a guide to pie crust: makings of a good pie

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Okay let’s talk pie! To have a good pie we must have the makings of a good pie.  So what is that?  Well, it’s the right flour, fat and liquid (and probably baking soda but we’ll talk details another time.)

Below are the most commonly used ingredients used for pie…

Flour: all-purpose bleached or all-purpose unbleached

Fat: shortening, lard or butter

Liquid: water or buttermilk

In order to decide which ingredients I liked best I decided to bake several test crusts with different combinations of flours and fats.  I used water for all of my test crusts because I wanted something neutral.  I also just wanted to focus on the flavor of the fat.  Also, I cut the dough into ‘cookies’ since it’s would be easier to bake and taste test. I used the simplest pie dough recipe I could find (one with out baking soda, vinegar, etc.) again as an effort to just focus on the flour and fats. I used this recipe but switched up the type of flour and pie fat.

I used the following combinations of flour and fat. (I used water for all):

  • shortening & all-purpose bleached flour
  • lard & all-purpose bleached flour
  • butter (european style) & all-purpose bleached flour
  • butter (european style) & all-purpose unbleached flour

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Questions you may have:

What is the difference between ‘bleached flour’ and ‘unbleached flour’?

From what I understand, all flour is bleached regardless of the label.  The labels ‘bleached’ and ‘unbleached’ are referring to whether the bleaching occurs with additives or naturally.  When the flour label says ‘bleached’ it means that a bleaching agent is added to the flour to make it whiter.  When the flour label says ‘unbleached’ it means there are no additives but some form of natural bleaching occurs.

There are several types of flour which is best for pie crust?

You want to use a flour with a low protein level such as all purpose or pastry flour.  The lower the protein level the more tender the pie crust will be. I chose to test only all purpose flours since that’s what most people have in their pantry.

What is european style butter?

It is a butter that is churned slower then regular ol’ butter.  This causes the butter to have a higher fat content and creates a flakier  pie crust.  Some brands of european style butter are: Kerrygold or Organic Valley. You should be able to find this type of butter at a natural food store or possibly in the natural foods section or your local grocery.  I found Kerrygold Trader Joes for a good price :).

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Are you ready for the results? Do you want to guess which combination I thought was best? Here we go…

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Shortening

Pros: I’ve read that using shortening helps the design on the pie crust stay it’s original shape.  If you want a fancy pie design or the crimped edge to stay in place, shortening can help those details stand out.

Cons: It’s not as flaky or flavorful as other crusts. It also did not brown as well.

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Lard 

Pros: It was very flavorful and really tender and delicate

Cons: Although tender it was almost too tender. I’m not sure it could hold up to an apple pie filling.

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Butter & All-purpose bleached flour

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Butter and All-Purpose unbleached flour

Butter Pros: Super flaky (look at those layers!!!), best flavor, and browned really nicely

Butter Cons: It was flaky on the top and bottom but the middle layer was a little tough.  I wish it was flaky throughout the entire crust.

Bleached vs. Unbleached flour:  I honestly couldn’t tell a different.  I’ve read that bleached flour should produce a more tender crust but I kept tasting them and there wasn’t anything distinctly different.  I can keep testing but for right now I’m not going to worry about whether I use bleached or unbleached.

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In this order: shortening, lard, butter/bleached, butter/unbleached.  Can you tell the browning was best with the butter?

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The same order as above but a closer look.

My overall thoughts:

Flour: For now, I’ll use whatever all purpose flour I have in my pantry.  I will eventually try pastry flour.

Fat: Butter all the way or I will at least use a combination of butter and another fat.

Liquid:  This depends on what flavor crust I want.  Whatever liquid I use I’ll be sure to make sure it’s really cold.

That’s all!!! Until my next pie adventure…

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4 thoughts on “a guide to pie crust: makings of a good pie

    • I’m not sure which is better nutrition wise but if you are conscious about the added chemicals in bleached flour I would think unbleached is better. Also, the added chemicals in bleached flour acts as a preservative so it lasts longer than unbleached. I just learned that and wanted to share.

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