November 21, 2011

How to Make a Pie Crust and a Classic Pumpkin Pie Recipe

I've had this intense craving for pumpkin all week, and I'm pretty sure I know why. It all started with this recipe, which is inevitably on the top of my to-do list, right after I eat the rest of this pie. You're probably wondering why I just didn't make this pudding first, but I figured that because it's American Thanksgiving this weekend, I'm sure there's going to be a lot of pie baking. I thought it would be best to share my pumpkin pie recipe, in hopes that you might give it a try, and even if you don't live in the States, there's always a good occasion for pumpkin pie.

This pumpkin recipe is very traditional, pumpkin, eggs, evaporated milk, sugar, and spices. You can't go wrong with this filling recipe. It's moist, creamy, silky, smooth, and extremely festive, and the best part, it's easy to make. For this past year I have been experimenting with different pie crusts, trying to find the perfect one. I've been searching high and low, and gained a few pounds on the way. I've tried all-purpose flour vs pastry flour, butter vs shortening, sugar vs no sugar, chilling vs not chilling. What I have found over the past year is that the perfect pie crust is very subjective. There isn't one single perfect crust, but many different types to suit different palates. You may prefer flaky or crispy, salty or sweet, butter versus shortening. One thing is for certain, people definitely have strong opinions about what is the perfect crust!

Making pies has got to be one of my favorite things to bake. I love working the fat into the grains of flour, knowing that it will create tiny pockets of air between each layer of crust, is magical. I love rolling the dough, shaping it into the pan, and then using my own imagination to create a beautiful looking crust. The sweet heavenly aroma that flows and lingers in the air after it's been baking, can put a smile on the most ill-tempered.

Pies are perfect for turning your excess over-ripe fruit, or in this case, your dusty tin of pumpkin, into something magical. I love strawberry rhubarb pie, apple pie, and always have a special place in my heart for savory pies. To me, the perfect pie crust is flaky, buttery, more salty than sweet, and slightly crisp. The recipe I shared at the bottom of the post, is the best I have made yet. It has a lot of flavor, and is nice and crispy. It is not as flaky as a shortening based crust, but I prefer flavor to flake. There are many different ways to make a pie crust, and a few basics that shouldn't be altered. Below I have come up with a simplified list that should help you create your very own perfect crust!


All-purpose flour works just fine, but if you want a more tender crust, use a pastry flour which has a lower gluten content. 

Crusts made with butter are more flavorful, but less flaky than vegetable shortening. Lard produces the flakiest crust.

People say that some of the best crusts are made with a combination of shortening and butter.

When you cut the fat into the flour, you want it be no larger or smaller than tiny pea sized pieces. You can accomplish this with your hands, a pastry cutter, or the food processor. Be sure to keep and eye on the food processor, as it has the ability to cut the fat even smaller.

When adding water to the mixture it should be ice cold. This will keep the pieces of fat cooled and separate. The fat should also be very cold, store it in the freezer for up to an hour before using.

You can substitute some of the water for vodka, the theory is that the alcohol doesn't promote gluten formation and burns off in the heat, so you wont taste it at all.

Humidity can affect dough performance, so you may need less liquid if the air is humid.

Salt enhances the flavor of the crust. If you prefer a sweeter crust add some sugar, but make sure it's confectioners, because granulated can make the dough sticky and hard to work with.

If your dough sticks to the counter when rolling, put it between two pieces of parchment paper sprinkled with flour. To lift your dough off the counter, roll it around the rolling pin and then lift. 

Do not overwork the dough. Mix it as quick as possible and knead until dough comes together. Over working the dough will continue to work the gluten causing it to become too tough.

After rolling out the dough and placing it into the pie pan, always freeze it for 20 minutes. This will allow the dough to relax and prevent it from shrinking while baking.

Before pouring the filling into the pie crust, you can brush it with an egg wash to help the crust stay crisp.

For an extra crispy pie crust brush it with water, and for a shiny crust brush it with an egg wash.

makes one 9 inch pie

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
2 large eggs
1 -15oz can of pumpkin puree
1 - 12 fluid oz can evaporated milk

2 1/4 cups pastry flour
1/4 tbsp salt
1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter, chilled
2 tbsp vodka
2 - 4 tbsp ice water
1 egg white

1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp confectioners sugar

To make the pie crust, mix the flour and salt in a large bowl. Cut the butter into tiny cubes. Add the butter to the flour and work it in with your hands until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

Add the vodka and 1 tbsp at a time of the ice water. Combine until you have a thick and fairly dry dough that just barely sticks together. Crumbly like coarse meal. 

Pull the dough together and knead lightly until slightly moistened. If the dough is too crumbly that it wont come together, add a bit more water, but do not exceed 4 tbsp. Shape the dough into a disk and wrap with plastic wrap. Place it in the fridge for 30 minutes or overnight.

Sprinkle flour onto a surface. Roll the dough into a 10 inch round circle. Too lift it up, gently wrap it around the rolling pin and lift or use a spatula, then unroll onto the pie plate. It is not a problem if the pie pastry falls apart. Just pick up the pieces and mold them to the pie plate. Shape the edges of the pie with your fingers. Place the pie shell into the freezer for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400ºF. 

In a medium bowl, mix the sugar, cinnamon, salt, ginger, and cloves. In a large bowl, beat the eggs with a wire whisk. Add the pumpkin and sugar mixture and whisk. Slowly add the evaporated milk, and whisk until all the ingredients are combined. Pour the pumpkin filling into the pie crust.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg white. Brush the crust with the egg wash. Place the pie in the oven and bake at 400ºF for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350ºF and continue to bake for 50 minutes.

Remove the pie from the oven and let it cool for 2 hours. 

To make the whipped cream, beat the heavy cream in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, starting on a low speed for a minute and then increasing to high for 5 minutes until you have soft peaks. Add the vanilla and sugar and continue to beat on high speed until hard peaks form. Serve the pumpkin pie with a dollop of whipped cream.

The pie can be kept in the fridge for a couple of days.


  1. You know... I've never made a pumpkin pie before. Haven't really been a fan of the ones I've had... well, that's not necessarily true. I had a fabulous one made by a relative. But the bad ones scared me so much I couldn't bring myself to make one. That may have to change now, because this looks delightful!

  2. FInally someone addressing the crust debacle! I have been on the hunt for making the perfect crust. I think I made the attempt at it once but coming into making it and assuming it would be a huge fail, my brain decided that it wouldn't be necessary to store the recipe. Since then the crusts have been tough, grainy, over cooked, totally ruining a perfectly good filling. :( I would resort to purchasing store bought pie crust but I think that actually makes my already sad face, um, sadder.

    One question though... I don't necessarily have vodka lying around the house. Can this be omitted to create the same result or if not, substituted?

    Thanks for this, it's a God send! By the way, hello from Toronto! I came across your blog after searching "poutine" from Tastespotting and wound up here. :)

  3. That's a great question Patricia. I have not heard of any recipes that substitute vodka for alternative liquors. You could give it a go and see how it turns out, although probably best to choose and alcohol with little flavor. You can leave out the vodka and substitute it for water, although the vodka evaporates when baking contributing to less gluten formation, and yielding a softer crust. Let me know how it goes.

  4. I have two questions regarding the baking. You bake it for 15 minutes at 400, just down? And then for another 50 minutes (air) or just the top of the oven?

    1. First, wrap tin foil around the edges of the pie.
      - Place the pie into the oven on the middle rack and bake at 400ºF for 15 minutes.
      - With the pie still on the middle rack, reduce the temp to 350ºF and continue to bake for 35 minutes.
      - Remove the tin foil and continue to bake for another 15 minutes at 350ºF.
      (keep the pie on the middle rack at all times. Only adjust the temp and then remove the tin foil at the end.)
      Hope this helps. Good Luck.

    2. Sorry, I guess I wasn't clear. I didn't mean which rack to keep it on, but do you cook it with air - with the fan, or top & bottom? Haha I'm a good cook & baker but when it comes to some basic terms, words fail me!

      But thank you for answering the questions. I asked them only because some crusts differ from others and I didn't know if I could bake your crust using my method... But I tried it!

      I covered my crust completely with tin foil & beans. Baked at 400ºF for 15 minutes. Then, I added your pie filling which I had made during these 15 minutes. But I made my own homemade pumpkin puree.

      I had lost my recipe last year when I moved to a new country and forgot (OF ALL THINGS!!!!) my recipe files. I'm adding yours to my new one while I search to duplicate the old one that I had.

      Well done on your website. I bookmarked it and will keep coming back. :-)

    3. Sorry for the late reply Ruby. I did not use air to bake. You could def bake with air, but the timing will be much shorter. You will have to monitor closely to determine when done. Hope this helps!

  5. We made this yesterday, my little one and I. The measurements listed made two pie crusts, and even then were pretty thick. yesterday, eating the pie too hot out of the oven, the crust was delicious. Today, after being in the fridge overnight, the crust is thick and too hard to cut, and not so tasty.

    What did we do wrong?

    Sara Selznick, blogging at ThreeKindsOfPie at, even though the blog is not directly about pie.

    1. I am not sure Sara. I've tried to do a bit of research, and I can't find any answers. It is odd that the crust was good the day of, and then too tough the next day :(

  6. Great tips on the pie crust with the shortening to butter ratio. The vodka substitute sounds interesting too. I'll give this one a try.

  7. How many servings?