Pie Troubleshooting Guide
Unworkable dough? Soggy crust? Learn how to fix--and prevent--common pie problems.
Problems and Solutions
The dough cracks when I try to roll it
The dough is either too dry or too cold. If it seems to be crumbling apart, work a few sprinkles of water into it--a squeeze bottle works well--but try to handle it as little as possible. If it merely cracks at the edges when you run the rolling pin over it, it probably just needs to warm up a little. Allow it to sit on the counter for a few minutes, but don't let it get too warm, or the layers of fat will melt together and your crust will not be flaky.
The dough sticks to the rolling pin
Chill the dough before trying to roll it out. Lightly flour the countertop and the flattened ball of dough. Keep dusting the pastry lightly on both sides as you roll. You don't want to work in more flour, but you can always brush off excess from the dough. Pastry cloths and rolling pin covers are also available. These are made from thin machine-washable cotton, and they will help prevent sticking dough; be sure to lightly flour the cloth and the cover before using them. You can also roll the dough out between sheets of waxed paper.
The crust doesn't brown on the bottom
Cover the edges of the crust with aluminum foil, and place the pie on the bottom oven rack. Begin baking at a relatively high temperature (425 to 450 degrees F/220 to 230 degrees C), then reduce it after 20 minutes or so. The initial high temperature will help the crust to brown, and reducing the temperature will allow the filling to cook thoroughly before the crust burns. Even better: invest in a baking stone. Bake the pie--on a baking sheet to prevent spills--directly on the hot stone.
My crust is soggy
Brush the bottom crust with beaten egg white or heated jelly before pouring in your filling. Or try partially or fully baking crust before adding the filling. Partially baking the bottom crust can be a challenge if you're making a double-crust pie, but it can be done--you just won't get a good seal between the top and bottom crusts.
The crust is too pale
Increase the oven temperature. You can also brush the top crust with beaten egg or milk for a golden, glossy appearance. If your crust recipe contains vinegar or lemon juice, this could be the culprit as well: these ingredients are used to make the crust tender, but they can also inhibit browning. Counteract it by adding about a teaspoon of sugar and a pinch of salt to your flour before mixing in the fat.
I pre-baked my pie crust, and it came out shrunken, puffy, and misshapen
Allow the dough to rest in the refrigerator both before and after rolling it out. Also be sure that you never pull or stretch the dough when fitting it into the pan. Use a fork to poke the crust in several places to allow steam to escape without forcing the crust to puff up. If you're baking a custard pie where the filling is baked in the crust (as opposed to a cream pie, where the filling is cooked on the stovetop then poured into a pre-baked crust) holes in the crust allow the custard to seep through the holes. (You can save extra dough when rolling out the crust and use it to patch cracks and holes.)
My pumpkin pie cracked in the center
Custard pies--including pecan pies--need delicate handling. A too-hot oven or over-baking are the most common causes for cracking. Don't let the filling puff up or "soufflé," and don't bake the pie so long that the filling is completely set in the center. See our tips for Pumpkin Pies and Custard Pies.
My fruit pie is runny
One way to ensure your filling is thick enough is to pre-cook it. Take half to two-thirds of the fruit-sugar-starch mixture, and bring it to a boil. Simmer the filling for at least one minute for cornstarch or tapioca, and three minutes for flour-thickened pies. Remove from heat, and stir in the remaining raw fruit. This gives you a thicker filling that still contains chunks of uncooked fruit for texture.
Also, be sure the pie has cooled completely before you slice it--the filling needs time to set properly.