The Mystery of Pie Crust


A beautiful woven pie crust

"What is your favorite crust recipe?"


This question comes up almost every single time I am talking to someone about pies! The simple process of blending 4 ingredients (fat, salt, flour and water) seems to be such a mystery to the inexperienced pie baker! And, I'll admit that the perfect pie crust eluded me for a majority of my life, as well. However, after doing quite a bit of testing of recipes for my upcoming cookbook, I think the pie crust mystery has been solved for me.


Lots of bakers 'swear by' a particular blend of ingredients for their pie crust recipes... even some protecting them in secrecy. My mom still loves her old recipe that adds an extra ingredient of apple cider vinegar for a little sparkle. This recipe and I have battled a lot over the years, because it is very crumbly and hard to work with. Thinking back, I wish I would have studied the chemistry of baking a little more to figure out why I kept failing.


The best advice that I can give you when you attempt a pie crust is to keep all your ingredients very COLD! I cannot emphasize that enough. Your fat, even the lard or Crisco must be refrigerated and the water that binds it all together, must be ice water. Trust me, I have tried making crust with room temp fat, and regular water and it just turns into mush.


For a traditional pie crust there are several different options for your fat portion of the recipe...


#1 BUTTER


I know this is the preferred fat of a majority of my baking friends (including Martha Stewart), but I just find it too fussy and hard to work with. Particularly the portion of the instructions that say cut the CHILLED butter into the flour. Now, maybe if I had a sturdier pastry blender or a food processor, that would be a non-issue, but I usually need to make the crust in a hurry, so this is not my preferred fat. Now, that being said, I have tried a half and half recipe that combines shortening and butter and that gives the crust a fantastic buttery flavor! It was worth the extra work.


#2 LARD


From a butcher shop in Ashville, NC

Lard is an old-fashioned product that you have to know where to find it, to try it. Local butchers are usually happy to sell you some lard or if you luck out, you will find

pre-packaged lard in your local grocery store. Lard is touted as a healthier alternative to shortening and it really looks and feels just like shortening. However, it has an unmistakable gamey odor and that prevents me from using it all the time for my crusts. On the plus side, it is very inexpensive and makes a gorgeous crust that is super easy to manipulate. I recommend using a lard crust for a more savory type pie, like a quiche or pot pie because it holds up beautifully and is super crispy!


#3 VEGETABLE SHORTENING

An old image from Ladies Home Journal

The old stand-by, vegetable shortening, remains my favorite for a yummy, crispy crust. It works wonderfully with a pastry blender and is odorless. With this pastry, the filling and the crust are both stars of the show! It is crispy and tender at the same time... where the all butter crusts can be a little tough and crumbly. A great plus is that the recipe is right there on the can and has been used in kitchens since it was invented by Proctor and Gamble in 1910. Now, I have done a comparison of different brands of vegetable shortening and have determined that Crisco is my favorite. I would advise you to steer clear of the off-brands.


A crust made with vegetable shortening works beautifully with any cut-outs or lattice decorating that you add to your pie top. No more dry, crumbly pie crust for this Baker! I assure all beginners that this is the easiest and most predictable fat to work with... you almost cannot fail.

A gathering of pies from 5 different bakers. Can you tell which one is mine?

So, what did you learn from the Pie Baker Lady today? Don't forget when making your pie crust to chill your ingredients!!! I even go a little further to suggest refrigerating your crust while you prepare the filling... keep it cool and you will be pleased with the results.


I hope I helped to solve that 'mystery of pie crust' for you. Stay tuned for more baking adventures and advice from my kitchen to yours!

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Roeland Park, Kansas, United States |  piebakerlady@gmail.com

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