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Basic Pie and Tart Dough Recipe

I learned to make pie dough first from my mother using barley flour and for years used the one she published in her cookbook “Honey and Spice”.  The next pie dough influence was Deborah Madison‘s recipe in “Vegetarian for Everyone”.  Some of her tips proved useful in increasing my success with making a really good dough.  The last influence was Martha Stewart.  I find her instructions aren’t as good as my mom’s and Madison’s, but I like using her proportions of ingredients.

I make a really good pie dough.  This is one of my few baking talents.  Some people use slightly different butter to flour ratios for tart doughs but I use the same dough for both pies and tarts.  One way in which I disagree with almost everyone is that I don’t believe it matters whether you use salted or unsalted butter.  I dislike unsalted butter on my toast so I use what I keep on hand.  I still add salt to the flour.  Trust me, this dough is not too salty.

I also never add sugar to my crusts regardless of whether I’m making a savory or sweet pie.  Most recipes say you can add an optional teaspoon of sugar and I see no reason for it.  There are even sweeter versions of pie dough (pâte sucrée) but I never make this kind of crust because I don’t have a great sweet tooth and if my crust is full of something sugary I don’t need the crust itself to also be sugary.

Some people are intimidated by pie crusts and I don’t understand why.  As long as you have a food processor it’s both fast and easy.

Basic Pie and Tart Dough Recipe

Basic Pie and Tart Dough Recipe


  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 sticks of cold butter
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup ice water


  1. Measure the flour and salt into your food processor bowl and pulse a few times to mix. Cut the sticks of butter into cubes and arrange evenly around the flour as shown below:
  2. Pulse the butter until the butter pieces are well broken up (many say “the size of peas” but the pieces will be uneven so I don’t find this useful). The photo below shows about how your flour butter mixture should look right before adding water:
  3. With the processor running add the water one tablespoon at a time in a trickle. After about 3 tablespoonfuls check the moisture of the dough to see if it’s ready or if it needs a little more water.
  4. Check the dough by taking out a small handful like this:
  5. Then squeeze it in your hand. If it retains the shape you squeezed it into when you touch it, the dough is ready to be rolled out. If it breaks apart easily then it needs a little more water, only just a little at a time. See how it looks when it’s ready in the image below:
  6. Now dump the dough onto a pastry board or clean counter top. It will be very crumbly. As quickly as you can, gather it all in a heap and press it into a ball. Do not knead it.
  7. Now you can divide it in two and roll it out.
  8. I shape each half into a flat disk, put it between two layers of wax paper and roll it out until it’s large enough to fit a 9? pie pan, I lay it over the pan, gently press the dough into it and then flute the edges. Or, I may divide the dough into different sizes to use for individual pies or tarts, but I still make flat discs of them. If you aren’t going to use the dough immediately, store in the fridge between the wax paper in a plastic bag (the plastic bag will prevent the dough from drying out).
  9. Here are some tips I follow that I find very useful in making successful pie and tart crusts:
  10. I roll out my dough into their pans right after forming the dough, I don’t wait for it to chill in the fridge. When the dough is rolled out in the pie pan and the edges are crimped I put it in the freezer for at least 20 minutes before filling and baking. I do this step even if I’m planning to pre-bake the shell. Freezing it first prevents shrinkage of the dough. I also find it helps prevent the bottom of the crusts from getting soggy if you don’t pre-bake.
  11. For pre-baking I usually use kidney beans as pie weights. I keep a jar of them for this purpose. Once you’ve used the beans for pre-baking I don’t think they’re good to cook, but you can use them over and over again.
  12. Many people like to trim their tart crusts level with the top of the pan. I don’t like to do this. I prefer to build the crust up a bit higher than the tart pan. This is a rustic approach. It also prevents shrinkage of the crust and a spilling of the contents over the top. I do sometimes trim the uneven or excess dough off with scissors to get a more consistent crust thickness.
  13. If you only need enough for one pie crust you can, of course, halve the recipe. But why do that? You can wrap the extra dough tightly (or vacuum seal it) and freeze it for later.
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