13 Ways To Ruin a Pie

Pie: One of the most beloved Southern desserts, but it’s notoriously finicky to make. Prevent a future fail with these easy baking fixes.

Lisa Cericola
Pie Tips with Blueberry Pie
Photographer: Hector Sanchez; Prop Stylist: Heather Chadduck; Food Stylist: Marian Cooper Cairns

1. Choosing the Wrong Crust
Like marriages, pie crusts and fillings should form a good partnership. Creamy, cool pies like chocolate cream or Key lime taste best with crumb crusts made out of crunchy cookies. Pies with fruit fillings, like apple or peach, need a more substantial crust made with buttery pastry.

2. Measuring Ingredients All Wrong
There’s a reason why people say baking is a science. Most baking problems are due to ingredients that were measured a little too casually. Weighing your ingredients will give you the most accurate results, but if you don’t have a kitchen scale, measure carefully and level off dry ingredients with a knife.

3. Selecting the Wrong Fat
You can make a pie crust with butter, shortening, or lard—or any combination of those ingredients. All have pros and cons, so it’s important to choose the fat that will give you the flavor and texture you’re looking for. Butter has the most flavor, but can be tricky to roll out and bake because it has a low melting point. Shortening is much easier to work with, but it has less flavor. Lard creates the flakiest dough because of its high fat content, but it’s also not very flavorful. Many cooks use a half and half combination of butter and shortening or lard for a happy—and delicious—medium.

4. Using Room Temperature Ingredients
When you’re making pie crust, it’s important to keep the fat from softening and melting as you roll out and shape the dough. This can be tough in the hotter summer months. Keep all of your ingredients extra cold, especially the ice water and fat. And be sure to let the dough chill for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator before and after rolling it out.

5. Overworking the Dough
You can make dough by hand or in a food processor. A food processor will keep the ingredients colder and is less messy. But if you want to get your hands dirty and do it the old-fashioned way, work quickly and have a light touch when combining the fat and dry ingredients. For the flakiest crust, you want large, flat pieces of fat that are lightly coated in flour; the fat shouldn’t disappear completely into the dough. 

6. Dusting with Too Much Flour
Dusting your countertops and rolling pin with too much flour will make a tough pie crust. But not enough flour will lead to stickiness. Start by lightly flouring your countertops and the rolling pin, and add more flour as needed. Some cooks prefer to roll out the dough between two sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper, which prevents sticking and keeps your countertops clean.

7. Rolling Out the Wrong Size Dough
When you roll out the dough, make sure it will fit inside your pie pan by holding the pan over the dough. The dough should be a few inches larger than the pan on all sides.

8. Tearing the Dough
Torn dough happens. But that doesn’t mean your pie is ruined. You can patch it with an extra piece of dough and some ice water or beaten egg. Gently press the dough over the tear and smooth it out with your fingers, being careful not to overwork the dough.

9. Forgetting To Thicken Your Filling
A thin, runny filling will spoil the most amazing pie crust. Some fruits like blackberries and apples are high in pectin, which naturally thickens a pie filling. Low pectin fruits like strawberries and peaches need a little help to become thick and jammy. Be sure to toss them with flour, cornstarch, or tapioca. Dot the filling with a few small pieces of cold butter to make it even more luscious.

10. Overfilling the Pie Pan
You’ve put in all this work; now don’t make a hot, bubbling mess in your oven! Piling the filling too high in the pie pan will cause it to overflow—especially with extra juicy fruit fillings. Prevent any small spills (and make transferring the pie in and out of the oven easier) by placing the filled pie pan on a baking sheet.

11. Trapping Steam Beneath the Crust
If you’re doing a double crust pie, be sure to cut a few small slits in the top of the pie for steam to escape as the pie bakes. Or choose a lattice top pie.

12. Overbrowning the Crust
A perfectly cooked pie crust should be evenly light golden brown. If you notice that your pie is browning too quickly, or turning brown, cover it with foil and check your oven temperature.

13. Missing the Cooling Time
Pie must cool completely. The hardest part of making a pie is waiting for it to cool. So never (ever) slice into a hot pie! The filling needs time to set as it comes to room temperature. If you like your pie warm, simply reheat individual slices in your microwave before serving.