How to get pie crust to brown on the bottom: location, location, location

With pie-baking season in full swing, now’s the time to examine one of the most common issues we hear about on our Baker’s Hotline: how to get pie crust to brown on the bottom.

Baking pie isn’t an endeavor for the faint-hearted (or hurried) baker. Unlike brownies or biscuits that can go from zero to on-your-plate in under an hour, pie requires a significant investment of time. Between making, chilling and rolling the crust, prepping the filling, then baking the pie and letting it cool before you finally sample a slice — you’re putting several hours, off and on, into the endeavor.

That’s why it’s so disappointing when something goes wrong. Like cutting into a blueberry pie to find berries swimming in a deep puddle of sloshing juice.

How to get pie crust to brown on the bottom via @kingarthurflour

Or eagerly forking up a bite of warm apple pie and discovering its bottom crust is as white, soggy, and limp as an underdone pancake. BLECH!

How to get pie crust to brown on the bottom via @kingarthurflour

Hey, it doesn’t have to be that way; there are simple steps you can take to produce a bottom crust that’s a thing of beauty and a joy forever. Metal pan, glass pan, stoneware/ceramic… doesn’t matter. It’s all about location in the oven — and time.

Want to make pie whose bottom crust is just as brown and crisp as its top crust? Here's how. Click To Tweet

Metal browns faster than stoneware or glass

Getting a brown, flaky/crispy bottom crust on your pie is all about quick and effective heat transfer. That’s why aluminum or aluminum/steel pans — rather than glass or stoneware — are your best choice for baking pie. Metal, especially aluminum, transfers heat quickly and efficiently from oven to pie crust.

How to get pie crust to brown on the bottom via @kingarthurflour

If you always bake in an aluminum pie pan, you probably never experience the dreaded pale and flabby crust. In tests for this post, apple pie baked in an aluminum-steel pan had a lovely brown bottom crust when baked anywhere in the oven: in the center (1, above); on the bottom rack (2); or on a pizza stone on the oven floor (3).

How to get pie crust to brown on the bottom via @kingarthurflour

Not so with the stoneware and glass pans I used. Placing them on the oven’s middle rack to bake resulted in pie with damp, pale bottom crust.

How to get pie crust to brown on the bottom via @kingarthurflour

Bake on the bottom rack

“But I love my grandma’s old ceramic pie plate,” you say. And you can keep using it — so long as you place it on your oven’s bottom rack when baking pie. Without getting too heavily into thermodynamics, metal is a better heat conductor than air; so you want your pie’s bottom as close as possible to the oven’s metal floor, which means the bottom rack.

Why not place your glass or ceramic pan directly on a hot oven stone? Thermal shock — a quick temperature change, like from room temperature to a super-hot stone — can shatter a non-metal pan. And imagine the mess THAT would make — to say nothing of losing your pie.

How to get pie crust to brown on the bottom via @kingarthurflour

Bake thoroughly

If your fruit pie has been in the oven for the amount of time directed in the recipe, and you don’t see juices bubbling up through the vent holes or around the edge of the crust — trust me, it’s not done. I like to let my pie bubble in the oven for at least 10 to 15 minutes.

And you know what? It’s nearly impossible to over-bake a fruit pie. I’ve baked apple pie for 3 hours at 350°F (tenting the top with aluminum foil after 1 hour), and it’s come out just fine: crust brown and lovely, apples not over-cooked. So don’t put a stopwatch on that pie; the longer you let it brown and bubble, the better your bottom crust will be.

How to get pie crust to brown on the bottom via @kingarthurflour

Also, bear in mind that crust browns first at the edges, then the center. So the larger your stoneware or glass pan, the longer it’ll take for the entire bottom crust to brown.

 

How to get pie crust to brown on the bottom via @kingarthurflour

Custard and cream pies: a different solution

So far we’ve focused on fruit pies. What about pumpkin or other custard-type pies whose fillings simply can’t take high/prolonged heat without danger of curdling or cracking?

Blind-baking — baking the pie crust before adding the filling — is your answer. Bake your crust, add the filling, and bake until the filling is done. I promise you, the crust won’t burn on the bottom; the filling will insulate it. As for the crust’s exposed edges, simply cover them with a pie shield or strips of foil to protect them. For complete details, see how to blind-bake pie crust.

Is it necessary to blind-bake crust for a custard-type pie even if you use a metal pan? For best results, yes.

Three final tips

What about baking in a cast iron skillet? Love this solution; cast iron is a great heat conductor, and serving pie from a cast iron skillet makes for great presentation: equal parts tradition and casual comfort.How to get pie crust to brown on the bottom via @kingarthurflour

Always set your pie pan on a larger baking sheet, preferably lined with parchment. The metal baking sheet will help conduct heat to the pie’s bottom quickly; and parchment will catch the inevitable spills, making cleanup super-easy.

And if you simply don’t have any luck browning pie crust in your favorite stoneware pan — but still love the pan for its presentation value?

How to get pie crust to brown on the bottom via @kingarthurflour

Bake it and fake it! Bake your pie in a metal pan. Then, depending on the size of your stoneware pan, set the pie, metal pan and all, into the stoneware pan. Or very, very carefully loosen the pie from its metal pan and place it, whole, into the stoneware pan. If you can’t manage that, try cutting the pie in half or quarters before moving it; it’ll simply look like you started cutting slices in the kitchen, before serving.

I’m sure I’ve missed some other valuable tips for how to get pie crust to brown on the bottom. Please share your favorites 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. Kyle

    I came here because I was baking a Chicago Pizza…

    But then I used it for a peach pie and it was right on both accounts.

    Reply
  2. Debra

    My uncle said to sprinkle sugar on the bottom of the pan (not sure if he meant under the crust or over the crust before filling). Anyone heard of this?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We bet your uncle was recommending sprinkling the sugar under the bottom of the crust to help the very bottom caramelize. That’s an interesting idea — something we haven’t tested thoroughly in test kitchen. We’d be slightly nervous about the sugar becoming sticky and making it difficult to lift the slices of pie from the pan… but it might be worth trying as an experiment (in a no-pressure pie situation, that is). Kye@KAF

  3. Karen Anderson

    My favorite pie pan is a clear glass pan because the first thing I do when taking the pie out of the oven is look at the bottom. If it is not brown it goes back in; plus they come deeper than metal for more filling!

    Reply
  4. Sue

    Good morning!! My pie came out great .. the lower crust ‘almost’ was flaky. I put the pie on he lower rack to cook … and soon realized that my cooking element was located at the ‘top’ of my oven .. lol!! Still kept the pue on the bottom .. it prevented the top from over browning. Was that the correct positioning??

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Yes, Sue, because even if the element is on the top (mine is), the metal bottom of the oven gets very hot. And putting the pie towards the bottom will, indeed, brown its bottom and keep its top from over-browning. Glad your pie was almost perfect!:) PJH

  5. Sue

    Oh, one other thing … how do i know if the apples are cooked? By placing the pie late lower in the oven-will this help the apples to cook faster?? Or do i cook longer than the 55 minutes?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Sue, to tell when your pie is done, look for juices bubbling around the edges or through the slits in the top crust. The juices should bubble for at least 5-10 minutes, which will ensure the apples have cooked all the way through thoroughly. Placing the pie lower in the oven shouldn’t change your standard baking time drastically, but it doesn’t hurt to check on it early to ensure it’s browning nicely and not too much. You can always use a pie shield or foil to cover any spots that are browning too fast if you don’t see the juices bubbling. Happy pie baking! Kye@KAF

  6. Sue

    Thank you for the helpful tips!! I never thought of placing the pie on the lower rack. Will definately do!! My question is: My pies brown beautifully on the top ( i white egg wash them and sprinkke ‘sparkling’ sugar on top). But inevitably, the bottom doesnt brown and the apples are still firm. Do i have to protect the crust with foil? I cook my pie for 55 min ..

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      It sounds like you don’t need to cover your crust with foil if it’s browning beautifully, Sue. Try putting your pie lower in the oven to remedy the bottom crust problem, and keep an eye on the top crust during the last ten minutes of the bake. If it’s getting a bit too brown, tent with foil for the remainder of the bake. Happy pie baking! Kye@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Cheryl, a few other bakers have asked about using a convection oven, and one of our baking experts, Susan, shared some tips. Here’s what she had to say when someone asked about whether using the convection setting to bake pies was a good idea: “Depends on the pie, Ethel. For a two crust apple pie convection bake would work, but I would avoid that cycle for a custard-type pie like Pumpkin. If you’re looking to get the most efficient use of your oven, you could pre-cook apple pie filling and go for convection bake, which would give you a finished pie with less than 30 minutes baking time; you’d only have to bake the pie until the crust looks done and golden.” To another baker she shared, “Convection browns more quickly, and if your filling has firm fruit like cooking apples, the crust can be done way before the filling has softened. If you want to save time and use convection, it’s a good idea for an apple pie to precook the filling, so everything is evenly cooked.” We hope that helps! Kye@KAF

  7. Tiara

    Love the tips! I always have problems getting the bottom crust to brown especially I use the Pyrex glass dishes. Another problem I noticed is that with the sheet pan underneath, I have to bake longer. I’ve been toying in my mind about slab pies – any thoughts about what level to bake them at? I may try baking them on the lower rack to see how the bottom browns.

    Reply
    1. Tiara

      I have the ingredients and I’ve been eyeing the Crumble slab pie. Now I just need to find the time to make it! 🙂

Post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *