How can you save your pie when the dough cracks as you roll it out? What should you do if the crust tears during parbaking? Can you prevent this problem in the first place? Learn the simple ways to fix a broken crust with a few quick tricks.
Imagine you’re hosting family for the holidays. You’ve got half a dozen dishes to prepare for dinner, not including dessert. You start on the pie because you know the crust needs to sit in the fridge for an hour to firm up. As you roll out the pie crust, you discover it’s stubborn. It resists your guidance to transform into a perfect circle.
After five minutes of pushing and cajoling the crust, you realize it’s futile. The pie crust has countless fissures, and the edges are frayed. You’re no longer worried about crimping a beautifully fluted edge. You’re wondering how to stop filling dribbling out and ruining the pie.
If you’re in this situation, never fret. We’re going cover why pie crusts crack (so you know how to prevent it). Then we’ll cover how to fix holes when you roll out the dough and fix tears that emerge after prebaking, a.k.a. parbaking, the crust. Let’s dive in to learn what you can do to save your pie!
How to prevent pie crust cracks
Knowing the possible reasons of why the pie crust breaks in the first place prevents the problem.
If you’re making a crust from scratch, you know even the best-tested recipes never tell you the perfect amount of water to add. It depends on the level of humidity in your climate, altitude, and the moisture in your flour. If the dough is too sticky, you need more flour. If it is too dry, you need more water. If it’s crumbling, it could be a shortage of water or you haven’t developed enough gluten (more kneading needed?).
Here are the potential mistakes that lead to a cracked pie crust and steps to avoid the problem:
Frozen pie dough is susceptible to drying out in the process of freezing and defrosting it: If it’s homemade pie dough, form the dough into a round, flat disc to prepare for freezing. Wrap the pie dough in plastic wrap and seal the edges carefully. Either double wrap the pie dough so you can protect any exposed edges or store the single-wrapped pie dough in a sealable plastic baggie. When defrosting, thaw the pie dough in the fridge covered in the plastic wrap.
If it’s a store-bought frozen pie crust: These things crack easily. Jump to the section on How to fix cracks in raw pie crust to learn how to patch it.
Lack of water when you mixed the dough: Although I emphasize the dangers of adding too much water (resulting in a pasty mouthfeel), there’s a risk of adding too little moisture, which leads to a dry, crumbly crust. Ensure the dough feels soft and pliable after you knead it. While you don’t want to overwork the dough, if it’s crumbling, it’s probably thirsty for more water.
You didn’t make enough pie dough: Double check the recipe is tested for the same-sized pie pan you’re using. If the pan is bigger, move on to find a different recipe. Ensure you have enough dough to cover your whole pie pan with an overhang and extra for patching crevices later.
TIP: It’s great to have extra pie dough so you patch holes or make an optional lattice top crust.
You’re making a gluten-free pie crust: Gluten-free flours can be very thirsty. They may behave unexpectedly compared to wheat flour. It’s critical to add enough water to hydrate the gluten-free flour to prevent it from crumbling when you roll it out.
Follow the recipe to the T and if it appears to be too dry (evidence by crumbling and breaking apart before you roll it out), you can add just enough water to make the dough soft. Then rest it in the fridge for 30 minutes to give the flour time to hydrate and continue with rolling it out.
TIP: Have back up frozen pie crusts or a back up dessert if you’re cooking for a big, visible occasion. Alternatively, plan for someone to rush to the store to buy an emergency pie.
How to fix cracks in raw homemade pie crust
The most common symptoms of a broken crust are frayed edges with fractal-like nubs and holes everywhere. Here’s how I successfully fixed the last pie crust where I encountered these issues.
Step 1: Try it again. Ball up the pie crust. Flatten it into a round disc and roll it out again. If the dough breaks, put the rolled-out crust in the fridge to rest for 30 minutes. This allows the fat to chill in case the dough warmed up from too much handling (a cold dough delivers a flaky crust).
NOTE: You can skip the refrigeration step if you’re short on time or you’re not picky about the flakiness of the pie crust.
Step 2: Place your pie pan on top of the circular-ish pie crust. Using a butter or a paring knife, cut around the pie pan leaving a 1 inch/2.5 cm border. You will use the excess dough that was cut off for patching the holes.
Step 3: Gently place the pieces of dough you cut off in step 2 over the holes in the crust. This underscores the importance of finding a recipe that accounts for excess pie dough.
Step 4: Roll the patches into the pie crust to blend them together. I find the most effective technique is using a rolling pin to roll from the center outwards toward the edge of the crust. I like to roll the patch with a criss-cross pattern outwards. Use a drop or two of water as glue if you’re finding the patch refuses to stick to the pie crust.
Step 5: Chill your pie crust before using it. This advice shows up in almost all pie recipes but it’s especially important after you’ve handled the crust to patch it.
How to fix broken frozen pie crusts
Frozen pie crusts tend to have a crumbly texture (probably because they’re usually made from palm oil). Since they’re frozen, they’re more fragile to bumps and drops.
The last time I used a frozen pie crust, it was a bad experience.
First, a sixth of the crust fell off. I didn’t do anything to it except take the plastic lid off and defrost it. Second, after I blind baked it, a third of the crust had cracked open!
The frozen pie crust doesn’t come with extra dough to patch it. I could have made spackle to patch it but I felt so frustrated with this pie crust that I just went ahead and baked my pie filling in it.
Even though the situation seemed dire, I hoped for the best.
Luckily, my sweet potato pie came out brilliantly! You can’t even tell the crust was cracked when it came out of the oven.
Here’s my advice if you have a severely cracked frozen pie crust:
- Ignore it: If you’re baking a custard pie (like pumpkin pie or lemon meringue pie), it can act like a glue to hold the crust together. Gently reattach the broken piece of crust to the main crust. And bake the pie without doing anything special. Just be extra careful when you slice the pie.
- Use the spackle method: Add spackle to cover the crack if you’re really worried about the broken crust. This might be useful for fruit pies because they tend to be wet and don’t hold together the way custard pies do.
NOTE: If you have a cracked frozen pie crust, you might wonder if the pie crust will fall apart when you cut into it to serve the pie. To be honest, pies made from frozen crust tend to crumble and fall apart even if there was never a big crack in it. So yes, it’ll probably crumble more than a homemade crust. But that’s not because your pie crust was broken. That’s just what a frozen pie crust is like (check out this comparison I wrote on Macheesmo comparing store-bought vs. homemade pie crusts).
How to fix holes in parbaked pie crust
While you’re preparing the pie dough, you might do everything right and still get cracks after parbaking. Why does this happen? Sometimes, the dough is too thin there or the pie crust shrinks. In the process of shrinking, it could pull apart and cause a tear.
Luckily, there are 2 ways to fix this depending on the extent of the crack.
If the crack is a narrow slit: You can get away with doing an egg white wash, which you should do anyway if you don’t want your quiche or pie to have a soggy bottom. Brush a layer of egg white over the crust and bake for 10 minutes until the egg white turns opaque. You may need a foil shield to avoid burning the crust.
NOTE: There’s nothing special about egg white. You can also brush with a beaten egg (yolk + white).
If the crack is a wide tear: You will need some pie dough or pie spackle. If you have excess pie dough leftover, use it as a patch to cover the torn area.
If you don’t have extra dough around or it’s not sticking: you can make a spackle using 2 parts flour, 1 part butter (and if it’s a sweet pie, add a pinch of powdered sugar). Knead these spackle ingredients together until you get the consistency of Play-Doh, according to Cooks Illustrated. Use the spackle to patch the holes and tears.
Whether you use extra dough or the spackle, you need to prebake the pie crust for 5-10 minutes until the patch is cooked.
WARNING: If your pie crust is already quite brown by the time you patch it, remember to use the foil shield to avoid burning the crust.
Woohoo! Hopefully these tips solved your cracked crust problem. As I mentioned, it’s also a good idea to have a backup in case your crust turns out to be resistant to any fixes. Good luck!
READ NEXT: Learn how to make pies when your kitchen is hot.