An “ah-ha!” moment: the simple tip that'll change your pie-crust prep forever.

The other day I experienced one of those “Oh DUH” moments that got me so excited, I could hardly wait to share it with you here.

Now, before you get all worked up, I have to warn you: this may very well be something you figured out years ago, and have been automatically applying to your baking ever since. If this is the case – bear with me, and with the rest of us who weren’t bright enough to discover it earlier.

Without further ado, today’s earth-shattering baking news is…

When you’re dividing your pastry for a double-crust pie, the bottom crust should be a significantly larger chunk than the top crust.

How many times have you read a pie recipe that says, “Divide the crust in half,” before shaping each piece into a disk?

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Why look, there’s one now!

Yet, when you think about it, the bottom crust should be a lot larger than the top crust. After all, the top crust only needs to cover the surface of the filling. But the bottom crust needs to hold all the filling, with enough left over to bring it up and over the top crust, to make a good seal.

Remember high school geometry, and how you sat there bored out of your skin wondering when you’d EVER have to use all that stuff in real life?

Well, now’s the time.

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But if you’ve forgotten all that “pi-r(adius)-squared” stuff, don’t worry; I remember it, and I’ve done the math for you.

Yeah, I rounded up and down a tiny bit, but here’s the bottom line: to make pie crust that’s equal thickness, top and bottom, your pastry should be divided not in half, but in thirds. Two thirds will be the bottom crust; one third, the top crust.

Looked at another way, the bottom crust should be twice as large, mass/weight-wise, as the top crust.

This is easy, if you have a scale; simply weigh your pastry, and scoop out 1/3; that’ll be your top crust, the rest will be the bottom.

If you don’t have a scale, divide your pastry into three parts; one will be the top crust, the other two, squashed together before rolling, will be the bottom crust.

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So, this has all been theory, up until now. Let’s put the formula into action, and see what happens.

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I’ll start with the larger bottom crust. My goal is to roll it 13″ wide – same as in the past, when I was dividing the pastry in half.

Back then, I’d roll my crust half and, in an attempt to make it 13″ wide, it would become thinner and thinner – and its edges more and more ragged.

This time, the crust rolled out very easily – with only one little ragged patch, which you can see up near the top there. The rolled crust was thick enough to handle without mishap, and settled into my 9″ pie pan nicely, without stretching.

Which is important – stretching a pie crust to fit is the best way to ensure it’ll shrink as it bakes. Which is why, when you’re “blind baking” a crust (baking it fully before adding a cooked filling), you’ll sometimes find the crust puddled in the bottom of your pie pan. Not a pretty picture.

So, with the crust’s copious overhang, it didn’t have any trouble at all holding a nice big mound of apple filling.

Next: the top crust.

crust2

I rolled it into a 9″ round, as planned. Plopped it atop the apples. Brought the overhanging bottom crust up and over the top crust, and pinched the two together, then made a nice crimp.

One caveat here: if you’re making a “mile-high” pie, with copious amounts of filling, you’ll want to roll the top crust a bit wider than 9″.

How much wider? Hey, I can’t remember geometry covering arcs (though I do have unhappy flashbacks to trigonometry and parabolas). Let’s just say “a bit wider.”

Next step: put it into the oven.

An hour later –

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My oh my, it’s apple pie! And a darned good one, too, its top and bottom crusts equal thickness – no thick, doughy top crust, nor skimpy bottom crust.

Thank you, Mr. MacLeod at Central Junior High in Hingham, MA for the lesson in “pi” that’s lasted me a lifetime!

Want to bake this pie? I used my favorite pie crust recipe, Classic Double Pie Crust, and the filling from our guaranteed Apple Pie recipe.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. waikikirie

    Thanks for the reminder PJ! Despite all my best intentions I haven’t made pie in awhile. Was thinking recently that I should get recipes together and get the pie crust in the freezer to get a leg up on Thanksgiving (Don’t look at me like that people…it will be here before you know it!) Now if I do get organized enough I’ll remember to divide the dough this way!

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid

      People are always surprised when we tell them it’s time for pie dough, pretty much as soon as school starts, but it’s true! Think about how proud of yourself you’ll be whenever you see those crusts in the freezer 🙂 Susan

    2. Alison Taylor

      It’s like ALL really good ideas: when you hear it, you think to yourself, ‘now, why didn’t I think of that?’

  2. dailypainter

    I’ve been baking pies for years, and my bottom crust never seems big enough and I always have leftover top crust, then I read this and the only word that comes to mind is DUH!!!!
    Thanks for enlightening me…

    Reply
  3. Teri

    Well I never knew this, so thank you! I am always happy to be able to trim extra dough from around the sides to make “crusty pies” which is just pie dough flat on a cookie sheet, cut into squares with cinnamon and sugar on top. Also, my Mom always tucked the top layer over and under the bottom layer of crust, then pinched it. Would it make any difference?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Teri, you may get some spillage onto the edge of the top crust doing it this way; but I think it looks appetizing, so I’ve never minded it. Give it a try, you can always go back to your original method, right? PJH

    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Dianne, glad I’m not the only one having a “light bulb moment” over something that, in retrospect, seems pretty obvious! 🙂 PJH

  4. Chris B

    The other thing I always do is add some flavoring to the crust to match the filling – sugar, cinnamon, vanilla etc for sweet pies, onion powder, thyme etc for savory. It adds that extra little something… 🙂

    Reply
    1. Carla

      Chris B – what a great idea! As I mentioned below, I sprinkle with cinnamon sugar (and sometimes nutmeg) on the top crust of fruit pies, but adding flavoring to the dough is wonderful! Now all I need to do is remember to mark the dough circles as to whether they are sweet or savory before stashing them in the freezer! 🙂

  5. karen

    we are thinking of doing a bake sale at church 3 weeks before Thanksgiving .Someone suggested we sell frozen pies,so on Thanksgiving they can bake them off themselves fresh. Can you give me any tips so the crust doesn’t get mushy?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Karen, we just happen to have an entire blog, FREEZE, on making fruit pies ahead and freezing them. It’s not difficult at all. Good luck with your bake sale, I think that’s a great idea! PJH

  6. Robert Kelley

    But what about having a small amount of trimming you roll it and sprinkle with butter and cinnamon sugar for a baked snack? My favorite part of baking as a kid.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Robert, you’re so right; it’s a sacrifice, for sure! 🙂 How about trimming the inevitable ragged edges off the bottom crust? PJH

  7. Linda Quick

    Love your idea a lot more than mine. I always wrapped the top crust over the bottom. Now I’ll do the opposite. I think it’ll be much easier and neater. THANK YOU!!!

    Reply
  8. wendyb964

    I have never felt competent making a pie crust (think it’s a holdover from my mum who loved baking but avoided crust and yeast items.) Now I feel armed with the missing piece of the puzzle. I use geometry in baking all the time to scale recipes (pi-r-squared, 2 pi-diameter) based on surface area and voume. KAF tips are invaluable.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Thanks, Wendy. We’re always available to help you take on any baking challenge. I think there are a lot of people out there with yeast and pie phobias, but we aim to cure them all. Barb@KAF

    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Ooh, Mike, I envy you! The Lobster Pound has gotten soooooo expensive compared to when I was a kid, though – I guess that’s expected, considering how many years ago I was a kid (let’s just say we bought our house on Crow Point for under $20,000, so you can imagine!) 🙂 PJH

  9. Hologram

    Yes, decided this in my experience of making pies. I also make 1/3 to 1/2 more dough when planning a lattice top. Hate to skimp because plenty crust makes for a prettier pie.

    Reply
  10. lee freeman

    That’s a big difference – but makes sense mathematically.

    I always thought it a great idea to have all the leftover from the top (although it would work for the bottom, too) because it gets sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and baked briefly as a treat for the baker!

    I don’t mind skimping on the crust for the pie – everyone here is so happy to see a pie that appearance appreciation is very brief . . .

    But, I do appreciate all the thought and effort you all put into keeping us informed – love the blogs!

    Reply
  11. Sheila Hartmann

    I finally figured this out not too long ago. The other thing I tried was adding the sugar and vinegar (1 tsp. each for single crust) to the crust. And, just last week, I substituted Coconut Oil for Crisco. This made a very flaky and tender pie crust.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      That’s one of the great things about baking–we just keep on learning! Thanks for sharing your ideas. Barb@KAF

  12. Sharon Spagnoli

    Thanks. I have always made the bottom larger but not to this extent. I will try this tip soon. Apple season is just around the corner!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      The air is certainly getting snappy here in Vermont! A warm apple pie sounds delightful to me. Barb@KAF

  13. LaurieS

    First question…How to you make your edges look that way?

    Second question…Pie crust in the freezer? Do you bake first, or just freeze dough?

    Love King Arthur!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Laurie, check out our Perfect Pie post for tips on how to crimp your pie’s edge. And freeze the dough before baking, either shaped in the pan, or unshaped in a disk. For more on freezing crust/pie, see our post, FREEZE. Good luck – PJH

  14. Maria

    Thanks so much for the tip, especially with the upcoming holiday pie season. Now could you please tell me how you get such beautiful crimped pie crust?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Maria, read our Perfect Pie post for some pictures of typical crimps, and how to do them. The secret is to make sure the crust is cold enough to hold its shape as you work; try refrigerating it for 20 minutes or so before starting. Then, flour your fingers as you work. Also, a crust made with shortening or shortening/butter, vs. an all-butter crust, will hold its shape much better. Hope this helps – PJH

  15. Tracy Gretz

    When I learned how to make a pie the instructions said to cut thr bottom crust even with the pie pan. Fill and then the top crust goes under the bottom and crimp and pinch to make a nice sealed crust there for your theory does not work for me!

    Reply
  16. Sue {munchkin munchies}

    Why didn’t I think of that (forehead slap), instead of trying to add little patches to the top crust!?! THANKS!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Please don’t slap your forehead, but pat yourself on the back for learning something new today! Barb@KAF

  17. Carol

    I have been doing this for the past few years. Isn’t it funny how, after many years of doing things, the light bulb finally goes on and you learn a trick to make your life easier? Thanks for all the great advice!

    Reply
  18. Phyllis

    My Texas friend says: “Pi r squared? No, pie r round; cornbread r squared.” 🙂 I will gladly eat either or both, in any shape! (And I will remember to divide my piecrust dough unequally from now on!)

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Ah, a new baking “joke” to add to my repertoire of one: “Did you hear about the explosion in the bakery? The napoleons were blown apart!” 🙂 PJH

    2. AnaCruz5

      That’s just too funny! I have seen square or rectangular pies, though. Depends on the shape of the baking vessel, of course! Thanks for sharing, Phyllis!

  19. Joy

    Mmmmmm…I see pie in my future! This makes me realize I sort of knew this….the sugar on top is a nice “finished” touch.

    Reply
  20. Judy G

    Although I had the same “aha moment” some time back, your tip did shed some light on something new for me: bring the bottom crust up and over the top. I’ve never done that, instead I’ve done the opposite. I’m wondering now how this will affect the outcome of my future pies. As soon as the weather stops being so, so HOT here, I will be back to baking and give it a try! Thanks!!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Judy, as Marilyn notes in these comments, you might experience some spillage of the filling onto the edge of the top crust, doing it this way. I don’t mind this – I actually think it looks appetizing – but think twice about whether you’re OK with this “look,” OK? Good luck – PJH

  21. Marilyn Patoka

    I actually like to work with the 2 crusts being of equal size, because I prefer to have the top crust large
    enough to fold the top crust edge underneath the bottom crust edge. Then I pinch and flute the edges together tightly. This prevents the spillage that may ooze out of the pie unto the crust edges, which I don’t think looks all that pretty when it soils the edging. But, when it comes to pie appearances, nobody is wrong!!! A homemade pie always looks good!!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Good point, Marilyn – I can tell you’re a seasoned pie baker, and that’s an excellent reason to go the “both halves equal” route. Thanks for sharing – PJH

  22. Jen

    I learned a variation on this when I started making pies, make your bottom crust larger. And recently I’ve been struggling to get enough dough for the bottom and I just figured out why, I wasn’t using enough dough for the bottom. I’ll have to make pie soon to practice and get this correct.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Practice makes perfect, as they say! I’m sure everyone you know won’t mind testing the pies as well. Jon@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Fingers work great for fluting or crimping pie edges! Here’s a link to another pie blog that will teach and inspire you – Happy Baking! Irene@KAF

    2. PJ Hamel , post author

      Sorry, Andree, wondering what you’d like to link to? The crust/filling recipes are linked from both the very top and very bottom of the post; was there something else you were trying to find? PJH

    3. Erin

      Was KAF Irene referring to the “Perfect Pie” link or something else? It’s finger pinching the edges for me! Thanks for this, I also noticed the bottom should be larger so I’ve made it a bit bigger, but it never occurred to me that it should be twice as large. I just assumed skilled pie people were better rollers than me to make the bottom crust work with only half the dough.

  23. Deb Kozikowski

    Funny, I do the opposite. Smaller bottom than top. looping the larger top around the smaller bottom then crimping makes a smooth edge that is easily maneuvered into a pretty edge by pressing with a knife handle on an angle. or using tines of a fork, or flat to adhere cut outs. And then there’s lattice. Oh the list goes on!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Deb, it’s neat that we all have our own path to get to the delicious destination: flaky, wonderful pie. It sounds to me like our readers are split about 50/50 with the “over/under” crust issue; one thing I’ve heard from folks that do as you do, and fold the top under the bottom, is that doing it that way prevents juice from bubbling up and puddling on the top crust, which is a consideration if you’re looking for a “juice-free” top crust. Thanks for sharing here – PJH

  24. Carla

    I had stumbled onto the 1/3 – 2/3 idea some years ago, but bringing the bottom crust up & over the top crust before sealing was one light bulb that hadn’t clicked on yet. Thank you! Also, when I am making a two-crust fruit pie, I sprinkle the top with cinnamon sugar … adds a little color to the top crust, flavor to the whole mouthful of yumminess, and makes the crust nice and crunchy, too. Sometimes I add a touch of freshly-ground nutmeg to the cinnamon sugar, such as when mixing apples & pears. I liked the idea of adding spices to the crust … will have to try it as soon as Kansas gets cool enough to start baking again! Thanks for all the great ideas.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Carla, baking is just one lifelong learning experience, isn’t it? I’m so glad we can all share with one another; thanks for the tip about adding nutmeg to the cinnamon-sugar on top. I’d never thought of that – but it makes PERFECT sense. Cheers – PJH

  25. Eddie3958

    Thanks for the tip on pie crust. Like you I have never been able to make a double pie crust come out right. I am looking forward to try this. Again Thanks

    Eddie

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Thanks for sharing, Helen. That’s an excellent tutorial – readers, be sure to check out Helen’s link. PJH

  26. Kathleen

    I always enjoy these “ah-ha” moments – -whether in your blog or at home. A pie crust was just not working for me, so both my husband and daughter became the experts! This has been a great bonus for all of us, and it gives them something special to smile about whenever a pie crust is created.

    Reply
  27. elizabeth mooney

    Dear P.J., I could have told you that long time ago ! Do you know why ? When I bought French pie dish it was so deep I noticed right away the bottom piece got to be a lot lrger than the one for the top. So since then, I always made the bottom piece larger BUT I am not expert on cooking nor baking I just love to do both! Thank you , elizabeth

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Elizabeth, I WISH you’d told me that a long time ago! But then I would have missed the enjoyment of that “ah-ha” moment… 🙂 PJH

  28. Pamela Webb

    I think the reason I don’t do 2/3 and 1/3 is that I put the top crust OVER the bottom crust and then fold it under and seat and crimp from there. That way, it always looks pretty (and if it isn’t so exact, the ugly is hidden on the bottom side). When you do that, you actually do need close to half and half, though I confess I always pick the bigger “half” for the bottom ’cause it has to go up the sides …

    Reply
    1. Kathy

      I agree-my bottom and top crusts are close to the same size with the top crust being slightly bigger as I fold the top crust over the bottom

  29. Wendy Hampton

    Oh for cryin’ out loud! I never thought of this! THANK YOU so much for sharing this brilliant tip. I’ve always griped about my bottom crust being too small. What a doofus I am! I never even thought of this. Sheesh!

    Reply
  30. Jo

    Its been to hot to make chicken pot pie but now that it is finally getting cooler here in Phx I am going to make one and use your tip. I always have to much crust on top and this idea is brilliant and makes so much sense. I always enjoy your columns and learn something new each time I recieve the newsletter. Thank you for sharing your tips and your enthusiasm for baking.

    Reply
    1. Brenda A. Johnson

      I know it’s two years later, but if you would care to share your recipe I will be grateful, been looking for the perfect one for a long time.

  31. Suzi

    We should remember that your great tip isn’t about the personal preference of whether the top or the bottom crusts are the one to lap over. . . . It’s about all that “area” on the side walls that add up to a second third of the crust. : )

    Reply
  32. mumpy

    it’s frustrating to me to know that for years i’ve known something helpful but never shared it because i didn’t realize that most people didn’t know it!….my mother taught me this years ago, though she wasn’t quite as precise as one-third, two-thirds….it never once occurred to me that any baker really did divide the dough into actual halves….bakers are lucky to have you, PJ, and lucky to have this blog so that all the bakers hints and ‘secrets’ can be passed on to the next generation of bakers.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Thanks, Mumpy – that’s our goal here at King Arthur Flour, sharing the joy of baking (for going on 225 years)! 🙂 PJH

  33. Mona

    P.J., I’ve followed you for years…and I must say, I do love your candor as well as your can do (couldn’t resist)! You called it your”ah-ha moment”? Mine was “well, Duh, Mona”! My apple pie is going to look so much better, although not in your league. Thank you!

    Reply
  34. Marissa

    Can you please do a post about how you make those lovely pleats/crimps? Mine always come out looking very sloppy and I can’t figure out what I’m doing wrong. I usually end up just running over it with a fork after attempting pleating and failing to cover it up. The ones in your before photo are so precise!!!

    Reply
  35. Kim Grous

    OMG!!!!!!
    P.J. all these years of making pies and never once thought of that. You are a genius!!!!!!
    Thank-you so much, can’t wait to try it now.

    Reply
  36. AnneMarie

    I LOVE your “OH DUH” moment. After baking pies for more years than I care to mention, I figured this out too!!! (Laughing) And then I figured out, why not just make a little extra dough so there’s some left over. I have enough to roll out a nice crust and some left over for pie crust cookies. DUH! We love, love, love, pie crust cookies.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      AnneMarie, I hear you with the pie crust scraps – Mom always sprinkled them with cinnamon-sugar, and they were THE BEST. Check out these pie fries… 🙂 PJH

  37. Linda Thompson

    I always make extra pie dough. My grandmother, who taught me how to bake when I was 5, let us have the extra dough. We would roll it out, take a hunk of butter and let it melt in our hands and smear it on the dough, then sprinkle LOTS of cin/sugar on top. We would roll it in snakes and slice about 1/2 inch thick and bake them til they were lightly browned. WOW, does that bring back great memories! Thanks Gram

    Reply
  38. member-knatknat

    I just want to thank you for sharing your wealth of baking knowledge with everyone. It would be so much fun to bake with you. Thank you again.

    Reply
  39. EL

    Thank you. Would you believe I’ve always done this. I think my mother did it this way as well (I probably learned from her). I believe that some of the older cookbooks (such as the older editions of Joy of Cooking) state that you should use 1/3 for the top crust and 2/3 for the bottom. But I still like having the extra for pie-cookies!

    Reply
  40. Bonnie

    Thanks for the Math lesson! (My husband is a mathematician and always bemoans the fact that more people don’t embrace Math.!) I’m known for my pies, but I never deviated from dividing the dough in halves. Your “discovery” makes SO much sense! Duh! :o) I can’t wait to make my Thanksgiving pies! We’re never to old to learn! :o)

    Reply
  41. Lynda Bell

    Pie crust scraps? (or make extra) roll out, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, roll up and slice like little cinnamon buns, bake and viola! pie pastry cinnamon swirls! 🙂 Yum!

    Reply
  42. Marliss

    I remembered this blog, and the excited discussion it created on the Baking Circle, when I set out to make pie crust today. I was pleased that I remembered to divide it into 1/3 and 2/3 (weighed it). I’d always divided it, but probably more like 60/40. By the way, the Buttermilk Pie Crust in the 200th Anniversary cookbook is wonderful–especially if you use whole wheat pastry flour rather than regular flour.

    Reply
  43. Patricia

    If I’m folding the top over the bottom, then the 50/50 (or there about) is a better ratio for me. It makes the bottom a tad smaller and the top a tad larger. If I’m folding the bottom up over the top, as this suggests, then I use closer to the 2/3, 1/3 ratio. To be honest, I usually don’t worry how I split the dough. If weighs out nearly half, I fold the top over. If the 2 pieces are different weights by more than a little, I’ll switch to folding the bottom up. All yummy in the end!

    Reply

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