How to prevent the gap in pie crust: five surefire solutions

Apple pie: everyone’s favorite fall dessert. You’ve mixed and rolled, peeled and sliced, filled and chilled, baked and cooled and cut and… AAARGGHHH! The filling has shrunk to a shadow of its former towering self, while the crust has stubbornly held its ground, yielding apple pie with a large and unsightly chasm between apples and crust. What’s a baker to do? Fear not; these five simple tips will help you eliminate that irritating gap in pie that sometimes appears.

Apple pie angst? Follow these easy tips for preventing an unsightly gap in your pie. Click To Tweet

Now, the first order of business here is to create the gap in pie that occasionally plagues all of us. I have some ideas for forcing this “error” as I make one of my favorite apple pie recipes; let’s see what happens.

How to Prevent the Gap in Pie Crust via @kingarthurflour

First, I’m going to really heap McIntosh apples in my pie crust. Macs are notorious for shrinking as they bake; so if I really pile them high before covering with pastry, there’s every chance they’ll cook down — while the crust retains its original loft.How to Prevent the Gap in Pie Crust via @kingarthurflour

Next, I make it easy for the crust to puff up as it bakes (rather than settle down) by not venting it anywhere. With no place for the apples’ steam to go, the top crust will expand like a balloon.

How to Prevent the Gap in Pie Crust via @kingarthurflour

Here’s the baked pie. Bubbling juice managed to seep out around the edge, but it looks like the crust is pretty much intact — and in basically the same position as when I put the pie into the oven.

Once the pie cools, I warily cut it in half. How to Prevent the Gap in Pie Crust via @kingarthurflour

Score! I’ve never been so happy to see a failure. This is exactly the result I was hoping for: the gap in pie we all try to avoid.

Now let’s see how to prevent it.How to Prevent the Gap in Pie Crust via @kingarthurflour

1. Use butter, not shortening

The solidity of unmelted fat is part of what helps pie crust hold its shape as it bakes. Shortening has a higher melting point than butter; thus pastry made with shortening will hold its shape longer than one made with butter. The result? Pie crust made entirely with shortening will produce pie with a wonderfully crisp crimped edge, but also — potentially — a gap beneath the top crust.

How to Prevent the Gap in Pie Crust via @kingarthurflour

A pie crust based on butter is less likely to make a gap in pie than one made with shortening.How to Prevent the Gap in Pie Crust via @kingarthurflour

2. Keep water to a minimum

This pie pastry looks good, doesn’t it? Cohesive, soft, ready to roll.

But wait — a wetter pastry makes a tougher crust. Why? Water activates and strengthens the gluten in flour: good for a crusty baguette, not so good for tender pie crust.

And a tougher crust translates to crust that holds its shape. Which is NOT what you want as the apples underneath that rigid crust slowly settle into the bottom of the pan as they bake.

How to Prevent the Gap in Pie Crust via @kingarthurflour

For tender crust, use less water. See how dry this butter pastry looks?How to Prevent the Gap in Pie Crust via @kingarthurflour

Squeeze it together, it still looks fairly dry; see the crumbs in the bottom of the bowl? But after 30 minutes in the fridge — which gives the water a chance to fully hydrate the flour — the pastry rolls out beautifully. And produces a pie crust that’s tender, flaky… and won’t contribute to that gap in pie you’re trying to avoid.

Good rule of thumb: for a tender, flaky pie crust, use more fat than water (by weight). If your recipe calls for, say, 6 tablespoons (3 ounces) butter and 1/2 cup (4 ounces) water, beware: a tougher crust is in the offing. Two of my favorite more-fat-than-water crusts are Classic Double Pie Crust, and All-Butter Pie Crust.

How to Prevent the Gap in Pie Crust via @kingarthurflour

3. Roll sparingly

Back and forth, back and forth, rolling out pie pastry, back and forth… stop. The more you roll the pastry, the more you strengthen its gluten, the tougher the resulting crust.

Tips for effective pie-pastry rolling: Use a heavy rolling pin. Start in the center and roll outward, like the rays of the sun. Press down hard, and use as few strokes as possible to roll the pastry into the requisite-size circle.

How to Prevent the Gap in Pie Crust via @kingarthurflour

4. Choose apples that hold their shape

Here’s a Ginger Gold apple on the left; a McIntosh on the right. McIntosh apples make delicious pie, but boy, do they shrink as they bake! If you can’t bear giving up on your Macs, at least mix them with apples that hold their shape better. For further advice on apple selection, read The very best pie apples: how to choose.

How to Prevent the Gap in Pie Crust via @kingarthurflour

5. Vent the top crust

Doesn’t this top crust look gorgeous! But wait — something’s missing. Remember the steam from the baking apples, and how it’ll blow the top crust up like a balloon if it has nowhere to go?

Prick the crust all over with a fork, like you would shortbread; or cut some slashes or crosses. Make a lattice, if you like. But whatever you do, don’t bake your fruit pie with a solid, sealed-down top crust: you’re just asking for the that “gap in pie” result.

Now that we’ve learned our lessons, let’s make an apple pie whose crust snuggles up to its filling: no gap in this pie.

How to Prevent the Gap in Pie Crust via @kingarthurflour

This is an all-butter pie crust, made with a minimal amount of water. The filling is Ginger Gold and Granny Smith apples. Notice how well-vented the top crust is.How to Prevent the Gap in Pie Crust via @kingarthurflour

I brush the top crust with melted butter. It probably doesn’t make any difference as to whether the gap will appear, but it tastes good, and helps with browning.

How to Prevent the Gap in Pie Crust via @kingarthurflour

Here’s the baked pie. See how those apples inside are nearly flush with the crust? Looks like a winner.

How to Prevent the Gap in Pie Crust via @kingarthurflour

Indeed. The crust follows the contour of the apples very nicely.

But what if you really, REALLY want to make your favorite McIntosh apple pie?

Let’s try it, using all of our tips for non-rigid crust.

A butter pie crust, made with a minimal amount of water, fully vented.

Let’s bake it.How to Prevent the Gap in Pie Crust via @kingarthurflour

You can see the crust sank some; was it enough to prevent a gap?How to Prevent the Gap in Pie Crust via @kingarthurflour

Good sign: I can see the apples.How to Prevent the Gap in Pie Crust via @kingarthurflour

Success! The McIntosh apples shrank as they baked, but the steps I took ensured that the crust would settle down with them.

Avoid that dreaded gap in pie

Mind the gap! For your best shot at a beautifully-baked pie, remember the following:

  • Butter-based pastry, made with minimal water and rolled sparingly, will produce a tender crust, one that’s unlikely to produce a gap.
  • Venting the crust releases steam, and helps the crust settle along with the apples as the pie bakes — even if you’ve used McIntosh apples.

Here’s one more trick to try, especially if you’re devoted to your shortening-based crust and McIntosh or Cortland apples: Toss the apples with sugar and thickener until they release some juice, then place in a saucepan.

Cook over medium heat until the apples have released more juice and begun to lose their shape and shrink a little. Spoon the filling into the bottom crust, add the top crust (remember to vent the top) and bake. Hopefully the apples will have settled enough during their time on the stovetop to prevent much further shrinkage — and the resulting gap.

Apple pie season’s here! Do you have any special pie tips? Please share in comments, below.

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. PJ Hamel, post author

      Sue, the melting point of lard is right in between that of butter and shortening; so it won’t make as stiff a crust as one made with shortening, but also won’t “settle” as nicely as a butter crust. Hope this helps — PJH

    2. Linda

      When hot apple pie comes out of oven place a doubled hand towel and place on top of pie with upside down dinner plate on top of towel. Thus bringing crust on top of apples and eliminating gap..

    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      HAHA, avoid the issue entirely! I hear you, though – I LOVE apple crisp, and now that I think of it, those sour Macs on my tree out back are calling my name… 🙂 PJH

  1. Carolyn

    I precook and drain my apples, as you suggest at the bottom, except, instead of discarding the liquid, I add some cream and reduce to caramel. Then I pour that over the apples before adding the top crust. It’s heavenly.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Sounds great, Carolyn; I’ve simmered down and added back the drained juice before, but never thought to add cream. YUM! PJH

    2. Ray

      When I read this, I began swearing under my breath with sheer awe. I had been planning to try the apple dumplings recipe from this site… Until now. Apple caramel pie here I come!

  2. Irene in T.O.

    Never had the gap with lard based pie crust. Crust always well chilled and fresh fruit always macerated with sugar and tapioca for a good hour before baking. Frozen fruit shrinks when it is thawed, and most of the year I am using a combo of thawed and chopped.

    It is also important to not stretch either crust as you apply it. That is how I was taught to assemble fruit pies.. Also after venting, the top crust was firmly pressed onto filling to eliminate air pockets.

    Reply
  3. sandy

    What a great post. Love the photos! I have not had a problem with “the gap” since I started pre-cooking my apple filling as you describe at the end of the post. I don’t do it on the stove however. I put my cut up apples, sugar, thickener (recently feel in love with Clear-jel from KAF) in the microwave and cook until my apples are softened and the filling is thickened. The time varies depending on the mix of apples. Since the apples are pre-cooked they don’t shrink. They already did their shrinking thing in the microwave. I do let the filling cool well before putting it in the crust…

    Reply
  4. waikikirie

    Thanks PJ….. You ROCK! Was just talking to my niece about prepping for Thanksgiving as it will be here before you know it. QUESTION: DO you think prepping the filling and freezing it before assembly/baking would make a difference using this technique. Would love your thoughts….. xoxo

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Hey, Waikikirie — Good to see you here. I think the filling, when frozen, tends to break down and shrink when you thaw it; so yeah, you’ll probably already be halfway there. I still recommend a butter crust, though; it tastes SO good, and you’re pretty much guaranteed no gap when you use butter. Happy pie baking! PJH

    2. The Baker's Hotline

      You also might want to check out the full article on our blog about just that very thing. Check it out here for tips about how to make the very best apple pie ahead of time. Enjoy! Kye@KAF

    3. waikikirie

      Thanks PJ for your comment. Just so you know, there was NO doubt about using a butter crust. Really!!! Everything’s better with butter…..except my hips….teehee…xoxo

  5. Elianna

    I was just thinking yesterday how much I love your writing style and have truly missed your conversational, educational, and entertaining posts! I honestly believe that between you and Susan you’ve taught me as much as my Grandpa and Mom combined did about baking, and that’s saying a LOT!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Elianna, thanks so much for your kind words. I absolutely love helping people be the best bakers they can be; baking is such a rewarding, (often) relaxing, creative pastime. Plus you end up with good stuff to eat once you’re done! Also, there’s always something new to learn. Thanks for connecting here; Susan and I both appreciate it. PJH

  6. Elaine

    Even with a shortening crust, I seldom have a gap in the pie. But when it does occur, here’s how I handle it. I say, “Big deal. It will taste just as good.” It’s amazing how a change in attitude can simplify your life. If I were making a pie for a special occasion, I’m sure I would go to more trouble to make it look as good as it tastes. But family will just have to suck it up (literally and figuratively).

    However, I must try Carolyn’s trick of pre-cooking and adding cream to the juices. That sounds fabulous. This weekend would be a good time. Thanks for the idea!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Elaine, if I do get the gap, I smoosh it down as soon as the pie is out of the oven; as you say, once you serve it — all good! I agree, the cream + juices sounds equally good as an ingredient — or a sauce drizzled over the ice cream on top, right? 🙂 PJH

  7. Patty

    I never had that problem…because I never make a top crust! My favorite apple pie has a crumb topping. It’s like apple pie and apple crisp all in one! Best of both worlds.

    Reply
  8. Roberta Berenson

    PJ
    Thanks for all your tips for making pies. I live on Cape Cod also.
    I just wondered if you give cooking classes near Falmouth. I have been baking for a long time, but could always learn new tricks!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Sorry, Roberta, I’m not teaching any classes on the Cape. But our Baking School is just a few hours away in Vermont — highly recommend it! PJH

  9. Vic Gillings

    My mother taught me to cook, I am a male,I always make a crust of mixed lard and butter, as Mum did. Never had any problem. A 50% ratio Vic

    Reply
    1. Fran's baking

      My Babczi made the best ever pie crusts. She told me that her secret was to use 50 % lard and butter and it makes a wonderful crust. I find that it is best to eat it all the first day as the fat molecules start to show the next day. No problem with gaps in the crust unless I pile the pie super high in the first place. Medium height with mixed apples, tiny amount of sugar. tiny amount of spices. YUM.

  10. Fran Bogan

    Thank you for those wonderful tips. My question is: I use canola oil for my pies for health reasons. Can this work as well as using butter? And those awful “gaps” have plagued me ever since I starting making apple pies. I hope it will soon be over! Again, thanks so much. Fran Bogan

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Fran, oil-based pie crusts will inherently have a different texture than pie crusts made with butter. They’ll be more homogeneous and mealy rather than flaky. That being said, they’re a nice base for custard-based pies. We have a No-Roll Pie Crust recipe that you can try using if you’d like to give an oil-based pie crust recipe a try. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  11. Jeane Jones

    When I get about three-forths of the apples peeled and sliced, I microwave them for a few minutes. Then I add the rest of the apples and the thickener. Let it cool and add the filling to the crust. Bake as usual, no gap.

    Reply
  12. Joy

    I agree with you Patty. I make a crumb topping of sugar, flour and cold butter.
    My family loves it. We call it “Apple Crumble Pie !” Easy too and it hardly
    ever runs over !

    Reply
  13. Carla K White

    Like Patty, I cheat and don’t make a two-crust pie! Unlike her, however, I don’t do crumb topping. It’s never been a favorite of mine. I roll a single crust recipe out large-ish, flop it in the pan, add my apples, pears, and/or other fruit filling with sugar, etc, top with butter bits, then fold all that extra crust up over the edges of the pie, sprinkle it with cinnamon sugar, and bake. Voila! You have a nice, “rustic” pie, perfect for adding a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and best of all, no shrinkage (or minimal) and less guilt since you only have one crust!

    Reply
  14. Diane

    I don’t have a recipe for this, but I take about a cup of apple cider and reduce it till slightly thick, add some butter and bourbon or whiskey or rum. Use as topping over apple pie and ice cream. If you have a gap, nobody cares. Yummm!

    Reply
  15. marianne juhl

    I love all of the information you give. I have been having trouble with my pie crust and you gave me some solutions why it was happening. The kind of apples and the butter. Thanks , Marianne

    Does the butter have to be room temp or a little soft or not soft.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      If you’re asking about the butter for pie crust, then it should be cold, Marianne, very cold. The chilled butter ensures you get lots of flakes in the final crust. Most of our recipes will specify when the butter should be cold, otherwise you can assume it should be soft at room temperature. Happy pie baking! Kye@KAF

  16. June

    I agree with Patty,
    Living in PA we make an apple tart pie and I do use may family’s favorite Mackintosh Apples. There is no top crust or crumbs.

    Reply
  17. Maryanne Marshall

    Thanks…. I love pie baking, especially apple. I usually use a mix of various apples for my pies. I use shortening, but now I must try the butter version. I don’t really worry about gaps, but venting is so important-, unless you want to find the juices all running out of your pie 🙂
    We were a large family growing up, so my mom started making pies in a sheet pan….took a double crust for each top & bottom crust….I will do this when baking for a crowd, great for mincemeat!!!
    Love KAF, and all the helpful tips you share.

    Reply
  18. Pat Parsons

    Today I made a gluten free apple pie using King Arthur Measure for Measure flour. I used my usual pie crust recipe with lard and a little butter. There was no gap. I was also very pleased that the crust held together much better than any gluten free pie crust mix I had used before. It was flaky and tastes good too.

    Reply
  19. Hannah

    It takes a little time, but I read a recommendation once that helps stop the gap! Instead of just dumping your filling in the crust, place the individual apple slices in neat layers. You can often fit more apple in the pie this way too, which is always a plus in my book!

    Reply
  20. Mark Kyle

    Many apple pie recipes call for dotting the top of the pie with butter. When I forget this step I invariably get the dreaded gap. When I dot the top generously with little chunks of butter I don’t.

    Reply
  21. Sharon Maasdam

    I have solved the gap problem by preparing the apples, sugar, cinnamon, lemon juice and thickening the night before preparing the pie. Place in bowl, cover and stir a couple of times. The apples become limp and I get a thicker filling and no gap. Also, I always use two to three different apples for the best flavor.

    Reply
  22. Elizabeth Phaneuf

    America’s Test Kitchen featured a recipe for pie crust made with vodka! I have not tried it-yet-as I am the unroll and fill type. Don’t know if anyone here has tried it.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Elizabeth, we did some side-by-side testing of pie crust made with vodka vs. ice cold water to see if it changed the texture or flavor of the crust. Surprisingly, we didn’t notice a notable difference in either case. (Read the full article here.) You’re welcome to go ahead and try it for yourself to see if you discern a difference — it will be a delicious endeavor, regardless! Kye@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Our most trusted apple pie recipes don’t call for baking the bottom crust before adding the apples. Some custard pies (like chocolate or cream pie) call for blind baking the shell empty, but the recipe should call for this step. Happy pie baking! Kye@KAF

  23. Gayle Wilson

    As soon as I take the pie out of the oven, I lay a paper towel on top of pie, GENTLY lay my hands on top of paper towel, and you can just feel the crust fill in the gap.
    Works really well every time. PS. You won’t burn your hands as it only takes seconds.

    Reply
  24. Helen Rennie

    Dear PJ,

    Your advice on the filling has been wonderful. That part came out perfectly. I had an unexpected problem with my crust and was hoping you might have a solution. I work with pate brisee a lot (I use the vodka pie dough method from cook’s illustrated, but I use all butter, no shortening). Normally I bake tarts and galettes. A double crusted American pie is a rarity for me. I just tried baking a double crusted apple pie in a glass pyrex dish and the center of the bottom crust tasted mushy and raw. I bake galettes on a standard half sheet on parchment paper and my crusts come out perfectly crisp. If anything too dark sometimes. After my pie disaster, I remembered that I have done a galette once in a pyrex dish and it too came out way less done on the bottom than I expected.

    Here are some details about my pie: I baked on a very well preheated pizza stone in the middle of the oven for 20 min at 425F, then reduced the temp to 375 and baked for 40 more minutes. The dough was crispy and brown on the sides and top and the apples were bubbling. The only thing I did differently than what I do with galettes is the placement in the oven. The stone was in the middle of the oven, not on the bottom rack. Any ideas what I did wrong?

    Thank you for helping me learn from my mistakes!
    -Helen

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Helen, we have a few suggestions that we think together will improve your results. First, since you’ve had success using the pizza stone when it’s lower down in the oven, give that a try when baking your pies. It sounds like this makes a notable difference in your oven and will help conduct the heat directly to the bottom of your crust. Second, try rolling out the crust a bit thinner next time. It could be that the bottom crust is simply too thick to bake all the way through, resulting in a soggy bottom. You can roll the crust to an even thickness and then press the bottom once it’s in the pan, which should make the bottom a bit thinner and leave the sides slightly thicker. Last tip, consider using a metal pie pan. We’ve found that metal conducts heat well and even crisps the bottom of pies. We especially love this pie pan by USA pans because of the corrugated bottom. It allows for some air circulation and even baking. We hope that helps! Kye@KAF

    2. Helen Rennie

      Hi Kye,

      Thanks so much for the tips. Just baked 2 pies side by side on a pizza stone. One in a glass pan and one in a disposable metal pan. The disposable metal was perfect — the bottom crust was brown and crisp. The glass pan was still raw and mushy. This seems right given that glass is a terrible conductor compared to metal. What doesn’t make sense is why do so many publications recommend glass (NY Times and Cook’s Illustrated). The last thing I want to try is baking with glass without a pizza stone. Maybe that helps with metal, but not with glass?

      Cheers,
      -Helen

    3. The Baker's Hotline

      You sound like you belong in our test kitchen, Helen! Nice work. We have to say, we’re not among the baking resources that recommend baking in glass. As you pointed out, it’s not a great conductor of heat and often causes problems with evenness in all kinds of baked goods. It takes glass longer to heat up and then once it does, it stays quite hot. This can result in under-baked centers and over-baked edges. Our solution: turn to metal as often as you can. When you can’t, try turning down the baking temperature by 25°F and extending the baking time as necessary to fully bake the product. You can always tent the top with foil if it’s starting to brown too quickly and you want to ensure the bottom is fully baked. We hope that helps! Kye@KAF

  25. Bernard Farrell

    Thanks for these excellent tips. We like our pies super high, but I hate the gap. I’m already using butter (only) in the pastry. I’ll try to roll quicker and less that may help. I also read a tip about cooking the apples for about 5 minutes, then cooling before putting them in the pie. That ‘pre-shrinks’ them some, and if packed tightly the effect is not as bad. I’ve not had a chance to try that yet.

    Reply
  26. Lillian Palko

    I recently saw where if you cook the apple filling over the stove, then add to crusts and bake there shouldn’t be a gap since the filling is already baked down. Just have to gauge how long to cook over the stove? Has anyone tried this method?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We have tried that too, Lillian, and we find it can help. It also prevents the dreaded runny filling that can be so hard to avoid. Mollie@KAF

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