20 Tips for Working with Homemade Pie Doughs

For our Thanksgiving in a Crust story, we created side dishes with seven unique homemade pie doughs. Here, we share our top 20 tips for working with everything from classic dough and puff pastry to a special cracker-based crust.

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©2014, Cooking Channel

©2014, Cooking Channel

©2014, Cooking Channel

©2014, Cooking Channel

©2014, Cooking Channel

©2014, Cooking Channel

©2014, Cooking Channel

©2014, Cooking Channel

©2014, Cooking Channel

©2014, Cooking Channel

©2014, Cooking Channel

©2014, Cooking Channel

©2014, Cooking Channel

©2014, Cooking Channel

©2014, Cooking Channel

©2014, Cooking Channel

©2014, Cooking Channel

©2014, Cooking Channel

©2014, Cooking Channel

©2014, Cooking Channel

Pick the Right Flour

When baking any pie, make sure to use the type of flour called for in the recipe. All-purpose does fine in most doughs; bread flour has more gluten and makes great bread but a tough pie crust. Whole-wheat flour also has more gluten, along with a coarser texture and nuttier flavor you might not want in your crust. Always smell and taste your flour before using it to confirm freshness. Rancid, old flour makes for a sad day in pie land.

Measure with a Spoon

Our recipes have you measure flour by spooning it into a dry measure, then leveling it off. Whisk flour to lighten, then add spoonfuls of flour to the cup until it is overfilled.

Level It

Sweep off the excess with the back of a knife or an offset spatula to level off the flour. Scooping flour up with a measuring cup can pack it too tightly, giving you more flour than you need and a tough crust.

Pay Attention to Texture

Some dough recipes call for cutting butter into flour until you get large clumps or pea-shaped balls; others call for coarse meal (pictured here).

Know When It's Done

This is what it looks like when dough "comes together." It still looks crumbly, but once you give the dough a gentle squeeze, it forms a soft little blob. If you continue to process past this point, you run the risk of an overworked, tough dough.

Divide the Dough

The flat blade of a bench scraper makes it a good tool for dividing dough and cleaning up the extra flour and dried dough bits from your work surface.

Hands Off

Handle the dough as little as possible to keep it flaky and tender –– overworking the dough will develop extra gluten in the flour and result in a tough, breadlike texture.

With a Trace

If you want to create a guide for rolling out dough for a round pie, trace your pie plate onto a piece of parchment with a pencil. Flip the parchment over (so you're not rolling the dough onto the penciled line) and then roll the dough an inch past the traced line.

Stick To It

Alternatively, you can use a ruler to roll dough out to exact dimensions for a square or rectangular pan. Sprinkle flour onto the work surface and the top of puff pastry or any dough you work with, to prevent it from sticking. Don’t worry about using too much –– you can always brush off excess flour with a pastry brush when you’re done.

Flatten First

If you're working with a really thick dough, first flatten it by pressing down on the mound with a rolling pin. Thick dough is hard to roll out evenly.

Roll with It

Start from the center of the dough and roll away from you, applying even pressure to the rolling pin. Even when changing direction, continue to roll away from you and not toward you, for more control of the rolling pin.

Ring Leader

This orange ring is a rolling pin guide. You can get them in different thicknesses. Put one on either end of a straight rolling pin to keep your dough even.

Just Cool It

If the dough becomes too soft to work with, pop it in the fridge to firm up.

One at a Time

Cover the dough you are not working with, to keep it moist.

Flour It

If your dough sticks to the parchment, gently peel your dough off the parchment and lightly flour the areas that are sticking.

Handle with Care

When moving a sheet of dough, use your palms and be gentle.

Cut It

Snip away any excess dough with kitchen shears.

Docking the Dough

Flaky doughs like puff pastry require docking: using a fork to gently poke holes into (but not all the way through) the dough. This process allows steam to escape during baking so you won’t get huge air bubbles in your pastry.

Crimp It

To make a basic crimp, first pinch the two edges of dough together and tuck them inside the baking dish to create a slightly raised edge. Pinch one side of the raised edge with your thumb and index finger while pressing your other index finger into the gap each pinch makes.

Go for the Gold

Brush hand pies, Wellington-style pies or other pie crusts with egg wash for a golden-brown finish.