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In Search of The Perfect Pie Crust

While we’re not ones to shy away from the sensible shortcut that is a store-bought pie crust, we know that there’s nothing quite like a perfect, flaky homemade pie dough. The perfect pie crust steals the show, but that doesn’t mean that there’s any sort of a general consensus on how to come by it. Do you use all shortening, or all butter, or a combination of both? Should I use vodka in place of some of the water, and just how cold does that water need to be? Does the dough really need to be chilled before I roll it out?

There are a lot of questions, but we’re here with the answers. We’ll take you through some of our favorite pie crust additions and how each variation – shortening, sour cream, coconut oil, etc. – affects the dough.

Type of Fat

The biggest pie crust decision is what fat to use. The main three players are lard, shortening and butter, and there are pros and cons to all three options.

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Lard

Lard is rendered and refined pork fat. Since it’s 100% fat, it reliably produces a tender and flaky crust, but the flavor is neutral at best, and possibly better described as bland. Doughs using 100% lard can be hard to work with because it creates a fragile dough.

Shortening

Shortening is a solid fat made from vegetable oil. It’s hydrogenated, so the fat stays solid at room temp which means you have more flexibility with the temperature of your ingredients when you’re making dough. Using shortening guarantees a very flaky, tender crust, but again, the flavor is usually bland and neutral. You can use a butter flavored shortening, but it just doesn’t compare to the real thing. The main con is that shortening is a highly processed ingredient and many people prefer to use something more natural.

Butter

Butter is made up of 80% fat, while the rest is made up of milk solids and water. Butter can make the flakiest crust you can imagine, but it’s a little harder to work with since the temperature of the fat matters more. If you don’t start out with cold butter, it melts as you’re working it into the flour and it won’t create tiny air pockets as it bakes, which is what gives you that lovely flakiness. While an all-butter crust is a little more temperamental than the other fat options, you just can’t beat the flavor.



Other Additions

Butter happens to be our favorite fat when it comes to making pastry, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other great options out there. Here are some other great variations on pie crust, including our go-to recipe.

Sour Cream

Sour cream might seem like an odd addition to pie crust, but what it does is ensure a tender crust. In this method, you use sour cream instead of ice-cold water and the sour cream adds moisture that actually surrounds the fat molecules from the butter, resulting in a reliably tender and flaky crust. It’s a great go-to method, with a lot of flavor and it avoids any chance of the toughness that you might encounter with an all-butter crust. See our recipe here.

Cream Cheese


Like sour cream, cream cheese might also seem like an odd addition to pie crust, but it works in much the same manner. Used in replacement of ice-cold water, it adds moisture AND flavor and gives you a guaranteed tender and flaky pie crust. Both sour cream and cream cheese crusts make for no-fuss crusts, but this one gets our vote for ease of use and flavor. Get our recipe for Cream Cheese Pie Crust here.

Butter AND Shortening


One way to solve the butter/lard/shortening dilemma is to use a mixture of fats. Our Classic Pie Crust does just that, and is a no-fail go-to crust if we’ve ever seen one. It uses both butter and shortening, so that you have all of the tender, flaky guarantees that shortening provides while maintaining the butter flavor that you don’t want to go without. See how to make it here.

All three crusts work beautifully, but if we had to pick a favorite it would be the Cream Cheese Pie Crust. There’s no worrying about working in the butter too much or guessing at quantities of ice-cold water… When it comes to ease of use, flavor, and reliability, it’s our winner.


Quick Crusts And Special Flavors

Sometimes, when it comes to pie, you don’t need a basic, go-to pie crust. Sometimes, you need something with a little extra pizazz or something super quick to turn to. Here are three of our favorite crusts that aren’t quite one size fits all but are perfect in certain situations.

No Fuss Pie Crust


This dough is nearly magical. It requires no rolling, no cutting in of butter, no ice water. It’s a press-in dough, so it doesn’t work in situations where you would need a top crust. However, it’s easy, flavorful, and just as convenient as a store-bought crust, so we use it frequently with things like buttermilk pie and pumpkin pie where there’s no lattice-work or top crust involved. Get our recipe here.

Cinnamon Pie Crust


This is a crust we LOVE, but it just doesn’t go with every pie out there. It’s full of flavor – chock full of cinnamon and honey – so it’s not an all-purpose crust, but when the flavors fit it sure is a great option. Get the recipe here.

Grated Pie Crust


This option is more of a method swap than an ingredient one, but the idea is that you freeze a round of pie dough and grate it over the top of the pie filling rather than rolling out a round for a top crust. It’s a great option if you’re making something like the No Fuss Pie Crust and want some sort of crust on the top! Click here for the recipe.

When it comes to pie crust, it can be hard to know where to begin, but it helps to know that you can create a great crust no matter the fat or ingredients you choose. It’s all about the ratio of ingredients, taking care not to overwork the dough, and making sure your ingredients are the correct temperature. Whether it’s the No-Fuss Pie Crust when you’re short on time, or the Cream Cheese Pie Crust when you want reliability and flavor, there’s always a crust out there to meet your needs.

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