Pie

Hot Water Crust Is the Sturdy, Patchable Pie Crust Your Deep-Dish Pies Deserve

October 26, 2016

My fellow Americans, I know we know a lot about pie. We take pride in being as American as the apple pies we bake for any and every occasion. We’ve got pie traditions galore at our favorite holidays. And here at Food52, we even dedicate a week in the fall to the flaky dessert. (Plus, who are we kidding? Many, many other days throughout the year. Pie is just the greatest). But, across the pond, they make just as many pies, often utilizing a crust we’ve been slow to adopt stateside: the elusive hot water crust.

There’s a reason the Brits love hot water crust. This dough has so many checks in its “pro” column. It’s a serious wonder why it’s taken us so long to jump on the bandwagon. How water crust is crazy crispy, but still manages to have great flavor. But most of all, it’s super sturdy. This crust does for pies what gingerbread does for holiday houses: It stays put, and holds up incredibly well. That means you can go deep dish without fear, and fill it to the brim with anything—even heavy and/or wet fillings without worry!

Hot water crust can handle deep-dish like this. Photo by Mark Weinberg

But the hot water crust game is a totally different one from the pie crust strategies I’ve talked about before. So before you get your Great British Bake Off on, here’s what you need to know:

  1. Why hot water crust?
  2. Ingredients.
  3. Mixing + kneading.
  4. Handling the dough.
  5. Filling.
  6. Top crust + venting.
  7. Baking.
See! Meant to be unmolded. Photo by Mark Weinberg

1. Why hot water crust?

There are so many differences between hot water crust and traditional pie dough, but the main areas to note are texture, structure, and flavor. When it comes to texture, pie dough as we most often think of it is flaky, crisp, and tender. Hot water crust is most certainly crisp—even more so than traditional pie dough. But its texture is more crumbly than flaky and while it isn’t (and shouldn’t be!) tough, it lacks the tenderness of pie dough. But this lack of tenderness has its benefits—namely, it aids in the structure of the baked dough. Traditional pie dough is so tender, it can’t usually stand on its own. Which is why we not only bake it inside pie plates to allow it to encase the filling, but serve it that way, too! Pies made with hot water crust, on the other hand, are meant to be unmolded. It’s quite dramatic and yields some very impressive pies.

Shop the Story

Another difference: Traditional pie dough is made by rubbing the fat into the flour and, for the best chance of flakiness, the fat has to be left in large pieces inside the dough. This is delicious, but leads to some natural inconsistencies. The fat in hot water crust is melted and therefore very uniformly combined. This means the dough, as a whole, is significantly more uniform—and this is true of the finished baked pie as well. While that uniformity means saying goodbye to flakiness, there are advantages. That increased structure allows you much more wiggle room when it comes to fillings (like I mentioned before, hot water crust can hold very heavy and/or wet fillings better than traditional pie dough). And on the flavor front: Traditional pie dough is usually buttery and light, while hot water crust tends to have slightly less flavor because not all recipes use butter and, when they do, it’s in a smaller amount and alongside another fat. But since hot water crust pies allow for so much creativity and flexibility with the filling, I think it’s an understandable trade off. Make a flavorful filling and use the crust for what it is: a crispy, golden vessel.

Half butter and half lard makes for lots of flavor. Photo by Mark Weinberg

2. The ingredients.

The first thing you should know is the actual ingredients in a hot water crust are largely the same as the ingredients in American-style pie dough. However, since said ingredients are at totally different temperatures and in largely different ratios, it results in a totally different product. Hot water crust is made up of flour, salt, fat, and water. Unlike my favorite all-butter pie dough, the recipe for hot water crust usually calls for a mixture of all-purpose and bread flour. The bread flour is generally used in a smaller amount, but its higher protein content allows for stronger gluten development, which helps when it comes time to roll the crust out. The higher amount of all-purpose flour provides the base structure and helps to ensure the crust doesn’t get overly tough with all of the handling that occurs during mixing. Just like flaky pie dough, hot water crust can use any number of fats, but lard is the top choice because of its higher melting point, which ensures that the crust gets crisp. It should be noted the ratio of fat in hot water crust is a bit higher than in traditional pie dough, and with that larger ratio comes a little wiggle room. I like to use half butter and half lard—giving me the benefits of the higher melting point with the addition of plenty of flavor thanks to the butter. You can also opt for shortening (either in lieu of the lard and/or butter). Finally, the namesake of this crust: the hot water. The hot water is crucial for achieving the proper texture and structure in the dough. Read on for more details.

Shaggy dough is fine. Photo by Mark Weinberg

3. Mixing + kneading.

If you’ve read any of my past pie articles, you’ll know I’m constantly shouting from the rooftops about everything being cold, cold, cold. But, not surprisingly, hot water crust is the opposite. The water (and fat!) are hot, and the crust is not only mixed up with warm ingredients, but needs to be used while it is still retaining heat, as that’s when it’s most pliable. Why does this work? Using hot water and melted fat allows for a higher ratio of liquid to be used, which results in a crispier crust. Hot liquid hydrates the flour faster during mixing, and results in a smooth, pliable dough. Once the dough hits the oven, the moisture evaporates, and the crust gets crispity crisp. Using melted fat means the fat is distributed more evenly, ensuring the crust will not only be smooth and uniform, but will brown evenly during baking.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

The first thing you need to remember about making hot water crust is you have to use it while it’s hot. This means before you make your crust, you should have your pan and your filling ready to go. To mix the hot water crust, mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. It’s smart to use one that’s heat safe (metal or heat-treated glass) because you will be adding very hot liquid to it. Have your tool of choice ready: I like to start with a fork, then switch to a wooden spoon or silicone spatula. You’ll also be kneading it quite a bit with your hands – so if you’re sensitive to heat, you may want to have a pair of disposable gloves at the ready. Start by heating the water—you want to bring it to a boil, but you also don’t want it to boil for a long time (you’ll mess with the ratio if too much evaporates). Bring the water to a simmer and have your fat(s) ready and waiting, When the water comes to a boil, add the fat to the pot and stir until it’s melted.* The liquid should still be very hot. If it isn’t, turn the heat back on and bring to a gentle simmer—again, not for too long, just enough to make sure it’s good and hot.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I want to try making these every single time I see them on the Great British Baking Show, but always forget to look up a recipe afterwards. I'm sure it was fate that brought me to it today, and this recipe is now sitting in my inbox anxiously waiting to be put to use!”
— Amy
Comment

Pour the hot liquid and fat into the flour mixture and mix until the mixture is combined. It will look quite shaggy and not totally uniform. Once it’s combined, it’s time to knead. Kneading is crucial to achieving a smooth dough and build additional gluten to help give the crust more strength. Avoid adding too much additional flour during kneading. If you must, use a light dusting on the surface and your hands, but know added flour will alter the ratio and also will lower the temperature of the dough. The length of time it takes to knead the dough may vary, but don’t overdo it. You want the dough to appear smooth, but still have heat. If you mix too long, the dough will begin to cool down, and it will become harder to handle when you go to roll it out.

*Note: Some recipes for hot water crust also incorporate the fat by rubbing it, or a portion of it, into the flour just as you would traditional pie crust. I found that melting it is not only easier, but produces a more uniform crust. So don’t panic if your favorite recipe has different instructions. Different crust strokes for different pie folks.

Parchment paper makes for easy rolling. Photo by Mark Weinberg

4. Handling the dough.

Handling hot water crust is the most difficult part about the whole process, but it’s still beyond doable, especially when you know your way around. The whole process gets easier the more times you do it. I am certainly not trying to scare anyone off with this warning. Instead, I just want to arm you with the knowledge that YOU CAN DO IT (!!!)—and should disaster occur, there are built in opportunities to rectify mistakes. Hot water crust should be very pliable, but it also has a tendency to rip or tear. Remember what I said earlier about adding too much excess flour during kneading? That can definitely still be a problem at this stage—even more so because as the crust gets thinner, additional flour will bring down the temperature faster. You could end up with a dry-ish dough that’s no longer easily pliable. No good!

Because of this, I found that the easiest way to roll out the dough is between two sheets of plastic wrap or parchment paper. This helps prevent the dough from sticking to the surface without needing to add too much extra flour. Remember to peel away the paper/plastic occasionally. This helps the dough relax a bit so it can be rolled out further. The same goes for flipping the dough over (meaning making the bottom piece of paper/plastic now be the top—peel it away, then keep going). Roll the dough out to about 1/4 inch thickness. You don’t want to go super thin with hot water crust, so stay away from 1/8 inch. You want that thicker structure.

A patchy crust still holds filling well! Photo by Mark Weinberg

As you roll, if you struggle with tears or holes, simply patch them with some scrap dough before continuing. This is much easier to do with hot water crust than it is with traditional pie dough, so don’t fret if you face this dilemma! Once you’ve reached the correct thickness, you can shape the dough as desired. For small pies or other freeform shapes, just cut the shape you want out of the dough with a cutter or paring knife. If you’re lining a pie plate, use the plastic/parchment you rolled on to help you transport. Peel the top piece away from the dough, then use the bottom piece to help you flip it into the pie plate. The deeper the pie plate, the more likely you are to have rips or create holes. Still, don’t worry! Just patch these up and do your best to make sure any added dough is sealed very well. Remember to work quickly—the dough will be cooling down every moment you work with it. But, also, don’t feel like you have to rush! It should retain the heat well enough to complete this process comfortably.

*Other note: Hot water crust can actually be used like a press-in crust as well, though it is harder to get it to appear as nice and smooth this way. But if you struggle to roll it out, you can always opt for this—it works very well if you take the care to make sure it’s even.

5. Filling.

Filling the dough is the easiest part. Just take care to make sure there are no holes in your crust. This causes leakage, creates burnt spots, and destroys the structural integrity, making it harder to unmold the pie eventually. Because your crust itself is hot, you don’t even need to worry about cooling cooked fillings before you add them to the crust. That being said, if you make a hot filling, it will cool a bit while you prepare the crust, and that way you aren’t adding a piping hot, fresh-from-the-stove filling to the crust.

Photo by Erin McDowell

6. Top crust + venting.

If you’re making a double crust pie, you’ll want to handle the dough exactly the same as you did with the base. It should be noted if you’re making a deep dish pie, you’ll need much more dough to cover the base than you will to cover the top, so divide the dough into one section that’s 2/3 of the dough for the base and another that’s 1/3 for the top. Use your parchment or plastic to help you place the crust again. It’s best to handle as carefully as possible, because it’s understandably more difficult to patch mistakes on the top crust than it is on the sides. Once the top crust is on, use your fingers to pinch the edge of the top crust to the side crust as best you can. This helps them form a seal. You can do traditional crimping very easily with hot water crust, and it is much more likely to hold its shape during baking than flaky pie dough. Crimp your edges as desired—this will help guarantee the crusts are sealed together and the filling won’t escape.

When it comes to venting, it’s traditional to poke holes in a hot water crust instead of cutting slits with a knife. To poke a hole, use the rounded handle of a wooden spoon and press straight downward into the crust until you hit filling. This larger vent ensures plenty of steam can escape and also helps keep the shape of the top—the filling is unlikely to leak out, so the crust will stay flat.

See this crispity crust? Photo by Mark Weinberg

7. Baking.

Baking hot water crust pies is similar to baking other pies, with a few noteable exceptions. Generally speaking, the oven temperature can be more moderate. You don’t need the intense heat to evaporate moisture in the fat quickly to create flakiness. Instead, you want the pie to brown gradually, and it will continue to crisp up the longer it’s in the oven. My preferred temperature for most hot water crust pies is 375°F. Egg washing is optional, but does help to ensure even browning on the surface of the pie – plus a lovely sheen. Bake until the pie is very golden. Underbaked pies will lack crispness. And, honestly, who wants that?

Erin McDowell is a baking aficionado, writer, stylist, and Test Kitchen Manager at Food52. She is currently writing a cookbook. You can learn more about her here.

Have you ever made hot water crust? Let us know in the comments!

19 Comments

Meca S. September 23, 2018
Made a meat pie using this crust. My family LOVED IT! Thank you. I'm never buying a ready made crust again.
 
Amy September 11, 2018
Thank you! I want to try making these every single time I see them on the Great British Baking Show, but always forget to look up a recipe afterwards. I'm sure it was fate that brought me to it today, and this recipe is now sitting in my inbox anxiously waiting to be put to use!
 
Andrea October 22, 2018
I thought the same thing. I can hardly wait to try <br /><br />
 
Jentopp June 4, 2018
I too was mesmerized by the thought of a hot (what?) water crust while watching the British Baking Show but then remembered my favorite shortbread crust has the same concept (except it's all butter). While it's not for rolling, it's so forgiving and never minds being patched.
 
Russel January 9, 2018
I followed the recipe as written, except that I used all-purpose flour.<br />The dough handled well and formed nicely in the 9" pie dish I used.<br />I filled it with nice pieces of loin steak, onion, parsnips, carrots and herbs.<br /><br />The texture of the crust was a total disappointment--It was mealy with absolutely no structure or flakiness, more like undercooked shortbread.<br />It was baked at 450 degrees for 30 minutes. In the mouth, the "crust" turned to paste. <br />Any idea what's wrong? Not enough kneading? Wrong flour?
 
stephanie June 4, 2018
fwiw, this recipe states the best temp for baking this type of crust is 375, not 450.
 
Bob C. September 18, 2017
I think the weight measurements on the hot water pastry recipe may be off. 2.5 cups is more like 20 ounces. I followed the weight measurements on this and the pastry came out much too slack.
 
elsiecat January 28, 2018
Bob, I haven't tried this crust yet, so I can't offer helpful speculation on what went wrong, but I think 20 ounces of the AP flour alone might be way too much. A cup of flour normally weighs between 4 and 5 ounces, depending on whom you ask. King Arthur says 4.25, Cook's Illustrated says 5, others have similar small but significant variations, and metric versions range from 120 to 130 grams. <br /><br />It looks like Erin's using the King Arthur 4.25-oz standard, so her 2.5 cups translate to 10.625 ounces. In my own baking I've gotten good results with 5 ounces per cup, so in my notes the 2.5 cups of AP flour would weigh 12.5 ounces. Then there's an additional half-cup of bread flour for structure, which by that same standard would bring the total flour up to 15 ounces of flour total.<br /><br />I know it does make a difference what brand of flour you use - so if you're not using King Arthur, 4.25 ounces for a cup of flour may not be enough. I often have Gold Medal in the house and the 5-ounce standard is good for that.<br /><br />"10.62 ounces" is not an amount I would usually measure on any digital scale, nor can I recall the last time I measured 2.66 fluid ounces of water. So I will take a stab and guess that the "cups" amounts are the original and the "ounces" got copy-pasted in in the editing process before the recipe was posted, possibly by an automatic online converter or calculator. But unless Erin updates with specifics, it's just speculation on my part. <br /><br />I hope to try this soon and when I do I think I'll start by converting her original "cups" to my 5-ounce standard and see how that goes, using 12.5 ounces of AP and 3.5 ounces of bread flour. If I do that, I'll comment here to update. Have you tried it again since?
 
elsiecat January 28, 2018
Yikes, that should read "2.5 ounces of bread flour"!
 
Miss B. April 5, 2017
What kind of pan are you using? My springform is definitely not that tall!
 
Carol P. December 21, 2016
Can i use a silicone loaf pan to make a hot water pastry meat pie
 
Colleen R. November 18, 2016
Would this crust taste good with fruit pies? I've only seen it mentioned with savory pies.
 
Deedledum November 15, 2016
Excellent for meat pies.
 
Susan P. November 5, 2016
Can you make this in a standing mixer?
 
Rebecca M. October 29, 2016
I've made doughs like this before, if you have a lot, or want to work in sections, careful bursts in the microwave can warm the reserve dough up to working temp again really easily.
 
John D. October 28, 2016
Just a thought - Using an electric skillet (on low heat) when kneading and rolling out the dough, would keep the dough from cooling. Of course, you would need to use parchment, rather than wax paper.<br />
 
awolbers3 October 26, 2016
If you were making the mini pies rather than one large pie what would you bake them in? Ramekins?
 
Author Comment
Erin M. October 26, 2016
Or you can bake them freeform - like hand pies!
 
Deedledum April 5, 2017
Doing it like a pastie would be interesting (great for work lunches), but I think I'd go for the wee foil plates that are 5-6" across.<br />