Pie Crust Challenges & Notes

Mixed Berry Crostata with Pasta Frolla

Mixed Berry Crostata with Pasta Frolla

by Cat, Aug 2007

(Rustic pie and photo, right, by Cat)

Includes: 1. The Challenge of Gluten; 2. Whole grain vs White Flour for Crusts; 3. Pre-baking the Pie Crust; 4. Assemble the Pie

Before starting a pie crust, you must decide what ingredients to use, and how you might use them in the making of the pastry. I present two challenges to consider.

See also: 1. About Grains (links to old site); 2. Grains: Grinding (for flour) and Flaking/Rolling (for porridge); 3. Grains: Soaking & sprouting grains; 4. Sprouted Grain Flour (about); 5. Spelt vs Wheat in Baked Goods & Pasta; 6.Purchasing & Storage of Grains;

The Challenge of Gluten

Gluten is one of the proteins in flour, and is what gives breads and cakes the ability to hold a rise.  It is highly elastic, so that it stretches while the gas bubbles expand in the baking batter.   The more you work the batter, the better-developed the gluten–this is why you knead a yeast bread dough.

But this elasticity can be a problem when making pie crust, because if well developed, the gluten will cause your crust to be tough.  This problem is minimized by two factors:

  • Use of pastry flour (soft-grain), which is lower in gluten than bread flour (hard-grain) and all-purpose flour. Most ancient versions of wheat (like Spelt and Kamut) are soft-grain, and are good substitutes for wheat pastry flour.
  • Use of butter or lard in the dough.  Butter serves to separate the layers in the dough, resulting in the desired flakiness. Most recipes call for working in the butter/lard with a fork or pastry cutter until the size of small peas.  The size of the butter/lard clumps is important to the flakiness.  If you cut it too fine, the crust will be tough.

Another issue with gluten is that many people are sensitive to this protein, especially wheat gluten.  Many of these people can tolerate spelt gluten, as it is a different protein.  Sourdough helps to break down some of the gluten and other anti-nutrients in the grain. Sprouting the grain before grinding into flour pre-digests much of the gluten in flour, providing another option for some who are gluten-sensitive.

After much testing, I far prefer the spelt crust to the wheat crust, both for taste and flakiness.  It is now my standard pie crust.

Whole Grain vs White Flour Pie Crust

Pie crust is one of life’s little luxuries.  And it is at its flaky best when it’s made with white flour.  If you’re making a pie for a special occasion, go with a mostly white flour pie crust.  But for picnics, family meals, etc., a whole wheat or whole spelt crust is far better for your family’s health.  One suggestion is to start with half white, half whole grain flour in your crust.  Then slowly increase the share of whole grain flour. You will be won over by the nutty sweetness of the whole grain, even if it sacrifices a bit of flakiness.

Using sprouted grain flour, sourdough starter, or presoaking your flour before rolling the crust are even better for you than regular whole grain flour.  They all increase the nutrient profile, including available minerals; and as mentioned in previous section, also reduces the gluten and other anti-nutrients in the grain.

Re: presoaking the rolled grain or flour: see my Oatmeal Crumb or Yogurt (Rolled) pie crust recipes (these link to my old site until I get them moved):

Pre-baking a Pie Crust

See Single Pre-Baked Crust in the next section

Assemble the Pie

One-crust pie (crumb crust)  

  1. Press crust into bottom and up sides of pie pan, pressing the upper edge into a scallop design (or use a quiche or tart pan which already has the scallop edge). Can be filled and baked, or pre-bake before adding filling.
  2. To pre-bake: Prick in several places with a fork. Line crust with a sheet of parchment or waxed paper, fill with dried beans or other weights.
  3. Bake pie shell in preheated 350 – 3750 F oven (or as specified in recipe), leaving weights in place until the dough dries out, about 17 minutes.
  4. Carefully remove paper and weights by gathering up paper and pulling up and out. Continue baking until lightly golden brown, about 9 minutes more.  Remove from oven.

One-crust pie (rolled crust)

  1. Roll crust to diameter 2 – 3″ wider than pie pan.
  2. Carefully transfer crust to the pie pan.  I like to lay the rolling pin across the middle of the crust, and then roll one side of the round over the pin, then transfer to pan as the dough hangs over the pin.  Another way is to fold dough gently in half and transfer it with your hands.
  3. Unfold crust and ease it into the pan, pressing firmly against the bottom.  Trim around the edges, 1″ away from rim of the pan, moisten the overhang and fold over with the moist side facing the un-moist pastry so they stick together, then flute.

For single pre-baked crust

If you are making a pie with a creamy filling, e.g., lemon meringue, banana cream, pumpkin, etc., you should pre-bake the crust before adding the filling. This can apply to crumb crust pressed into pan, or a pastry rolled and placed in the pan.

  1. Preheat oven to 475° F (or 400° F if a nut crust).
  2. Shape crust into pan as for a one-crust pie (pressed or rolled), then prick bottom all over with tines of a fork.  Cover with waxed paper and fill with dried beans as a weight.
  3. Reduce oven setting to 400° F; place pan in oven and bake 8 to 10 minutes.
  4. Cool in pan on wire rack before adding filling, or as instructed in recipe.  Lift out waxed paper filled with beans.

I like to dump the cooled beans into a jar for future use in weighting pies, but I mark the jar that it is for pie weight only (the beans are not fit for cooking after being heated).

For two crust pie

  1. Divide dough into two balls, one a bit larger than the other.
  2. Roll larger portion, unfold and ease it into the pan as for a one-crust pie.  Fill with desired filling.  Moisten overhang using your finger dipped in water.
  3. Roll smaller portion, fold in half and then half again; make tiny cuts into folded edges for vents; then unfold over the top of the filling.  Press overhanging edges of lower and upper crusts together, then trim all around, 1″ away from rim of the pan.  Flute.


  1. Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon with Mary G. Enig Ph.D.
  2. bobsredmill.com/recipe/detail.php?rid=939
  3. recipezaar.com/146604
  4. gnowfglins.com/2006/11/21/oatmeal-pie-crust/

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