We Tested 5 Pie Crusts to Find the Easiest, Flakiest & Best-Tasting

July 26, 2018

Are you the type who breaks into hives the minute you think about rolling out pie dough? Or the one who stays calm and cool, your pin gliding across the dough like a Ferrari down the Italian coast?

(Or are you the type who's really in it for the eating, not the making? You're welcome here, too. Come one, come all! We've got a slice for you.)

Doughs and dough-nots.

For me, there's no "common" dessert (as in, let's take croquembouche and Baked Alaska out of the running here) that makes me so frantic: The fear is deep-seated; I suspect I was born that way. I will freeze every utensil, every ingredient, that might possibly come in contact with the cantankerous butter; I will stick my hands in an ice bath if I need to! All for the sake of an easy-to-roll, hard-to-flub, guaranteed-flakey-and-buttery crust.

I am here to ruin your life.
Says my pie dough to my psyche

But some doughs—and my anxiety is primarily dough-related (will it sog? will it shrink? will it altogether implode?)—promise to be more forgiving than others: quick to come together, with minimal guesswork; easy to roll and transfer; and, of course, guaranteed to yield flakey, shattering, crisp results. They call themselves "foolproof," "go-to," "be-all, end-all." Are they?

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I've come to favor Rose Levy Beranbaum's cream cheese pie crust (and I crooned its praises last summer), but I was curious about how doughs bolstered with other ingredients—like vodka, shortening, vinegar, or sour cream—would compare to the 100%-butter classic.

So to compare them altogether, I made five different pie doughs—all-butter, all-butter with the addition of vinegar, butter plus shortening, vodka-spiked, and sour cream-boosted—to see how they'd stack up.

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Top Comment:
“Our go-to preferred dough can be made either by hand or in a standing mixer with paddle attachment (my fave) often referred to as "pate sucre'" it incorporates flour + butter + generous dash sugar + dash salt + scant 1/4 teaspoon baking powder +egg yolk + dash cream if needed!!! Rolls out and bakes like a dream... Great balance of flavors... Crust holds up well... Can be parbaked... Right touch of flaky ...not too soft or hard... Acts like a shortbread crust perfect with custard/cream/soft fillings... Holds up perfect with nut tarts/fruit tarts/juicy fillings etc... What I like that's important to me is that while a half butter half lard crust (with or without vinegar) yields a super flaky crust it doesn't hold up! Unless you eat it the first day it loses its flakiness and even gets soggy...pate sucre' hold up well which is important especially around the holidays when you're doing your baking a couple or more days before!!! Thanks for reading 😀”
— Petra M.

I wanted to determine...

  1. The ease of assembly (how quickly and seamlessly did the dough come together?) and of rolling
  2. The flakiness and the flavor: Was this a crust I'd like to munch on sans peach or rhubarb filling?

I cut 4 small rounds of each type of dough, brushed two of every batch with egg wash (those are bottom two rows of the baking sheet—which are across-the-board more appetizing), and baked at 425° F for about 15 minutes, until the dough circles were golden-brown and completely cooked-through. Then, we tasted.

Disclaimer: For my test, I baked the doughs as freestanding rounds, but obviously this doesn't take into account how they would have interacted with various fillings—juicy fruits, creamy custards—or, as our resident baking expert Erin McDowell has pointed out, that you might be looking for a mealier, more crumbly crust for a custard pie (pumpkin, lemon cream) but flakier, laminated-esque quality for a juicy one. For me, I wanted flakey. It is fruit pie season, after all!

Let's go dough to dough, listing the merits and detractions of each:

Which is the tastiest—and what happened to that weirdo on the right???

1. Shortening + Butter:

The flattest and toughest of the bunch. (Egg washed on the left, and plain on the right.)
  • The recipe: King Arthur Flour's Classic Double Pie Crust
  • What makes it different: A quarter-cup of vegetable shortening is mixed into the flour before you work in the butter using your fingers, a pastry cutter, or a stand mixer. Why shortening? As Erin explains in her pie fats briefing, shortening has a high melting point, which means it's not going to turn to liquid as you work it into the flour—and this should translate into reliably flakey layers. But as Kenji López-Alt writes on Serious Eats, it's actually easy to inadvertently overwork shortening, and end up with a crumbly crust, precisely because shortening remains soft at so many temperatures. (An all-butter crust, on the other hand, will be more blatantly too-far-gone—the butter starts to melt and you have a gooey mess.)
  • How easy was it to make and work with?: I had difficulty forming the dough into cohesive discs when I used my hands to mix it, but when Allison Buford used a stand mixer (and a bit more water), she had more success. (This guessing game with the amount of necessary liquid? I'd rather skip it.) Once the dough was chilled, it was noticeably firmer than the others—I had to bang it more aggressively before rolling it out, but once I got going, I didn't have a hard time rolling it into a large, thin circle.
  • Texture and taste: This was the flattest, toughest dough of the bunch (neither flakey nor particularly tender), and it scored lowest in the flavor category, as well. I was surprised by just how big of an impact only 1/4 cup of shortening could have on the overall taste. I thought the crust had a vaguely artificial flavor—a fake butteriness that might be distracting when paired with a pie's fillings.
  • The verdict: I have no plans to use shortening in future doughs. Since these discs did hold its shape very well, with minimal puffing and spreading, I do wonder if a shortening-butter crust might actually be better for making intricate lattices and decorations, however.
From this angle, you really can see that the sour cream dough was remarkably tall and flakey—the layers are visible! The shortening dough was the clear loser.

2. All-Butter (& Nearly Nothing Else):

These all-butter discs rose so much higher than the shortening pucks. (Egg washed, left; naked, right.)
  • The recipe: Melissa Clark's All-Butter Pie Crust
  • What makes it different: There are no "magic" add-ins in this recipe—you need only flour, salt, butter, and ice water. The distinction comes in the technique, as this dough is made entirely in a food processor. Since you use the food processor first to break the butter into lima bean-size pieces and then to incorporate the flour, the butter is ultimately chopped into very small pieces. Would this counteract flakiness? Many pie bakers say you want to see flour-coated butter pockets when you roll out the dough.
  • How easy was it to make and work with?: The dough came together quickly and without issue; since the process happens within a matter of minutes in the food processor, it's easy to keep the temperature of the ingredients cool and to shuttle the finished dough to the refrigerator before the butter has a chance to misbehave. The chilled dough was a bit firmer than some of the other batches pre-roll out but ultimately gave me no trouble at all.
  • Texture and taste: If you use good-tasting butter, you're going to have a good-tasting all-butter pie crust—there are no additional ingredients to mute or overshadow its flavor. Still, I ended up preferring the butter-vinegar dough and the sour cream dough, each of which had a nuance of tang that cut a bit of the richness and was even flakier than the all-butter crust.
  • The verdict: The flavor was good, though the dough fell a bit flat in comparison to the others—perhaps this was because the butter was pulverized by the machine rather than left in larger chunks. I'd be curious to try an all-butter dough that doesn't rely on the food processor, though in the past, I've found these the most difficult to get right.
Look closely and you'll spot butter streaks in the dough on the left—but it's hard to see any in the dough on the right. Photo by Mark Weinberg

3. All Butter + Some Vinegar:

A winner, in my book. (Egg washed, left; bare, right.) Photo by Mark Weinberg
  • How easy was it to make and work with?: I loved making this dough, even though the recipe does call for dirtying a bench scraper and a pastry blender. While there is value in using your hands to feel the texture of the dough, I find it easier to keep the temperature under control when I'm not warming up the ingredients with my body heat. The dough rolled out easily, cracking in only a few areas.
  • Texture and taste: Again, I was surprised by the impact of a small amount of an ingredient (here, it's vinegar, not shortening)—but this time, pleasantly so! The pie crust had a tang I was not expecting, and was one of the highest-rising doughs in the group: The discs look like biscuits in miniature!
  • The verdict: It might very well be myth that vinegar makes pie dough more tender, but based on these results, if I have vinegar in my pantry, I'll surely be adding it to my pie dough, if only for the very subtle zing it added. The success of this recipe is likely a combination of the ratio of ingredients and the technique. I'd definitely rather fish out my bench scraper and pastry cutter than lug out the food processor—it's nearly as fast, and there's less of a chance of obliterating the butter chunks.
Pie dough carpets. Photo by Mark Weinberg

4. Vodka:

Drunken pie dough. (Egg washed, left; naked, right.) Photo by Mark Weinberg
  • The recipe: Cook's Illustrated's Foolproof Pie Crust (as featured in Genius Recipes)
  • What makes it different: Instead of adding 4 tablespoons of water, you'll use 2 tablespoons of water and 2 tablespoons of vodka. The vodka inhibits gluten formation—making for a tender, more malleable dough—and it evaporates in the oven, which means it leaves no boozy taste behind. And the technique, not just the ingredient list, is convention-bucking: In a food procesor, you'll blend the butter completely into a portion of the flour; then, you'll break those curds up with some additional flour and use a spatula to press in the liquid. As our Creative Director Kristen Miglore wrote in 2013, "this means that the dough is more predictably tender and flaky (since it's based on a more homogenous flour-butter paste rather than jagged bits of cold butter) and easier to roll out too."
  • How easy was it to make and work with?: This rolled out like a dream ("supremely easy!" according to my notes—the best of the bunch). The dough is a bit tacky—I'd recommend rolling it between sheets of lightly floured parchment paper, and allowing it to chill for the full 45 minutes before attempting that endeavor.

  • Texture and taste: While the addition of vodka made for a dough that was flakier than its all-butter, food processor-made counterpart, I didn't notice a big difference between this crust and the butter-vinegar one. I couldn't detect any vodka (obviously), but I did think these discs had a sort of raw, floury taste—I preferred the flavor of the butter-vinegar and the sour cream pie dough circles.

  • The verdict: I wouldn't rush out to buy a bottle of vodka to make this crust, since I preferred the flavor of the butter-vinegar recipe and found the texture to be nearly the same. But if you are having trouble achieving flakiness, give this a try: Many of our commenters have had great success, even if they had been heartbroken by other pie crust recipes in the past. I think it's likely that this dough will provide flakey results to nervous beginners—it seems less volatile than an all-butter dough, be it made by hand or in a machine. And yet, all-butter doughs still have their advantages.

5. Sour Cream:

You can practically count the number of layers. (Egg wash, left; naked, right.) Photo by Mark Weinberg
  • What makes it different: You don't have to sprinkle in any water or liquid—at all! Instead, you'll cut the butter into the flour using your hands, then stir in 1/4 cup of sour cream with a fork. There's no machine and no uncertainty, and straight-from-the-fridge sour cream can help keep your other ingredients cold.

  • How easy was it to make and work with?: I had to add a couple tablespoons of sour cream (two more than the recipe called for) in order to get the dough to come together, and I used the plastic wrap to help maneuver the mixture into a cohesive ball. After the dough chilled, however, it was much easier to work with and presented no issues during the rolling process. I saw that there were streaks of sour cream in the rolled-out round, which I took to be a sign of flakiness to come. (Spoiler alert: I was correct.)

  • Texture and taste: The sour cream rounds were incredibly flakey—perhaps the highest-rising of the bunch. We also liked their flavor—a distinct, but enjoyable, sourness. The dough rounds, however, were inconsistent. Check out that strangely brown specimen in the third row of the rightmost column: What happened there?

  • The verdict: I love this pie crust—distinct layers and big flavor for such little effort—, but it's definitely suited for particular circumstances. Elise of Simply Recipes doesn't recommend par-baking it (the sides will slump and shrink) and the flavor is noticeably tangy—which is something to keep in mind depending on your filling. I'll save this crust recipe for particular circumstances where a bit of tang would contribute to the final result, like cider caramel pie in the fall or a brown sugar peach pie in August.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

And in the end?

The butter-vinegar crust, for its ingredients and its technique, is my winner. It produced consistently tall, flakey results, and I liked the subtle zip that the vinegar lent to the final crust. It's also easy to turn to this as my go-to: I almost always have apple cider vinegar around. Vodka, sour cream, or my beloved cream cheese? That would probably require a special trip to the store. I'm also inclined to skip the food processor—it's so much harder to control the chunks of butter (and so much easier to take the dough just one pulse too far) when you're involving a powerful machine. My preference is for a combination of tools (they stay cool! they provide more coverage!) and hands.

If I do happen to have sour cream—or I'm baking for a special occasion—I'll make Simply Recipes' version. Shortening, see you never (though commenters, if you'd like to make the case otherwise, my ears are open!). And vodka? I'd suggest that recipe and technique to those who have struggled with all-butter pies in the past. The Genius recipe will enable you to use a food processor without overworking the dough—perfect for those looking for a hands-off, very reliable method.

And now that you've got your pie crust down, is it finally time to talk filling?

One more for the road

Okay, your turn: What's your favorite pie dough recipe? And what part gives you most the trouble? Tell us in the comments below.

This article was originally published in July 2017, but we're sharing it again because you can never have enough pie.


Hollis August 14, 2018
Growing up, we had a yellow plastic bowl, just the right size, that we made pie dough in. We finally wore a hole in a specific spot where the fork would hit as we added water, then 'forked' the dough together to the magic time where in the dough coalesced into a ball. We used whatever flour mother bought, always Crisco, salt and water out of the tap to make our pies. Never had I heard of adding vinegar or vodka; using butter or anything like that. I think making cornbread and pies were the first dishes I learned to cook from Mother and Granny.
Smaug July 26, 2018
Having made a lot of pie crusts over the years, I mostly just wing it now; I have never seen the need, or indeed the advisability of producing identical results for a home baker. I have never measured liquid; the great majority of people live in places where humidity varies enough over the course of the year that wood furniture will tear itself apart if not carefully designed to withstand the changes- it's rather ingenuous to suppose that the moisture level of your flour will be consistent. This is also one of several reasons that weighing ingredients isn't as infallible as people seem to believe. I might add spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg if it seems appropriate, or sugar- very small quantities can make a big difference. I sometimes add different sorts of liquor- such as rum or bourbon, if the flavor seems appropriate. If I have sour cream or cream cheese open, or left over egg yolks, I might use those. I also find it a more interesting challenge to roll out and use the crust without trimming than to go for a perfectly uniform border- pie making should be fun; I'm not running a bakery (which needs uniform results for commercial reasons). An infinite number of combinations produce excellent results if you're sensitive to how the dough is behaving and adjust your technique appropriately. It is simply not practical for a home cook to make hundreds of trial crusts under controlled conditions in hope of reaching some sort of abstract "ideal"- if cooking stops being a learning process, it becomes drudgery.
AnnieO November 22, 2018
Even tho this is an older post I feel compelled to comment about the underlying elitist nature of your post. The author conducted a very legitimate test, as BAKING is more science than nurture like cooking is. You called out the author as being stupid for her test shame on you.
Smaug November 23, 2018
It's unfortunate that the nature of my post eluded you, but surely in the future you could manage without gratuitous insults.
Dr C. July 23, 2018
My mother made the flakiest, most tender, delicious pie crust using flour, lard, a smidgen of salt and a little ice water. It never failed and her pies were famous, especially her sour cherry pie. She gave me the recipe. I used it time after time and went out and bought a cake.<br />When I was in my late twenties, I found a "never-fail" recipe in a Farm Journal cookbook. It called for vinegar and an egg. I tried it and never looked back! Now my pie is famous, especially lemon meringue. Pioneer Woman on the Food Channel makes a glorious peach slab pie. I use her filling recipe with "my" pie crust and it is absolutely killer!
Linda S. July 26, 2018
Could you be persuaded to share the recipe?????
Jaye B. September 18, 2018
Yes, would like to see this recipe!
Debbie November 18, 2018
Would like recipe if you want to share.
harrisson June 12, 2018
Retired pastry chef: Advice from my mother and grandmother- keep every ingredient as cold as possible and handle the dough minimally, just enough to bring it together.<br />Experience taught me: Use all butter or combine shortening and butter with vodka as the binder from Cooks Illustrated.<br />Important: wrap the dough discs in plastic and rest in freezer or refrigerator for at least an hour but better overnight.....resting covers a multitude of sins...I make my dough in the food processor, 1st dry pulsed, then shortening pulsed in lightly, then frozen butter cubed pulsed in to large pea size, then vodka pulsed in until just holding together.(do not over work), then make into discs, wrap, refrigerate/freeze and rest......It ALWAYS works well.
Leslie V. June 4, 2018
Any High Altitude pie dough suggestions, here? Not all of us live at sea level., remember. <br />now to my thoughts. <br />I am thinking of 1/2 cold lard butter and vodka. salt sugar and maybe a pinch of baking powder.
Leslie V. June 4, 2018
Also when Shortening is mentioned, do you mean white or butter flavored, and what brand..?<br />Thanks.
Nicholas P. June 3, 2018
Odd that the one thing not tried was lard which makes such a different pie dough as to be almost unbelievable. The texture is so short it melts in the mouth, and yet somehow gives the feeling of flaky as well. The downside being that it is also incredibly soft and can be difficult to work with. In the end, it's totally worth it, however. You would do well to repeat this using lard as one of the variables.
Nicholas P. June 3, 2018
I didn't even read the comment just below from Rachel, whom I now consider my kindred spirit.
Rachel June 1, 2018
The article itself was interesting but the comments have been fantastic to read through as well. I, for one, use half lard/half butter, and vodka and ice shaken together in a cocktail shaker. <br /><br /> Strain the ice cold vodka over the lard/butter after you've cut it into the flour. I also like to crack an egg in the bottom and swirl it around to help form a barrier for a juicy fruit-based pie filling. Sarah, I do hope you would consider a follow up article that talks about trying out some of these combos (e.g. try using lard... the lard and ginger ale sounded interesting, the recipe someone suggested that uses an egg, etc.).
Greg April 21, 2018
According to Cooks Illustrated, from which the vodka recipe came from, the vodka helps make the crust more tender. For those people not wanting to use lard, the vodka with shortening and butter may help the flakey-tender factor.<br /><br />Not everyone wants to cook with pig fat...<br />
Dick M. April 21, 2018
I cant imagine what the vodka does that would be beneficial. I have tried the vinegar but dont care for the tang. Crisco used to be a good way to go until they changed the type of fat they used in production. Been doing pie crust for over 60 years and find that lard does the best job. Butter is good but lard will still make the most tender and flaky crust without question.
Dennis O. May 27, 2018
You are so right about lard. I am a retired chef and the lard was a way of life in the early days and it lost out when lard became harder on people to adjust when butter came into the baking world.
Smaug July 26, 2018
What the vodka does is wet the dough partially with alcohol rather than water; gluten is not alcohol soluble, so the crust can be made wetter(and thus easier to handle) without raising gluten unduly.
Secilia D. April 12, 2018
The problem with the vodka recipe in this article is technique. No butter chunks, no/little flake. Always use a pastry blender! My pie crust recipe is all butter, all vodka, because with no water there's less gluten formation. <br /><br />Cut the fat in with two knives or a pastry blender, then toss the dough together with a fork, adding ice cold vodka a tablespoon at a time until the dough comes together. Form a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill at least half an hour. Rolls out well, but is a little stickier than most pie crusts, so be sure to heavily flour the bench and rolling pin.
Shannon C. April 18, 2018
I agree with you, the vodka is the key. (But I do all lard, all vodka and is extremely easy to work with, but that is probably also because I'm in an arid climate.)
Karen V. April 7, 2018
Elyn April 8, 2018
I agree! Thank you for all your hard work! <br /><br />
LadyHawk April 6, 2018
I already know mine is the best. I judge by the compliments.
Wayne March 26, 2018
It is always enjoyable to see comparisons of recipes for things like pie crusts that we all use and make so often. Personally I continue to find great success with Julia Child's pate brise, which uses butter, vegetable oil and ice water. The use of cider vinegar sounds interesting to use in my next pie project. Thanks for your valuable contribution here.
Dee E. March 9, 2018
I discovered the VODKA trick many years ago and that's my favorite. Crust always comes out perfectly and it's easy to roll out. I'm going to try the sour cream recipe next time. Thanks so much for this extensive research :D
Mary February 25, 2018
I guess I'll buck the idea of a perfect pie crust recipe and go with the best pie crust recipe is the one you don't mind making and you and your family like. And I guess I would say it doesn't hurt to try something different now and again [although, if calls for a food processor I don't do it]. <br />I very much enjoyed reading the comments and other people's ideas and opinions.
Tiffany February 22, 2018
I was researching Pastry Flour recently and learned that many many people only use Pastry Flour for a flaky and fool-proof pie crust. Was researching Bob's Red Mill Pastry Flour. Has anyone else here used Pastry Flour for their pie crust? Additionally, knowing what is in Crisco I won't use it but use instead a product called Spectrum Organic Vegetable shortening and works as well as Crisco ever did maybe even better.
Joycelyn February 22, 2018
Spectrum uses palm oil just as Crisco does although spectrum claims it is non hydrogenated. Spectrum shortening is also bleached to make it look all pretty and white although Spectrum claims it undergoes a "natural" bleaching process. Spectrum products where I am are outrageously overpriced, have an off putting taste especially their "butter" alternative. <br /><br />As for Bob's red mill also outrageously overpriced products, I can buy the same products albeit a different brand at my local health food store at half the price or less. <br /><br />If you decide to use pastry flour ( which will most likely be bleached unless you buy organic WW pastry flour, you need to spend some time studying the difference between pastry flour and AP flour and amounts needed. <br />
Helen H. February 20, 2018
Hey everyone,the best pie crust is with CRISCO, to every cup of PASTRY FLOUR add 3 heaping Talb. spoons of crisco,a pinch of salt a little sugar & a pinch of white vinegar.make sure everything is cold before you start then when crust is in the pie plate put it in the freezer for 15 min. then bake
Helen H. February 20, 2018
oh,i forgot to add ice water,a few talb. spoons. just enough to bring it together.
Martha February 17, 2018
Nobody has tried a little cornstarch (cooked w/ water to a gel and chilled)? I read lately it keeps the gluten development under control. I tried it once and it was the easiest to roll out ever!
Elyn February 20, 2018
Interesting idea! I will try that.
Gralan February 20, 2018
That reminds me of a "fat-replacement" I read about a very long time ago. I'm gonna have to go search for it now. Thanks for bringing up that memory.
Rachel May 24, 2018
Very interesting - Any chance you remember where you read that? My Google searches came up empty and I am most curious to read about it!
Rachel May 24, 2018
<br />Hi Martha - Any chance you remember where you read about using the cornstarch gel to inhibit gluten development? My Google searches came up empty and I am most curious to read about it! Many thanks in advance! ~ Rachel
Lance S. November 4, 2018
It's the Milk Street pie dough recipe. They got the cornstarch idea from a Japanese bread recipe.
Elyn February 16, 2018
Once I made a pie for my husbands old farm aunties, and they told me it was the worst pie crust they ever tasted! With big grins, they gave me their perfect pie crust recipe. It was awesome, and I have never found one better. They added an egg, 1 tablespoon vinegar, and 5 tablespoons of water. It is awesome. I use it for all kinds of pies - and because the vinegar is only 1 tablespoon, you don't get that overly tangy taste.
Barb168 February 28, 2018
Sounds interesting! Do you mind sharing the entire recipe?<br />
Beverly B. March 24, 2018
Love to have this recipe ! Do you share ?<br />Bev Meek
Elyn April 6, 2018
This recipe makes two double crusts.<br /><br />Combine:<br />3 cups white flour<br />1 and ½ cups soft shortening, I use butter, but lard is great.<br />1 tsp. Salt<br /><br />Add:<br />1 egg, well beaten<br />5 Tbsp water<br />1 Tbsp vinegar or lemon juice<br /><br />Blend, divide into 4 balls and store. Freezing is okay.<br />
Jen May 23, 2018
I just made this pie crust recipe with Kerrygold butter, fresh lemon juice and an extra pinch of salt. the 4 balls are in the freezer for now and the scraps left on the counter were amazingly delicious. Thank you for sharing.
Jen June 5, 2018
Elyn!!! I froze your pie crust for 10 days. I thawed it in the refrigerator, rolled it out with flour, prebaked at 400 for 15min and then used it for quiche. Fantastic!!. Crispy, flaky, buttery. Thank you!<br />
Hand M. January 23, 2018
@CindyWilsey...I have actually been told the exact opposite re: vinegar is true...WHITE vinegar is for pickling, cleaning and other non-food uses, apple cider vinegar is sweet, Less harsh and I think, 2-3% less acidic. It makes my grandmother's pie crust recipe perfect and flaky every time and imparts NO vinegar tang or after taste the way white vinegar has when I was in a pinch. So on this point I respectfully disagree and would not recommend whte. Vinegar in recipes other than making my Mum's dill pickles! It works amazingly well for cleaning but there are so many more subtle and flavourful vinegars such as rice, wine etc. For salad dressings and food recipes...