Pie

Kitchen Rescue: How to Fix 10 Common Pie Problems

November 19, 2015

In this world, there exists such a thing as perfect bakers. You know, people whose desserts always look like they were sent to hair and makeup on their way to the table. People who never, ever panic when their Swiss Buttercream seems to turn into a curdled mess. People who just "whip up" some cinnamon rolls on a weekend morning.

Pie Crust

I covet the ease and confidence that these people possess. Though I am an experienced baker, I still get a wee bit intimidated when making certain things: scones, sourdough bread, anything that moms specialize in

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And pie—especially pie crust

Pie Crust

I have become semi-comfortable making pie crust by following the two golden rules: use cold ingredients and don't overwork the dough. If I'm extra worried about impressing people, I'll blend the butter and flour in the food processor. Otherwise I just snap the butter in with my fingers because I like the feel of it, working quickly, hardly breathing until the ice water is added and the disk of dough is chilling in the fridge. Then I roll it out just as quickly, sending a little prayer up to the butter and flour gods while I work. 

My pies usually turns out perfectly okay. Sometimes they turn out excellent. Sometimes not. I make pie an awful lot (birthdays, holidays, Sundays, thank-you-for-fixing-my-oven-days), and there have been many struggles and failures, typically regarding the crust. Maybe it was too crumbly, too sticky, or too dry. Maybe this has happened to you, too. And through trial (many trials) and error (many errors), as well as a healthy dose of internet research, I have found some tricks to help fix pie crust woes, both before and after they're in the oven. And I transfer my wisdom to you.

Here's how to fix your pie crust problems if...

  1. Your dough is too crumbly.
  2. Your dough breaks when you press it in the pan.
  3. Your crust shrinks when it bakes.
  4. Your crust is pale and underbaked.
  5. Your crust is too tough.
  6. Your (pie's) bottom is soggy.
  7. Your pecan pie's pecans have gone soft.
  8. Your pumpkin pie is cracked.
  9. Your fruit filling is too liquid-y.
  10. Your crust is a total failure.

Pie Crust

Your dough is too crumbly. 

If your pie dough breaks and crumbles when you try to roll it out, it's probably too dry. This is a relatively easy fix. Just sprinkle some cold water over the dough with your fingers and work it in—gently!—until the dough comes together. If your dough gets too warm, send it back into the fridge to chill out. When you take it back out, it should roll more easily.  

Your dough breaks when you press it in the pan.

First of all, did you transfer the pie crust to the pan using the rolling pin method? To do this, put your rolling pin slightly to one side rolled-out dough circle, then fold the dough over onto it. Lift the pin and carefully move the hanging dough over to the pie pan. Lay the rolling pin in the middle of the pan and unfold the dough, then press it in. It's so much easier than attempting to pick it up with your hands, which will only result in pain and disappointment.

Whether you used the rolling pin method or not, a broken dough needs fixin'. The good news is you can camouflage tears relatively easily. After you've molded your crust into the pie pan, use the scraps you pinched off of the edges to patch up any cracks, smoothing the seams with your fingers. If the tears are on the top crust or the edges, sprinkle on a little bit of sugar to camouflage any imperfections. Press it lightly onto the crust and bake. 

Pie Crust

Your crust shrinks when it bakes.

If you pull a pie out of the oven and the crust has shrunk and hunched onto itself, it's a sign that you didn't let it rest before baking. Letting the dough rest is key because it allows the gluten to relax so that it doesn't seize up and retract on you later. This is why most pie experts will advise you to not only let your pie dough chill before rolling it out but to let it chill in the fridge for 15 minutes or so before baking, too. 

You can't fix a shrunken crust after the fact, but you can definitely camouflage it with some whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon or chocolate shavings. Or just serve the pie already sliced and plated, so your guests can't see how much it shrunk in the pan. No big.

Your crust is pale and underbaked.

Easy! Just bake it some more. To ensure a bronzed, shiny crust, I like to give the pie a quick brush with eggwash before sending it back into the oven. Make sure your oven is hot enough: 425° F or 450° F is ideal. Just set a timer first so that you don't end up with a burnt pie.

Blind Baking Pie

Your crust is too tough.

If your pie crust is tough instead of tender and flaky, you probably either overworked the dough or added too much water to it. There's not much to do in this situation but plate up a slice and throw on a scoop of ice cream. Don't sweat it: You'll do better next time. 

Your (pie's) bottom is soggy. 

There are a couple reasons you might have been a victim of S.B.S. (Soggy Bottom Syndrome). Maybe you needed to par-bake your crust. Maybe your filling was too liquidy. Maybe you were watching "Oh Brother Where Art Thou?" while baking. 

This is a tricky problem to fix, but hope is not lost. If it's a fruit pie, try putting it back in the oven for a few minutes on the very bottom rack, thus putting the underbaked bottom closer to the heat source. If it's a custard pie, don't try to re-bake it; you risk compromising your lovely filling. Instead, scoop the insides into a glass serving dish and top with cookies or whipped cream. Looks, it's a trifle! That's totally what you intended all along, right?

In the future, there are a few ways to avoid S.B.S.:

  1. It's helpful to bake your pie in a glass-bottom dish so that you can see when the bottom is bronzed to your liking.
  2. Always par-bake the crust if the recipe calls for it.
  3. If your fruit filling seems extra wet, drain off a little bit of liquid before adding it to the pan.

If you're extra worried about soggy crusts (maybe you've had some bad experiences in the past), you can sprinkle flour on the crust before adding the filling, or even brush the dough with a beaten egg.

Pecan Pie

Your pecan pie's pecans have gone soft.

Whole pecans can cost an arm and a leg (unless you have a pecan tree in your yard!), so it's a real bummer when they turn mushy and soft in your pie. To avoid this, toast your pecans before adding them to the syrupy, sticky filling. Not only will it fortify them against sogginess, it will also bring out their lovely, nutty flavor. 

More: Vegan pecan pies deserve toasted nuts, too. 

Pumpkin Pie

Your pumpkin pie is cracked.

Oops! You baked it too long. It's best to take pumpkin pie (and sweet potato pie, and cheesecake pie) out of the oven when just shy of completely set. About five minutes before the prescribed baking time is up, gently jiggle your pie. When the only part that moves is a 1-inch circle in the middle, it's ready. The residual heat of the pie will carry it through.

Now you know better for next time. If you're worried about being judged for your cracked pie facade, you can camouflage it easily. Top your pie with crumbled ginger cookies, cover it with a facemask of whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon, or layer on some softened apples. You just made your pie even better. 
 

Your fruit filling is too liquid-y.

First question: Did you let your pie set at least thirty minutes before cutting into it? You need to give the filling a little bit of time to settle in before slicing, or all of the fruit's juices will runneth free. If you did wait and your filling is still too liquidy, then, unfortunately, there's not much to do to fix it. Pie shake time!

In the future, if you fear your fruit filling will end up a little wet (this is especially common with juicier fruits, like berries, especially if they are frozen), add a tablespoon of cornstarch before baking to thicken things up. Heads up: Adding cornstarch will make the filling a little bit cloudy. If this concerns you, invest in some tapioca starch instead, which dissolves clear.

Crumble

If all else fails and your pie crust is an utter disappointment.

If your pie is fruit-filled, you can always scrape the filling into a baking dish, top it with a quick buttery crumble made with whatever's in your fridge, and bake it until it's bubbly. Or make a speedy press-in olive oil crust, which never fails you. Or just cover the whole thing with so much whipped cream and ice cream that no one notices. Or just pour more wine. 

After all, it's just pie.

Do you have more pie problems? Shout 'em out in the comments -- we'll put our heads together and see if we can come up with a solution!

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  • Cathy Gavigan Seymour
    Cathy Gavigan Seymour
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    MaryJean
A kitchen scientist and dog-lover. Someday I want to have you over for dinner.

44 Comments

Cathy G. November 26, 2020
I let my apple filling sit overnight and it has shrunk up and produced a lot of juice. Do I pour all of that off before I fill the pie?
 
Cal November 26, 2020
I made a beautiful decorative trim on my crust. Adhered with egg whites. By the time it was done baking all the trim fell off. How can I make the pie presentable?
 
Becky November 25, 2020
why does my pie fall apart when I cut into it?
 
annette November 24, 2020
This is so comprehensive and nicely written—a real pleasure to read.
 
MaryJean November 8, 2020
My bottom crust never seems to bake and although everything else on the pie is done, the bottom crust is raw. I notice this especially with fruit pies, even though I place the pie on the very bottom rack to bake. What am I doing wrong?
 
Joslynn D. September 23, 2020
My top crust is crispy and perfect except for the very center 1-2” which is doughy :-( What am I doing wrong?
 
Stacey M. June 24, 2020
Help! I am using my grandmother’s pie pastry recipe. Her pies were always beautiful. My mom also used the same recipe, with amazing results. I however am having issues! It tastes delicious & just as I remember it.... but it will not hold the edge crimping no matter what I do! I use very cold ingredients. I chill the pastry for hours before use. This last time I put the assembled pie in the freezer for 20 minutes before baking. But it comes out of the oven with flat edges rather than my traditional crimping why won’t it hold its form?! 😫
 
phyllis June 23, 2020
I always have to add more water than the recipe calls for thus tough crust. It usually calls for 1/4 cup water to 2 cups flour mixture. What am i doing wrong?
 
Zarro K. April 29, 2020
The ball of my pie crust is too hard and is difficult to roll .its just like stone when i took it out from refrigerater.how to roll it for baking.It feels i have to throw it.
 
Zarro K. April 29, 2020
The ball of my pie crust is too hard and is difficult to roll .its just like stone when i took it out from refrigerater.how to roll it for baking.It feels i have to thriw it.
 
Abby S. March 15, 2020
I’m almost at the “perfect crust” but this last time I had pockets of toughness. Not through the entire crust, just parts of it. Do you think that’s due to overworking or due to too much liquid? I had to roll it out 2x because it was not coming together well.
 
Ariel B. February 18, 2020
Thank you for this lovely informative article - it saved my crumbly crust and my sanity and I so enjoyed the friendly, fun tone. :)
 
Alicia M. November 17, 2019
I hand cut the butter into the dough and I still see bits of butter. Is this ok?
 
Luis M. November 23, 2020
Yes, even desirable!
 
Frances March 24, 2019
When I make lemon pie a day later it gets watery on bottom crust (why)
 
ethel F. March 15, 2019
Today is the second attempt at pie making....I hear they have ready made pie crusts in the supermarket...heading there next!

 
mary February 10, 2019
I had to quickly leave home and took my pie out of the oven. When I came back I thought the top crust was not done even thought the contents had been bubbling and put it back in the oven 1t only 350 for a few minutes. Now the bottom crust is stuck to the glass pie plate and it is difficult to get the pieces out. Any remedy possible to loosen them? The pie looks and tastes terrific.
 
Cathy November 20, 2018
I don't know what I was thinking but I fully baked my crust before I put my pumpkin in the crust. Can I cook the pumpkin on top of the stove or put it in a dutch oven and then put it on top of the crust. Please respond as soon as possible thank you
 
Rhonda35 February 18, 2019
Hi Cathy - Too late to help with last November's pie, but yes, you can cook the pumpkin filling on the stove. My mother always makes her pumpkin filling this way (she then puts it into a parbaked pie crust and finishes in the oven, but you wouldn't have to in your case.) The double cooking gives the filling a wonderful caramelized flavor. SO good!
 
Bobbie November 14, 2018
Hi, I was making pie dough and my kitchen was too warm so it’s like the consistency of play dough. I don’t want to waste the ingredients, but I know this won’t work for my pie. What can I do with my play dough LOL? Is there anyway to turn this into cookie without first creaming butter and sugar?
 
Debbie October 26, 2018
To avoid a soggy-bottomed fruit pie crust, I add 2 tablespoons of oatmeal on the raw crust. Then I add the fruit. The oatmeal serves to absorb any excess moisture from the berries.
When baking an apple pie, I take approximately half of the chopped apples, cook them for about 15 minutes (depending on the variety of apple) to release some of the moisture. The remaining apples are added to the cooked apples. The apples are set aside to cool then added to the crust.
 
Lois D. September 28, 2018
I make Pumpkin pie from scratch, and melted butter is part of the recipe. I am now seeing it rise to the top of the pie when it's done. It tastes great, but I do not want the butter to be on the top of the pie.