1. Keep ingredients cold.
Butter should be kept refrigerated until using; solid vegetable shortening can be stored in the freezer without freezing hard as a rock.
Add ice cubes to a measuring cup and fill it with more water than you'll need; add ice-cold water to the pastry mixture a tablespoon at a time.
Great pie starts with a great crust.
2. Refrigerate the dough after every step.
Chill dough immediately after mixing so that the flour can absorb all the liquid.
Chill it after rolling it out and lining the pie pan, to relax the dough and prevent it from shrinking in the oven.
For double-crust pies, roll out the top crust and refrigerate it on a flat plate or parchment-lined sheet pan while you prepare the pie filling.
3. Handle the dough as little as possible.
Try to patch cracks in your dough rather than re-rolling the crust. Over-handling makes the pastry tough.
4. Use as little flour as possible when rolling out the dough.
The pastry can absorb extra flour, which will also make it tough. After rolling out the dough, brush off loose flour with a pastry brush or gently brush it with the edge of a clean kitchen towel.
Optional: Decorate your pie crust.
Use cutout shapes, crimps, braids, and other fun tricks to make your pie look like a party on a plate.
Bake plain crusts or filled pies in a hot oven to set the crust's structure.
Most recipes call for a high initial temperature and then a reduced oven temperature for the rest of the baking time. For quiches, custard pies, and cream pies, it's a good idea to pre-bake the crust, a.k.a. "blind baking" the crust.
Vent double-crust pies.
Cut slits in the top crust or use decorative cutters. This allows steam to escape, which is especially important for fruits with high moisture content. You can also create a lattice top for the pie.
Use aluminum foil or "pie shields" to protect the crust.
Loosely fold two-inch-wide strips of foil around the edges of the crust to keep it from getting too dark during the long bake time.
8. Bake pies on the lowest oven rack on a preheated sheet pan.
This helps prevent soggy bottom crusts. A rimmed pan also prevents juicy fruit pies from bubbling over onto your oven floor.
9. Bake your pies long enough.
Fruit pies, in order to thicken properly, need to be hot enough for the filling to boil. Custard pies require delicate handling: if you over-bake them, they can crack, pull away from the crust, and "weep," or lose moisture. Custard pies are done when a knife tip inserted an inch from the center comes out clean (the center will firm up as the pie cools).
10. Let pies cool before serving.
The filling needs time to set or else the pie will be runny. Bake your pies well in advance of your holiday meal so that the filling has time to set -- a warm pie does not make for easy slicing.
If your family prefers warm pie, cover the pie loosely with foil and warm in a preheated 300 degree F oven for 15-20 minutes before serving. Fruit pies should cool at least four hours before slicing; custard pies should cool for two hours before serving or being refrigerated.
Adorn Your Pie
Add a festive touch to your pies even after they're baked. This is also a great way to hide cracks in pumpkin pie.
Use extra dough to cut out leaf shapes; mini leaf cutters are available at many kitchen stores.
Using the back of a paring knife or a dull butter knife, press veins in the leaves. Brush the dough shapes with egg wash and bake on a lined baking sheet in a 375 degree F oven for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown (small leaves will require less baking time).
Arrange a trio of leaves in the center of the pie (or artfully covering any flaws) and garnish with a few cranberries frosted with superfine sugar.
Serving Your Pie
Make your pie extra decadent by serving it with a dollop of whipped cream. For a boost of flavor, add two tablespoons of sugar (or more to taste) and teaspoon of vanilla extract to every two cups of heavy whipping cream -- or make it even merrier with a splash of liqueur. For a delicious sweet-tart topping, use half sour cream (not low-fat) and heavy cream.