if there is enough liquid for the dough to stick together. If not, add more, and work that in. If the 8 tablespoons of ice-water/vinegar is not enough, add more cold water to the ice and allow it to cool off for a moment before mixing it in. I prefer to have a slightly moist dough to a dry one.  Your dough will be kind of a shaggy mess- not pretty and completely smooth. It should just stick together. This batch for the photos ended up taking 9 tablespoons of ice water + 1 tablespoon of vinegar.

Getting Ready To Make Discs How to Make Perfect Pie Crust Every Time

9.     Work your shaggy dough into a rough ball and turn out onto a well-floured rolling surface. Cut into two equal halves and form each into a ball.

5 inch discs- Perfect Pie Crust Recipe Easy Simple

10. Form each ball into a 5 inch disc. Wrap each disc tightly in plastic and place in the refrigerator for at least one hour (two hours is even better) to rest. This allows the gluten to relax so that you’ll have a tender crust.  You can leave the dough up to five days, but if you’re leaving it overnight or longer, place the plastic-wrapped discs inside of a ziptop bag to prevent moisture loss.

*If you are working on a marble, granite or stone-like surface, here’s a cool trick, 10 minutes before rolling your dough, chill your surface using ice packs or a bag of ice in a zip top bag. Just make sure to dry it thoroughly before you flour it.

VIsible Bits of Butter & Lard Perfect Pie Crust Recipe & Tutorial

11. Remove one disc of dough from the fridge unwrap it and place it on a well-floured surface. Give it a few whacks with a well-floured rolling pin (fresh from the freezer). Roll from the center out to the edges a few times and turn the disc a quarter turn after just a few rolls. The dough should be soft, pliable, and very simple to turn. You’ll see large chunks of butter in the dough (see pic above). Continue rolling from the center, turning quarter turns, and repeating until dough is 1/8” thick.
12. At this point, you can either cut your dough into small rounds using ring molds or fold into quarters and place into a pie plate for baking. You can make a large galette or several small ones. Or you can chill it while you roll out the other disc for a double crust pie.
14. Bake as you would any pie crust- be sure to brush with an egg wash or heavy cream for extra glistening golden yumminess.

A Very Versatile Dough- savory or sweet- Perfect Pie Crust Recipe & Tutorial

I owe some special thanks to Kate McDermott, who I have yet to meet, but this lady has taught me an awful lot about making pie crust. I am especially thankful about her King Arthur Flour tip. Also, John, from Food Wishes, gave me the super secret ingredient cider vinegar- which helps prevent the formation of gluten and keeps this pie crust tender.  Another huge thanks goes to Kimmie from Full Circle Adventures who helped me perfect my rolling technique and had more patience than any human I know during SF Food Wars Pie or Die. Together, we made 91 mini pies in one day.

Keep coming back, the next part of the series will cover a basic tart recipe. Soon to follow will be galettes, hand pies, quiches, and more. All from a single dough- perhaps with some simple variations.



  1. says

    I tend to favor crostatas and other free-formed, rustic desserts instead of pies. I need to get over my fear of pie-ing and get my hands on some leaf lard. You've convinced me!
    (BTW your links for your scale and the one you may upgrade to are not included.)

    • says

      Hi Lori,
      I love crostatas and rustic desserts too, and I think you'll love this flaky pie crust. It's really simple and you can make it by hand just like the dough for a crostata, so not a big stretch. Oh, and leaf lard… I know you'll never look back.
      Thanks for the heads up on the links, I'm fixing now.

    • says

      You can absolutely render the leaf lard yourself. I am all for it. I haven't done leaf lard on my own, though I've rendered the lard from a leg of pork. A mighty, but worthwhile task.

  2. says

    My mother and grandmother in Serbia always used lard for a flaky pastries, and only recently have I tried emulating them (that is, I render my own lard, and therefore have unlimited supplies). I have not rendered leaf lard, yet, but my pie crusts are beautiful, flaky, and delicious with the humble, regular lard. Now, if I can get my hands on some leaf lard, I will definitely try it.
    I have grown up without tasting American-style pies until my early 20s, when I was an exchange student in Colorado. They made beautiful blueberry pies at the Best Western motel restaurant where I worked, and I fell in love, but not enough to try making them myself. Years passed until I tasted a really good pie again, and now I can make them myself!
    Yes, I have conquered my pie crust fears, and I am so happy that you did as well!
    Your tutorial would have helped me so much while I was experimenting, but I am sure there are many un-initiated souls out there that will benefit greatly from your detailed instructions.
    BTW, thank you and John for the cider vinegar tip! I am definitely going to use it next time!

    • says

      Thanks Lana for your awesome comment. I love that you, too, have conquered your fears of pie. Rendering your own lard is also super cool (and so cost effective)
      I love your story of the blueberry pies.

  3. kate says

    Made this yesterday using all butter & no lard and the results were FABULOUS. Infinitely flakier & better than my previous crust attempts. Onward and upward!!

    • says

      Yay, Kate! I'm so happy it worked for you. I move into my new place in two weeks. I'm considering offering doing pie classes for small groups. Perhaps I can try out my crazy methods on you. What do you think?


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